The agarikon is one of the largest, oldest-living mushrooms in the world, and at least one scientist believes it holds the key for a cure to tuberculosis – along with many other illnesses. Paul Stamets, founder of Fungi Perfecti and an advisor at the Program of Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona Medical School has been hunting for the elusive and endangered agarikon in the old growth forests of the Pacific Northwest – one of only a few places in the world along with Europe where these massive fungi grow. Why, you ask? Both in ancient spiritual traditions and modern medicine, agarikon are believed to be one of the most potent medicines known to humanity. Indigenous peoples in both North America and Europe used agarikon to treat a host of illnesses and infectious diseases – ranging from coughs to asthma, and arthritis to infections. Even the ancient Greeks knew of agarikon and called it an “elixir for long life” because it was used to treat tuberculosis.

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According to Stamets, writing on the Cornell University mycology blog, the key ingredient for health in agarikon is Agaricin or agaric acid, which is an anhidrotic, anti-inflammatory, and parasympatholytic agent that’s currently being produced synthetically by many pharmaceutical companies. As more modern research is done on the fungi, the full extent of its power is becoming known – including its strong antiviral and antibacterial properties that have shown promise in combating cowpox, swine and bird flu, as well as two strains of herpes. Stamets also believes agarikon and other similar mushrooms could contain even more miracle medical ingredients, and may offer protection against bioterrorism, global pandemics and more.

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Following from this, he says the old growth forests where agarikon live should be protected for national security reasons. “If Agarikon’s antivirals prove to be effective in clinical trials, I do not think it is an exaggeration to say we should save our old growth forests as a matter of national defense,” Stamets told the Huffington Post.

Via Treehugger, Huffington Post

Images via Dusty Yao Stamets, Wikimedia Commons and pahphotos, Flickr Creative Commons