- Associated Press - Monday, April 28, 2014

WEST SALEM, Wis. (AP) - Brent Severeid is busy inoculating mushrooms, although the term is misleading because it’s not as if they were sick.

Rather, the word describes the process of “planting” shiitake mushrooms in oak logs, to be harvested a year later and for several years thereafter.

Severeid takes advantage of the abundance of oak trees on his 70-acre, mostly wooded, High Springs Farm near West Salem to grow shiitakes to sell.

“The reason I do it commercially is because it’s a product nobody else has, and it’s hard to get into the business,” said Severeid, who started growing the fungi about 10 years ago and is one of about 200 shiitake farmers in the United States.

“We’re pretty much the only vendor at farmers markets,” he said of the mushroom, which is native to Japan, China and Korea.

Touted as a medicinal remedy in East Asia, shiitakes also are developing a reputation for health attributes in the West.

“There are a lot of health benefits,” Severeid told the La Crosse Tribune (http://bit.ly/1frl8ou). “My mentor in ecology - professor Tom Volk - says shiitakes cure everything from constipation to diarrhea.

“But I don’t grow them for health reasons,” Severeid said with a smile. “I do it because they taste good.”

Volk, a biology professor at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, said the constipation-diarrhea comment “is more of an exaggeration because some say it cures constipation. But like all good exaggerations, there’s an element of truth to it.”

The shiitake is credited with boosting the immune system, “so it has to be taken over a long period,” which is common in the use of such Asian remedies, said Volk, a fungi expert.

“You can’t just take a pill and be cured,” Volk said.

The American Cancer Society acknowledges the potential for shiitakes to help fight cancer and AIDS and prevent heart disease, although the society notes that clinical studies are needed.

Severeid plans to sell the shiitakes at the Cameron Park and Riverside Park farmers markets in La Crosse at a cost of $3.50 for a quart-size basket.

“I sell by volume instead of weight because if it is rainy or high humidity, they weigh a lot,” he said. “If it’s dry, they don’t weigh as much.”

Severeid also nurtures oyster mushrooms in straw, but shiitakes account for about 75 percent of his ‘shroom crop.

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