Medicinal mushrooms have been used for their healing benefits for hundreds of years in places like China, Russia, Japan and Tibet. Chaga mushrooms, for example, have been used to treat diabetes, intestinal issues and various cancers. There are even records of Cordyceps being used as an aphrodisiac all the way back in the 15th century.
But, it wasn’t until relatively recently that medicinal mushrooms became mainstream in the West. Now they’re easily accessible online and in health food stores, and boast incredible health benefits like stress relief, improved sleep, cancer-fighting properties, glowing skin and a near-cure for the common cold.
The question is: Are these impressive benefits for real, or are they too good to be true?
I know that you’re confronted with news about the latest lotions, potions and remedies every single day. It can be hard to keep track and figure out what’s really worth your time. That’s why I love to investigate these trends—so you don’t have to.
Before we dive in, I know that you might be wondering about the difference between medicinal mushrooms and those you’re used to seeing in the grocery store. Everyday mushrooms have wonderful health benefits, too. They’re loaded with antioxidants and help boost your immune system. Plus, they’re delicious and work well as a meat substitute in many dishes.
But many of the fabulous fungi aren’t your standard throw-em-in-a-stir-fry variety. Unlike our favorite buttons, oysters and truffles, some of these guys contain indigestible fiber and definitely don’t make tasty cooking ingredients. That’s why there are so many other ways to consume them.
Here’s something else to keep in mind as you venture into the world of medicinal mushrooms: While some mushrooms are healthful and others are tasty, some will make you very sick. So it’s important to understand which are safe to consume and how they may help you. Think of them like supplements—everyone’s needs are different, so do your research and when in doubt, check with your doctor!
Scientific name: Hericium erinaceus
Superpower: Improves focus and memory
The first time you see a lion’s mane mushroom, you’ll know exactly how it got its name. It looks like a white, hairy mane—not your typical fungus! This shroom’s big claim to fame is its ability to repair and regenerate neurons. Lion’s mane can help improve memory and concentration, protect the nervous system, and relieve symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Lion’s mane may even help prevent and reverse neurological diseases like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and dementia because of its regenerative capability in the nerves of the brain and spinal cord! Research has shown that it can stimulate the synthesis of Nerve Growth Factor (NGF), which is why it may have such a positive effect on the neurological system. How cool is that?
How to take lion’s mane:
Lion’s mane is edible, making it a great ingredient in stir-fries or faux crab cakes. It’s also available as an herbal supplement, tincture or tea. PureShrooms Focus & Think line of products* may help you when brain fog sets in, and is delicious combined with cinnamon and hot oat milk.
Keep in mind: Some people feel more focused within days of taking lion’s mane. But when it comes to anxiety and depression, research has shown that it may take at least 4 weeks to feel relief.
There aren’t any documented side effects or adverse reactions currently associated with lion’s mane.
Scientific name: Ophiocordyceps sinensis and Ophiocordyceps militaris
Superpower: Boosts energy
Cordyceps have become famous for their supposed ability to improve athletic performance. I say “supposed” because we couldn’t find a study (yet!) that compares the performance of athletes taking cordyceps against those not taking them. But, we do know that cordyceps can boost ATP levels in the body. ATP is like a battery that powers your cells. When it comes to exercise and athletic performance, an abundance of ATP means increased strength, energy, capacity for explosive movement and overall stamina. I’d call that a competitive advantage!
Cordyceps have also been used for centuries to treat sexual dysfunction and fertility. Recent clinical studies demonstrate cordyceps’ ability to improve libido, as well as increase sperm count, survival rate and quality. This is good news, because many conventional medicines used to improve sexual health come with high costs and uncomfortable side effects. Plus, like most medicinal mushrooms, cordyceps are rich in antioxidants, making them great for your immune system!
Check with your doc before taking cordyceps. Like chaga, they may interact with anticoagulant medications and can lower blood sugar too severely in people on diabetic medications. They also shouldn’t be taken by people with autoimmune diseases.
Scientific name: Inonotus obliquus
Superpower: Knocks out the common cold
Chaga mushrooms may look like nothing more than a clump of dirt until you see their orange interior, but rest assured that these babies pack a serious healing punch. They grow on birch trees in very cold climates and have one of the highest antioxidant contents of ANY food! That’s why they’re often used to ward off the common cold.
A single 8-oz cup of chaga coffee has the same number of antioxidants as 30 lbs of carrots. No, I’m not kidding! Also, the beta-glucans in these medicinal mushrooms stimulate the production of lymphocytes, which help regulate our immune system’s response to infections.
Chaga mushrooms have also been used to treat cancers and reduce tumor size, resolve digestive issues, manage blood sugars, lower bad cholesterol levels, and make hair and skin shinier, healthier and younger-looking. Oh, and for yet another cool detail about these amazing medicinal mushrooms: They’ve been consumed in Russia for hundreds of years!
How to take chaga mushrooms:
Hot water or alcohol are needed to break down the tough cell walls in chaga mushrooms and activate their beneficial compounds. That’s why tea, coffee and cocoa are popular ways to consume chaga mushrooms. In fact, chaga mushroom coffee became especially popular as a coffee substitute during the world wars because of its pleasant taste and ability to increase energy in a more balanced way than caffeine.
Even though people have been taking chaga mushrooms safely for centuries, doctors recommend that people with bleeding disorders and diabetes avoid them as they can accentuate the effects of anticoagulant medications and insulin. Chaga overuse may also tax your kidneys, so be sure to follow recommended dosages and work with your doc.
Scientific name: Ganoderma lucidum
Superpower: Reduces stress and promotes balance
Even though reishi mushrooms are technically edible, the indigestible fiber they’re composed of gives them an unpleasant, woody texture. So, you won’t see them in the produce aisle of the grocery store, but rather with the herbal supplements, tea and coffee. Reishi mushrooms can reduce stress and anxiety, make you more alert and energized, and help balance your hormones. Perhaps this is why reishi tea and coffee are often called “liquid yoga.”
People suffering from seasonal allergies have also found great relief supplementing with reishi daily. And it doesn’t stop there—some folks have reported that reishi-infused skin creams can help reduce signs of aging.
These medicinal mushrooms have no apparent side effects, so they’re great to try if you’re just dipping a toe in the shroomy waters.
Scientific name: Coriolus versicolor or Trametes versicolor
Turkey tail is a beautiful fungus that grows on dead logs and gets its name from its colorful, striped appearance. Like many of the medicinal mushrooms we’ve discussed, it’s a powerful immune-booster that can help protect you from infections and diseases. Turkey tail also has incredible benefits for cancer patients and thrivers, which is why this shroom holds a special place in my heart.
It’s been shown to help prevent cancer cell growth and encourage cancer cell death, but its real claim to fame has to do with the way it boosts the damaged immune system after cancer treatments. Turkey tail contains two unique beta-glucans: Polysaccharide-K (PSK) and Polysaccharopeptide (PSP). Both PSK and PSP are widely used in Japan to help repair and regenerate immune cells destroyed by chemotherapy while simultaneously stimulating the immune system in general to fight cancer and further infections. Wow, right?
How to take turkey tail mushrooms:
Turkey tail is edible, but rarely eaten because of how chewy it is. Most people who take turkey tail take it in capsule or coffee/tea form. Because turkey tail is grown in soil, it’s best to look for organic varieties to prevent pesticide and toxin exposure.
Mild side effects of diarrhea and dark stools have been reported, so follow your doctor’s recommendations when it comes to turkey tail and discontinue use if any side effects occur.