5 Medicinal Mushrooms and Their Health Benefits
The Top Medicinal Mushrooms & Their Health Benefits:
- Lion’s Mane Mushroom: The Mushroom for the Mind
- Reishi Mushroom: The Mushroom of Immortality
- Chaga Mushroom: The Mushroom that’s not a Mushroom
- Shiitake Mushroom: The Fragrant Mushroom
- Maitake Mushroom: The Dancing Mushroom
Overview of Health Benefits of Medicinal Mushrooms
Medicinal mushrooms are nutritional powerhouses with a myriad of health benefits including the following:
- Immune support*
- Full of antioxidants*
- Helps to manage blood sugar*
- Support brain health and cognition*
- Support the nervous system*
- Increase energy and stamina*
The Top 5 Medicinal Mushrooms
Lion’s Mane Mushroom: The Mushroom for the Mind
Species name: Hericium erinaceus
Primary Lion’s Mane Mushroom Medicinal Benefits: Supports healthy brain function & neuron regeneration*
Lion’s Mane is rich in a multitude of important compound beta glucans, which are responsible for antitumor growth, immuno-modulating antioxidants and neuro-protective chemicals*. Oxidative stress, which these compounds protect against, is closely related to the pathogenesis of neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Nerve Growth Factor (NGF) synthesis in nerve cells may be induced by certain compounds (hericenones and erinacines) found in Hericium erinaceus, thus making Lion’s Mane an amazing helper with the development and function of nerves because of its neurotrophic factors.
Historical Use of Lion’s Mane Medicinal Mushrooms
Lion’s Mane, or Hericium erinaceus, is a species of medicinal mushroom that is beautiful in appearance, it has long cascading shaggy spines resembling a waterfall. Lion’s Mane grows on the trunks of hardwood trees in Northern forests and has been used in TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) for millennia and has become a well-established candidate in promoting positive cognitive function.
Reishi Mushroom: The Mushroom of Immortality
Species name: Ganoderma lingzhi
Primary Reishi Mushroom Medicinal Benefits: Sleep aid and potent immunomodulator*
Much of the polysaccharides in reishi mushroom are associated with immune functions, and if taken over time can significantly support the immune system. It is also known to improve sleep, reduce stress and fatigue.
Historical Use of Reishi Medicinal Mushrooms
Reishi or Ganoderma lingzhi, has been recorded for its use for around 2000 years. Most notably used in China by Taoist monks to promote calmness, as well as enhance their meditative practices. It has even been used by Chinese royalty who sought longevity and held Reishi or “the mushroom of immortality” in high esteem. Reishi was listed the most cherished among the superior herbs, that are considered to prolong life, prevent aging, boost qi, and make the body light.
Chaga Mushroom: The Mushroom that’s not a Mushroom
Species name: Inonotus Obliquus
Primary Chaga Mushroom Medicinal Benefits: Boosts digestion and clears/protects skin
Chaga is rich in antioxidants, and supports immune function, liver health, brain health and increases longevity.
Historical Medicinal Use of Chaga
Chaga or Inonotus obliquus, which is commonly referred to as a mushroom is actually a highly prized sclerotium or woody canker that grows in the colder regions of the Northern Hemisphere on birch trees. First medicinal uses seem to have come out of Russia around the 16th century when used as a tea to treat stomach ailments*. After 1966, Chaga gained more exposure after its healing powers were written about in Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s book, Cancer Ward. As Chaga grows primarily on birch trees and much of the sclerotium itself is actually wood fiber and not mycelium, many medicinal compounds from birch like betulin and betulinic acid end up in the sclerotium. The outer black layer on the canker contains high amounts of melanin which can be beneficial for our skin*.
Until recently Chaga could not be cultivated but now in Finland they are inoculating birch trees with this fungus. Lab cultivated Chaga does not develop in to sclerotium and as it does not grow on birch but on grain, it does not contain the important medicinal compounds that come from birch.
Shiitake Mushroom: The Fragrant Mushroom
Species name: Lentinula edodes
Primary Shiitake Mushroom Medicinal Benefit: Improves cardiovascular health
Shiitake mushroom is great for immunity, liver function, and supports the cardiovascular system*.
Historical Uses of Shiitake Medicinal Mushrooms
Shiitake mushrooms are the most popular mushrooms in the world and have a meaty and versatile flavor, hence why they’ve been used as a food source in Asia for hundreds of years. In China, shiitake is called Xiang gu (香菇), which translates to “fragrant mushroom.” During the Ming Dynasty in China, shiitake was deemed “the elixir of life”. They’re great to cook with, and are also loaded with B-vitamins, helping to control blood sugar levels and reduce inflammation in the body. Shiitake has been cultivated in Japan for centuries, and has received its name from shii trees (related to beech and oak) they’re found growing on. Shiitake has a long been used as both a food and a supplement in TCM, as it is thought to boost longevity and improve circulation*. Lentinan, a polysaccharide in shiitake mushrooms, has shown great promise as an immunotherapy agent . Research has also discovered a compound in shiitake, eritadenine, that has lowered cholesterol in some studies.
Maitake Mushroom: The Dancing Mushroom
Species name: Grifola frondosa
Primary Maitake Mushroom Medicinal Benefits: Helps to regulate blood pressure and supports immune function
Maitake mushrooms are known to help regulate our immune systems by stimulating the immune system’s lymphocytes such as natural killer cells and t-helper cells*.
Historical Uses of Maitake Medicinal Mushrooms
Maitake, Grifola frondosa is commonly known as Hen of the Woods or the Dancing Mushroom. It is plentiful in the deciduous forests of North America and Japan. It is an edible mushroom with an earthy flavour. TCM has used this mushroom for its support on the immune system. The mushroom (fruiting body) contains polysaccharides such as beta-glucans, which have been linked to healthy cell growth and turnover*.
Maitake became quite famous in the 1990’s after Dr. Hiroaki Nanba, a pharmacologist out of Japan at Kobe Pharmaceutical University, began isolating and testing different polysaccharide fractions from Maitake. Many of these fractions were quite potent immunomodulating agents.