Updated: Jul 6, 2019
You may have seen medicinal mushrooms crop up more and more in advertisements and hearsay. Medicinal mushrooms have been gaining in popularity with the introduction of “functional foods” – foods that have health benefits beyond basic nutrition- promoted in health stores and on social media.
But what are they and why are they good for us?
Medicinal Mushrooms are found all over the world, especially on wood, straw and other material. They are called “medicinal” because they are thought to have various health-promoting properties. They are increasingly available in powdered, concentrated form, either on their own, as part of instant coffee or as an ingredient in health shakes.
Nutritionally, they do have a lot to offer. They are rich in nutrients, such as
B-vitamins that help in the production of energy
Antioxidants that can reduce free radicals
Adaptogens, which are beneficial compounds that help reduce stress by being able to prevent the chemical and physical effects of stress
Furthermore, they have the potential to support the immune system because they containpolysaccharides like Beta-glucans, which are immune-modulators, meaning they suppress or stimulate immune function as needed. They have also been shown to potentially improve memory and concentration, reduce chronic fatigue and increase athletic performance. Some of the most well-known medicinal mushrooms are Lion’s Mane, Cordyceps and Reishi, which all have their own individual health benefits.
Lion’s mane is said to support productivity, cognition, focus, and creativity. This is because it contains two nerve growth factors, which both play an important role in the development and survival of nerve cells. They give Lion’s Mane the potential to be effective in decreasing the risk of Alzheimer's disease and dementia. It’s therefore best taken in the morning or when you need mental clarity. In its concentrated, powdered form, it can be added incorporated to a smoothie, made into a tea or stirred into a juice.
Cordyceps is thought to increase oxygen uptake, aerobic capacity and resistance to fatigue. In the early 1990s the women’s Chinese athletic team broke multiple world records. It was found that their regular intake of Cordyceps was likely to have played a large role in their success. Since then it has been found that cordyceps may improve kidney and lung functioning. Cordyceps powder is great incorporated in a pre-workout snack, such as a home-made energy ball or flap-jack, or simply added to a shake.
Reishi mushrooms are often prescribed in Traditional Chinese Medicine to strengthen the immune system, relieve stress and promote vitality, healthy aging and well-being. Their apoptogenic properties can help deal with stress symptoms. They are considered the ultimate anti-stress herb", as it is thought to calm the mind and promote sound, healthy sleep. It is therefore great to take in the evening, simply sprinkled on to your dinner or in your night-time tea.
Shiitake mushrooms are rich in beta-glucans and lentinan, which have been shown to help promote a balanced immune system and aid its natural ability to ward off certain illnesses. Shiitake mushrooms can be found in all major supermarkets. They are great as part of a stir-fry, stew or pasta sauce.
Turkey tail mushrooms also support healthy immune function. They support many key components of the immune system, from increasing protective immune cells, and supporting effective immune function. They have also been shown to have strong antibacterial and anti-fungal compounds. Powdered Turkey Tail can be sprinkled on yoghurt.
While medicinal mushrooms do have considerable benefits, they come at a hefty price. Furthermore research in the area is relatively new and we are yet to see whether small amounts in which they are recommended have a noticeable impact on our health.