What are Medicinal Mushrooms and When To Use Them

Mushrooms are so much more than a pizza topping! They are full of nutrients, minerals and can do wonders for your health. Wild mushrooms are grown around the world, with several species possessing powerful medicinal benefits and properties. These mushrooms grow in a wide array of climates, and in some cases, can be grown right on your kitchen counter.   


Medicinal mushrooms have gone mainstream! You’ve likely already heard the testaments from bloggers, health influencers, or television doctors who swear by the power of fungi. These mushrooms can be powdered and added to your coffee or smoothies, eaten raw or cooked, and added to your favorite dishes.    


Natural herbal remedies and health products like medicinal mushrooms are an excellent addition to a balanced, healthy lifestyle. Consistent efforts that prioritize your well-being, like getting 8 hours of sleep on your millet pillow each night, staying hydrated, taking a multivitamin, consuming medicinal mushrooms, and exercising daily, can reduce your risk of disease, boost energy and help you feel better.


Before I share the details on four powerful medicinal mushrooms and how you can benefit, it’s important to note that some mushrooms are poisonous. You should never pick and eat mushrooms found in the wild unless you are absolutely sure you know the type and that they are safe to consume. It’s not enough to look up pictures on your phone either – many mushroom species can look very similar and share similar properties, but one can be deadly. Further, some mushrooms are especially harmful to individuals with pre-existing health conditions like kidney disease. 

If you are looking to explore the world of medicinal mushrooms, here are four great types to ge you started!


Reishi (also known as Ganoderma lingzhi)


Reishi (also known as Ganoderma lingzhi)

Reishi mushrooms are a well-known type of medicinal mushroom. There are about 80 different species of these mushrooms found in various regions worldwide. The benefits of reishi mushrooms are relatively similar between the species; if not, the same. They are also one of the easiest mushrooms to identify with minimal poisonous lookalikes. 


Reishi mushrooms are considered medicinal because they are an ‘adaptogen'.  Adaptogens are herbal medicines that aid the body in managing stress, reducing chemical, physical and biological stress. They are also believed to strengthen the immune system and help fight off illness. 


Further, these mushrooms possess antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and antiviral properties. They also can lower blood sugar and reduce blood pressure when consumed regularly and consistently. As a result, reishi mushrooms have been used to treat diabetes. Recent research has also looked at the effect reishi mushrooms have on cancer. One review stated that “laboratory research and a handful of preclinical trials have suggested that G. lucidum carries promising anti-cancer and immunomodulatory properties.”


You can buy reishi mushrooms as capsules, tea, powder, or as an extract. You can also grow your own at home in a mini greenhouse and then eat them fresh or dry and make your own powder. Many people choose to consume reishi mushrooms as a supplement rather than eat them because they aren’t exactly tasty. These mushrooms are considered the least appealing (taste-wise) and have a bitter, earthy flavor. 


Lion's Mane (also known as Hericium Erinaceus)


Lion's Mane (also known as Hericium Erinaceus)

This medicinal mushroom is commonly grown on decaying trees throughout North America and gets its name from its appearance. Unlike reishi mushrooms, Lion’s Mane mushrooms have a more delicate and enjoyable taste with equally impressive health benefits. Because of their great flavor and medicinal properties, many at-home cooks and professional chefs are incorporating them into popular dishes. 


Lion’s Mane mushrooms have been used for medicinal purposes for centuries in East Asia. Plenty of research has shown that you can improve your health by consuming these mushrooms regularly. For example, one study found that lion’s mane has the potential to improve cognitive function and reduce your risk of dementia, repair nerve damage and reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. Another study found that lion’s mane extract has potent anti-inflammatory effects. 


Additionally, like many other medicinal mushrooms, lion’s mane also has immune-boosting and antioxidant properties, which can lower your risk of serious illnesses, such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.


The next time you are at a restaurant, don’t be surprised to see lion’s mane listed on the menu! Though these mushrooms aren’t commonly found at supermarkets, you can find them at some food markets specializing in health food products. Because they taste so great, they make an excellent addition to flavorful dishes. In addition, lion’s mane mushrooms are excellent fresh! So if you aren’t able to find them or don’t like the taste of mushrooms, you can still reap the rewards by taking them as a supplement. 


