Functional mushrooms, also known as medicinal mushrooms, have been gaining popularity in recent years for their potential health benefits and ability to boost the immune system. From reishi and chaga to lion’s mane, these mushrooms are becoming increasingly popular as a natural supplement that can help support overall wellbeing. But what exactly are functional mushrooms? What do functional mushrooms do? And how can we incorporate them into our daily lives? In this article, we’ll explore what makes functional mushrooms so special and discuss some of the most common varieties available today.
The basics: what are functional mushrooms?
Functional mushrooms are types of edible fungi that have been used for centuries in traditional medicines and cultures around the world. What makes them so special is their rich content of bioactive compounds, which can bring about a variety of health benefits. These compounds, known as polysaccharides, beta-glucans, triterpenes, ergosterols and other metabolites, are believed to be responsible for the therapeutic effects associated with functional mushrooms. Additionally, certain species contain antioxidants that may help protect cells from damage caused by free radicals.
How long have medicinal mushrooms been used?
The use of functional mushrooms dates back hundreds of years and can be found in traditional medicinal practices from different cultures around the world, including Chinese and Ayurvedic. In Asia, for example, medicinal mushrooms have long been used to treat a variety of ailments such as fatigue, poor digestion, low immunity, and even cancer.
Today there are many species of functional mushrooms widely available on the market and studies suggest that these fungi can provide a range of health benefits. What’s more is that due to their increasing availability it is becoming much easier for people to incorporate them into their healthy diets and lifestyles.
Is there scientific evidence supporting functional mushrooms?
Yes! Research has shown that functional mushrooms may have a range of therapeutic effects due to their bioactive compounds as well as antioxidants. Studies have found that consuming certain species of functional mushroom can help support better immune system health, improve mental clarity and focus, reduce inflammation throughout the body, enhance energy levels and even promote better sleep quality.
Popular medicinal mushrooms and their benefits
There is no shortage of mushrooms with medicinal benefits. From chaga to shiitake, let’s look at a few of the most well research functional mushrooms, their benefits, and how to use them.
Chaga mushrooms have been used for centuries for their anti-inflammatory properties
Chaga mushrooms have been used as natural remedies for hundreds of years, and modern studies have confirmed their anti-inflammatory properties and other beneficial effects. As a traditional folk medicine, chaga was used to treat a variety of ailments, such as stomach pain and hypertension.
Today, it is believed to help strengthen the immune system with its antiviral and antifungal properties. The compounds found in chaga are said to be potent antioxidant compounds that can improve cardiovascular health and reduce oxidative impact from free radicals. Because chaga may help reduce inflammation, it can serve as a adjunct therapy for treating joint pain, arthritis, and high blood pressure.
Cordyceps mushrooms are traditionally used in Chinese medicine to boost energy levels and stamina
Cordyceps have long been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine, and the rest of the world is finally catching up. These medicinal mushrooms are believed to boost energy levels, increase endurance and stamina, and improve overall physical performance. Unsurprisingly, this makes them especially popular with athletes and people with active lifestyles looking for an extra edge in their day-to-day activities.
Cordyceps are also believed to have immunostimulating properties, which can help the body fight off infections and illnesses.
Lion’s mane are one of the most studied medicinal mushrooms
Lion’s mane is one of the best known medicinal mushrooms. In China, it were traditionally used to treat gastric ailments but is recently gaining attention for its ability to improve cognition. A 2009 study in Japan found that a daily dose of lion’s mane significantly improved brain function in people with mild cognitive impairment. A more recent study in 2020 also supports lion’s mane cognitive effects, finding that it may help prevent degeneration associated with Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Reishi mushrooms have a long history of use in Chinese and Japanese medicine
Also known as the “Queen of Mushrooms”, Reishi mushrooms have long been revered for their beneficial effects on the body and mind. As adaptogens, they’ve been said to promote immune cell health, reduce inflammation, and even regulate hormones. While modern science is still exploring these potential benefits, reishi is perhaps most known for its calming effect.
Their calming effect stems from their concentration of beta-glucans and triterpenes, a type of plant chemical that helps reduce inflammation and has sedative effects. These medicinal mushrooms also contain ganoderic acid, which is thought to decrease stress and improve sleep quality.
Turkey tail: a medicinal mushroom with cancer-fighting properties
While it may sound far-fetched, turkey tail mushrooms have become a popular addition to cancer treatments due to their unique composition. The polysaccharides found in turkey tail have been shown to help stimulate the immune system. This combined with their high antioxidant content makes them a useful tool for helping the body fight cancerous cells. As such, they can be very useful as an adjunct therapy alongside chemotherapy and other traditional medical treatments.
Their antioxidant and phytonutrient content is also useful in improving overall health and well-being, making them a great choice for anyone looking to supplement with medicinal mushrooms.
Shiitake mushrooms are packed with essential vitamins and minerals
Shiitake mushrooms are prized for their culinary uses, but they also have beneficial medicinal properties. Rich in essential vitamins and minerals, shiitakes are a true functional food. They are high in fibre and protein, and contain high amounts of vitamin B12, copper and selenium, which help support a healthier immune system.
Plus, the eritadenine and beta glucans found in shiitakes have been linked to lower cholesterol levels, which can ultimately reduce the risk of heart disease.
Though all medicinal mushrooms have their own unique benefits on their own, they also work well when used in tandem. Supplements like Harmonic Arts’ 5 Mushroom Blend, available in both tincture and powder form, make it easy to benefit from these synergistic effects. And if you’d really like to load up, Rainbo, a Canadian company specializing in high quality mushroom extracts, makes an eleven-in-one tincture. Their aptly-named 11:11 Super Mushroom Tincture features a blend of reishi, chaga, lion’s mane, cordyceps, turkey tail, mesima, agarikon, shiitake, royal sun, maitake, and oyster mushrooms.
Ways To Add Functional Mushrooms To Your Routine
Wondering how to add functional mushrooms to your routine? We designed our cafe and store to help you do exactly that:
- Start each day with a functional mushroom coffee or hot chocolate: we have both available at our cafe, where you add a functional mushroom of your choice to any beverage.
- Incorporate powdered functional mushrooms into smoothies or soups: each of our 4 smoothie recipes are built around a different functional mushroom, with ingredients intentionally selected to complement their benefits
- Take functional mushroom supplements: for the easiest way to get your daily dose, you can find medicinal mushroom capsules and tinctures in our store and online