When it comes to “food as medicine,” nothing quite fits this concept like mushrooms. Medical practitioners and scientists have uncovered the power of mushrooms as one of the most healing natural sources of food.
Tero Isokauppila, founder of superfood brand Four Sigmatic said in an interview, “medicinal mushrooms have given us many important pharmaceutical medicines from penicillin to the first statin drugs and several anticancer treatments. Actually about 40% of western medicines nowadays utilize mushrooms.”
While different varieties provide unique benefits, most of them (including the common button mushrooms) generally:
And in certain types of adaptogenic mushrooms, they are claimed to:
In functional and holistic medicine, adaptogens are classified as natural sources of herbs and foods that help the body adapt to environmental and psychological stressors. Some common ones include ashwagandha, ginseng, and tulsi (to name a few).
As with other foods, each adaptogen has a different effect on the body. Here’s a breakdown of the types of adaptogenic mushrooms and their unique benefits.
This mushroom is the most well-known adaptogen due to its wide availability. It is commonly used in asian cooking and is known for its savory umami flavor.
Health Benefits: immune support, antioxidant-rich, detoxification
Best used in: soups, stir fries, pasta dishes, stews.
Maitake, or “hen of the woods,” mushrooms can also be found in grocery stores in its natural state. These have a more mild flavor than the shiitake, so you can cook them into mostly any dish.
Health Benefits: immune support, regulate blood sugar levels
Best used in: cooking anything: pastas, stews, side dishes, etc.
These next mushrooms are less commonly found in grocery stores in their whole state, but most grocery stores carry them as a blend in supplemental form in the health aisles.
This mushroom has been used for over 2,000 years in Asian countries and is referred to as the “mushroom of immortality.” Studies show that reishi can treat a wide range of illnesses such as leukemia, diabetes, and hepatitis.
Health Benefits: Stress relief, restful sleep, immune support
Best used in: extract form and added to caffeine-free drinks like tea, golden milk latte, or hot cacao before bed.
This mushroom got its name from its physical resemblance to a fluffy white lion’s mane. Studies show that this mushroom can boost memory and brain health.
Health Benefits: Cognitive function, focus
Best used in: cooking, or extract form and added into coffee, tea, or smoothie.
Turkey tail mushrooms are so powerful that they are actually used as part of cancer treatments in countries like Japan and China.
Health Benefits: Digestive health, immune support
Best used in: extract form and added to any beverage
Cordyceps are growing in popularity amongst athletes due to its claimed ability to fight fatigue and promote stamina and endurance.
Health Benefits: energy, endurance, immune support
Best used in: extract form in coffee, teas, smoothies, or protein bars.
This mushroom is known for its high antioxidant content. In WWII, chaga was used as a coffee substitute in Finland due to its similar flavor and color to medium roast coffee.
Health Benefits: immune support, antioxidant-rich
Best used in: extract form in teas, coffee, broth, or smoothies
As with any supplement or superfood, use them as a boost to your overall wellness regimen, but not a cure-all for underlying health conditions. While mushrooms are generally safe to add into your foods, we recommend talking to your healthcare provider before increasing your intake to supplement forms (e.g. ready made powders, coffees, etc.).
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