Medicinal Benefits of Snow Fungus

Photo credit: Cotinis (2012)

Snow Fungus

Latin name: Tremella fuciformis (Basidiomycetes [button mushroom] family)
Other common names: bai mu erh, shirokikurage, silver tree-ear fungus, white jelly-leaf, white muer, white tree-ear, wood ear fungus

General Description
Snow fungus is a white, nearly translucent, "trembling" fungus throughout Asia and in warmer climates worldwide. The fungus gets the common name of wood ear for the way it looks on the decaying logs on which it grows. Good-quality snow fungus has a pale, yellowish-white color and a mucilagelike texture. Chinese and Japanese herbalists have used snow fungus for more than 2,000 years, primarily to increase fluids in the body, for dry coughs, and for palpitations. It has been used as a tonic herb and as a beauty enhancer to improve the complexion.

Evidence of Benefit
Snow fungus is an immune stimulant that may help fight infection as seen in cell studies. Laboratory studies have found that it also demonstrates antitumor activity, lowers levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or "bad") cholesterol, protects the liver, and fights inflammation, and that it may slow the ageing process. Supposedly, if snow fungus is eaten regularly, facial freckles will disappear, although this has not been tested in any scientific fashion.
Benefits of snow fungus for specific health conditions include the following:

  • -Atherosclerosis and high cholesterol: In Japan, snow fungus is used to prevent atherosclerosis, in which cholesterol gathers into plaques within the arteries. It does this by lowering total blood cholesterol levels. to date, however only one preliminary clinical study has confirmed the value for snow fungus for this purpose. However, research on snow fungus polysacchairdes as infection-fighters has confirmed that hey help maintain cholesterol levels within the linings of cells, where cholesterol is needed, possibly helping to draw it out of the bloodstream.

  • -Cancer: Scientific studies in cells and animals have found that the mucilage-like polysaccharides found in snow fungus fit like keys into receptor sites on certain immune cells. This increased the production of interferon and interleukin-2(IL-2), two important immune-system chemicals, and stimulated the production of germ-eating macrophages. Snow fungus also increases the activity of natural killer (NK) cells and enhances the effectiveness of antibodies. In addition, snow fungus reduces the rate at which cancers spread in a laboratory setting. In order to grow and spread, tumours have to establish their own blood vessel systems. Snow fungus compounds counteract a blood chemical platelet-activating factor (PAF), which makes the blood less likely to clots and spins a fibrin "net" on which blood vessels to serve the tumour can form. None of these actions have been confirmed in humans.

Laboratory tests have demonstrated that snow fungus extracts kill cervical cancer cells, as well as those taken from other types of tumours. Snow fungus is known to sensitize the cervix and uterus to radiation treatment, making that treatment more effective. One medical use of snow fungus is to increase white blood cell counts in people undergoing chemotherapy or radiation treatment for cancer. This is a serious condition, however, so do not use snow fungus in this case without first consulting a physician.

- p. 128, Prescription for Herbal Healing: An Easy-To-Use A-Z Reference to Hundreds of Common disorders and Their Herbal Remedies by Phyllis A. Balch, CNC (2002)

Snow Fungus, Tremella fuciformis, fungi for cancer