The Magic of Medicinal Mushrooms
Updated: May 28
Know of any plants that provide vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and are commonly used in traditional medicine? I do, it’s mushrooms. Mushrooms are the well-known member of the fungi family, their cousins being yeasts and molds. Neither plant nor animal, fungi make up a kingdom unto themselves.
Mushrooms of all kinds are high in beta-glucans, which are a special type of carbohydrate, which have are used in a variety of pharmaceuticals, most notably, cholesterol and heart medications. Beta glucans have been shown to block the absorption of cholesterol and to stimulate the immune system. It is the immune-stimulating property that is under research for its ability to fight cancer.
Mushrooms are the only unprocessed, vegan form of vitamin D! Mushrooms also provide a significant amount of B vitamins. We all know that mushrooms can offer the rich umami kick that can be lacking in plant-based dishes. For all of these reasons, I always recommend that mushrooms should always be in the shopping carts (or foraging baskets) of vegetarians and vegans.
As you might imagine, this kingdom of organisms is incredibly diverse, ranging from the Alice-in-Wonderland-esque toxic toad-stool mushrooms (Amanita muscaria) to the ever-popular portobello to sought-after morel. Venturing beyond the grocery-store varieties can certainly be daunting, especially given the toxic nature of some varieties.
So, let’s start with three all-stars of the medicinal mushroom world: Reishi, Lion’s Mane and Cordyceps. These mushrooms have an extensive history in traditional medicine. Fortunately, many are widely available today.
Reishi: Popularity of Reishi mushrooms has been growing over the years and for good reason! In Chinese medicine, Reishi is known as the Queen of Mushrooms, and has been considered an elixir of immortality. More recently, reishi has gained popularity for its calming and grounding effect. Beverages made with powdered preparations make an excellent addition to bedtime routines!
Reishi mushroom variety is a large, dark and woody textured mushroom. It’s shape resembles that of a kidney. It most commonly grows on oak and maple trees, but is exceedingly rare and the wild. It’s naturally bitter flavor can be a challenge for some palates. However, it can be added to hot cocoa blends, smoothies, or just swallowed as a pill for the faint of heart. Potential health benefits include:
-healthy stress response
-anti cancer agent
Lion’s mane- this mushroom is as striking in appearance, as its name indicates, in virtual of its bunches of cascading white tendrils. Lion’s Mane’s primary health benefits affect the brain, heart and gut. Compounds in this mushroom cross the blood brain barrier and may stimulate brain cell growth. Studies have shown that supplementation may protect the brain and relieve mild symptoms of anxiety and depression. With a smooth and earthy taste, a powdered version makes a great addition to a day-time beverage to promote alertness. Potential benefits include:
-alleviating anxiety and depression
Cordyceps- Much like lion’s mane Cordyceps mushroom variety has been growing in popularity over the years due to their potential health benefits. This variety is traditionally used to boost physical energy and stamina. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, Cordyceps is used to support kidney and lung systems. Preliminary research indication that potential health benefits include:
-blood sugar maintenance
-supporting heart health
How to Prepare Mushrooms
If these varieties sound daunting, not to worry, culinary mushrooms provide many benefits as well, not to mention that they are add depth and flavor to any dish. Cooking with mushrooms can be a simple task. In fact mushroom preparation is fairly easy. Check some mushroom meal ideas along with some preparation tips below.
Cleaning- Mushrooms are grown in the ground, thus like any other produce must be properly cleaned first before cooking. Be sure to be gentle because mushrooms are fragile. Let them dry before preparation.
Cooking- Mushrooms are fragile and are at risk for losing their important nutrients when cooked at high temperatures. Mushrooms do best at low heat in a quick sauté for pastas or stir-frys, or simmering in a soup, or raw in a salad or omelet dish. Also, important to point out mushrooms are an excellent meat substitute due to their umami flavor otherwise known as savory. Try grilling up some portobellos on the grill or creating a mushroom burger.
Storage- Mushrooms should be used within one week of purchasing and should be refrigerated. They do not freeze well due to their high-water content. Storing in a brown paper bag however is a way to make them last and resist faster spoilage.
Takeaway-Mushrooms host an abundance nutritional benefits and medicinal properties. Many edible mushroom varieties have shown to play a role is many areas of human health and nutrition. It is important to note not all mushrooms are edible mushrooms for consumption and should be sought out with caution. Incorporating mushrooms into your daily meals can be an easy feat due to their versality. Many mushroom varieties have shown to have medicinal properties however, more research needs to be conducted to confirm present findings. Try a new variety of mushrooms this week, trust me-you won’t regret it.
Valverde, M. E., Hernández-Pérez, T., & Paredes-López, O. (2015). Edible mushrooms: improving human health and promoting quality life. International journal of microbiology, 2015, 376387. https://doi.org/10.1155/2015/376387
Wachtel-Galor S, Yuen J, Buswell JA, et al. Ganoderma lucidum (Lingzhi or Reishi): A Medicinal Mushroom. In: Benzie IFF, Wachtel-Galor S, editors. Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects. 2nd edition. Boca Raton (FL): CRC Press/Taylor & Francis; 2011. Chapter 9. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK92757/