Are you a mushroom lover, or does the very thought make you sick?
Mushrooms are one of those foods you either love or hate.
The internet is widespread with fierce debates arguing over its taste and texture. I dare say it might be more controversial than pineapple on pizza!
Although did you know that mushrooms are also used as medicine?
Yep, that’s right.
For thousands of years now, a category of mushrooms known as medicinal mushrooms has been used to fight off infections, boost the brain, calm the nervous system, enhance energy, and much more.
Unlike the typical mushrooms you come across at the supermarket, these aren’t ones you add to your food.
So whether you love or hate their taste, you could benefit a lot from their therapeutic effects.
In this article, we’ll cover the history of medicinal mushrooms, why they have these medicinal properties, the ways they could benefit you, how to take them, and where you can find the best products to experiment with yourself.
In This Article
- The History of Medicinal Mushrooms
- Modern-day Uses of Medicinal Mushrooms
- How Can a Mushroom be Medicinal?
- What Benefits Can Medicinal Mushrooms Provide?
- The Top 5 Major Medicinal Mushrooms
- How to Take Them?
- When Should I Take My Mushrooms
- Where to Buy Medicinal Mushrooms In Australia?
The History of Medicinal Mushrooms
Medicinal mushrooms are a group of fungi known to have healing properties for a range of illnesses and conditions.
For thousands of years, they’ve been used by various cultures all around the world.
The Egyptians regarded mushrooms as gifts from Osiris (the god of fertility and life), The Romans considered them ‘food of the gods’, the Greeks believed they provided ultimate strength for warriors during battle, and the Chinese believed them to be an ‘elixir of life’.
The earliest document detailing the medicinal benefits of mushrooms dates back to 220 AD in the Chinese book ‘Divine Husbandman’s Classic of Materia Medica’, also known as ‘Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing’. However, the use of these types of mushrooms dates back much further.
One piece of archeological evidence is Otzi, who was found in 1991.
Otzi is the name given to the mummified body found in the snowy mountains of the Otzal Alps around the border of Austria and Italy. His corpse was preserved under thick snow, and testing later revealed he was 5,300 years old- dating back to around 3105BC.
Among Otzi’s possessions were a range of survival tools, but in particular, he had 2 species of polymer fungi known to have medicinal properties. One was birch fungus, known to have antiparasitic properties for treating things like whipworm.
The other was a tinder fungus, which is a special type of mushroom with a hard wooden surface, but the inside is a softer spongier material similar to that of tinder used to start fires. People actually used this mushroom in the ancient past to carry around ambers of a fire to start new fires with ease after a long day’s journey.
So not only were medicinal mushrooms used to treat illness around 3,105BC, but they were a valuable tool for surviving the cold winters!
Modern-day Uses of Medicinal Mushrooms
In our modern-day world, the medicinal properties of mushrooms are most famously recognised by a scientific revolution that happened by accident in 1928.
A Scottish scientist named Alexander Fleming was investigating the properties of infectious bacteria. While away on holiday, mould spores wafted through his lab window and landed in a petri dish.
Once he returned, Fleming found the mould had formed a colony on the petri dish with bacteria surrounding it. For some reason, the bacteria hadn’t touched the mould spores at all and only formed on the outer skirts of the petri dish.
This piqued Dr Fleming’s interest, and his curiosity led him to investigate the matter further. He soon discovered that the mould spores released a chemical to fight off the bacteria.
His discovery changed the world as it was what’s known today as penicillin- the compound used to create antibiotics.
Over time more research was conducted into the medicinal properties of mushrooms, and the results have shown an amazing list of benefits, most of which were praised by ancient cultures for thousands of years.
This has led to a boom in popularity and commercialisation of the various forms of medicinal mushrooms, which can come in the form of chocolate, coffees, smoothies, and tea.
How Can a Mushroom be Medicinal?
Most people don’t realise that mushrooms have incredible similarities to us human beings.
Contrary to what people may think, mushrooms aren’t plants. They exist in their own kingdom, like the plant or animal kingdom, except their’s is called the fungi kingdom.
Despite being in their own kingdom though, they have plenty of similarities with human beings in their DNA and protein. These genetic similarities mean they are typically affected by the same pathogens and infections that we are, and so the anti-virals and antibacterial properties they produce are also effective on us.
Another strange similarity is how the mycelium of mushrooms is remarkably similar to the network of neurons in the brain.
The mycelium is the white spiderweb-like structure that grows throughout the soil and trees, forming networks throughout nature, and using electrical pulses to communicate as the brain does.
It’s a network that’s demonstrated an uncanny intelligence by being able to communicate with plants and trees to trade nutrients, as well as protecting their ecosystem from pathogens. Without mycelium, mycologists believe that all ecosystems would collapse.
