There are a few recipes that I would make more than once, but this deeply nourishing medicinal mushroom ginseng soup has made regular appearance the past few weeks and that speaks of how delicious it is! More than that, it takes just minutes to prepare – mainly slicing up mushrooms – and the slow cooker does the rest of the work. Patience is a virtue here; sit back, relax, and after a 6 hour wait, your reward is powerfully rich nourishing mushroom elixir that is both food and medicine at once.
The inspiration of this dish comes from Korean Samgyetang (Korean Ginseng Chicken Soup). I suppose I was craving the bittersweet herbal taste of ginseng. Not knowing where to start, I bought one of those pre-packed herbal packages, picked the herbs apart and weighed each of them to get a rough recipe. So next time I can purchase bulk herbs from the herbal apothecary and save cost.
Spotlight on the actions of medicinal herbs in Medicinal Mushroom Ginseng Stew
Shiitake mushroom. Traditionally grown on “shii” or oak logs (hence its name), shiitake has a robust earthy flavour and one of the most extensively researched medicinal mushrooms. The main medicinal compound is the polysaccharide lentinan, which has immune-enhancing, anti-inflammatory, antitumour, and antiviral activity. Since 1985, lentinan from shiitake is one of the mushroom-based three anticancer drugs approved by the FDA in Japan. Another active constituent of shiitake, eritadenine, may help lower LDL cholesterol. In TCM, shiitake is said to have a sweet taste and mild nature, and used to restore qi, weak digestion and as a circulatory system regulator to “activate the blood.” For a more potent extraction of their polysaccharide-rich nutrients, shiitake is best prepared by long simmering in a liquid.
Reishi (ling zhi) mushroom. Reishi has been lauded the “herb of spiritual potency,” and “mushroom of immortality,” which highlights its belief to impart long-term vitality and longevity. In the Chinese pharmacopeia, it is listed first under the heading for superior class herbs. Six types of Reishi classified by colour are mentioned – red, yellow, blue, white, black and purple – each bearing a specific taste, tissue affinity and spiritual power. Red Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) is generally regarded as the most potent and medicinal. In Chinese medicine, Reishi is said to have affinity for the upper chest area that stores ‘shen’ or spirit, and is used to tonify qi, provide liver and lung support, relieve cough and asthma, and calm the mind. Reishi has a bitter taste and is regarded to be warming, nourishing, detoxifying, astringent, and dispersive of stuck energy Polysaccharides, peptidoglycans and bitter triterpenes are three major active constituents in Reishi. While whole dried Reishi slices are used for soups, if you are looking for a supplement form, choose cracked spores of Reishi as the spores are more potent than its fruiting body.
American ginseng. The genus Panax is named after the Greek goddess Panacea, who was said to be able to heal all illnesses. American Ginseng is more cooling (yin), sweet, moist, and less stimulating than Asian Ginseng. The main active ingredient of ginseng are the more than 25 saponin triterpenoid glycosides called ginsenosides. These steroid-like compounds increase protein synthesis and activity of neurotransmitters in the brain. Ginseng is used to restore memory and enhance concentration, and increase mental and physical efficiency. Other active constituents in ginseng include panaxin which stimulates the midbrain, heart and blood vessels; panax acid which stimulates the vascular system and general metabolism; panaquilon which influences the endocrine system; panacin a volatile oil that stimulates the central nervous system; and ginsenin which is hypoglycemic and beneficial for blood sugar regulation.
Astragalus root (huang qi). Astragalus Root is another premier herb in the traditional Chinese pharmacopeia. In Mandarin, it is called huáng qí meaning “yellow leader,” referring to the colour of quality roots and the superior tonification properties of the herb. TCM uses Astragalus Root to strengthen protective qi, and treat conditions due to qi and spleen deficiency including low immunity, fatigue, cold, low appetite, stagnant blood flow, respiratory disorders and overall weak health. The polysaccharide-rich, sweet, and energetically warming root acts particularly on the spleen and lung meridians.
