They’re scattered across forest floors, peeking out from under fresh-cut lawns, and perched on tree-trunks like organic shelves. You might give them a lingering glance because of their beauty or oddness. But if you knew about the powerful healing properties hidden in some of these mushroom varieties, you might also stop to pick one (or three).
Not that we’re advocating that you just pick random mushrooms; many are poisonous, and shouldn’t be handled unless you’re an expert. What we are advocating is getting your hands on a class of mushrooms referred to as medicinal mushrooms. These varieties have been used for thousands of years, in ancient cultures throughout the world, for their ability to treat everything from food allergies to HIV.1
However, with all of the medicinal mushroom species (and derivative products) available today, it can be hard to determine the best variety for your specific concern or condition.
Below, we’ll discuss several common symptoms and conditions that medicinal mushrooms may alleviate, such as low energy, stress, muscle soreness, and anxiety/depression; we’ll also detail which of the most common medicinal mushrooms are most helpful for each complaint.
Medicinal Mushrooms: Which One Should You Take?
Symptom: Low Energy
Cordyceps. If your energy levels are low, or you’re suffering from chronic fatigue, cordyceps should be one of your first choices of medicinal mushroom. Several studies have shown that supplementing with cordyceps increases your body’s production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the molecule often referred to as the “energy currency of life”. ATP stores and transports all of the cellular energy that powers our daily activities, so an increase in ATP will likely result in a boost of energy.2
Reishi. Reishi is also great for increasing energy levels, although it works in a slightly different way from cordyceps. Studies show that it helps shuttle more energy to the brain (making it excellent for mental fatigue), and it also decreases overall fatigue.3,4 Many of these studies have been performed on cancer survivors and patients, which suggests just how powerful reishi can be as an energizer.
Symptom: Accelerated Aging
Lion’s Mane. While lion’s mane might look like nothing more than a bunch of shaggy hair (hence the name), this odd-looking ‘shroom actually contains powerful anti-aging properties. Namely, potent antioxidants in lion’s mane help reduce DNA damage from environmental toxins that cause physical signs of aging, such as wrinkles and sagging skin. In fact, molecules called polysaccharides in lion’s mane have been shown to be particularly beneficial for aging skin, where they also stimulate collagen production and enhance skin’s antioxidant enzymes.5
Chaga. Chaga is another go-to if you’re looking to slow the aging process. Compared to three other medicinal mushrooms in a study, chaga was found to have the strongest antioxidant activity. As with lion’s mane, chaga’s antioxidants work to “mop up” excess free radicals that damage DNA.6 In addition, chaga extract was shown to reduce DNA damage by 40 percent in cells damaged by hydrogen peroxide.7
Symptom: Chronic Stress
Cordyceps. Cordyceps shines once again when it comes to reducing stress. For hundreds of years, these mushrooms have been prized throughout China for their adaptogenic properties, which help the body respond to, adapt, and recover from various stressors. Adaptogens are a great solution for chronic, excess stress because, instead of simply acting as sedatives to lower stress in the moment, they work to enhance your body’s future stress resilience. This translates into healthier responses to stressful situations in general.8
Reishi. Reishi acts as a great complement to cordyceps in helping reduce side-effects of stress, namely depression and anxiety. One study found that breast cancer patients experienced reduced anxiety and depression, as well as enhanced quality of life, when they were given reishi alongside conventional treatment. Patients who weren’t given reishi didn’t report any change in their stress levels.9
Symptom: Poor Exercise Recovery
Cordyceps. Not only does cordyceps increase energy levels and reduce fatigue, it’s also excellent for improving workout recovery and boosting endurance and stamina. Studies show that it improves exercise performance by activating certain metabolic pathways in your skeletal system, while also providing antioxidant enzymes that aid with recovery from muscle soreness. Interestingly, one study showed that cordyceps supplementation improves exercise endurance capacity with or without exercise.10
Symptom: Low Immunity
Reishi. Reishi is well-known for its ability to boost overall immunity. It contains potent immunomodulators, which help your immune system fight external threats like bacteria, viruses, and even cancer in a more efficient and targeted way. Researchers have also discovered that reishi strengthens immune cells, inhibits fungal growth, and significantly enhances wound healing.11,12,13 In addition, studies have shown that reishi combined with antibiotics increases antimicrobial activity more so than antibiotics alone.14
Symptom: Brain Woes/Depression
Lion’s Mane. Lion’s mane reigns when it comes to alleviating mental-health conditions, as well as enhancing overall cognitive function. One study showed that women supplementing their diets with lion’s-mane cookies experienced reductions in depression, irritation, and anxiety, while also improving their concentration, in just four weeks.15 Another study found that lion’s mane contains compounds called Nerve Growth Factors (NGFs) that help regenerate and protect brain tissue. Participants who consumed lion’s mane showed significantly higher scores on a cognitive-function scale compared to controls.16
Turkey Tail. Turkey tail, whose name comes from its colorful ridges that resemble turkey feathers, has been widely studied for its ability to help combat cancer by boosting immune function. It contains a potent polysaccharide compound, PSP, that has been shown to significantly enhance immunity in breast cancer patients without the harmful side-effects seen in traditional cancer treatments.17 Turkey tail also contains another polysaccharide, PSK, that is regularly prescribed to cancer patients in Japan both during and after radiation treatment; it is shown to not only fight tumors, but also to help keep the immune system strong throughout treatment.18
Chaga. Chaga has also been widely studied for its anti-tumor and chemoprotective effects; research shows it both containing the spread of, and killing, cancer cells.19 Specifically, chaga has been found to be effective against liver-, lung-, and brain cancer.20,21 Scientists believe that chaga’s cancer-fighting properties lie in its ability to disrupt rogue cells (i.e. cancer and tumor cells). Like turkey tail, chaga caused no nasty side-effects.
