Mushrooms have long been consumed by various cultures around the world, primarily for their taste and nutritional value.
In some cultures, particularly in Asia and parts of Europe, mushrooms have a long tradition of being used for medicinal purposes too.
Before we dive in, just a quick disclaimer; none of the following statements have been evaluated by the TGA. The claims made are in reference to scientific studies (linked at the bottom of this article).
None of the following information is intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any diseases. Always consult your health care professional before taking any supplements and don’t cease taking other medications unless specifically advised to by your qualified health professional.
What exactly is a medicinal mushroom?
A medicinal mushroom is one that is reported to have health benefits beyond that of simple nutrition. The reported benefits are wide ranging, and more and more are being reported in scientific studies all the time.
A broad range of pharmacological activities have been detected in medicinal mushrooms including; anti-inflammatory, antioxidative, antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, antiallergic, cytotoxic, antihyperlipidemic, antidiabetic, antidepressive, immunomodulating, digestive, nephroprotective, osteoprotective, hepatoprotective, and neuroprotective.
Just how special are Medicinal Mushrooms?
Medicinal Mushrooms are indeed a very rare breed. There are thought to be around 14,000 species of mushrooms of which 3,000 are considered edible.
But of those 3,000 edible species, only 200 of them are actually consumed by humans! Of the remaining 200 species only around 12 are considered medicinal or functional mushrooms.
Speaking of special; the reishi mushroom was historically described as ‘the mushroom of immortality’ and has been in use for around 4,000 years. It was once reserved for royalty due to its rarity.
Now we’re not saying that mushrooms are a “cure-all” but they certainly do have the ability to help the immune system, to fight stress, inflammation, and some studies suggest they even help in the fight against cancer.
If you’re ready to tune in to the power of the mushrooms, let’s dive into the top 6 and what makes them so special.
Relax with Reishi
As mentioned, reishi has long been renowned for its medicinal powers. Reishi has many qualities, but is mostly known for its calming effects. Specifically, reishi contains triterpenes which may help alleviate stress and ease depression. Reishi is also considered helpful in getting better sleep.
But reishi has also been associated with aiding everything from weight loss (Delzenne and Bindels) to regulating the immune system (Dudhgaonkar et al.) to fighting cancer cells (Suarez-Arroyo et al.).
Reishi may help with
Try mixing some Reishi in with hot chocolate or other night cap before you go to bed.
Lion’s Mane - King of the Mushrooms!
This feathery pom-pom looking oddball is packed with antioxidants and is one of the few mushrooms to be consumed both for its taste (a little like lobster) and for its medicinal qualities. It also strengthens the immune system like most medicinal mushrooms have been reported to do.
One of the unique qualities of Lion’s Mane is that it produces a nerve growth factor (NGF) and myelin (Lai et al.) which is an insulation sheath formed around nerve fibers.
Both NGF and myelin are critical for brain health. An imbalance in them can contribute to Alzheimer’s and multiple sclerosis.
A Japanese clinical study (Mori et al.) was conducted on men and women between the ages of 50 - 80 years old who had shown mild cognitive impairment. After the study concluded, the participants were observed and those who had taken Lion’s Mane showed significantly increased scores on the cognitive function scale compared with the placebo group.
Lion’s Mane may help with
Try adding Lion’s Mane to your morning cup of coffee for an energetic and focussed jump on the day.
Chaga - Black Gold
Chaga is an interesting type of mushroom. It grows out of birch trees as a type of conk in colder climates. Originally thought to be parasitic to the tree, it is now thought to help it as Chaga is packed with antioxidants and other beneficial compounds.
For centuries, people from Russia through to China and some northern European countries have been taking Chaga as a traditional medicine.
Chaga combats oxidative stress and may prevent or slow the growth of cancer. (Liang et al.) it’s also been found to lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL - otherwise known as the “bad” type of cholesterol)
Chaga may help with
- Lowering LDL’s
Turkey Tail - Ultimate Defence
Most medicinal mushrooms have shown the ability to fight cancer, or more specifically; help the body to be stronger in order to fight cancer. But Turkey Tail takes it to the next level.