Chaga (also known as Inonotus obliquus)


Chaga (also known as Inonotus obliquus)

Chaga mushrooms are edible, non-toxic, and very good for you! If you’re lucky, you’ll find these mushrooms growing on birch trees in the Northern hemisphere, in areas like Canada, Russia, Korea, and Eastern Europe. Chaga mushrooms are rarer than the other mushrooms mentioned in this blog. They take at least five years to mature and are not easy to come by. 


One of the most notable benefits of Chaga mushrooms is their antioxidants. They contain a high content of antioxidants than any other herb or fungi in the entire world, which provides you with plenty of health benefits! For example, one study found that Chaga mushroom extract inhibits oxidative DNA damage and another mouse study found that it suppresses cancer progression. 

Chaga mushrooms also contain a high concentration of melanin which equates to more antioxidant activity. Therefore, when you consume Chaga mushrooms, it can help balance and support a healthy level of melanin in the body. 


Like other medicinal mushrooms, Chaga mushrooms can be consumed as a supplement in capsule or powder form. However, this mushroom should not be eaten raw. It has a texture resembling cork with low bioavailability. Therefore, in order to consume it, it must go through an advanced extraction process.  


Oyster Mushroom (also known as Pleurotus ostreatus)


Oyster Mushroom (also known as Pleurotus ostreatus)

The oyster mushroom is one of the most common types of edible mushrooms. You may even have them in your kitchen right now! These mushrooms get their name from their shape as their appearance resembles that of an oyster. 


This medicinal mushroom is packed with nutritional benefits. Oyster mushrooms are an incredible source of protein, high in vitamins, and minerals. Like Chaga mushrooms, oyster mushrooms are also full of antioxidants to support health and prevent disease. When you eat oyster mushrooms regularly, you can expect some substantial health benefits! Consistent consumption is linked with a decreased risk of cancer, obesity, heart disease and is also known to improve immune system function.


Oyster mushrooms are also a significant source of fiber which is lacking in the average American diet. One 2015 study shared supporting evidence linking the consumption of the dietary fiber found in oyster mushrooms with reduced triglyceride accumulation in the liver. Therefore, individuals who consumed higher amounts of the fiber found in oyster mushrooms had lower cholesterol levels. These medicinal mushrooms also have anti-cancer properties. One 2012 study revealed that oyster mushroom extract could suppress the spread and growth of breast cancer and colon cancer cells.


These mushrooms are affordable and accessible mushrooms to add to your diet. They contain just 28 calories in one-cup serving with only 1g fat, an impressive 2g dietary fiber, and 3g protein. These mushrooms have a smooth, subtle taste making them a great addition to various meals! Additionally, oyster mushrooms are high in magnesium, vitamin B6, riboflavin, potassium, folic acid, amino acids, vitamin c, and amino acids. 


Medicinal mushrooms have incredible health benefits that can improve physical well-being and longevity. Foraging your own mushrooms can be a challenge, but luckily, there are other ways to incorporate medicinal mushrooms into your diet. Many medicinal mushroom supplements can be purchased online or in a local health food store. You can also harvest fresh, organic mushrooms with at-home kits.  


Though these four mushrooms are packed with nutrition and healing properties, they are just a small sample of the medicinal mushrooms available. There are many others with similar benefits, such as maitake, shiitake, turkey tail, and cordyceps. Like any other supplements or natural health aids, you should speak to your doctor before consuming them. Even though they are natural, they can impact the effectiveness of some medications or have adverse health effects in some. 


Many health benefits are found in nature from the natural millet hulls filling found in your millet pillow to the mushroom extract you add to your coffee. To further your health-boosting efforts, you can also add a multivitamin and probiotics to your diet.  As the saying goes, “you are the way you eat.”  Your nutritional intake is critical to your health and wellness! Medicinal mushrooms are an excellent source of nutrition and have healing properties not commonly found in other foods. If you want to improve your health and receive some of the benefits listed here, you should start adding medicinal mushrooms to your diet! 

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