Medicinal mushrooms are spreading rapidly through the health and wellness world, popping up in protein powders, teas, and supplements at every local health food store.
So, what are medicinal mushrooms? Are they safe? What health benefits are they supposed to have?
First off, medicinal mushrooms are part of ancient, traditional medicine going back thousands of years. These incredible fungi are known for almost every health benefit under the moon including fighting inflammation, boosting energy, decreasing anxiety, preventing cancer, and even getting you a great night’s sleep.
Yet, the one thing that most medicinal mushrooms share in common is their ability to support, maintain, and boost the immune system! In these somewhat chaotic and uncertain times, everyone could use a little boost to their immune system.
Plus, due to their growing popularity, medicinal mushrooms are available in a variety of forms including powders, extracts, tinctures, and teas, meaning you can integrate these wonderful natural medicines into your life in any way you feel comfortable.
What are Medicinal Mushrooms?
Medicinal mushrooms have been on the scene for thousands of years.
Edible medicinal mushrooms are part of traditional Chinese medicine and have been “used for health promotion and longevity in China and other East Asian countries for centuries.” In fact, Ganoderma — a very specific medicinal mushroom — has been used as an herbal remedy as far back as 2000 years.
So, what makes these fungi so great?
While research is still ongoing regarding the exact mechanism that makes this plant-based medicine tick, “structural and pharmacological studies revealed that fungal glycans show multiple physiological and healthy promoting effects including immunomodulation, anti-tumor, anti-aging, anti-oxidation, hypoglycemic, hypolipidemic, anti-radiation, and other effects.”
With that said, each mushroom has a unique set of beneficial properties. Knowing the profile of each medicinal mushroom is instrumental when choosing the appropriate single fungi or multiple mushroom mix to tackle your personal health goals!
Top 6 Medicinal Mushrooms
On that note, what exactly are the most popular medicinal mushrooms? What do they offer? How do you consume them? Where can you find them?
Lots of great questions and I’ve got all your answers!
First and foremost, before launching into the world of medicinal mushrooms, it’s important to outline your own personal health goals. Ask yourself why you’re seeking a medicinal aid? Once you’ve got some goals outlined and clarified, take a deep dive into the following medicinal mushrooms to find the perfect single or mixture!
1. Chaga Mushroom
Familiar to the medicinal practices in Siberia, Russia, Northern European countries, and other parts of Asia, Chaga mushroom has been used for a variety of health benefits and ailments including boosting immunity and improving overall health.
With that said, this mushroom can’t really be classified as attractive. Chaga forms into a “woody growth, or conk, which looks similar to a clump of burnt charcoal — roughly 10-15 inches (25-38 centimeters) in size,” yet inside you’ll discover a “soft core with an orange color.”
Known as an “antioxidant powerhouse”, Chaga mushrooms are excellent for “fighting free radicals and inflammation.” Various studies have shown this mushroom to be effective at combating oxidated stress, — “linked to skin aging” — slowing the “growth of cancer”, and it has also been found to “lower low-density lipoprotein LDL, the ‘bad’ cholesterol.” This is why Chaga mushroom is best used to fight the signs of aging, reduce inflammation, and help manage cholesterol.
Unfortunately, there aren’t any human studies that have determined Chaga’s “safety or appropriate dosage,” therefore it’s up to the consumer to find a reputable supplement company, as well as speak with a medical professional before consuming the product. While Chaga is generally safe, it’s been known to “interact with some common medications, causing potentially harmful effects,” such as those taking insulin for diabetes, those taking blood-thinning medications, or those suffering from autoimmune diseases.
If you’re looking to get your hands on some of that good old Chaga mushroom, here are a few easy options: this Sayan Siberian Wild Forest Chaga Mushroom Extract Powder Supplement, this Host Defense Chaga Capsules, or this NordicNordic Chaga Mushroom Tea.
When it comes to cordyceps, you have both the soil and insects to thank!
This parasitic fungi “grows on the larvae of insects.” How does it work? The fungi actually attack their host and replace its tissue with “long, slender stems that grow outside the host’s body.” What you’re left with are the “remains of the insect and fungi” which are “hand-collected, dried” and have been “used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for centuries.”
Of course, there’s not just one type of cordyceps. In fact, there are over “400 species of Cordyceps discovered,” yet two specific varieties “have become the focus of health research: Cordyceps sinensis and Cordyceps militaris.”
While cordyceps have been used for thousands of years to treat a myriad of ailments — including “fatigue, sickness, kidney disease, and low sex drive” — modern-day herbal practitioners generally source cordyceps to boost energy, athletic performance, and muscle recovery. Basically, cordyceps are a one-stop shop for those beginning or uber athletes!
