Throughout history, folk healers have employed many medicinal
qualities of the fungus kingdomsome real and others imagined.
The antibiotic properties of moulds have been known for countless
generations. In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the Knights
Templar used mould extracts to treat infected wounds. Fungi
have also been used in Europe as remedies for boils and abscesses,
in gargles to treat throat infections, as laxatives, as contraceptives,
and to remove skin blemishes.
The Stinkhorn (Phallus impudicus) has been used in Europe
to treat rheumatism, epilepsy, gout, and skin cancer-but it
was also blamed for outbreaks of cholera and madness! Puffballs
have many uses. Their dried spores were used to staunch the
flow of blood from wounds or nosebleeds; smouldering puffballs
were once used to transfer fire from place to place; and beekeepers
in some places still blow the spores of the giant puffball into
hives to narcotize the bees.
Oriental herbalists have been using Reishi mushrooms (Ling Chi
or Ling Zhi: Ganoderma lucidum) for some 4,000 years.
These mushrooms are claimed to be effective against many ailments,
including arthritis, several cancers, heart disease, and hepatitis.
In western Africa fungi have been used to treat venereal diseases.
Less likely remedies include the wearing of a Cramp Ball (Daldinia
concentrica) in the armpit to protect oneself from cramps.
Other fungi have been claimed as aphrodisiacs-the recipe for
one such potion calls for boiling a toad with some mushrooms
in spring water. Young men in Lapland would carry a fungus (Trametes
suaveolens) hanging from their waists when courting. Trametes
has an anise-like odour that may work as an attractant, a deodorant,
or not at all!