This same mycelium is shown to have immune-boosting benefits in human beings and enhance gut health. So whether it be the mycelium or fruiting body, mushrooms play an important role in promoting well-being in both the plant kingdom and our own.
What Benefits Can Medicinal Mushrooms Provide?
Each mushroom has its own benefits. Many of these benefits overlap with each other, but these mushrooms have their specialities for specific conditions.
Think of them like doctors who can help a person get well, but each doctor specialises in their own field for more in-depth healing of certain conditions.
Many different types of medicinal mushrooms exist, but the top 5 most commonly used ones are Reishi, Turkey Tail, Chaga, Cordyceps, and Lions Mane.
Their benefits are due to a long-range of compounds, each with its own healing properties. Some of these compounds include:
- Anti-inflammatory cytokines
These compounds work together holistically to help balance biological reactions throughout the body. This balancing effect is part of why these types of mushrooms are referred to as adaptogens.
What Are Adaptogens?
When your body is no longer in balance, it starts to experience varying degrees of stress.
Contrary to what people may think, stress isn’t just an external event like your kids driving you insane, running late for work, or driving in unbearably slow traffic. Stress is also an internal response that can come about through inflammation, immune responses to a pathogen, a nutritional deficiency, etc.
Adaptogens are unique because they help the body become more resistant to both internal and external stress to blunt its impact on us. It also balances vital functions so their not in any state of excess or deficiency.
Think of adaptogens like biological thermostats. As you probably know a thermostat is used to automatically keep the temperature at a certain level. If it gets too hot, the thermostat cools it down, and if it gets too cold, then it’ll get heated up.
This is what adaptogens do when stressors in the body cause imbalance.
For example, if your body is producing too much of the stress hormone cortisol, then adaptogens will decrease the cortisol. Although, if your body isn’t producing enough cortisol, then adaptogens will increase it to balance those levels.
Much of the research around adaptogens was pioneered by the Russians. In fact, they secretly studied these beneficial effects on their soldiers and Olympic athletes looking for an edge that would make them perform better.
These experiments were so important and valued that the Russian government swore their scientists to secrecy, forbidding them to share this research with any other country. However, during the collapse of the soviet union, one researcher decided to take all those confidential documents and flee with them to the US to share that research with the world.
The Top 5 Major Medicinal Mushrooms
- Reishi (The Calming Mushroom)
Reishi is the ultimate stress reliever, making it no surprise why it’s become one of the most popular medicinal mushrooms.
In Chinese culture, it is known as ‘the mushroom of immortality’, likely due to its unique benefits of reducing stress which slows down the aging process.
Although Reishi’s benefits don’t stop at stress, clinical studies have shown that it can also improve the state of the cardiovascular system, improve the quality of sleep, protect the liver, and is a powerful immune booster.
- Turkey Tail (The Immune System Steroid)
If you’re looking for a boost in immunity- turkey tail is the mushroom you want to be using.
It has unique properties that boost special immune cells in the body, known as natural killer cells. These are cells that are uniquely skilled at killing off infections and protecting against disease.
This mushroom has a large number of beta-glucans which are scientifically known to stimulate the immune system. It also contains large amounts of PSP and PSK, which are medicinal polysaccharides that have been used to treat cancer in Japan for more than 40 years!
Some of the other benefits of turkey tail include enhancing the immune system, protecting the cells from damage, supporting gut health, protecting the liver, and promoting better endurance.
- Chaga (The Antioxidant King)
This unusual looking mushroom has the highest content of antioxidants ever recorded in any natural food.
Antioxidants protect the body from toxic chemicals called free radicals, which naturally occur as a result of metabolism and are caused by environmental toxins like tobacco or pollution.
When large amounts of free radicals accumulate in the body, we become highly susceptible to chronic diseases and radically accelerate the aging process.
This makes Chaga the best natural health product in the world to radically reduce the chances of disease, slow down aging, and keep you healthy.
To give some perspective on its antioxidants, let’s take a well-known plant food like blueberries, which are well known to be a great source of antioxidants. The levels of antioxidants are measured by the ORAC score (oxygen radical absorption capacity).
Blueberries have an estimated ORAC score of around 4,600, while Chaga has an estimated ORAC score of about 146,000!
I should mention that ORAC scores vary depending on the quality and species of a plant or mushroom, but you get the idea.
In addition to being a powerhouse of antioxidants, Chaga also has some other health benefits such as reducing inflammation, boosting the immune system, regulating blood sugar, lowering cholesterol, and supporting digestion.
- Cordyceps (The Athletic Mushroom)
This mushroom gives an edge to athletes and those looking to enhance their cardio.
