Medicinal Mushroom Health Benefits: Nature’s Miracle Foods
Medicinal mushrooms are similar in genetic makeup to the mushrooms you would put on a pizza or in a salad, but they are loaded with special health-enhancing compounds. These ‘wise’ mushrooms outnumber plant species by at least 6 to 1, and out of an estimated 5.1 million species of fungi only around 270 of them are believed to have medicinal qualities. Some of the most famous species of medicinal mushrooms are red duanwood reishi, cordyceps, lion’s mane, turkey tail, chaga, and tremella.
History of Medicinal Mushrooms
Throughout the ages and across the globe, people have taken medicinal mushrooms in a bid to prevent disease and increase energy and vitality. Hieroglyphics suggest that the ancient Egyptians considered mushrooms to be delicacies, while the Romans saw mushrooms as a gift god. Medicinal mushrooms are prescribed in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), and have been used in many Eastern cultures for thousands of years.
Medicinal mushrooms and their health benefits are listed In Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing’s classic text on herbalism. Written around 200 AD, this important book provides detailed information on 365 powerful tonics, herbs and mushrooms. In this book, red duanwood Reishi is referred to as the most superior of all herbs and chaga is referred to as the king of mushrooms. Twenty species of medicinal mushrooms are also listed in the 53-volume Compendium of Materia Medica which is one of the most extensive herbal reference books ever compiled.
Medicinal Mushroom Benefits
Although they have been prescribed for thousands of years, mycologists and researchers are only scratching the surface when it comes to documenting the incredible healing properties of medicinal mushrooms. From supporting the immune system and slowing down tumor growth to improving the skin, medicinal mushrooms have an enormous range of beautifying, rejuvenating and healing properties.
Medicinal mushrooms help to strengthen the immune system, nourish the nervous system, increase energy, decrease stress, detoxify the liver, reduce inflammation, lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure, support a healthy metabolism and balance moods.
Medicinal Mushroom Nutritional Profile
When you look at the mushroom body, what you are actually seeing is their ‘fruit’. Mushrooms are composed of intricate thread-like membranes which are called mycelium. To the naked eye these look much like thin threads of cotton wool but when viewed under a microscope they resemble a network of nerves. Medicinal mushrooms display a cellular intelligence and are extremely adaptive depending on their growing environment.
While each species of medicinal mushroom has its own benefits, there are several similarities amongst many of the species. Most medicinal mushrooms have immune-enhancing properties and contain high levels of antioxidants that help to fight free radical damage. They are rich in bioactive compounds including proteins, fats, alkaloids, flavonoids, carotenoids, folates, enzymes, and organics acids as well as vitamins and minerals. Medicinal mushrooms contain polysaccharides, including beta-glucans. Some mycologists even suggest that the body is hard-wired to accept polysaccharides from medicinal mushrooms through immune receptors.
Medicinal Mushrooms for the Immune System
Medicinal mushrooms are immune-modulators which means that they respond to the state of your immune system to provide the most appropriate immune response for your body and current health circumstances. They can help to strengthen the immune system and help the body to fight off colds, flu, viruses, and disease. The same applies when it comes to their adaptogenic qualities, as they can work with the body to help it to better cope with physical mental and environmental stresses.
A Natural Source of Vitamin D
Our body is able to absorb vitamin D from natural sunlight, but we can get dietary vitamin D by ingesting medicinal mushrooms. Researchers at Harvard University estimate that over 1 billion people worldwide are deficient in vitamin D, but deficiencies are typically hard to spot as a lack of this vitamin may cause subtle or no symptoms until supplies are running really low. Severe deficiency can lead to difficulty in thinking clearly, bone and muscle pain, and tiredness. These symptoms can eventually put you at risk for osteoporosis, and impaired immune systems. Dietary forms of vitamin D are rare to come by, particularly if you don't consume animal products. In fact, mushrooms provide one of the only vegan-friendly sources of vitamin D around.
Medicinal Mushrooms and the Environment
While these mushrooms may be able to heal our bodies, on a broader scale they could also help to heal the world too. Medicinal mushrooms can be used to clean up oil spills, filter wastewater, and even reduce radioactive contamination. Some believe that medicinal mushrooms could be taken on long-distance space journeys to help terraform other planets. From inner world to outer world, one thing is clear, medicinal mushrooms contain a wealth of health-improving compounds that are too vast to ignore.