Dried Chinese yam (shan yao / huai shan). These chalk-white silvers are mainly produced in Henan, Hunan and Hebei provinces. Chinese yam is neutral, sweet, and mainly manifests its therapeutic actions in the spleen, lung and kidney meridians. It has been listed as one of the essential medicines for mild supplement to invigorate the spleen to promote qi production, enrich lung and kidney yin, and arrest excessive essence depletion.
Solomon’s seal rhizome (yu zhu). These silvers of yellowish root belong to the ‘Tonic herbs for Yin Deficiency’ category. Sweet and neutral to slightly cold, it is especially beneficial for the lungs and stomach, and help relieve dryness and heat-related problems.
Black jujube. Jujubes or Chinese dates add sweetness to the stew. Instead of the more common red jujubes, I used black jujubes for a more warming action. Black jujubes have been smoked so is more yang food and more potent in nourishing yin and blood; it more effective in blood reinforcement than fresh or regular red jujubes.
Kombu seaweed. Like all sea vegetables, kombu adds minerals to the stew. Moreover the glutamate of kombu synergise with the GMP of mushrooms to heighten the umami, delectable savoury taste.
Job’s tears (coix seed / adlay / Chinese barley). This gluten-free grain-like seed belongs to the ‘Herbs that drain Dampness’ category. Bland in taste, slightly cold in nature, Coix seeds are used to strengthen the spleen and act as a diuretic to remove fluids that have been retained. It is a neutral element in this stew and serves as a healthy carbohydrate source.
For a complete meal, I like to add some leafy green vegetables such as kale into the pot about 5 minutes before serving. The vegetables will wilt very quickly, so keep a sharp eye as to avoid overcooked yellow vegetables. For a robust taste, you can stir in miso into the stew. Most of the time I prefer to marinade tempeh with miso/peanut/tahini and serve it as a side dish.
Slow Cooker Medicinal Mushroom Ginseng Stew
Rich and revitalising mushroom stew made with medicinal mushrooms, ginseng, astragalus, and Job's tears. Simmered hours in a slow-cooker, the result is a powerfully rich elixir that is both food and medicine at once.
- 10 g (1 tbsp) grass-fed ghee or olive oil
- 200 g (1 large) yellow onion
- 454 g (1 lb) tender mushrooms (such as shiitake or cremini), sliced (choose shiitake if you want more medicinal compounds in your soup)
- 8 cloves garlic, smashed
- 180 g (1 cup) Job's tears (coix seed)
- 24 g (3-4 pieces) dried Chinese yam
- 8 g (2-4 slices) dried reishi mushroom
- 8 g (2-4 slices) Solomon's seal rhizome
- 6 g (2 tsp) American ginseng root, chopped
- 6 g (4 slices) wild astragalus root
- 3 g (1 pc) Agaricus blazei mushroom
- 4 no black jujube
- 8 g kombu seaweed
- 1.9 L (8 cups) filtered water
- 30 g (2 tbsp) white miso (adjust to taste)
- 1 bunch hearty greens (such as kale or chye sim), roughly chopped
- 200 g (1 block) cooked tempeh or firm tofu, diced (optional)
Set a slow cooker to saute mode; or set a saute pan on the stove. Add the ghee or oil, then add the onions and mushrooms. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions soften, about 5 minutes.
Rinse and drain the Job's tears. In a bowl, combine the dried herbs (Chinese yam, resihi, Solomon's seal, ginseng, astragalus, A. blazei, jujube). Rinse and drain the herbs.
In a slow cooker, combine the onion/mushroom mixture, Job's tears, herbs, and water. Cook on low setting for 6 hours.
5 minutes before serving, stir in the miso and and vegetable. Cover and cook until the vegetables are just wilted, but still retain their bright green colour. This will take only minutes.
To serve, ladle the stew into serving bowls. Serve with tempeh or tofu for a higher protein and complete meal.