Top 5 Medicinal Mushrooms

Mushrooms are having a moment. With over 5.1 million known species of fungi in the world, you would figure that some might be useful to us humans. Happily, useful is an understatement. There are many types of mushrooms that have miraculous health benefits. Many of these have been known for millennia by Eastern medical practitioners. They are consumed in many forms, from fresh to powdered. Thought to aid everything from low energy levels to cancer, it is only relatively recently that they have begun to be studied in Western medicine. 

Responsible for life as we know it…

Perhaps then, ‘moment’ is not fair to say. For, fungi have been around FOREVER. In fact scientists believe we actually share a common prehistoric ancestor with these damp-dwellers.. Additionally, they are largely responsible for natural life as we know it. Acting as the trash collectors of nature, they consume dead plant matter and then release nutrients into the soil, so new plant life can grow. Essentially, they digest death to create life. WOW!

Bearing this in mind, imagine how hard it has been to narrow down to just 5 fascinating fungi for this list! We aim to venture further afield than your standard white-button mushrooms you sprinkle on your pizza (though those are great too!). So, here are 5 mushrooms you must meet, from psychedelic to immune boosting.

Reishi- The Big Red Immune Booster

This glossy, blood red mushroom grows in hot and humid climates in Asia. Distinctive by its flat kidney shape, it has long been a staple of Eastern medicine. It is reputed to:

  • Boost your immune function— Test tube studies have shown that Reishi can positively affect white blood cell production (the cells which protect the immune system)
  • Anti-cancer properties— Reishi notable in the development of cancer treatments. This is because ‘natural killer cells’, (the white blood cells that fight infection and cancer cells) are enhanced when extract of this fungus is administered. 
  • Anti-anxiety— Reishi is known to regulate the functioning of the adrenal gland, keeping you calm when the fight-or flight response kicks in unnecessarily. 
  • Fights insomnia— Reishi has been used for centuries in Eastern medicine to combat insomnia. 

Reishi is not common in grocery stores, and cannot be eaten fresh as it is hard and woody. However, It can be purchased as a powdered supplement. 

Lion’s Mane- The Shaggy Brain Savior

The Lion’s Mane mushroom is currently the darling of the revitalised mushroom scene. A white, shaggy, sea-creature looking thing, appropriately, it tastes like lobster or crab when cooked. Although tasty, it is the medicinal properties of Lion’s Mane, that are exciting scientists. These include:

  • Brain cell growth—Lion’s Mane has been found to encourage the growth of new brain cells due to its ability to stimulate the production of nerve growth factor and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). The higher your level of BDNF the faster you learn, and the stronger your memory. 
  • Memory magnifier— studies have shown improved cognitive skills in test subjects. These early tests have demonstrated enhanced short term memory when Lion’s Mane extract was administered to participants. 
  • Mood enhancer— In a study on menopausal women in Japan, half the group were given cookies containing Lion’s Mane extract, the other half a placebo. The women with the Lion cookies, reported improved feelings of well-being and mood. 

Lions Mane can be consumed fresh but is often taken as a powdered supplement. 

Chaga- Beautiful On The Inside

The Chaga mushroom grows in the cold climates of Russia and Northern Europe. On the outside this fungi looks like a lump of charcoal, but inside it is soft and copper coloured. It is sometimes known as ‘black mass’, ‘birch canker’ or ‘sterile conk trunk rot’— all of which seem more appropriate names for a heavy metal band, rather than a miracle mushroom! But what can it do?

  • Packed with antioxidants— The Chaga mushroom ranks as the food with the second highest antioxidant properties in the world. (After chocolate!)
  • Anti-inflammatory— The high levels of antioxidants make Chaga an anti-inflammatory that fights free radicals and prevents cell damage. 
  • Improves metabolism and cardiovascular health— Chaga contains betualin, which lowers cholesterol and balances blood sugar. 
  • Boosts healing— Those antioxidants also support cell regeneration, aiding healing and longevity!

Chaga mushroom is usually taken in powder form. 

Psilocybe Cubensis- Mood-lifting Magic

Psilocybe Cubensis may not look particularly unusual, but don’t let that fool you. This little fungi is actually the most popular strain of magic mushroom. Containing the psychedelic compounds psilocybin and psilocin, they have been used for millennia to produce natural hallucinogenic effects. Although they were made illegal in many countries in the 60s, recently this law is being overturned or reviewed in many places. This is due to the vast medicinal potential that this fungus holds! Here are some examples of what makes Psilocybe Cubensis magic…

  • Helps you to be your best self— Psilocybin microdosers report higher levels of creativity, focus and energy. Not only this, but it can also make you kinder! Higher levels of empathy and relational skills are also reported by users. 
  • A new kind of therapy— Guided psilocybin sessions are becoming popular, in which a trained professional guides the patient through a psychedelic trip. These sessions have been shown to do similar work as years of psychotherapy. 

Psilocybin can be consumed in various different forms. However, it is still illegal in many countries, so please check its legal status in your place of residence. 

Turkey Tail- The Cancer Combatting Kid

Turkey Tail mushrooms, (so-called because of their colourful likeness to the Thanksgiving bird) also have high antioxidant properties like some of the other ‘shrooms we have listed above. However, what is really making Turkey Tail stand out in medical studies is its cancer combatting potential. Now, of course it cannot be claimed to be a cure, but new studies are showing extremely promising results in aiding the fight, such as:  

  • It inhibits growth of cancer cells— both test tube and animal studies have shown that Turkey Tail extract can inhibit and suppress the growth of certain cancer tumours.
  • Teams up with existing treatments— Studies have shown that when Turkey Tail extract is administered alongside chemotherapy, recovery rate is increased. Additionally the gruelling effects of chemotherapy are also reduced due to the fungi’s immune boosting properties. 
  • Good for your guts— Turkey Tail has probiotic qualities which encourage the production of good stomach bacteria and inhibit the bad, such as E.coli. 

Turkey Tail is usually consumed powdered in a capsule, or in a tincture.

So! These are just 5 of a long list of medical mushrooms, and even the ones we have mentioned have still more virtues. If this interests you, we recommend you do some mushroom nerd-ing of your own!

*We do however, recommend further research into how to consume/the legality/ the potential side effects of these fungi. Consult your doctor when considering adding a new supplement to your routine, especially if you are already taking medication.

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