At leafie, we’re not just fascinated by mushrooms of the psychedelic variety. Once you open your eyes to the wonders of fungi, it’s hard to ignore their healing power.
Mushrooms may not seem like the obvious choice of supplement to keep you fighting fit, but the fungi kingdom is unlike any other. The health benefits of medicinal mushrooms are actually rather remarkable.
The magic of mushrooms
Medicinal mushrooms have played a crucial role in Eastern medicine for generations, but Western medicine is only now beginning to take these powerful organisms a little more seriously. It’s becoming more and more clear that medicinal mushroom extracts have the power to prevent, alleviate, and cure disease by strengthening our heart health, brain health, and immune health.
It is important to note that some of the reported health benefits of medicinal mushrooms have not yet been proven. Despite some very promising studies, far more human research needs to be undertaken to solidify the evidence.
Whilst scientists remain cautiously optimistic about the use of mushrooms in medical practice, that hasn’t stopped the health and wellness industry from giving them a go. Medicinal mushrooms can be found in the form of lattes, smoothie blends, herbal teas, and even non-alcoholic beer. It’s looking like mushrooms might be the health craze of 2022.
Here, we look at 5 of the major medicinal mushrooms and what they could do for your health, as well as for modern medicine.
The lion’s mane mushroom, named so because of its shaggy fur-like spines, has been deemed nature’s brain food. It contains hericenones and erinacines. These chemical compounds encourage the production of the nerve growth factor (NGF) protein, which helps to protect brain cells and stimulate their growth.
Lion’s mane mushrooms may therefore help to prevent cognitive decline with ageing, improve memory, and even reduce levels of anxiety. There’s also some pretty exciting evidence to say that they could play a role in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease and mood disorders.
Outside of the clinic, lion’s mane mushrooms can act as a little mental boost. For anyone looking to combat a case of brain fog, improve their focus, and reduce stress, it might be worth adding a spoonful of lion’s mane powder to your morning coffee or smoothie.
Reishi is often termed ‘the mushroom of immortality’. It appears to be a bit of an all-rounder, acting as a powerful immune booster, stress-buster, and sleep aid. Historically, reishi was used by Taoist monks in China as a calming tool to deepen their meditative state. Now, its clinical potential lies in reishi’s ability to enhance immune function.
Reishi contains high levels of beta-glucans, active ingredients known to strengthen the immune system. Beta-glucans can stimulate immune cells and the release of inflammatory chemicals, which ensures that the body is equipped to fight off infections, viruses, and tumour cells.
Like many medicinal mushrooms, reishi is what is known as an adaptogen; it helps the body adapt to stress. So, a daily dose of reishi mushrooms may help to protect against fatigue, poor sleep, bad moods, and everything else that comes with mental and physical stress.
Funnily enough, the Chaga mushroom doesn’t actually look like a mushroom at all. It is a parasitic fungus that is dark in colour and found on trees. Chaga is a mighty antioxidant, so has been widely used by folk medicine in Russia for centuries.
Antioxidants mop up free radicals in the body. These are molecules that damage cells, cause inflammation, and trigger disease. Since we begin to lose the ability to fight off free radicals with age, chaga is said to have age-defying properties.
With the Chaga mushroom also being rich in beta-glucans, there are anecdotal reports of this fungus being an effective common cold buster. So, as flu season continues, perhaps it’s time to add a Chaga herbal tea to your routine.
Here’s one you might already be familiar with. Shiitake is a popular mushroom in the kitchen, prized for its rich umami flavour. We already know they make a great stir-fry, but shiitake mushrooms might be doing more for your heart than they are for your taste buds.
There is an increasing body of evidence to suggest that shiitake mushrooms can lower cholesterol levels. This has not yet been confirmed in humans, but numerous animal studies have shown that shiitake-rich diets can lower blood pressure and cholesterol, potentially reducing the risk of heart disease.
Again, shiitake mushrooms contain lots of beta-glucans. So, if the thought of adding mushroom powders to your smoothies isn’t for you, bulking up your meals with shiitake may help to provide some immune support— and they taste good too!
This ‘multicoloured mushroom’ is a powerful fan-shaped fungus with remarkable anti-cancer properties. Like many other medicinal fungi, turkey tail mushrooms contain lots of immune-boosting chemicals, but what sets this particular mushroom aside from the rest is its two unique beta-glucans: PSP and PSK.
PSK has a powerful effect on the immune system and on tumour cells. So much so, that PSK is used as an anti-cancer drug in Japan and has become a successful complementary therapy for cervical, breast, lung, and oesophageal cancers.
PSP has been shown to regenerate white blood cells and stimulate inflammatory mediators, meaning that turkey tail mushrooms may help to destroy pathogens and fight infections.
Whilst Western medicine is yet to adopt turkey tail and the rest of the medicinal mushroom team, the wellness industry has. Many choose to use turkey tail extract to support their immune function and everyday gut health.
Keen to try medicinal mushrooms?
Not all medicinal mushrooms can simply be eaten. Many species need to be dried and made into powder or capsule form in order to be consumed. And despite health shops having some fun mushroom products on their shelves, you actually get the most bang for your buck by taking pure mushroom extracts.
Since many fungi species are extremely toxic, we cannot ignore the dangers of mushroom foraging. If you’re keen to try the aforementioned mushroom species, don’t go looking for them yourself!
Medicinal mushrooms may be natural and inherently safe, but it is important to speak to your doctor trying them out. This is particularly relevant to anyone on medication, pregnant, or prone to allergies.
On top of their powerful therapeutic potential, these mushrooms are all rich in vitamin D, fibre, B vitamins, and have a higher protein content than most other vegetables. You can’t really go wrong with mushrooms; they’re nutritionally dense and hugely beneficial to our general health and wellbeing.