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Medicinal Mushrooms: 7 Kinds and Their Unique Health Benefits

Exploring the Uses of the Top Medicinal Mushrooms

The medicinal use of mushrooms dates back thousands of years because of their varied and uniquely adaptive benefits for health. Now, in recent times with functional medicine and holistic nutrition going mainstream, we’re seeing a resurgence of interest in these marvelous superfoods. But, there are a few things you should know before running to your local supplement shop…

This article will encapsulate the top health benefits of 7 medicinal mushrooms, while also revealing why some mushroom supplements sold in today’s marketplace don’t contain mushrooms at all. And finally, it will explain how Real Mushrooms produces medicinal mushroom extracts for our supplements and what to shop for when you’re looking to get true high-quality mushroom supplement benefits.

In This Article

  1. Lion’s Mane Mushroom: The Mushroom for the Mind

  2. Reishi Mushroom: The Mushroom of Immortality

  3. Cordyceps Mushroom: The Caterpillar Fungus

  4. Chaga Mushroom: The Mushroom that’s not a Mushroom

  5. Turkey Tail Mushroom: The Mushroom of Multiple Colors

  6. Shiitake Mushroom: The Fragrant Mushroom

  7. 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:

  • Provide immune support*

  • Full of antioxidants*

  • Support a healthy inflammation response*

  • Help to balance blood sugar*

  • Support brain health and cognition*

  • Support the nervous system*

  • Increase energy and stamina*

The Top 7 Medicinal Mushrooms

The healthiest mushrooms to supplement with include:

  • Lion’s Mane

  • Reishi

  • Cordyceps

  • Chaga

  • Turkey Tail

  • Shiitake

Lion’s Mane Mushroom: The Mushroom for the Mind

Primary Lion’s Mane Mushroom Medicinal Benefits: Supports healthy brain function & neuron generation

Lion’s Mane is full of a multitude of important compounds, such as beta-glucans, which are immuno-modulating antioxidants and neuro-protective phytonutrients.

In vitro research suggests that certain compounds found in Lion’s mane, namely hericenones and erinacines, may help induce Nerve Growth Factor (NGF) synthesis in nerve cells. This dovetails with findings from animal research that Lion’s mane promotes nerve tissue growth and supports motor function. And research in adults with mild memory problems associated with aging found that those taking Lion’s Mane extract had better brain function compared with control participants who did not ingest the mushroom. All of this indicates that Lion’s Mane mushroom is an amazing helper for healthy brain function and may even support neurogenesis.

Historical Uses of Lion’s Mane Medicinal Mushrooms

Lion’s Mane, or Hericium erinaceus, is a species of 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.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), names Lion’s Mane Hou Tou Gu (monkey head mushroom). Chinese medicine practitioners use this mushroom for the spleen, and its association with digestion, energy, and water regulation. TCM also uses this medicinal mushrooms as a tonic for stress-related disorders (neurasthenia) and for a lack of energy (qi deficiency).

The Japanese call Lion’s Mane Yamabushitake, after the worshipping Buddhist monks known as the Shugendō. These monks used Lion’s Mane tea to increase their ability to concentrate during meditation. Indigenous peoples of pre-colonial US, Canada, and Australia also used Lion’s Mane for medicine and food. This mushroom has become a well-established candidate in promoting cognitive function.

Reishi Mushroom: The Mushroom of Immortality

Primary Reishi Mushroom Medicinal Benefits: Sleep aid and potent immunomodulator

The polysaccharides in reishi mushroom are associated with immune function, and if taken over time, reishi can significantly support the immune system. It can also support restful sleep and a calm mind, reduce occasional stress and restlessness, can support lung and respiratory health and support balanced blood sugar levels.

One study has demonstrated that Reishi can decrease symptom scale scores for men experiencing lower urinary tract symptoms (urination difficulty). Reishi can be used safely in adjunct with certain oncology medications and diagnoses.

Because of its well-rounded capacity to support numerous systems in the body, herbalists call reishi the King of Medicinal Mushrooms.

Historical Uses of Reishi Medicinal Mushrooms

Reishi, or Ganoderma lingzhi, has a 2000-year-old written record in medicinal texts. Most notably, Chinese Taoist monks wrote of using it to promote calmness, as well as to enhance their meditative practices. Chinese royalty used reishi to promote longevity and held this “mushroom of immortality,” in high esteem. Reishi was listed as the most cherished among the superior herbs, which are considered to support a long life, support healthy aging, boost qi, and make the body light.

There are six different colors of reishi referenced in historical literature, each with their own unique benefits.