It most famously is known because of the Chinese Olympic runners that gained a status of legend for breaking 3 world records in the 1993 Olympics. These results were so baffling at the time that they were suspected of using performance-enhancing drugs.
Although after testing negative for drug enhancers, these suspicions died down. Their coach revealed the secret to their success wasn’t any sort of banned substance but a completely natural elixir containing cordyceps.
Years later, suspicions re-emerged after some of the same athletes failed doping tests in the year 2000. However, by this point, the spotlight on cordyceps had already inspired many clinical studies, which did in fact support its athletic enhancing abilities.
Some of these benefits include an increase in athletic performance, building resistance to fatigue, enhancing cardiovascular health, fighting inflammation, and regulating blood sugar.
- Lions Mane (The Brain Booster)
Your brain will love you for taking lion’s mane as it’s uniquely able to boost brain capacity in some people.
This is primarily due to its ability to stimulate the growth of neurons. It can achieve this by creating 2 significant compounds known as hericenones and erinacines. These compounds have the unique ability to be able to cross the blood-brain barrier and then stimulate the development of new neurons by creating nerve growth factor (NGF).
By enabling the brain to build more neurons, it’s been shown to improve cognitive function, reduce anxiety or depression, protect the brain against neurological illnesses, fight inflammation, and support gut health.
How to Take Them?
Mushrooms tend to come in the form of either powders or extracts. Although at Forest Superfoods, we like to keep our mushrooms as close to nature as possible, which is why we typically grind the mushrooms whole into a powder or in the form of a tea.
To maximise the results from medicinal mushrooms, it’s best to take combinations of different mushrooms together. Each mushroom has its own unique benefits that they specialise in, and so when you mix them together it provides a powerful medicinal punch that will be stronger than any individual mushroom on its own.
You can find our combo packet with turkey tail, reishi, and lion’s mane all together at a discounted rate. Click here to try it today.
When Should I Take My Mushrooms
There’s a variety of different combinations you could try at different times of the day. Since everyone is different, it would be best to experiment for yourself, but I’ll share my own recommendations.
For the morning, I find the mushrooms that boost energy and focus to be the best way to wake up. This can include mushrooms like lions mane to calm any anxiety and boost your brain to focus on work duties. Cordyceps is another option, and turkey tail gives an extra kick to the immune system.
Try adding your mushrooms into a morning smoothie for a nutrient-dense start to the day. Adding mushrooms to coffee is another excellent choice that blends well with the flavour of the coffee. Lion’s mane and coffee are a great combination, and you can find our product for that here.
In the afternoon, Chaga is great to regulate your blood sugar from lunch and giving an additional boost in energy for the day. Another dose of turkey tail can be good to keep your immune system heightened throughout the day’s peak.
Towards night you want mushrooms that will help you unwind and calm down, which makes Reishi the best choice for this. The soothing effect of reishi not only cuts away the stress after a long day but regulates your nervous system to allow for deeper states of sleep, so you feel more well-rested the next day.
Where to Buy Medicinal Mushrooms In Australia?
There are a lot of different products on the market and many things to consider when looking to pick the best product in Australia.
For starters, mushrooms can accumulate heavy metals in areas with high levels of pollution, so you want a product grown in clean conditions without any contaminations. Our mushrooms are grown in a controlled environment in the pristine Yarra Valley
Lastly is to make sure the mushrooms include the use of mycelium in the final product. Some companies strictly use the fruiting body, which deprives you of all the medicinal benefits that come uniquely from the mycelium.
The world-renowned mycologist Paul Stamets recommends growing mushrooms with mycelium and says, “In my scientific opinion, mushroom products not incorporating mycelium are at a decided disadvantage, given the results of recent research”.
At Forest Superfoods, we look to be industry leaders for high-quality medicinal mushrooms that are as close to nature as possible.
All our mushrooms are certified organic. We grow them in pristinely clean environments and include mycelium to give you the maximum benefits.
We also freeze-dry our mushrooms because this method has been found to be almost nutritionally identical to wild-grown mushrooms.
Many other companies simply spray dry their process because it’s cheaper, but we don’t mind spending the additional expense to give our customers the best quality product on the market.
It’s strange to think about how significant of a role medicinal mushrooms have served throughout our history and evolution of the earth.
They have electric networks throughout soils and the tress that keep ecosystems healthy, they helped our ancient ancestry to carry fire portably, and have an abundance of healing properties that can keep us healthy and full of life.
The world we live in would likely be a different place without the benefits of these mushrooms, and not to mention we wouldn’t have this powerful tool from nature to boost the state of our health- which is something we all need in our busy modern-day lifestyles.
Click here to try our range of medicinal mushrooms and see what they can do for you.