Shiitake. Shiitake, one of the culinary medicinal mushrooms, adds a rich, meaty flavor to dishes; it also helps combat infections. One study showed that shiitake was able to kill the oral bacteria responsible for gingivitis better than chlorhexidine, the active component in popular gingivitis-treatment mouthwashes. Moreover, not only did shiitake decimate the pathogenic bacteria, but it also spared the remaining helpful bacteria, which chlorhexidine would have killed indiscriminately.22
Maitake. Another study revealed that extracts of maitake can activate specific T-cells in the body that enhance its ability to fight dangerous bacteria (in this case, the foodborne Listeria bacteria).23
How to Use Your ‘Shrooms
Powders and capsules: Most medicinal mushrooms can be found either encapsulated or in powdered form. If you buy capsules, you can simply take the recommended dosage. If you prefer powders, you can get creative in adding them to drinks and even baked treats. For example: mix in some reishi or chaga powder with some heated almond milk, raw cacao, raw honey, and a pinch of vanilla for a healing hot chocolate. Or consider adding powders to Paleo cookies, bars, or even ice cream if you make your own.
Teas: You can find many medicinal mushrooms in tea form in your local health-food store, or you can try your hand at brewing a tea from ground mushrooms. As an example, you can make a batch of chaga tea by boiling 4 cups of water, adding a few scoops of ground chaga or chunks, and then removing it from the heat and letting it steep for at least five minutes.
Coffee and smoothies: Mushroom coffee is all the rage right now; you can either choose a brand that already has mushroom extracts in it, or you can add your own mushroom powders to your lattes. If you’re looking for another way to get a quick dose of mushrooms, you can also add a small scoop to your smoothies.
However you prefer your ‘shrooms, the most important thing is the health benefit you’ll reap from these ancient fungi. Even if you’re not suffering from any type of condition, medicinal mushrooms are an excellent complement to your diet; they’ll keep your immune system running at optimal capacity, while also helping keep your stress levels in check.
1 Lull C, Wichers HJ, Savelkoul HFJ. “Anti-Inflammatory and Immunomodulating Properties of Fungal Metabolites.” Mediators Inflamm 2005.2 (9 June 2005): 63–80. <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1160565/>
2 Song J, Wang Y, Teng M, Cai G, Xu H, Guo H, Liu Y, Wang D, Teng L. “Studies on the Antifatigue Activities of Cordyceps militaris Fruit Body Extract in Mouse Model.” Evid Based Complement Alternat Med 2015 (17 Aug 2015): 174616.
3 Shevelev OB, Akulov AE, Dotsenko AS, Kontsevaya GV, Zolotykh MA, Gerlinskaya LA, Veprev SG, Goryachkovskaya TN, Zhukova NA, Kolchanov NA, Pel’tek SE, Moshkin MP. “Neurometabolic Effect of Altaian Fungus Ganoderma lucidum (Reishi Mushroom) in Rats Under Moderate Alcohol Consumption.” Alcohol Clin Exp Res 39.7 (Jul 2015): 1128-36. <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26058418>
4 Zhao H, Zhang Q, Zhao L, Huang X, Wang J, Kang X.. “Spore Powder of Ganoderma lucidum Improves Cancer-Related Fatigue in Breast Cancer Patients Undergoing Endocrine Therapy: A Pilot Clinical Trial.” Evid Based Complement Alternat Med 2012 (2012): 809614.
5 Xu H, Wu PR, Shen ZY, Chen XD. “Chemical Analysis Of Hericium erinaceum Polysaccharides And Effect Of The Polysaccharides On Derma Antioxidant Enzymes, Mmp-1 And Timp-1 Activities.” Int J Biol Macromol 47.1 (1 July 2010): 33-6. <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20380848>
6 Nakajima Y, Sato Y, Konishi T. “Antioxidant Small Phenolic Ingredients In Inonotus obliquus (Persoon) Pilat (Chaga).” Chem Pharm Bull (Tokyo) 55.8 (Aug 2007): 1222-6.
