As a lifelong student of the healing properties of nature, I have long been intrigued by the unique healing power of mushrooms since I began studying herbs as a teen. And my fascination and respect for them only grew as I began studying Traditional Chinese Medicine in my twenties.
As the years have gone by, word’s gotten out about these incredible healing fungi which can now be found in upscale restaurants and trendy coffee blends.
Their newfound fame is thanks, in part, to modern research, which is quickly validating what traditional Chinese healers have known for thousands of years: there are few natural substances as effective at addressing acute and chronic disease as medicinal mushrooms.
Join me as we take a dive into the health benefits of 5 of nature’s most miraculous mushrooms:
- Lion’s mane
- And cordyceps
1. Health Benefits of Reishi Mushroom
Known throughout the world as the “King” or “Queen of Mushrooms”, reishi has become one of the most sought-after mushrooms.
Here are just some of reishi’s proven health benefits:
- Supports heart health—studies have shown reishi can lower blood pressure and cholesterol. This is due to antioxidants called triterpenes, which counteract chronic inflammation by scavenging free radicals1
- Boosts immunity—reishi contains a hefty dose of beta glucan polysaccharides which, along with its antioxidants, help modulate the immune system2
- Helps your body adapt to stress—reishi is an adaptogenic mushroom, which means it helps your body adapt to whatever stressors you may be presently facing. This is why it’s become so popular in beverages, if you take it daily you’ll notice a big difference in your energy, focus, and sense of calm
- Can help improve sleep—this is due to its adaptogenic properties. For best results, consume daily
- Fights cancer and protects the body from chemo—reishi is rich in two anticancer substances: naturally-occurring beta glucan polysaccharides, which break down cancer cells and promote the release of the body’s natural killer (NK) cells3, and triterpenes which inhibit tumor growth. Additionally, it has been proven effective in protecting the body from the damaging effects of chemo4, which makes in a win-win for cancer patients
- May help improve seasonal allergies—research has found the same triterpenes that break down tumor growth can also switch off your reaction to seasonal allergies5.
Where to Find Reishi Mushroom
Reishi is commonly available in tinctures, capsules, coffees, teas, and other beverages.
2. Health Benefits of Shiitake Mushrooms
While it’s the second-most popular edible mushroom on the global market6, shiitake is anything but ordinary.
This tasty culinary treat has been proven effective for:
- Fighting cancer—shiitakes contains a type of beta glucan known as lentinan, which studies have shown enhances immunity thereby helping slow tumor growth7
- Supporting immunity—this is also due to the lentinan mentioned above, which boosts immunity and kills viruses and bacteria
- Soothing chronic skin conditions such as eczema—the antioxidants in shiitakes, including selenium, help improve skin health by keeping inflammation at bay
- Boosting energy—due to its naturally-occurring B-vitamins, iron, and 8 essential amino acids. Shiitakes are also one of the only plant-based sources of natural B128
- Lowering cholesterol—shiitakes contain a substance known as eritadenine, which is proven to lower cholesterol9
Where to Find Shiitake Mushrooms
Shiitakes are easy to find at your local grocery store or farmer’s market. They can also be found in tinctures, capsules, teas, coffees, and other beverages. I love cooking with them, they are so easy to work with and really enhance the flavor of so many meals.
3. The Health Benefits of Lion’s Mane Mushroom
This mushroom gets its name from its hairy lion’s-mane-like appearance. It grows wild throughout the world, including the United States, and is used as a medicinal and culinary mushroom.
Unique in the fungi world, lion’s mane’s unique superpower is its proven ability to enhance brain health.
For example, studies have shown lion’s mane is the only medicinal mushroom that helps enhance Nerve Growth Factor, which maintains the survival and regeneration of neurons11. Which makes it a valuable ally for anyone who’s suffered from concussions or other head trauma.
Where to find Lion’s Mane Mushroom
Lion’s mane is typically found in tinctures and capsules. However, if you’re lucky enough to come across fresh Lion’s mane, this lobster-like treat is best enjoyed sauteed in butter with a little fresh garlic.
4. Health Benefits of Maitake Mushroom
Also known as the “dancing mushroom” in Japan—due it’s dancing butterfly appearance—maitake is in a healing class of its own.
A powerful adaptogen and immune booster, maitake has been shown to help with:
- Slowing tumor growth—due to its naturally-occurring beta glucans which stimulate immune activity13
- Improving blood sugar levels—research has shown maitake is effective in lowering blood glucose levels and improving glucose tolerance15
- May help lower blood pressure and cholesterol—research have shown that when combined with shiitake, maitake is effective in lowering blood pressure and VLDL-cholesterol16
Where to find Maitake mushrooms
Maitake is commonly found in tinctures, capsules, and powders.
5. Health Benefits of Cordyceps (aka: the zombie mushroom)
Cordyceps are a rare combination of fungi and caterpillar; hence its nickname: “caterpillar fungus” or “zombie fungus”.
Here’s how this phenomenon works:
The cordyceps fungus propagates itself by infecting caterpillars until it takes over their bodies resulting in a club-shaped mushroom rich in antioxidants, beta glucans, and other disease-fighting nutrients (weird but true).
Despite it’s rather odd origins, it’s been successfully used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for years as an adaptogen, immune booster, lung and kidney tonic, and to boost sexual vitality.
- Supporting endurance
- Improving testosterone levels
- Regulating immunity
- Slowing the aging process
- Supporting heath libido
- Certain cancers
- Reducing inflammation
Where to Find Cordyceps
Cordyceps can be found in tinctures, powders, capsules, coffees, teas, and other beverages. Note: Due to the varying qualities of cordyceps and significant issues with counterfeiting, it is advised to seek the advice of a Doctor of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine regarding quality cordyceps.
There is so much more to say about mushrooms, I find them endlessly fascinating and will be writing more about them in the future. In the meantime, I hope this primer deepened your appreciation for these fabulous fungi!
In service to your vibrant health,
- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24266378[/note]. This is a major find as degenerative as brain conditions, like Alzheimer’s, prevent the body’s ability to create Nerve Growth Factor.
Lion’s Mane has also been proven to regenerate nerves after brain injuries10https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25159861
- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12126464[/note]. A 2013 study also found maitake effective on breast cancer specifically 12https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/jmf.2012.0222
- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7820117[/note], 14https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11349892