Turkey Tail contains a compound called polysaccharide-K (PSK) which has been shown to elevate the immune system. Turkey Tail mushrooms are an approved anticancer prescription drug in Japan. (Wenner)
The FDA in the United States has even approved a Turkey Tail trial for cancer patients at Bastyr University.
Turkey Tail has been shown to fight leukaemia cells (Hsieh et al.), improve the immune system (Torkelson et al.) of people undergoing chemotherapy, and increase the survival rate of people with certain types of cancers. (Nakazato et al.)
Turkey Tail may help with
- Cancer prevention
Enjoy Turkey Tail mixed into a drink or meal.
Cordyceps - The Athlete’s Mushroom
If you’re familiar with the cordyceps mushroom, you might be thinking of the one that infects and grows out of insects. Gross right? That particular species is Cordyceps sinensis. The one we’re focussing on today, and is used as a medicinal mushroom by humans is Cordyceps militaris.
This particular mushroom is known for having a stimulative effect and is commonly taken as a pre workout or performance enhancer. Unlike caffeine, a shot of Cordyceps won’t leave you with the jitters.
Cordyceps can help the body to enhance blood flow and utilise oxygen more efficiently. (Tuli et al.) This can be especially helpful for athletes or those who workout regularly. In fact, Cordyceps has been shown to not only improve athletic performance (Chen et al.), but it can also speed up post-workout recovery.
Cordyceps may help with
- Pre Workout
Shiitake - The Beauty Mushroom
Another mushroom used for both culinary and medicinal reasons, Shiitake is an incredibly popular mushroom and with good cause.
These mushrooms are said to be good for the heart, lower LDL in mice (Fukushima et al.), and are especially renowned for helping to grow healthy hair and nails.
Shiitake mushrooms contain compounds that inhibit the production and absorption of cholesterol in the liver.
Shiitake may help with
- Hair and Nail health
- Lowering Cholesterol
- Blood pressure and circulation
What if I don’t like the taste of mushrooms?
No problem! Believe it or not, some of us that work at ShroomBoost don’t like the taste either. :-) There’s a few ways to incorporate mushrooms into your daily routine without having to cook them or even taste them as they go down. All of our medicinal mushrooms are offered in powdered form for maximum bioavailability. But it also means that they are easy to mix in or stir into a drink or meal. Here are some of our suggestions;
- Add Chaga, Cordyceps and Lion’s Mane to your morning coffee
- Add Reishi to hot chocolate, a smoothie or a cup of tea
- Add Cordyceps to your pre-workout shake or protein powder
- Add any of the medicinal mushrooms to a meal such as a soup, stew, or curry.
Won’t the heat kill all of the goodness?
Actually not at all. All mushrooms have a cell wall called ‘chitin’ which is a tough hard shell. Chitin is found in crabs and lobsters for example. If you don’t cook or use heat extraction in preparing your mushrooms for consumption, much of the mushroom's benefits will pass through without being absorbed by your body.
But don’t take our word for it; read what chef and now scientist, Jim Fuller has to say about it here; https://www.broadsheet.com.au/national/food-and-drink/article/according-chef-turned-mushroom-scientist-weve-been-cooking-mushrooms-wrong-all-time
The mushroom minute - wrapping it all up
Hopefully this article has given you a greater understanding of the role medicinal mushrooms can play in our health, and in our daily lives. It’s also inspiring to see just how much study and research is now going into them.
If this topic is of further interest to you, we highly recommend the book; “Medicinal Mushrooms - The Human Clinical Trials” by Robert Dale Rogers.
Lion’s Mane - https://unsplash.com/@arturkornakov
Cordyceps - Richard Jacobs
Chen, Steve, et al. “Effect of Cs-4® (Cordyceps sinensis) on Exercise Performance in Healthy Older Subjects: A Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial.” Effect of Cs-4® (Cordyceps sinensis) on Exercise Performance in Healthy Older Subjects: A Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial, 2010, https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/acm.2009.0226.