Turns out Cordyceps sinesis is particularly “difficult to harvest and carries a price tag of more than $9,000 USD per pound,” which means that most of these mushrooms are actually synthetically grown. You’ll want to look for “brands that carry the United States Pharmacopeia (USP) or NSF International (NSF) seal,” referring to third-party organizations that weed out impurities and verify ingredients.
More research is needed to verify dosages, yet the most commonly used reference range is between “1,000 [to] 3,000 mg per day” which has been “associated with side effects and has been found to have certain health benefits.”
Cordyceps are best consumed in powder or supplement form. Here are a few vegan-friendly, online options: this Four Sigmatic Cordyceps Mushroom Elixir, this Micro Ingredients Sustainably US Grown Organic Cordyceps Mushroom Powder, or this NOW Foods Cordyceps Supplements.
3. Lion’s Mane
Lion’s mane mushrooms go by many traditional names including hou tou gu and yamabushitake and have been used far and wide in both culinary and medicinal practices in countries including China, India, Japan, and Korea. In its natural, unadulterated form, the lion’s mane mushroom is large, white, and shaggy, resembling a “lion’s mane as they grow,” hence the Westernized name. As a medicinal aid, lions mane is generally dried and used as an extract in a powder form. When it comes to cooking, this meaty mushroom is a great seafood replacement, oftentimes compared to “crab or lobster.”
Lion’s mane is particularly special in that it produces “bioprotein nerve growth factor (NFG) and myelin (insulation around nerve fibers),” both of which are “crucial to brain health.” Along with being a wonderful brain-boosting agent, lions mane is linked to increased concentration and memory, better cognition, and even a decreased level of anxiety and irritability (most likely from all those brain-boosting effects!).
While there aren’t any human studies conducted on lions mane, it’s generally considered to be a safe food to consume with the guidance of a healthcare professional. With that said, if you’re “allergic or sensitive to mushrooms” you should absolutely “avoid lion’s mane.”
Lion’s mane may look a bit scary in its natural form, yet luckily there are lovely processed forms that make this much more manageable! Try out this Host Defense Lion’s Mane Capsules, this Four Sigmatic Lion’s Mane Mushroom Elixir, or this Micro Ingredients Sustainably US Grown Organic Lions Mane Mushroom Powder.
One of the more widely recognized and popular medicinal mushrooms, reishi also happens to be one of the more affordable and easily accessible!
Also known as “Ganoderma lucidum and lingzhi,” reishi mushroom is a “fungus that grows in various hot and humid locations in Asia.” Reishi is a wonderful medicinal agent due to “several molecules, including triterpenoids, polysaccharides, and peptidoglycans, that may be responsible for its health effects.” This medicinal mushroom happens to be one of the varieties safely eaten raw, yet powdered forms are more widely used.
Reishi is well-known for its calming properties — “all of which are thanks to the compound triterpene, which reishi has its fair share of.” This mushroom is known to aid sleep, decrease symptoms of anxiety and depression, and can even increase focus. On top of that, reishi has been known to promote healing.
There are great reasons to get on board with reishi mushroom, yet there are also some safety concerns to consider and go over with your doctor beforehand.
First and foremost, studies have shown that reishi mushroom consumption may cause “upset stomach or digestive distress” and two case studies, in particular, found “significant liver problems” after switching to the powdered form of reishi mushroom. This leaves some dangling questions regarding the effect of reishi mushroom on the liver, whether there’s something off with the powdered form of reishi or whether it was a specific instance to this study.
With the limited data available, it’s recommended that those who are “pregnant or breastfeeding, have a blood disorder, will be undergoing surgery or have low blood pressure” should probably avoid reishi mushroom consumption.
Reishi is super popular in powder form, such as this Micro Ingredients Sustainably US Grown Organic Reishi Mushroom Powder. Yet, if you’re a little weary of the powder, you can always try a good old supplement such as this New Chapter Reishi Mushroom Supplement or this BoostCeuticals Reishi Mushroom Capsules.
5. Shiitake Mushrooms
Shiitake mushrooms happen to be uber popular — in fact, they “are one of the most popular mushrooms worldwide.” Along with offering some great health benefits, shiitake also have a wonderful savory flavor.
Shiitake mushrooms are “native to East Asia” and are found growing “naturally on decaying hardwood trees.” Most shiitake mushrooms are sourced from Japan — around “83 [percent] in fact” — yet they’re also grown in the “United States, Canada, Singapore, and China.” In their natural state, they are “tan to dark brown, with caps that grow between 2 and 4 inches (5 and 10 cm).” While they’re most popularly consumed raw, you can also find shiitake mushrooms in powder and extract forms.
This particular medicinal mushroom is one of the few that has a full nutrition profile offering fiber, protein, vitamins, — riboflavin, niacin, folate, B5, B6, and D — and minerals — copper, selenium, manganese, and zinc.