Health Benefits of Medicinal Mushrooms
Cordyceps Mushroom: Increases energy, enhances athletic ability, strengthens the immune system
Reishi Mushroom: Reduces stress, cleanses the liver, strengthens the immune system, supports adrenal function
Tremella Mushroom: Promotes a healthy complexion, anti-aging, nourishes the lungs
Turkey Tail Mushroom: Supports the immune system, relieves fatigue, anti-inflammatory
Chaga Mushroom: Provides immune support, aids digestion, anti-inflammatory, balances mood
Lion's Mane Mushroom: Nourishes the nervous system, improves cognitive function, alleviates anxiety
Shiitake Mushroom: Strengthens the immune system, supports the liver, balances mood
Maitake Mushroom: Balances blood sugar levels, lowers cholesterol, supports the immune system
If you're interested in learning more, we highly recommend the book, Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help to Save the World, written by Paul Stamets.
Medicinal Mushroom Side Effects
Medicinal mushrooms are non-toxic and safe to use, and most species have no reported side effects. However, there are some things to take into consideration before deciding to take medicinal mushroom supplements.
How to Choose the Best Medicinal Mushrooms
Many of these mushrooms need to be carefully prepared in order to break down their cell walls, to remove toxins, and to make the nutrients in the mushrooms easily digestible. Luckily, you can skip this time
-consuming process if you buy medicinal mushroom supplements which are pre-prepared and ready to use.
Concentrated extracts are particularly potent as the raw mushroom is transformed into a more nutrient-dense powder. If a powder is listed as a 10x concentrated extract it means that ten pounds of raw mushroom are transformed into one pound of extract powder, so you’ll receive ten times the amount of nutrients from the raw mushroom per spoonful. Medicinal mushrooms are also available in tincture, capsule, tablet, and spray format.
For the highest quality mushrooms, try and choose wildcrafted or organic fungi which are ethically grown or carefully cultivated as well as traditionally prepared. If you can’t decide between cordyceps and chaga or tremella and turkey tail, then you can try a mushroom complex which is a potent blend of some of the most powerful medicinal mushroom species around. Many of the mushrooms work synergistically, and will often provide additional immune support when taken together rather than separately.
How to Use Medicinal Mushrooms
Powdered medicinal mushrooms are extremely versatile as they can be easily incorporated into drinks and foods. You can blend the powder into smoothies and juices, stir it in warm water to make a nutritious tonic tea, or mix it with other tonic herbs and superfoods to make a healing elixir.
Depending on their flavor profile and healing properties, some mushrooms work particularly well when prepared in certain ways. For example, reishi is commonly infused in warm water to make reishi tea, or added to coffee to make a rich and earthy brew. Cordyceps makes an excellent workout supplement, so it can be added to pre-workout smoothies or used in snack bars. Powdered mushroom extracts are also commonly used to add a dose of goodness to a range of plant-based, vegan and vegetarian dishes including protein bars and balls, cakes, sauces, soups, dresses, dips, chocolate and more.
Medicinal Mushroom Recipes
From delicious teas to delectable desserts, medicinal mushroom powders are so versatile that they can be added to a huge range of drinks and dishes. Here are two nutritious medicinal mushroom recipes to get you started:
Raw Banana Nice Cream
Did you know that you can make thick and creamy dairy-free ice cream with just one healthy ingredient? Well, you can, and that ingredient is the humble banana. The trick to getting the creamiest ice cream is to use bananas that are covered in brown spots (but catch them before they get mushy).
Peel three bananas and place them into the freezer. When they have fully frozen, pop them into your blender along with your desired dose of medicinal mushroom powder, and then blend until smooth. Top the banana nice cream with fruits, berries, chopped nuts, or coconut flakes. Yum.
Creamy Vegan Mushroom Latte
From icy cold to spicy and warm, this latte is a perfect pick me up in cold winter mornings. It can be made with a mushroom complex blend or with a concentrated mushroom extract powder such as chaga, turkey tail or tremella powder. Pour two cups of coconut milk into a blender along with 1 tsp of mushroom powder, 1 tbsp of coconut butter and a dash of cinnamon. Blend until smooth, and then gently heat the latte in a saucepan on a low heat until it warms up. Pour into a mug and enjoy.
Medicinal Mushroom Facts
Reishi was such a sought after mushroom that Chinese Royalty reserved it solely for their own use
Chaga contains more antioxidants than any other natural substance on earth
Lion's mane has a delicate taste and it is considered to be a gourmet food
Around 270 species of mushroom are believed to have medicinal qualities
The use of shiitake mushrooms dates back to 199 AD, when they were presented as gifts to the Emperor
- Maitake is nicknamed the dancing mushroom, as legend has it that those who found it would jump for joy