Jacob Schor ND, FABNO
December 23, 2014
Our cousin Ariella recently sent a photo taken on a holiday trip to Berlin of bite sized chocolates molded in the shape of mushrooms, wrapped in red foil with red spots, making these tasty morsels look like amanita mushrooms, in particular what are known as Fly Agarics. Eating real amanita mushrooms of course is a near guaranteed method to commit suicide.
Ariella's chocolate mushrooms
This clear and kind of peculiar association of dangerous mushrooms with Christmas festivities reminded me of a newsletter sent out in 2005 on the earlier incarnations of Santa Claus. We recounted the idea that Christmas celebrations are descended from the long ago habit of feeding these mushrooms to reindeer as a way to isolate their hallucinogenic properties from their poisonous actions. This was a lead in to the idea of using betulinic acid and chaga mushrooms for a cancer treatment.
In the years since I sent out that email, I confess to wondering how factual that idea was, whether it may have been just some made up story that I had pulled off the Internet and mistakenly taken for fact.
We have all grown far less naive about information found on the Internet so I thought I would take a moment or two to track down this story and see how true it actually is.
Jonathan Ott, the ethnobotanist, first suggested this connection between amanita and Santa back in the 1970s. A 1986 article in New Scientist popularized his theory. Not all experts agree with this mushroom and Santa business and some, in particular Ronald Hutton, have argued against it. Still though there is debate, it does appear to be a legitimate theory and not pure Internet rubbish.
As such this story can provide interesting discussion during your holiday discussions:
That initial newsletter also discussed betulinic acid and chaga mushrooms as anticancer therapies. An interesting review article from last summer mentions the possible topical use of these agents as topical cancer treatments.  An interesting Russian paper from last spring suggests that extracts of chaga mushroom act against herpes simplex virus, infections of which are thought to trigger a number of different cancers.  Another study published this past year suggests that chaga extracts might be useful in treating neurogliocytoma tumors.
While on the topic of past holiday newsletters there are a few others worth mention. In particular our recipe for Christmas Stollen:
And our fruitcake recipe:
While still a bit early in the holiday season the recipe for Wassail:
And because of the ongoing challenge to humor those on a gluten free diet without depriving our other dinner guests, here again is our favorite chocolate torte recipe: http://denvernaturopathic.com/news/ChocolateTorte.html
1. Ott, J. (1976). Hallucinogenic Plants of North America. Berkeley, CA: Wingbow Press. ISBN 0-914728-15-6.
2. Morgan, A. (December 1986). "Who put the toad in toadstool?". New Scientist 25: 44–47.
4. Micali G, Lacarrubba F, Nasca MR, Ferraro S, Schwartz RA. Topical pharmacotherapy for skin cancer: part II. Clinical applications. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2014 Jun;70(6):979.e1-12; quiz 9912. doi: 10.1016/j.jaad.2013.12.037. Review.
5. Polkovnikova MV, Nosik NN, Garaev TM, Kondrashina NG, Finogenova MP, Shibnev [A study of the antiherpetic activity of the chaga mushroom (Inonotus obliquus) extracts in the Vero cells infected with the herpes simplex virus]. VA.Vopr Virusol. 2014 Mar-Apr;59(2):45-8.
6. Ning X1, Luo Q2, Li C3, Ding Z4, Pang J4, Zhao C. Inhibitory effects of a polysaccharide extract from the Chaga medicinal mushroom, Inonotus obliquus (higher Basidiomycetes), on the proliferation of human neurogliocytoma cells.
Int J Med Mushrooms. 2014;16(1):29-36.