Cordyceps Mushroom: The Caterpillar Fungus

Primary Cordyceps Mushroom Medicinal Benefits: Improves lung capacity and increases energy

The cordyceps mushroom is an incredible energy-boosting fungi. Certain studies have shown that cordyceps can increase the production of ATP, the compound that gives cells energy, in rodents. This is why Cordyceps is a good mushroom supplement to take for exercise and physical performance. In fact, two well-controlled clinical studies have found cordyceps improves exercise performance in healthy older individuals.

Preliminary research in humans, animals, and test tubes also indicates that cordyceps supports healthy levels of inflammation and immune markers.

Related cordyceps species may have hormone regulatory properties shown in research studies to increase libido (in women) and improve sperm health in men. Cordyceps can support kidney health in certain populations.

Historical Uses of Cordyceps Medicinal Mushrooms

Old Chinese medical books and Tibetan medicine describe cordyceps as a treasure. With hundreds of different species, it is a parasitic fungus that preys on insects. Traditional healers use the fungus as a powerful tonic to improve energy, appetite, stamina, and endurance.

Cordyceps was traditionally used as a tonic because it has the capacity to revitalize and restore symptoms like fatigue, exhaustion, and chronic stress. Out of all the medicinal mushrooms, Cordyceps is the most stimulating, warming, and powerful in a traditional context. It has an affinity to the kidneys and lungs, meaning it supports these organs the most.

The Strange (And Expensive) Cordyceps Market

The most well-known species of cordyceps is Cordyceps sinensis; the most expensive mushroom in the world, costing over $20,000 per kilogram and sold almost exclusively in Asia. It is a rare combination of a caterpillar and a mushroom and is found at high altitudes in the Himalayan Plateau.

For many years, Chinese scientists weren’t able to cultivate this mushroom, fueling an increasing demand on a small supply. Now, with this particular fungus, it is very important to be aware of what you are consuming, because wild Cordyceps sinensis rarely makes it to the North American market, yet companies are still advertising Cordyceps sinensis on their mushroom supplements. If a cordyceps product is grown in North America, it is almost certainly myceliated grain. A high amount of grain means a low amount of mycelium and decreased beta-glucans, which are the beneficial polysaccharides found in the cell wall.

Luckily, there is one type of Cordyceps species that can be cultivated commercially to produce a mushroom (fruiting body), and that is Cordyceps militaris, which has similar benefits to Cordyceps sinensis.

Chaga Mushroom: The Mushroom that’s not a Mushroom

Primary Chaga Mushroom Medicinal Benefits: Boosts digestion and clears/protects skin

Chaga has been studied for its use in skin conditions and stomach disorders. Chaga has over 200 pre-clinical animal and cell studies showing promising health benefits including such as being high in antioxidants, supporting digestion, immune support, modulating inflammation, containing key anti-microbial substances, and being adaptogenic.

Historical Uses of Chaga

Chaga or Inonotus obliquus, which is commonly referred to as a mushroom, is actually a highly prized woody canker or conk that grows in the colder regions of the Northern Hemisphere on birch trees.

The first medicinal uses of chaga seem to have come out of Russia around the 16th century. Siberians would use chaga as a tea to enhance stomach health. After 1966, Chaga gained more exposure after its powers were written about in Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s book, Le Pavillon des cancéreux. Many indigenous people continue to use Chaga around the world for varying health-supportive purposes.

How Chaga Grows Is the Key to Its Benefits

As Chaga grows primarily on birch trees and much of the mass itself is actually wood fiber and not mycelium, many medicinal compounds from birch like betulin and betulinic acid end up in the chaga. 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 into canker, and as it does not grow on birch but on grain, it does not contain the important medicinal compounds that come from birch.

Turkey Tail Mushroom: The Mushroom of Multiple Colors

Primary Turkey Tail Mushroom Medicinal Benefit: Boosts immune system function

Turkey Tail improves immune function by stimulating cytokine production, increasing natural killer cells, and through other immune-boosting functions*.

Protein-bound polysaccharides (PBP) found in Turkey Tail have the most research-backed immune-supportive effects. These PBP compounds can enhance key types of immune cells, like T-cells, when used alone or in combination with synergistic herbs. Turkey Tail is a safe mushroom to use long-term within the context of proper medical treatment.

Historical Uses of Turkey Tail Medicinal Mushrooms

Turkey Tail mushroom, or Trametes Versicolor, is one of the most common and local mushrooms to many peoples around the world. It grows on dead logs worldwide and received its name because its rings of brown and tan look like the tail feathers of a turkey.