Everything You Want To Know About Functional Mushrooms

By Isadora Baum

Medicinal mushrooms are a source of many beneficial phytonutrients, minerals, and vitamins in Western countries. So much so, they're fueling the popularity behind major wellness brands like Four Sigmatic, Sun Potion and Moon Juice.

mushrooms
credit: Unsplash

Yet, the medicinal properties of mushrooms were used way before we learned of them through social media marketing. Mushrooms have been used in Chinese Medicine for thousands of years, and as many mushrooms have a neutral property to them in Traditional Chinese Medicine, they do not cause heat or cold, thus keeping the body at an optimal state of balance.

The use of mushrooms from TCM can be carried over into Western medicine, too. "Mushrooms can be used for patients who are going through traditional Western treatment. Many patients with HIV and cancer have benefitted. Mushrooms have been studied in detail for their efficacy in fighting diseases," says Dr. Elizabeth Trattner.

So, what are the different types of healing mushrooms available? Trattner shares her top picks, as well as what makes them so special.

Shiitake

"Xiang Gu helps absorb cholesterol and lower the amount circulating in the blood. Shiitakes mushrooms also have antiviral and anticancer effects," she says. Shiitake mushrooms can also increase liver function and boost the immune system, she says. "I recommend buying fresh shitake, as dried can be adulterated with sulfites. Make sure to get shitakes grown in the United states. You can also get organic shitake extract," she adds. These mushrooms can be used in cooking, and most Americans are familiar with this type of mushroom as a popular choice.

Cordyceps

"Dong Chong Xia Cao, a Chinese fungus used as a tonic and restorative, it's also known for improving athletic performance. During one of the Olympics, it was believed the Chinese athletes were using performance enhancing drugs and they were using cordyceps," says Trattner. "Cordyceps is used also to treat patients who have intense fatigue or who have been chronically ill," she adds, as it works the lungs and respiratory health, as well. What's more, it might also increase libido, so working that sexual performance, as well. Just to note: this is a strictly medicinal mushroom, so don't plan on using it in your home cooking.

Enoki

Jin Gu, enoki mushrooms have significant anticancer and immune-enhancing effects. "These look like skinny long mushrooms and can be found in grocery stores. This is also used in Japanese cooking," says Trattner. They taste great in stir fry dishes or simply steamed. They have a mild, sweeter taste.

Maitake

Hui Shu Hua, also called "hen of the woods," is another powerful mushroom. "Maitake has anticancer, antiviral, and immune-system enhancing effects and may also help control both high blood pressure and blood sugar levels," says Trattner. They will have a more savory, rich flavor.

Reishi

Ling Chi, a medicinal mushroom, can improve immune function. "It also shows significant anti-inflammatory and anti tumoral effects. It can reduce allergies, too," says Trattner. And, as it works on bettering the immune system, it can also regulate mood and alleviate stress and anxiety levels. This mushroom is only for medicinal use and cannot be eaten, so don't go tossing it in your soup or salad.

Lion’s Mane

Yamabushitake is believed to stimulate nerve growth, says Trattner. " It also may improve mild cognitive impairment and memory," she says. And, because it enhances nerve function, it can also reduce symptoms of depression or anxiety, as well. What's more, it actually kind of tastes good. It's as though you're diving into a plate of scallops.

Turkey Tail

Yun Zhi is a medicinal mushroom with proven anticancer effects, says Trattner. "It is also a strong anti-bacterial and anti-oxidant and enhances the immune system," she adds.

Himenatsutake

"This immune enhancing mushrooms has shown efficacy as an anti viral and anti tumoral. It also regulates blood sugar and reduces cholesterol," says Trattner. However, you can't eat it, as it's solely a medicinal mushroom.

"It is important for readers to understand that mushrooms need to be organic or free of pesticides and preservatives. Many mushrooms coming from other countries can be adulterated with sulfites and sulfur dioxide to preserve the color," says Trattner. "I personally like Paul Stamet's company, Fungi Perfecti. He is the leader in mushroom research in the world. I have met him personally though my mentor Andrew Weil, who has been a huge advocate for mushrooms before they were ever popular," she adds.