Plus, they’re also linked to a myriad of health benefits including boosting heart health, lowering cholesterol, improving blood pressure, increasing circulation, and boosting immunity. Shiitake is particularly nifty for “preventing plaque buildup.”
Shiitake mushroom is generally recognized as safe to consume, as long as you don’t have a food allergy to fungi or mushrooms in particular. For instance, in a few rare cases, “people have developed a skin rash from eating or handling raw shiitake,” referred to as shiitake dermatitis and “is caused by lentinan.” On top of that, some observational studies have found that long-term use of the powdered form of shiitake has led to “stomach upset and sensitivity to light.”
While you can definitely pick up some shiitake at your local grocery store to cook for dinner or even pick up a shiitake-based ingredient such as this Edward & Sons Road’s End Organics Gluten-Free Vegan Shiitake Mushroom Gravy Mix, an easier on-the-go option would be either powder or supplements, such as this Gaia Herbs Mushrooms + Herbs Reishi + Turmeric Supplement or this New Chapter Reishi Mushroom Supplement.
6. Turkey Tail
Personally, this one has the best of the names, yet don’t let this silly title dissuade you from its serious health benefits!
Turkey Tail also goes by Trametes versicolor and versicolor, yet gets its more friendly name “due to its striking colors.” This is yet another super popular medicinal aid, having been used to “treat various conditions” for centuries. One of the most recognized qualities of turkey tail is its immune-boosting powers!
Turkey tail “contains a compound called polysaccharide-K (PSK) that stimulates the immune system.” This compound is also an effective cancer-fighting agent and has been found to “improve the immune system of people receiving chemotherapy.” This mushroom also contains high amounts of antioxidants, lending to its cancer-preventing and immune-boosting properties.
While turkey tail is “considered safe,” some people have experienced “digestive symptoms like gas, bloating, and dark stools when taking turkey tail mushroom.” On top of that, another potential side effect of consuming turkey tail mushroom is the “darkening of the fingernails.” Very strange, but it’s a documented side effect!
As is the same with any other medicinal mushroom, always speak with your healthcare provider before beginning consumption!
Get some that wonderful immune-boosting turkey tail in your life with this Turkey Tail Sustainably US Grown Organic Turkey Tail Mushroom Powder, this Double Wood Turkey Tail Mushroom Supplement, or this Wild Foods Turkey Tail Mushroom Extract Powder.
Alright, so you’ve selected you’re favorite medicinal mushroom — or mix of medicinal mushrooms! — and now you want to get down and dirty with infusing your body with all of their goodness. While it’s super easy to simply add a spoonful to a flavorful smoothie or shake, it’s also just as easy to create a medicinal mushroom-based meal. Whether you want to use the whole mushroom — such as shiitake or lion’s mane — or want to stick with the non-cook powder, there’s options out there for everyone!
Shiitake is one of the most popular and easiest medicinal mushrooms to use in plant-based recipes. It’s one of the more affordable options and is generally available at your local grocery store. Plus, there are lots of ways to get this wonderful medicinal mushroom into your cooking! This Comforting Shiitake and Kale Congee recipe by Annie Oliviero is exactly that, comforting. Warm, savory, and super-nutritious, this recipe is not only filled with medicinal agents to help lower cholesterol, boost heart health, regulate blood pressure, and increase circulation, you also get a dose of detoxing and healing garlic and ginger to boost that immunity.
Next to the popularity of shiitake mushrooms, reishi is climbing the ranks in the Western world! This may be due to higher rates of anxiety and depression in these modern times or it could also be attributed to more awareness of self-care and wellness. No matter the reason, reishi is definitely a hot commodity! When it comes to cooking with reishi mushroom, try your hand at the powdered version such as in this Chocolate Reishi Latte recipe by Maria and Alyssa Tosoni. Along with a teaspoon of reishi powder — to help with sleep, anxiety, depression, and focus — this recipe calls for detoxing raw cacao powder and inflammation-fighting cinnamon, creating a concoction to calm and heal!
As mentioned, Chaga is known as one of the best medicinal mushrooms to help fight premature aging, reduce inflammation, and even helps to lower “bad” LDL cholesterol. It’s also a great ingredient to cook with! While you may think you’re stuck with hot beverages, shakes, and smoothies when it comes to using mushroom powder, you can actually include a teaspoon here and there in any of your favorite super flavorful recipes. This No-Bake Chaga Maca Cookie Bites recipe by Crystal Bonnet creates a wonderful treat that’s great to have on hand! Not only does it source those medicinal powers from a teaspoon of Chaga mushroom powder, but it’s also rich in healing and anti-inflammatory maca powder and cacao powder (and nibs!).
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