Medicinal Mushrooms: The Complete Guide

In recent years, research has confirmed medicinal mushrooms’ usefulness for our health and wellbeing. Some of these mushrooms are well-known, while others remain more obscure.

Read on to learn about the most common types and their benefits in this in-depth guide.

Medicinal Mushrooms: An Overview

Humans have been using mushrooms for their nutritional and therapeutic properties for centuries. The ancient Greeks believed that eating mushrooms could provide additional strength for battles, while the Romans called them “food for the gods.” Medicinal mushrooms also play an essential role in many East Asian healing traditions.

Mushrooms, in general, are a fantastic addition to any healthy diet. They are rich in protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals while being low in calories, fat, cholesterol, and sodium.

medicinal-mushrooms-an-overview

While only around 25 mushroom species are typically eaten, up to 700 different types may have medicinal properties. Many of these are too bitter or woody to eat, but it is possible to use them as supplements instead.

So, how do medicinal mushrooms work, and what are their benefits? Let’s take a look.

How Do Medicinal Mushrooms Work?

Mushrooms are rich in compounds known as polysaccharides. These are large carbohydrate molecules that have a range of potential benefits for our health.

The best-studied polysaccharides are called beta-glucans, and these play a crucial role in how medicinal mushrooms work. They interact with several different physiological systems, especially the immune system.

Individual mushroom species possess unique compounds that give them a variety of benefits.

Most therapeutic mushrooms contain beta-glucans and, therefore, have somewhat similar effects. However, individual species also possess unique compounds that give them a variety of benefits.

Read on to learn about the most common types and how they might affect the body and mind.

Medicinal Mushrooms Benefits

Research suggests that medicinal mushrooms, in general, may have the following benefits:

  • Antibacterial
  • Antiviral
  • Antifungal
  • Antiparasitic
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Antioxidant
  • Anticancer
  • Immunity enhancing
  • Antiallergic
  • Cholesterol-lowering
  • Antidiabetic
  • Neuroprotective

Of course, some mushroom species are more appropriate than others for each of these uses. For more details, see our medicinal mushroom chart in the next section.

What Are the Best Medicinal Mushrooms?

Choosing the most appropriate therapeutic mushrooms will depend upon the reason for using them. While most types should promote general health and wellbeing, those looking to assist specific medical conditions should choose carefully.

what-are-the-best-medicinal-mushrooms?

Our medicinal mushrooms list below summarizes some of the most common species and their potential benefits. We will discuss each option in more detail later on. Please note that many of these effects are based on animal or laboratory studies. Clinical research into how most of these mushrooms affect human health is more limited.

Type of Mushroom

Potential Benefits

Reishi

  • Immunomodulating
  • Antioxidant
  • Anticancer
  • Antibacterial
  • Antiviral
  • Antidiabetic (lowers blood sugar)
  • Protects the liver and stomach

Lion’s Mane

  • Neuroprotective
  • Antidepressant

Chaga

  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Antioxidant
  • Antibacterial
  • Antiviral
  • Anti-tumor
  • Antidiabetic
  • Protects the liver

Shiitake

  • Enhances immunity
  •  Antifungal
  • Anti-allergy
  • Anticancer
  • Reduces cholesterol
  • Reduces blood pressure

Turkey Tails

  • Enhances immunity
  • Anticancer

Cordyceps

  • Immunomodulating
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Anticancer
  • Anti-aging
  • Anti-fatigue
  • Antidiabetic
  • Reduces lipids (blood fats)
  • Protects the heart
  • Improves sperm count

Reishi Mushroom Benefits List

Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) is highly prized in Chinese medicine, which considers it an “elixir of life” that promotes wellbeing and longevity. As well as polysaccharides, reishi is rich in triterpenoids and other beneficial compounds.

The best-known reishi mushroom medicinal properties may include:

  • Immunomodulating
  • Antioxidant
  • Anticancer
  • Antibacterial
  • Antiviral
  • Antidiabetic
  • Protects the liver
  • Protects the stomach

Lion’s Mane Benefits List

Lion’s mane (Hericium erinaceus) is another mushroom with a long history in East Asian medicine. It contains two unique chemical families, erinacines and hericenones.

Pre-clinical studies suggest that these compounds have powerful neuroprotective effects. Therefore, lion’s mane mushrooms’ benefits list primarily consists of neurological conditions, including:

  • Stroke
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Depression
  • Neuropathic pain
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Chaga Benefits List

Chaga (Inonotus obliquus) is native to Eastern Europe and Russia, North America, and Japan. It has played a crucial role in Siberian folk medicine, where its uses include:

  • Parasites
  • Tuberculosis
  • Digestive issues
  • Heart disease
  • Liver problems
  • Cancer

Meanwhile, modern research has shown that chaga contains medicinal compounds, such as betulin and betulinic acid. Early studies support the following possible chaga medicinal uses:

  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Antioxidant
  • Antibacterial
  • Antiviral
  • Anti-tumor
  • Antidiabetic
  • Protects the liver

Shiitake Mushroom Benefits List

Shiitake (Lentinus edodes) is probably best known as an edible mushroom and is a popular ingredient in Asian cuisine. They contain several active compounds, including lentinan and eritadenine.

Aside from tasting delicious, there are several potential shiitake mushroom health benefits, including:

  • Enhances immunity
  • Antifungal
  • Anti-allergy
  • Anticancer
  • Reduces cholesterol
  • Reduces blood pressure

Turkey Tail Mushroom Benefits

Turkey tails (Trametes versicolor) are another type of mushroom that features prominently in East Asian medical traditions. Their use has remained commonplace in China and Japan, where turkey tails are frequently used alongside chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

This is unsurprising since most research into turkey tail mushrooms’ health benefits has focused on their anticancer properties.

They contain two unique chemicals, polysaccharopeptide (PSP) and polysaccharide krestin (PSK). They are known to support immune function and may even help protect against some of the side effects of cancer treatments.

Cordyceps Mushroom Health Benefits

Yet another staple of Chinese medicine, cordyceps (Cordyceps sinensis), is an esteemed tonic herb. Its traditional uses include:

  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Low libido
  • Cough
  • Kidney disease

Modern research shows that these mushrooms contain a variety of active compounds, including the potent chemical cordycepin. According to animal and laboratory studies, cordyceps mushrooms’ health benefits may include:

  • Immunomodulating
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Anticancer
  • Anti-aging
  • Anti-fatigue
  • Antidiabetic
  • Reduces lipids
  • Protects the heart
  • Improves sperm count

Final Thoughts: What Are the Best Mushroom Supplements?

Mushrooms are a great way to support a healthy, balanced diet. For those wishing to use medicinal mushrooms daily, products such as powders, capsules, and tinctures provide a convenient consumption method.

Mushrooms are a great way to support a healthy, balanced diet.

The best mushroom supplements will depend upon each person’s individual needs. Consider factors like overall health, medical conditions, and other supplements or medicines before making a decision.

And remember, some of the mushroom supplements’ benefits that we have discussed have more evidence to support them than others. Consult a knowledgeable physician, herbalist, or Chinese medicine practitioner for further advice.

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