7 Park YK, Lee HB, Jeon EJ, Jung HS, Kang MH. “Chaga Mushroom Extract Inhibits Oxidative DNA Damage In Human Lymphocytes As Assessed By Comet Assay.” Biofactors 21.1-21.4 (2004): 109-12.<https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15630179>
8 Lin B, Li S. “Cordyceps as an Herbal Drug.” In: Benzie IFF, Wachtel-Galor S, editors. Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects. 2nd edition. Boca Raton (FL): CRC Press/Taylor & Francis; 2011. Chapter 5. <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK92758/>
9 Kumar R, Negi PS, Singh B, Ilavazhagan G, Bhargava K, Sethy NK. “Cordyceps sinensis Promotes Exercise Endurance Capacity Of Rats By Activating Skeletal Muscle Metabolic Regulators.” J Ethnopharmacol 136.1 (14 June 2011): 260-6. <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21549819>
10 Kuo MC, Weng CY, Ha CL, Wu MJ. “Ganoderma lucidum Mycelia Enhance Innate Immunity By Activating Nf-kappab.” J Ethnopharmacol 103.2 (16 Jan 2006): 217-22. <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16169168>
11 Baig MN, Shahid AA, Ali M. “In Vitro Assessment of Extracts of the Lingzhi or Reishi Medicinal Mushroom, Ganoderma lucidum (Higher Basidiomycetes) Against Different Plant Pathogenic Fungi.” Int J Med Mushrooms 17.4 (2015): 407-11.
12 Gupta A, Kirar V, Keshri GK, Gola S, Yadav A, Negi PS, Misra K. “Wound Healing Activity Of An Aqueous Extract Of The Lingzhi Or Reishi Medicinal Mushroom Ganoderma lucidum (Higher Basidiomycetes). Int J Med Mushrooms 16.4 (2014): 345-54.
13 Karwa AS, Rai MK. “Naturally Occurring Medicinal Mushroom-derived Antimicrobials: A Case-study Using Lingzhi Or Reishi Ganoderma lucidum (W. Curt.:Fr.) P. Karst. (Higher Basidiomycetes).” Int J Med Mushrooms 14.5 (2012): 481-90.
14 Nagano M, Shimizu K, Kondo R, Hayashi C, Sato D, Kitagawa K, Ohnuki K. “Reduction Of Depression And Anxiety By 4 Weeks’ Hericium erinaceus Intake.” Biomed Res 31.4 (Aug 2010): 231-7.
15 Mori K, Inatomi S, Ouchi K, Azumi Y, Tuchida T. “Improving Effects Of The Mushroom Yamabushitake (Hericium erinaceus) On Mild Cognitive Impairment: A Double-blind Placebo-controlled Clinical Trial.” Phytother Res 23.3 (Mar 2009): 367-72. <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18844328?lipi=urn%3Ali%3Apage%3Ad_flagship3_pulse_read%3BV51ziA6HSGm145Qormu9tg%3D%3D>
16 Torkelson CJ, Sweet E, Martzen MR, Sasagawa M, Wenner CA, Gay J, Putiri A, Standish LJ. “Phase 1 Clinical Trial Of Trametes versicolor In Women With Breast Cancer.” ISRN Oncol 2012 (2012): 251632. Published online 2012 May 30.
17 Youn MJ, Kim JK, Park SY, Kim Y, Kim SJ, Lee JS, Chai KY, Kim HJ, Cui MX, So HS, Kim KY, Park R. “Chaga Mushroom (Inonotus obliquus) Induces G0/G1 Arrest And Apoptosis In Human Hepatoma Hepg2 Cells.” World J Gastroenterol 14.4 (28 Jan 2008): 511–517. <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2681140/?lipi=urn%3Ali%3Apage%3Ad_flagship3_pulse_read%3BV51ziA6HSGm145Qormu9tg%3D%3D>
18 Ciric L, Tymon A, Zaura E, Lingström P, Stauder M, Papetti A, Signoretto C, Pratten J, Wilson M, Spratt D. “In Vitro Assessment Of Shiitake Mushroom (Lentinula edodes) Extract For Its Antigingivitis Activity.” J Biomed Biotechnol 2011 (2011): 507908. <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21966183>
19 Kodama N, Yamada M, Nanba H. “Addition Of Maitake D-fraction Reduces The Effective Dosage Of Vancomycin For The Treatment Of Listeria-infected Mice.” Jpn J Pharmacol 87.4 (Dec 2001): 327-32.