Here’s your guide to medicinal mushrooms
Some say they’re magic, but not in that way…
image Karel Bock / Getty
words Rhys Thomas
Medicinal mushrooms have had a boom in recent years, but people have believed in the healing properties of specific mushrooms for thousands of years, in many pockets of the world. Shrooms were favoured by everyone from Greek physicians to Chinese alchemists. Even Ötzi, the oldest natural mummy ever found in Europe, was discovered with two mushrooms preserved with his body – he carried one around his neck, and another in a special pouch. He was found in the Alps, somewhere between Austria and Italy, and the mushrooms are believed to have been for medicinal use.
In natural medicine, particularly across Asia, mushrooms have always played an important role. These days, more and more, we’re seeing the wellness-ification of medicinal mushrooms in the West as a form of dietary supplement. Celebrities use them, some scientific research seems to suggest they have numerous health benefits, teas, pills and edibles containing medicinal mushrooms are everywhere.
So what exactly are medicinal mushrooms?
Medicinal mushrooms are simply mushrooms that are said to have qualities that are able to heal us, alleviate issues, or prevent illnesses. While those gaining popularity tend to be edible, others are not. If you want to know about edible medicinal mushrooms and what they do, well you’re in the right place. Generally, they have a lot of antioxidants and nutrients too, like the mushrooms you’re more used to eating.
This mushroom is white and roundish but has ‘spines’ that fall off of it, giving it the resemblance of a lion’s mane, or also of a frozen waterfall. According to Clarissa Berry, a Nutritionist affiliated with DIRTEA, “Lion’s mane directly stimulates neurogenesis – the growth of new brain cells – by increasing the production of Nerve Growth Factor (NGF). It also exerts an anti-inflammatory effect on the brain while protecting against oxidative stress.” This set of features mean that the mushroom can, in theory, help with cognitive function in the present, and over time. “It is also a powerful adaptogen, with studies showing its ability to decrease stress and improve sleep quality.” Berry adds. She recommends taking it for at least a couple weeks before benefits will appear.
These are bright orange and sort of spindly-looking mushrooms. In nature, they’re known to take over the minds of ants, make them climb trees, and then explode so that their spores can spread along the forest floor and turn into more mushrooms. You might have heard of them if you’ve ever seen or played The Last Of Us. In this game and television show, these mushroms begin to take over humans in a similar way to how they take over ants in the wild. In reality, people consume them without turning into zombies (for now at least, spooky!). They’re linked to increased energy, anti-ageing properties, and according to Chinese medicine, libido.
These look a bit like a fan and are dark orange and shiny. Reishi mushrooms are used in eastern medicine systems often, and has been shown to be able to affect white blood cells in ways which are important for our immune system. According to some studies, they can help to prevent cancer, and are anti-inflammatory – “elevated inflammation is associated with chronic disease” says Berry. Often you’ll find reishi mushrooms in night-time products as it’s also said to help with sleep.
Chaga mushrooms look like a weird piece of coal-coloured wood on the outside, and are a lovely orange colour inside. They grow mainly in cold, northern hemisphere places like Russia, Alaska, and Siberia where they have been used medicinally for centuries. Chaga mushrooms are used because they're said to have powerful antioxidant properties and because they stimulate white blood cells, both of which can help prevent cancer, heart disease, and more chronic illnesses. Chaga mushrooms are also very high in fibre. There’s a chance that they can interact with some medication, so it’s always worth speaking to your doctor before adding chaga (or anything else, really!) to your diet.
A common food source (and great vegan substitute in all sorts of meals due to its meaty texture) shiitake mushrooms can be found in many supermarkets in the UK, even though they’re from east Asia. You’ll also find it in powder form when being used more for medical means. Initial research suggests bioactive compounds in shiitake might help to prevent inflammation and cancer, but research on humans is needed in order to determine this. We do know that shiitake contains compounds which can lower cholesterol, which can in instances help with heart disease.
How to take medicinal mushrooms
While in theory you could cook and eat medicinal mushrooms (like shiitake), some are very bitter and not nice in their natural form (like chaga). Therefore generally, they’re far better dried and ground into a powder, plus this way you can get a lot more mushroom in you. As a powder, you combine it with liquid – cold or hot water work well, but blending it in with a coffee, tea, smoothie, or even adding it to stocks and stews.
The other convenient way is to have the mushrooms in pill form. The powder is placed inside a capsule (often vegan and gluten-free) and then you simply swallow it with some water. The convenience here is the doses are all pre-measured, but buying the powder tends to be cheaper. In all cases, consult with a doctor before adding to your regime, and stick to the recommended doses supplied with the product.
Where can you get medicinal mushrooms?
Right here, on our feel-good store! There’s plenty of choice and a variety of options. Let’s show you some.
The best tin of coal
This tub of finely ground chaga is certified organic and sourced from the wild. If you’re looking for a nice receptacle to fill and refill with the powerful antioxidant, look no further.
Looking for more of a reviving solution than an unwind? Mushrooms are still the answer. Reishi, full of the goods. And here, there’s more! Vitamin C from acerola cherries, liquorice root, and more. The capsule makes it super convenient too, just swallow the dose each morning.
the duo 👯♀️
A lovely duo. One to help you rise and shine, and another to help with focus and clarity of thought. Lion’s mane is there for the brain powers (along with red ginseng root, white ginseng root) and reishi (along with lemon balm and gotu cola) to help you feel energised.
When you don’t want to swallow pills or taste lots of mushrooms, but still want the benefits, a tincture is ideal. A few drops under the tongue (where there’s less tastebuds) and swallow. In the little potion there’s lion’s mane, sage, rosemary, and lemon balm. A combination ideal for focus and clarity.
get up and go!
Along with the energising rise and shine set we mentioned, this duo has the daily defence supplement. Reishi, chaga, and cordyceps are the ideal morning-time mushrooms to keep you going all day. There’s also a good dose of vitamin C.
A real wildcard, plant-based protein powder made from rice and peas, and a load of mushrooms: shiitake, maitake, reishi, cordyceps. Immune system, energy, protein; check, check and check. A great addition to any exercise regime. You can choose either chocolate or vanilla flavour.
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This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your doctor with any questions you may have.
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