While the term “medicinal mushroom” may sound like a euphemism for something being consumed in a Cheech and Chong movie, we’re actually talking about adaptogens that provide research-backed immune support.
To be clear, these mushrooms are not psychoactive. Medicinal mushrooms such as Reishi and Lion’s Mane have long been used in Eastern medicine traditions. It has been generally understood that these types of mushrooms provide many supplemental benefits to enhance general wellness, based on ancient tradition.
Now, modern scientific studies are beginning to back up what we’ve intuitively suspected all along. Medicinal Mushrooms are, in fact, amazing. Check out some of the benefits of some of our favorite gilled fungi below.
The health benefits of medicinal mushrooms
Medicinal mushrooms support and modulate your immunity. They work with your body’s natural digestive processes to break down key ingredients. Medicinal mushrooms contain amino acids, calcium, magnesium, selenium, zinc, and B vitamins (including folate). They help your body form healthy probiotic bacteria and they are naturally low in sugar.
Medicinal mushrooms (also known as functional mushrooms) have wide-ranging benefits. Medicinal mushrooms suppress and balance TH 1 vs. TH 2 cellular responses. They are excellent adrenal adaptogens that help cortisol go up or down, depending on what the body needs. They help our bodies provide immunity naturally. Medicinal mushrooms are anti-inflammatory, immune supporting, cancer fighting, and brain boosting.
That’s a pretty powerful list. And it’s just a start to what we know about these wonders.
Some of our favorite medicinal mushrooms
While 22,000 known species of mushrooms exist, we especially love Reishi, Chaga, Cordyceps, Lion’s Mane and Fu Ling Poria. Let’s take a closer look at each of these beautiful fungi.
Traditional Chinese Medicine's go-to herb promoting longevity, Reishi is alternately called the “Elixir of Life” and the “Mushroom of Immortality.” Reishi includes compounds called triterpenes that have shown to fight against cancerous tumors. Beta-glucans in Reishi mushrooms help increase immune response.
As a bitter and woody adaptogen, Reishi helps combat the negative impacts of stress and promotes balance in the body. Reishi mushrooms have long been understood to promote overall wellness and tonification, helping provide greater energy, encouraging healthy sleep, and fighting off anxiety.
Chaga is a dark brown rough fungus with a bright orange center, and it is found growing on the trunks of birch trees in colder climates.The Chaga mushroom, found in the Northern Hemisphere, contains potential anticancer and immunostimulating effects. It helps to reduce fatigue and inflammation, and increase mental sharpness.
Chaga's antioxidants surpass those of most other nutrition sources. Beta-glucans in Chaga also stimulate the immune system’s warriors, lymphocytes. They also have many other impressive qualities such as energy boosting, cancer fighting, and increasing cognitive function. It can be taken every day to enhance your digestive system’s function.
Cordyceps, sometimes known as the “"club fungus" because of its shape, has long been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to support kidney health, lung support, and immune strength for centuries. Discovered during the Ming Dynasty, Cordyceps was originally reserved exclusively for the emperor of China and his family as a tonic to boost sexual health. It is considered sweet, acrid and bitter.
Cordyceps has anti-inflammatory effects and contains an antioxidant known as Cordycepin. It has been shown to combat fatigue, to improve strength and endurance, and to support recovery.
Studies have shown Cordycepin may have anti-cancer properties. It is also believed to improve lung function, having been used for that purpose in Chinese medicine since the 17th century.
Lion's mane is an aptly named mushroom, given it’s appearance -- many thick, silky strands looking like those of a wild animal.
Lion’s Mane has profound nootropic characteristics. It promotes mental cognition and clarity. It improves memory. In studies, Lion’s mane has also been shown to protect against reverse neurodegenerative diseases. It increases the production of Nerve Growth Factor (NGF). It also works as an antioxidant, anti inflammatory, and may improve mood, anxiety and depression.
Fu Ling Poria
Often found growing on pine trees, Fu Ling Poria is considered to have a sweet taste or no taste. Fu Ling Poria has a history in Traditional Chinese medicine for diuretic and tonifying effects, and is also believed to provide support for the immune system. Compounds present in the Ful Ling Poria fungus have antimicrobial effects in the body.
Fu Ling Poria may lower blood sugar and benefit heart health. Studies on Fu Ling Poria show promising antitumor effects as well.
The best way to consume medicinal mushrooms.
Mushrooms are best consumed daily, in concert with whole foods. The body functions in a sophisticated way and we see greater benefits in taking them over time alongside a wide variety of foods.
The texture of some mushrooms in their natural state can be off-putting in food, so traditionally medicinal mushrooms have been taken and added to tea and coffee. Today, mushrooms are increasingly being offered in powdered forms that allow us to retain the health benefits while enhancing the texture.
The sourcing of medicinal mushrooms matters a great deal to ensure quality, freshness, and potency. You want to know that you’re not accidentally taking in mycotoxins or harmful yeast along with your medicinal mushrooms.
While it’s hard to go wrong with holistic plant-based medicine, take herbs with caution if you are on any medications, and consult your medical provider if you have questions. While over 150 effects have been found in plant and animal studies, more human clinical trials are needed to better understand and learn the full potential impact of Medicinal Mushrooms.