Puffball mushroom is such a typical Chinese herb that in daily life people often use it to describe those humble but useful things. In the field of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), there is a widely circulated idiom – Niu Sou Ma Bo, in which Niu Sou means bovine urine or Che Qian Cao (psyllium) and Mao Bo refers to puffball. Here these two herbs are combined together not because they are a perfect match in medicinal properties but the shared characteristics – cheap but effective if used properly. So, this idiom can also be used to compliment highly skilled and trained doctors who are able to cure a critical illness with only inexpensive and ordinary drugs. So, how to identify puffball mushrooms? Are they edible?
What is puffball mushroom?
Medicinally it means the dried fruiting body of quite a few types of mushrooms. However, clinically the major three are Lasiosphaera fenzlii Reich., Calvatia gigantea (Batsch ex Pers.) Lloyd, and Calvatia lilacina (Mont. et Berk.) Lloyd. Other names include Lasiosphaera, Calvatia, Fructificatio Lasiosphaerae Seu Calvatiae, Lasiosphaera seu Calvatia, pearly puffball, Lasiosphaera fenslii puff-ball, giant puffball mushroom, and so on. It is usually harvested during summer and autumn when the fruiting bodies are mature. After the harvesting, it should remove the dirt, dry, get rid of the outer crust, cut into cubes or grind into powder, and use raw.
Lasiosphaera fenzlii is oblate or spherical, 15 to 20cm in diameter, and with no base. Peridium is gray-brown to brown, papery, and often broken in blocks or flakes, or peeled off entirely. The body is brown or light brown, compact, flexible, and with gray-brown cottony filaments when shredded. Spores would fly like dust when touched. It makes hands feel delicate when twisted. And it is tasteless and smells like dust; Calvatia gigantea is with no or little base. Residual peridium consists of yellow-brown membraniform exoperidium and thicker grayish yellow endoperidium. It is smooth, hard, brittle, and peeled off in blocks. Spore body is pale green-brown and lubricant; Calvatia lilacina looks like a spinning top or oblateness if flattened. It is 5 to 12cm in diameter and with developed base. Peridium is thin, two layered, purple brown, rough, wrinkled, and with circular depression.
As for chemical composition, Lasiosphaera fenzlii contains leucine, tyrosine, urea, ergosterol, lipoids, calvacin, 72.18% sodium phosphate, 15.66% Al, 2.93% Mg, 0.44% silicic acid, 8.77% sulfate. Among them, the sodium phosphate is the highest in content; the fat-soluble part of calvatia gigantea contains ergosta-7, 22-diene-3-one, 22-diene-3-ol, β-sitosterol, palmitic acid, peroxidase, coenzyme Q, fatty acids, etc. And the content of TAA (total amino acids) is 32.9mg/100mg; Calvatia lilacina contains antibacterial ingredient of calvatic acid and anti-fungal and anti-bacterial ingredient of nitrogen cyanide, and steroid dimers. In addition, it still contains amino acids and phosphates.
Puffball mushroom health benefits
There are many varieties of puffballs and most of them are spherical and look quite interesting. These are edible mushrooms when it is still young. Even so, we don’t recommend eating wild mushrooms especially when you don’t know how to identify mushrooms. But if you are pretty sure it is safe and edible, cooking puffball mushroom soup is a good try since it is with high nutritional value and great taste. And sometimes it can be dangerous as there are numerous mature spores inside. And it’s said that the Indian ever used it as smoke bombs and tear gas grenades.
According to medical experts, this herb has an extraordinary hemostasis that is not second to starch sponge or gelatin sponge. And it works on a variety of bleedings, such as oral bleeding, nose bleeding, traumatic hemorrhage, etc. More importantly, it is simple to use – tear the peridium, take out the sponge-like tissue, and then press against the bleeding part, stuff into bleeding nose, or fill the gums. Besides, its decoction cures swollen sore throat, hoarse voice, aphonia, and more.
Modern pharmacological actions of puffball mushrooms
1. It has hemostatic effect, in particular on oral and nasal bleeding;
2. Its decoction has inhibition on Staphylococcus aureus, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, proteusbacillus vulgaris, Streptococcus pneumoniae, and a small number of pathogenic fungi.
Selected puffball mushroom recipes on herbal remedies
The Chinese Pharmacopoeia says that it is acrid in taste and neutral in properties. It covers lung meridian. Major functions are clearing away the lung-heat to relieve sore throat and stopping bleeding. Main puffball mushroom uses and indications include sore throat, cough, and hoarseness caused by wind-heat stagnated in lung and epistaxis and bleeding from injuries externally. Recommended dosage is from 1.5 to 6 grams.
1. Pu Ji Xiao Du Yin from Dong Yuan Shi Xiao Fang (Dongyuan’s Trial Effective Recipes). It combines with Niu Bang Zi (Arctium), Xuan Shen (Scrophularia), Ban Lan Gen (Isatis Root), etc. to treat wind-heat or lung fire induced sore throat, cough, and aphonia.
2. Ma Pi Bo Wan from Pu Ji Fang (Prescriptions of Universal Relief). It is used with refined honey for the pills to cure chronic cough.
Puffball mushroom side effects and contraindications
Are puffball mushroom spores dangerous and poisonous? Clinical and experimental results show that though it has significant hemostatic efficacy it is inadvisable to be used in the cases that require keeping the sponge in the bleeding tissue or the dead space since it cannot be absorbed by the tissue. Clinically occasionally it might lead to some adverse reactions, include fever, dizziness, fatigue, vomiting, abdominal pain, insomnia, frequent urination, and skin allergies. But usually most of them will disappear in 1 to 2 weeks and in severe cases they can be healed after discontinuation. TCM wise, it shouldn’t be used in the case of consumptive cough and aphonia due to wind-cold attack.