Medicinal mushrooms might seem like the latest wellness fad, but they’ve actually been used for their healing properties for centuries in China, Russia and Japan. Modern studies have confirmed many of the traditional therapeutic uses of mushrooms. They point to possible new health applications, from treating diabetes and boosting the immune system to improving cognition and fighting cancer.
An increasingly popular way to take medicinal mushrooms is in the form of a concentrated powder, which can be easily blended into smoothies and lattes, added to hot tea, baked into pastries or sprinkled on top of cereal and desserts.
Although some medicinal varieties can be foraged in the wild and processed at home, they’re also available from commercial growers like R&R Cultivation in Roseville, Minnesota. R&R grows organic lion’s mane and sources locally foraged chaga that are both processed and sold in powder form. “Lion’s mane has been proven to restore neurological pathways,” says owner Nick Robinson. “That’s why a lot of people are so adamant about it.”
Here are a few of the most common varieties of medicinal mushrooms that you might want to consider to supercharge your health. However, always consult with your physician before adding any supplements to your diet.
1. Lion’s mane has been shown to support the nervous system and stimulate brain cells, leading to improved cognition, memory and focus. Lion’s mane can be used in cooking — its flavor and texture are similar to lobster — and can also be ingested as a tincture or powder supplement.
2. Chaga is one of the best natural sources of antioxidants, the chemical compounds that help defend cells from damage caused by the unstable molecules known as free radicals. An imbalance in our bodies between free radicals and antioxidants can lead to chronic inflammation and an increased risk of heart disease and cancer. Eating antioxidant-rich foods helps reduce these health risks. Originally used to treat stomach ailments in Russia, chaga is now available as a tincture, extract or powder supplement that can be added to coffee, tea and protein shakes.
3. Maitake mushrooms, according to early studies, might support the immune system by stimulating lymphocytes, the white blood cells that are critical to the human body’s defense system. Available in fresh, dried and extract form, maitake have also been shown to help control high blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
4. Turkey tail has undergone FDA-approved clinical studies by researchers in the U.S. to examine unique compounds that could be highly effective in preventing the growth of cancer cells and boosting the immune system after cancer treatment. In Japan, a compound derived from turkey tail has even been approved for use as an anti-cancer prescription drug. Turkey tail is also thought to be a powerful prebiotic food that could help improve gut health. Although technically edible, turkey tail is extremely chewy and most often taken in capsule or tea form.
5. Shiitake mushrooms, known in China and Japan as “elixir of life,” contain a number of healing properties that are believed to lower bad cholesterol, boost immunity and reduce inflammation. Packed with fiber, vitamins and essential amino acids, shiitakes can also serve as a meat substitute in vegetarian diets.
Note that these uses are provided for informational purposes only and have not been approved by the FDA. Be sure to speak with your doctor or other qualified health professionals before adding medicinal mushrooms to your diet.