Delzenne, Nathalie, and Laure Bindels. “Ganoderma lucidum, a new prebiotic agent to treat obesity?” Ganoderma lucidum, a new prebiotic agent to treat obesity?, 2015, https://www.nature.com/articles/nrgastro.2015.137.
Dudhgaonkar, Shailesh, et al. “Suppression of the inflammatory response by triterpenes isolated from the mushroom Ganoderma lucidum.” Suppression of the inflammatory response by triterpenes isolated from the mushroom Ganoderma lucidum, 2009, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19651243/.
Fukushima, M., et al. “Cholesterol-lowering effects of maitake (Grifola frondosa) fiber, shiitake (Lentinus edodes) fiber, and enokitake (Flammulina velutipes) fiber in rats.” Cholesterol-lowering effects of maitake (Grifola frondosa) fiber, shiitake (Lentinus edodes) fiber, and enokitake (Flammulina velutipes) fiber in rats, 2001, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11520942/.
Hsieh, Tze-Chen, et al. “Effects of extracts of Coriolus versicolor (I'm-Yunity) on cell-cycle progression and expression of interleukins-1 beta,-6, and -8 in promyelocytic HL-60 leukemic cells and mitogenically stimulated and nonstimulated human lymphocytes.” Effects of extracts of Coriolus versicolor (I'm-Yunity) on cell-cycle progression and expression of interleukins-1 beta,-6, and -8 in promyelocytic HL-60 leukemic cells and mitogenically stimulated and nonstimulated human lymphocytes, 2002, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12470440/.
Lai, Puei-Lene, et al. “Neurotrophic properties of the Lion's mane medicinal mushroom, Hericium erinaceus (Higher Basidiomycetes) from Malaysia.” Neurotrophic properties of the Lion's mane medicinal mushroom, Hericium erinaceus (Higher Basidiomycetes) from Malaysia, 2013, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24266378/.
Liang, Liya, et al. “Effect of the Inonotus Obliquus Polysaccharides on Blood Lipid Metabolism and Oxidative Stress of Rats Fed High-Fat Diet In Vivo.” Effect of the Inonotus Obliquus Polysaccharides on Blood Lipid Metabolism and Oxidative Stress of Rats Fed High-Fat Diet In Vivo, 2009, https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/document/5305591.
Mori, Koichiro, et al. “Improving effects of the mushroom Yamabushitake (Hericium erinaceus) on mild cognitive impairment: a double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial.” Improving effects of the mushroom Yamabushitake (Hericium erinaceus) on mild cognitive impairment: a double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial, 2009, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18844328/.
Nakazato, H., et al. “Efficacy of immunochemotherapy as adjuvant treatment after curative resection of gastric cancer. Study Group of Immunochemotherapy with PSK for Gastric Cancer.” Efficacy of immunochemotherapy as adjuvant treatment after curative resection of gastric cancer. Study Group of Immunochemotherapy with PSK for Gastric Cancer, 1994, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/7910230/.
Suarez-Arroyo, Ivette J., et al. “Anti-Tumor Effects of Ganoderma lucidum (Reishi) in Inflammatory Breast Cancer in In Vivo and In Vitro Models.” Anti-Tumor Effects of Ganoderma lucidum (Reishi) in Inflammatory Breast Cancer in In Vivo and In Vitro Models, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3585368/. Accessed 2013.
Torkelson, Carolyn J., et al. “Phase 1 Clinical Trial of Trametes versicolor in Women with Breast Cancer.” Phase 1 Clinical Trial of Trametes versicolor in Women with Breast Cancer, 2012, https://www.hindawi.com/journals/isrn/2012/251632/.
Tuli, Hardeep, et al. “Pharmacological and therapeutic potential of Cordyceps with special reference to Cordycepin.” Pharmacological and therapeutic potential of Cordyceps with special reference to Cordycepin, 2014, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3909570/.Wenner, Cynthia. “Cancer Researchers Present Turkey Tail Findings in Japan.” Cancer Researchers Present Turkey Tail Findings in Japan, 2014, https://bastyr.edu/news/general-news-home-page/2014/10/cancer-researchers-present-turkey-tail-findings-japan.