Heard of medicinal mushrooms? Whether as a supplement, part of a meal, or added to your morning brew, they're makingheadlines for their natural health properties: cognition-enhancing, stress-alleviating, immune-boosting, and mood-lifting.
Mushrooms are generally only considered as a culinary delight or as highly deadly and dangerous – depending on whether it's an oyster mushroom or the dreaded death cap. Others still are eaten for their psychedelic properties.
Medicinal mushrooms, or functional mushrooms, are prized for their adaptogenic properties and health benefits that surprise even the scientists and researchers who work on them.
Forget woo-woo or junk science. Medicinal 'shrooms are the real deal – and we've got the peer-reviewed science to provide it. Long valued by natural healers, they're gaining recognition for their revolutionary potential.
The reishi mushroom, or Lingzhi, is a native fungus of East Asia that grows at the base and stumps of deciduous trees. Known scientifically asGanoderma lucidum, they're technically different from the East Asian species (Ganoderma lingzhi), although they are part of the same family. Forming as a reddish brown "bracket fungus," they're highly prized in Eastern medicine, earning the name "king of herbs" and "10,000-year-old mushroom."
Lion's mane mushrooms are among the most surreal fungi you'll find in a forest. Like their namesake, they grow a large, white, shaggy mane that forms their fruiting body (the mushroom) and is found growing on beech and maple trees.
Primarily used in cooking, the Japanese "dancing mushroom" (hen-of-the-woods) grows at the base of old-growth oaks and maples in late summer to early autumn. Easily identifiable by its cluster of grayish-brown curled or spoon-shaped caps, it's common to Japanese and Chinese cuisine.
Turkey tail mushrooms, notable for their vivid bands of color, form caps on dead or dying trees. Unlike other medicinal mushrooms, they don't have as varied a list of benefits. However, what they do, they do effectively.
In fact, it's the immune-boosting and cancer-busting properties that continue to amaze.
In contrast to other functional mushrooms, chaga is not a fruiting body, aka a mushroom. Rather, it's a "sclerotium" – a hardened mass of fungus designed to help it survive in harsh conditions. Commonly found in birch forests, the fungus appears like burnt charcoal; however, cut inside, and you'll find a soft orange core.
Chaga was used for centuries in Russia and Northern Europe to fortify one's health. Traditionally, it was grated into a fine powder and used to brew mushroom tea.
Shiitake mushrooms are far more than a delicious edible mushroom. They're also part of the functional mushroom family. Hailing from Japan, they're commonly called sawtooth oak mushrooms, black forest mushrooms, or oakwood mushrooms.
The earliest record of their cultivation was in 1209 during the Song dynasty in China, and over the centuries, they have earned a reputation for their health and nutritional benefits.
Few medicinal mushrooms are as strange as the Cordyceps: it's the master of life and death. In people, its properties include anti-aging effects, boosted athletic performance, blood sugar control, improved heart health, and reduced inflammation.
However, to insects, it's a terrifying fungus. In the wild, its spores take control of an insect, hack into its nervous system, and direct it to the highest point in the local area. Once reached, the insect dies as a mushroom sprouts from its head. (As I said, terrifying.)
Beyond the culinary delights and psychedelic properties, the health benefits of mushrooms are truly staggering. They're a testament to nature's power to heal and nurture. Consider adding medicinal mushrooms into your diet, whether that's a shiitake stir-fry or a lobster-like lion's mane risotto or buy one of the myriad of supplements available.
Remember to follow the correct dosing guidelines and speak to your doctor before supplementing.