By Reishi Strauss, B. Sc. in Herbal Sciences
We’re slowly catching on to the wisdom of ancient civilizations, and learning that mushrooms work to support our bodies on numerous levels: not only physically, but also emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. From bolstering our immune system on a physical level, to helping us understand the cycles of decay and regeneration on an energetic level, mushrooms are potent allies for humans to partner with to support our health and connection with Nature.
Read on to learn about some of the most powerful functional mushrooms known to humankind, along with their traditionally and medically verified uses. We hope you resonate with some of their properties and give them a try!
This beautiful, icicle-like white mushroom has gained popularity for its benefits on the brain and central nervous system, reported to improve cognitive function and memory. Some studies have shown it contains the constituents hericenones and erinacines which stimulate Nerve Growth Factor, or NGF, which can be effective in helping the brain form new neural pathways (1). In another study, patients with anxiety and depression were given 2 grams of Lion's Mane mushroom per day. The study concluded that Lion’s Mane has the possibility to increase feelings of well-being and decrease feelings of anxiety and depression (2).
One of the most popular edible mushrooms, Shiitake is definitely in the category we would call “Food as Medicine.” In addition to having a delicious flavor, Shiitake has a dense nutritional profile and includes B complex and vitamins. One of the constituents from Shiitake called Lentinan is licensed in Japan for the treatment of various types of cancer. A meta-analysis of 5 different studies showed that the addition of Lentinan to standard chemotherapy was found to offer a significant advantage over cancer treatments using chemotherapy alone (3). We love this delicious mushroom filled with potential anti-cancerous properties!
Chaga is a beautiful dark brown mushroom hunk that grows on beautiful white Birch trees in cold climates. It has a strong history of use in Siberia as an overall health tonic. It contains many chemical compounds from the Birch tree, such as betulin and betulinic acid. Both are currently being studied as an anti-cancer agent through a program at the United States National Cancer Institute (4). In addition to the health benefits, Chaga is also a rather delicious mushroom! It contains the constituent vanillin, which is also found in the vanilla bean.
Reishi has been called the Mushroom of Immortality by practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine and has been revered as a medicine for thousands of years. Known to be an adaptogen that supports nearly all organ systems of the body, Reishi can help to alleviate anxiety, ease depression, and improve sleep (5). Other applications for Reishi include support for cancer treatment, allergy management, liver health, hypertension, insomnia/anxiety, rheumatoid arthritis, and more (6). No wonder it is called the Mushroom of Immortality!
Consider Cordyceps your energy-boosting mushroom! Cordyceps contains a molecule called adenosine, which is the backbone of the energy molecule of the body: Adenosine Triphosphate (or ATP) (7). Cordyceps is known to stimulate both our energy levels and our libido, with reports of its ability to increase sexual function (8). By optimizing lung capacity through increasing oxygen uptake, Cordyceps is the perfect energizing mushroom to take to start your day off right!
This colorfully striped mushroom is known all around the world for its ability to support the body in fighting and preventing cancer and is one of the subjects in Paul Stamet’s famous TED talks -- 6 Ways Mushrooms Can Save The World. One of the compounds from Turkey Tail, called polysaccharide-K (PSK), is so effective at stimulating the immune system that it is an approved anticancer prescription drug in Japan (9). Here in the United States, Bastyr University is currently conducting FDA-approved clinical trials on Turkey Tail mushrooms for cancer patients (10). While cancer is a complex disease and we cannot make any claims for certain, Turkey Tail seems to hold a great deal of promise for the future of cancer research!
Blending Them All Together
There is often a synergistic effect when you combine various mushrooms together, making them even more potent and effective than if you take them as single extracts (11). In a study performed by researchers at Griffith University in Australia, the immune system activation of individual extracts of Reishi, Shiitake, and Maitake was compared to the immune system activation of all three mushrooms combined. Although all mushroom extracts stimulated human white blood cells, the extract with all three mushrooms outperformed the individual extracts (12).
In conclusion, mushrooms are incredible allies both for preventing illness as well as helping to support your body when you’re feeling down. Particularly when taken in combination, mushrooms can have a synergistic effect with our bodies to help us reach our optimal state of health. Our Superfood Mushroom Powder Blend has a wonderful synergistic blend of all of the functional mushrooms described in this article. Give it a try and let us know how it makes you feel!
- Erinacines E, F, and G, stimulators of nerve growth factor (NGF)-synthesis, from the mycelia of Hericium erinaceum. Kawagishi H, Shimada A, Hosokawa S, Mori H, Sakamoto
- Reduction of depression and anxiety by 4 weeks Hericium erinaceus intake. Nagano M, Shimizu K, Kondo R, Hayashi C, Sato D, Kitagawa K, Ohnuki K. Biomed Res. 2010;31(4):231–237.
- Individual patient based meta-analysis of lentinan for unresectable/recurrent gastric cancer. Oba K, Kobayashi M, Matsui T, Kodera Y, Sakamoto J. Anticancer Res. 2009;29(7):2739–2745.
- Solubility studies of oleanolic acid and betulinic acid in aqueous solutions and plant extracts of Viscum album L. Jäger S, Winkler K, Pfüller U, Scheffler A. Planta Med. 2007;73(2):157–162.
- (8) The Scientific Rediscovery of an Ancient Chinese Herbal Medicine: Cordyceps sinensis The
- Journal Of Alternative And Complementary Medicine [part 1]Volume 4, Number 3, 1998, pp.
- 289—303 [part 2] Volume 4, Number 4, 1998, pp. 429 - 457.