Health benefits of wild Tiger’s Milk mushroom
The wild Tiger’s Milk mushroom is sought after for its nutritional and medicinal benefits.
MUSHROOMS should be a girl’s best friend. They are high in fibre, low in calorie, fat-free and contain vital nutrients such as selenium, potassium, thiamine (vitamin B1), riboflavin (vitamin B2), niacin and vitamin D.
Mushrooms are also widely used for medicinal purposes, especially by local traditional Chinese medicine practitioners and the orang asli.
One of the most sought-after species used for this purpose is the wild Tiger’s Milk mushroom (Lignosus rhinocerus), which comes from the same fungi family as the well-known ling zhi or reishi mushroom.
According to indigenous folklore, the Tiger’s Milk mushroom is believed to grow whenever a drop of a tigress’ milk has fallen to the ground, hence its name. Known as cendawan susu rimau or cendawan susu harimau in Bahasa Malaysia, they grow on soil deep in the tropical jungles. They thrive in areas with humidity levels of over 80% and grow mainly in Genting Highlands and Kuala Lipis in Pahang, and in Perak.
The orang asli are the key people who gather these mushrooms, which are not easy to find. The fungus is sold either by stalks or weight; 1kg of wild Tiger’s Milk mushroom can fetch about RM270.
The indigenous and Chinese communities use the mushroom to treat cough, asthma, fever, gastritis, indigestion and food poisoning. The mushroom’s tuber (which looks like its root) is ground into powder and then boiled in water for drinking.
At the opening of the International Convention on Biotechnology in 2002 in Kuala Lumpur, then prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad was reported to have said that his chronic cough stopped after he consumed Chinese medicine derived from Tiger’s Milk mushroom.
The powder is also sometimes mixed with Chinese rice wine and applied topically to treat lumps, sores and boils.
There are traditional face creams made from the mushroom, suggesting anti-bacterial properties.
The active compound that has medicinal benefits in the mushroom is beta-glucan, a naturally-occurring polysaccharide (complex carbohydrate).
It is found in the fungus’ tuber, specifically on the wall of the mushroom’s hyphae, the branching tubes which make up the body or mycelium of a multi-cellular fungus. The mycelium is akin to the seed of a plant, the stock from which the mushroom grows.
In-vitro tests have shown that beta-glucan plays a role in preventing the spread of cancer cells and boosting the body’s immune system.
“All medicinal mushrooms contain beta-glucan and Tiger’s Milk mushroom contains very high levels of beta-glucan, more than in ling zhi,” said Lai Wei Hong, research officer at the Agro-Biotechnology Institute, Malaysia (ABI). Established in 2006 under the National Biotechnology Policy, ABI comes under the purview of the Science, Technology and Innovation Ministry.
“Tiger’s Milk mushroom is our national treasure and we should exploit its benefits in a good way,” said Lai, adding that beta-glucan from the tuber is obtained by freeze-drying it and then grinding it into powder.
“Its potential as an alternative medicinal mushroom is tremendous. Medicinal mushroom researchers predict that it could surpass ling zhi (as a food supplement) in the near future. ABI’s commitment is to explore our local mushroom species and introduce it locally and internationally.”
The institute started its research on Tiger’s Milk mushroom in 2009. Last year, ABI became the first research institute in Malaysia to successfully cultivate the fruiting body, or cap (umbrella-looking part) of Tiger’s Milk mushroom. For this achievement, Lai and his team of researchers received an award at the Malaysia Technology Expo 2010.
It is considered a relatively big achievement to have successfully found the technique to cultivate the mushroom within two years. Universiti Malaya, Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute (Mardi) and Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia also conducted research on this mushroom.
“The potential to turn this mushroom into a high-value, functional food is good,” added Lai, explaining that functional foods are those that boost immune system and have anti-cancer, anti-microbial and antioxidant properties.
“Our next step is to improve on the cultivation process for large scale cultivation by farmers. We are also looking at developing this mushroom into a high value-added supplement by coupling the mushroom with nanobiotechnology to optimise the delivery process and absorption by the body,” concluded Lai.
By WONG LI ZA