Out of all the known species of mushrooms across the world, at least 270 are reputed to have therapeutic and/or medicinal properties. In this article, we’ll look at the 5 most popular.
The list of health benefits these mushrooms provide is lengthy, but each provide at least one primary health advantage:
Maitake Mushroom – Immune System
Shiitake Mushroom – Cholesterol
Cordyceps Mushroom – Energy
Reishi Mushroom – Mood Boost
Lions Mane Mushroom – Brain Food
History of mushrooms in traditional medicine
Mushrooms have been used since before recorded history in traditional and folk medicine as well as in the kitchen. In ancient Egypt, they were exclusively eaten by pharaohs and nobles. Those with hallucinogenic effects were referred to as “sons of the gods, and priests were tasked with guarding mushroom lore with the utmost secrecy!
Ancient Chinese and Japanese medicine dating back centuries show that various mushrooms and fungi were treated with a more worldly reverence and were used mainly for their medicinal properties to treat respiratory ailments, and many other conditions.
Maitake (Grifola Frondosa) mushrooms especially were worth their weight in silver and gold due to their astonishing healing power. Cultures such as the Maya, Inca and Aztecs used various psychedelic mushrooms mainly for their for spiritual and ceremonial purposes. The psychological effects alone would have led to many ‘religious’ epiphanies that seemingly influenced entire cultures.
Indeed, throughout the ages art and literature show the impact of powerful fungi, from Blake’s ‘Garden of Earthly Delights’, Coleridge’s ‘Kubla Khan’, right up to the Beatles ‘Sergeant Pepper’ in the 1960’s. Meanwhile, in the health-conscious 21st century, mushrooms are still used for a broad range of culinary and therapeutic uses.
The five best beneficial mushrooms
These, in our opinion, are the most beneficial and readily available mushrooms around.
Maitake Mushroom (Grifola Frondosa)
The maitake mushroom is an edible polypore mushroom that commonly grows in clusters as the bases of trees, especially oaks and maples, and is sometimes called “hen of the woods,” “ram’s head,” and “sheep’s head.” Maitake mushrooms can be found most commonly in China, Japan, and northeastern North America.
Maitake contains polysaccharides, triterpenes and additional bioactive chemicals that are known to offer a wide range of health benefits.
Immune System – Research shows that its beta-glucan content has immune-supporting effects as well as anti-viral properties. The mushroom’s bioactive polysaccharides support the body in helping to ward off pathogens which may reduce the risk those winter colds.
Stress – Maitake helps promote natural balance and healthy stress response in the body as it is a natural adaptogen, meaning they can “adapt” their function to specific physical needs.
Diabetes – Maitake has been shown to support healthy blood sugar levels, help reduce insulin and support weight management.
Shiitake Mushroom (Lentinula Edodes)
The shiitake mushroom is typically associated with Japanese cuisine and has been cultivated throughout East Asia for the past 2,000 years. Shiitake mushrooms grow on many deciduous trees, including poplar, beech, ironwood, beech, oak, northern maple, American hophornbeam, and Chinese chinquapin.
Shiitake mushrooms are more universally thought of as a culinary mushroom, but in recent years various medicinal properties have been recognised.
Cholesterol – These mushrooms are particularly good for the heart and they contain compounds that inhibit the absorption and production of cholesterol in the liver.
Blood circulation – Shiitake mushrooms also contain phytonutrients, which aid in preventing plaque buildup and maintain healthy blood pressure and circulation.
Weight control – The shiitake mushroom has also been shown to be beneficial in managing body weight by preventing the buildup of certain fats.
Cordyceps refers to approximately 400 species of fungi usually found in the mountainous regions of the far east, such as China, Japan and Tibet. They’re parasitic and grow in the bodies of insects.
Cordyceps have been used in traditional Chinese and Tibetan medicine since long before the 15th century. The most commonly found in modern supplements are cordyceps militaris and cordyceps sinensis.
This mushroom is known for being very physically stimulating and are often used to restore energy levels and enhance vigour.
Exercise – Those who enjoy regular exercise, such as cyclists, footballers and athletes, find Cordyceps have many benefits, such as improving the body’s use of oxygen and general blood flow to muscles, aiding muscle recovery.
Chronic illness – It has been reported that Cordyceps have shown beneficial effects in people who have asthma, chronic bronchitis and renal and hepatic (kidney and liver) conditions. Improvement has also been seen in some people with joint problems and raised cholesterol.
Reishi Mushroom (Ganoderma Lucidum)
Reishi mushrooms grow on the detritus of decaying trees and are typically found in parts of Southern Europe, Australasia and the Americas. Because the fungus is inedible in its natural, rough-textured form, it is usually ingested in the form of a powder, in capsules, tea extracts, broth and dried slices.
Reishi Mushroom Benefits
This fungus is one of the most popular medicinal mushrooms and has a long history of use throughout China, Japan, Korea, and many other East and Southeast Asian countries:
Believed to aid in:
- Weight loss
- Keeping the immune system in check
- And even fighting cancer cells
Reishi mushrooms also have natural calming properties — all of which are thanks to the compound triterpene, which reishi has in abundance. These mood-boosting compounds may alleviate anxiety, ease depression, and encourage better sleep due to their known positive effect on the nervous system.
Lions Mane Mushroom (Hericium Erinaceus)
This edible and medicinal mushroom is commonly found in eastern Asia and some parts of Europe. It’s well-known for its distinctive flowing appearance and broad range of uses. Lion’s Mane is also known as “Hedgehog mushroom” or “Bearded Tooth fungus” due to the hair-like fronds that fall from its fruiting body.
Lions Mane Mushroom Benefits
Lion’s Mane is rich in antioxidants and, common to many medicinal mushrooms, can improve general immunity. However, an uncommon benefit of lion’s mane is it can encourage the growth of the myelin sheath (a nerve fibre insulation), indicating Lion’s Mane’s efficiency as “brain food,” for enhanced memory and concentration.
For more details on this fascinating mushroom read: What are the benefits of Lion’s Mane Mushroom? You may also be interested to find out what I thought when I took Living Nutrition’s Lion’s Mane Cognitive supplement: Lion’s Mane Mushroom Cognitive Supplements – Living Nutrition.
As can be seen from their long history, these five fabulous fungi can offer many health advantages ranging from boosting your immune system to improving mental well-being. They’re all easily obtainable in the form of supplements.
To help you get the best from each of these and find the best mushroom supplements in the UK we’ve compiled a list of our favourite products: Best Mushroom Supplements UK.
Whatever your choice, it has to be acknowledged that mushrooms are one of nature’s most versatile super-foods!
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