Medicinal mushrooms are having a moment. If you haven’t noticed, they’re showing up in everything – from lattes to superfood powders. Varieties like chaga, reishi, and shitake have become the next “it” superfoods, and for good reason!
In ancient times, medicinal mushrooms were a staple in healing practices. From ancient China, Tibet, and Russia they’ve been used to treat ailments and diseases for thousands of years.
Nowadays, we consider mushrooms a health food. And yes, they’re loaded with antioxidants and vitamins, but the health benefits of medicinal mushrooms go way beyond just being good for you.
What Exactly is a Medicinal Mushroom?
Regular ole’ portabella and white mushrooms have been a healthy food mainstay for ages, so what makes medicinal mushrooms medicinal? And what exactly are their benefits?
Let’s dive deeper…
One of the main differences with medicinal mushrooms vs regular mushrooms are the way they’re ingested. While regular mushrooms are delicious sautéed or thrown in a salad, medicinal ‘shrooms are typically consumed in powder or capsule form. This is because their strong, “planty” taste and indigestible fiber wouldn’t be edible cooked up in a traditional dish. That’s why all sorts of creative ways for using them are springing up, like these popular mushroom lattes!
And while all mushrooms contain beneficial antioxidants that help to promote the immune system and lower inflammation, the specific medicinal mushrooms I’m covering here are especially beneficial…not only for enhancing immunity and decreasing inflammation, but also as anti-carcinogens that help improve blood sugar, circulation, and brain health.
Today I’m discussing the following medicinal mushrooms and exploring the specific benefits of each:
- lion’s mane
- turkey tail
Let’s dig in to these magical medicinal fungi, shall we?!
Reishi mushrooms are probably the most popular medicinal mushroom, mostly known for their anti-carcinogen and immunity boosting benefits, but they can also help reduce stress and balance your hormones.
If you’re feeling on edge or in a “funk” (we’ve all been there) adding reishi to your diet is a natural way to get your zen on while also providing other health benefits.
Here’s a look at some of the benefits being studied:
A study of breast cancer survivors found that adding reishi powder to their diet improved quality of life and reduced fatigue while also lessening anxiety levels.
Another study linked reishi to improved white blood cell levels, resulting in a better ability to fight infections and disease.
A little less known, cordyceps are actually a parasitic fungus. Crazy, right? They’ve been used in eastern medicine for ages and can be a great thing to add to your diet to boost energy, sexual health, and immunity in general.
We use a molecule called ATP to help power our bodies with the energy, strength, and stamina it needs to perform at its peak. It’s thought that adding cordyceps to the diet improves athletic performance. I don’t know about you, but I’m a fan of any food that helps me power through my workout with a little more oomph!
Although humans studies are still underway, the preliminary research points to cordycep’s ability to fight off tumors and many types of cancer cells, plus provide tons of antioxidants to slow signs of aging. Other preliminary results? Improvements to heart health and diabetes. All in all, cordyceps a powerhouse!
Lion’s mane gets its name for obvious reasons – if you’ve ever seen one, you’ll immediately notice its long, mane-like tendrils. This one is actually delicious sautéed in some olive oil or added to an omelet!
Lion’s mane is known for its brain benefits, acting as a powerful, natural defense to cognitive conditions like dementia, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s disease. Much of the research in this area is still in preliminary stages, but a few human studies have shown lion’s mane absolutely boosts brain function and memory, so eat up!
It’s even been shown that lions mane can speed up the healing process from nervous system injuries.
Chaga’s a bit of a celeb in the medicinal mushroom world, so you’ve likely heard of this fungi, which is best enjoyed as hot tea or a “latte” (hot water or alcohol is needed to break it down into a digestible form).
It’s fame is warranted because in just one cup of chaga tea, you’re getting as many antioxidants as you’d get from 30 lbs of carrots! For this reason, it’s a great immunity booster (and may even help you ward off that cold that’s been going around). It also keeps long term inflammation at bay which, left unchecked, can lead to serious problems like arthritis and heart disease.
Lowering cholesterol, blood sugar, and even the risk of cancer are suspected additional perks of chaga mushroom, although studies are still preliminary.
This striped, scalloped, brightly-hued mushroom is, like most, packed with powerful antioxidants known to boost the immune system, fight off harmful toxins, and help us stay well.
Another reason turkey tail makes this list is its powerful benefits for cancer patients. Preliminary animal studies indicate that compounds found in turkey tail mushrooms may help slow tumor growth. Turkey tail has also been shown to help mitigate the negative effects chemotherapy has on the immune system.
Rounding out our list of six awesome medicinal mushrooms is shitake!
Shitake is a well-known mushroom available in most grocery stores that packs in way more benefits than most people realize.
Preliminary research shows that eating shitake may protect the heart by keeping cholesterol and blood pressure low and protect the arteries from a buildup of plaque. Like most mushrooms, they also boost the immune system and reduce inflammation.
Shitake mushrooms are delicious used fresh sauteed with olive oil or dried for a savory Unami flavor in soups.
The Healing Benefits of Medicinal Mushrooms Are Seriously Impressive!
With somewhere between 14,000-22,000 specifies of mushrooms and the collective interest in medicinal mushrooms growing, you can expect more and more research coming on the incredible health perks of this amazing superfood.
To try out some of the ones on this list, you can pick up some ready-to-brew latte or mocha mixes made from mushrooms (see resources below!).
Turkey tail, chaga, cordyceps, and reishi are usually consumed in powdered, tea, or tincture form. You may want to double check with your doctor or Integrative Dietitian before beginning a new regime, as some medicinal mushrooms can lower blood pressure or interfere with other meds.
Lion’s mane and shitake are both great eaten in dishes or raw, like in stir frys, omelets or, or a creamy risotto. Whatever your favorite mushroom from this list, you’ll be getting tons of powerful anti-inflammatory, immunity boosting benefits with every bite or sip of a mushroom latte, so try to work mushrooms into your daily diet!
Resources for Buying Medicinal Mushrooms
My Supplement Dispensary (get 10% off; see Mushroom Category)
Foursigmatic (for mushroom coffees, elixers and powder)