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Agarikon Conk - Tree Fungus with Medicinal Ambitions

by: Dr. Markho Rafael

Interviewed on NPR, world leading medicinal mushroom specialist Paul Stamets relates how he came to discover the healing properties of agarikon, an increasingly rare wood conk that has all but vanished from Europe and now grows almost exclusively in the old growth rainforests of the northwestern United States.

Scientists have known for some time that mushrooms are not plants. Far from it. They are more closely related to animals and humans then they are to the vegetables we eat. Because of that, they are often at risk from the same bacteria and other "bugs" that cause diseases in humans. Being well aware of this fact, Stamets asked himself how agarikon - a perennial mushroom living for up to 50 years - managed to fight off diseases so well in the perpetually wet rainforests. It must possess a potent immune system, he concluded, with potential anti-bacterial and anti-viral compounds that may act as antibiotics for humans.

To find agarikon in the wild, look for something reminiscent of a beehive on the ancient tree trunks of an old-growth forest. (You may view a picture of agarikon through the agarikon-link on this page.) Please keep in mind that agarikon is a rare and threatened species. Do not harvest it unless there's a very good reason for doing so. But by all means, bring out your digital camera.

It should be noted that the agarikon Paul Stamets uses is not harvested in the wild. He grows his own, and uses it for the extract he produces. A sample of that extract was submitted to the Defense Department, to be tested at a top security laboratory in Fort Dietrich, Maryland. The Defense Department's BIO Shield Program at that location searches for cures to biological warfare agents such as smallpox and anthrax.

Several tens of thousands of natural and synthetic "medicines" have been tested within the Bio Shield Program. According to John Seacrest, drug discovery supervisor within BIO Shield, the agarikon extract submitted by Paul Stamets was one of only a few agents that tested positive against viruses related to smallpox. While smallpox virus itself is not available for testing (due to it being supposedly extinct and all), the agarikon extract proved effective in inhibiting closely related viruses (presumably cowpox).

Following this discovery, Paul Stamets now has a patent pending on a mushroom-derived anti-viral drug. One of his financial backers, Boston-based investor John Norris, bases his support in part on the fact that, as he says, not everyone is able or willing to be vaccinated against diseases such as smallpox.

It's also worth mentioning that Mr. Norris is a former second in command in the FDA hierarchy, and he believes that through his joint venture with Paul Stamets, they could soon be selling several hundred million doses of the Stamets agarikon extract to the armies of the United States, U.K., and Germany.

That may, however, still be a few years in the making. First the product needs to go through further exhaustive lab trials as well as gain FDA approval.

Note: The above article is intended for informational purposes only. Agarikon has not been approved by the FDA for use as a medicinal. Never use any herbal or mushroom-product for medicinal purposes unless advice to do so by a licensed medical practitioner.

Reference: Banse, T., NPR Morning Edition, Smallpox Defense May Be Found in Mushrooms, August 4, 2005.

About the author: Dr. Rafael has worked in natural health since 1996, specializing in mycomedicinals. Click Agarikon Mushroom for picture of agarikon, mushroom products, free mushroom articles, or to request a unique copy of any mushroom article for your own web-site or magazine / ezine. Click Fomitopsis officinalis for scientific references about agarikon.

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