For thousands of years, medicinal mushrooms have been utilized as both a food and medicine. Traditional and folk healers have revered these special fungi for their healing properties. Medicinal mushrooms are particularly popular in China and other East Asian countries where they are used in traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for promoting health and longevity.
There are over 10,000 different types of mushrooms known but only certain mushrooms are classified as ‘medicinal’. These mushrooms have a long history of medicinal use, and their biologically active compounds exhibit a wide range of pharmacological activities that support good health and wellbeing.
The most valuable and well-studied medicinal mushrooms include shiitake, Reishi, cordyceps, turkey tail, maitake, lion’s mane, and chaga. These mushrooms have a myriad of health benefits including strengthening the immune system and promoting longevity. They have been found to enhance cognition and memory, increase stamina and energy, reduce inflammation, and promote adrenal and nervous system health. Many of these mushrooms also offer protection against cancer, type-2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
Medicinal mushrooms are nutritional powerhouses and make a wholesome addition to the diet. Mushrooms are rich source of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants including B vitamins, vitamin D, iron, potassium and selenium. They are also a good vegetarian source of protein, and provide a type of insoluble fibre called chitin that acts as a prebiotic which boosts the growth of beneficial gut microbiota and helps reduce inflammation of the gut lining.
Medicinal mushrooms contain polysaccharides called beta-glucans, which are sugars found in the cell walls of fungi. Beta-glucans help support the immune system by enhancing macrophage and natural killer function. They can also modulate the immune system by down-regulating an overactive immune system when needed, as seen in autoimmune diseases. Beta-glucans also have natural antibiotic and antiviral properties.
Here are some of the top medicinal mushrooms you should be adding in your daily diet.
CHAGA (Inonotus obliquus):
Called “king of the mushrooms” chaga was traditionally used in folk medicine throughout Russia to treat digestive complaints and cardiovascular disease. Today chaga is a valued ‘adaptogenic’ tonic that supports adrenal and immune function, and improves gastrointestinal imbalances. Chaga is rich in antioxidants, which are important for protecting cells and DNA from damaging free radicals. Chaga also has anti-inflammatory properties that help reduce inflammation in the body, which is a major cause of oxidation and disease. Chaga also contains betulinic acid, an important triterpenoid compound that has shown to have anti-cancer effects.
CORDYCEPS (Cordyceps sinensis):
Cordyceps, known as the ‘the caterpillar fungus’, is the most expensive fungi in the world. This valuable mushroom is an incredible energy-boosting fungi. Traditional healers use this fungus as a powerful tonic to improve energy, appetite, stamina, and endurance. Studies have shown that cordyceps can increase the production of ATP, the compound that gives cells energy. Cordyceps can help improve exercise and physical performance.
REISHI (Ganoderma lucidum):
Known as ‘the mushroom of mortality’ Reishi mushrooms have been used for thousands of years in TCM as a longevity tonic and to restore and balance Shen (emotional balance). Traditionally Reishi has been used to improve sleep and cognition, reduce anxiety, and build strength and stamina. Chinese Taoist monks wrote of using Reishi mushrooms to promote calmness, and to enhance their meditative practices. Reishi is a potent ‘adaptogenic’ medicinal mushroom, which supports adrenal function, and improves the body’s resistance to stress and disease. Reishi is also considered an anti-stress mushroom that soothes and calms an overactive nervous system, easing anxiety and aiding sleep. This is an ideal mushroom for anyone with adrenal fatigue, or who feels stressed out and fatigued. Reishi mushrooms also contain immune-modulating beta-glucans, and have anti-cancerous, liver-protective and blood sugar balancing properties.
TURKEY TAIL (Trametes versicolor):
In TCM turkey tail has been traditionally used for supporting digestion, strengthening the immune system, and promoting vitality. Turkey tail’s most impressive health benefit is its ability to enhance the immune system. Turkey tail contains various polysaccharides, in particular polysaccharide K (PSK), that has a stimulating effect on the immune system, encouraging the body the produce more immune cells. PSK also has anti-cancerous activity, suppressing the growth of tumours. Studies have shown that turkey tail is beneficial for gut health too, as it acts as a prebiotic to promote the growth of beneficial gut microbiome. A large percentage of our immune cells lie within the gut. Supporting gut health is important way to promote a strong functioning immune system.
LIONS MANE (Hericium erinaceaus):
Lion’s mane is a superb mushroom for supporting brain function and nervous system health. It contains a number of important phytonutrients like beta-glucan that have immune-modulating, antioxidant and neuro-protective effects. Research suggests that lion’s mane can help promote nerve tissue growth. Certain compounds found in Lion’s mane, namely hericenones and erinacines, can induce Nerve Growth Factor (NGF) synthesis in nerve cells, which are necessary for the growth, maintenance, and survival of nerve cells in our brain and nervous system.
You will find chaga, cordyceps and lion’s mane in our healthy hot chocolate, Bodhi Organic Hot ChocolaTEA, along with adaptogenic herbs to support immune and adrenal health.
Written by Lisa Guy, naturopath + founder of Bodhi Organic Tea.