Medicinal Mushrooms and How They Benefit Your Health
Medicinal mushrooms. How would they introduce themselves and how can you easily remember what they do? They’re the total health-enhancing package; nutrition bombs that you can cook with, drink or take as a supplement. But with unfamiliar names and multiple benefits – ranging from promoting better sleep, increasing muscle strength, calming an upset stomach, to helping you destress and gain focus – it can get confusing. It’s Nutrition and Hydration Week and what better way to acknowledge it with this quick guide to 4 medicinal mushrooms. I promise you’ll never forget their name, or what they do, again!
Can medicinal mushrooms improve your immunity, sleep, digestion or stress levels?
Of all the foods, health drinks and supplements that you’ll find in your local health shop, the medicinal mushrooms are the ones (in my opinion) that are the most overlooked.
It could be that mushrooms are strongly associated with magic mushrooms and their perception-altering active compounds.
Or it could be that they’re really only thought of as every-day foods, rather than foods with potent therapeutic actions.
Then again, you may be put off by their unfamiliar names and never get to the information which shows just how useful they can be to health.
Consider the following situations: sleep, low energy, digestive issues, depleted immunity, high stress, allergies. Which types of supplements might you use?
Perhaps you thought of magnesium or valerian for sleep. A supplement of B12 or green tea for an energy boost. Peppermint oil, probiotics, and digestive enzymes are typical choices for digestive support. Then there’s vitamin C and zinc and echinacea which are the go-to remedies for immunity. Magnesium, chamomile or a B-complex may spring to mind if you think about ways to relax and calm your stresses. Managing symptoms of hay fever and seasonal allergies – that’s for local honey.
What about reishi, cordyceps, shitake and lion’s mane? These are just some of the medicinal mushrooms which could be added easily to this list.
Your quick guide to 4 medicinal mushrooms
If reishi, cordyceps, shitake and lion’s mane are totally unfamiliar to you, here’s a quick introduction to the health benefits of the medicinal mushrooms.
This isn’t a deep-dive into all of their uses; the field of research is huge and there’s a great deal of overlap. Instead it’s more of a meet and greet. A short ice-breaker session, with an introduction by name and a prompt that will help you remember how they can be used.
This way, the next time you’re at your local health store, you may be tempted to approach these mysterious mushrooms instead of getting in a muddle and giving them a wide berth.
Hi, I’m Ganoderma lucidum, but all my friends call me Reishi. I come from Japan, China and other parts of Asia and love to hang out in hot and humid locations.
If I had to describe myself in one sentence I’d say:
Reishi is recommended for seasonal allergies and promoting better sleep.
The easiest way to remember me and what I do is by thinking about rays of sunshine.
- ‘Ray’ sounds just like the beginning of my name, Rei.
- On a hot summer’s day the sun shines brightly. It’s also a time when seasonal allergies flare up. In the evening when the sun goes down, you go to bed and sleep.
Hi there! Yes – we really are both called Cordyceps. No – we’re not twins. I’m Cordyceps sinensis and this is my brother Cordyceps militaris. We’re part of a big family of over 400, but we’re the most outgoing of the bunch.
We come from China, Korea and Tibet. We’ve got a bit of a reputation as we’re not that kind to insects and their larvae, but nowadays you can find us hanging out in a new location – on tree stumps and wooden logs.
Our one-sentence bio would say:
Cordyceps is highly recommended for its ability to boost exercise, stamina and energy.
The easiest way to remember us and what we do is by thinking about long lengths of cord.
- The muscles in your arms and legs are the longest ones in your body.
- When you exercise and build strength, stamina and endurance your muscles become like cords.
Hi, I’m Shitake, it’s pronounced shi-ta-ke; my formal name is Lentinula edodes. I come from Japan, China and Korea. You might have met me in the food aisle of your supermarket as I can add a distinct earthy flavour to the dishes you cook.
Can I describe myself with a couple of sentences?
Shitake is highly recommended as a nutrient source of B vitamins, copper and selenium (a good alternative to brazil nuts). It’s also full of fibres and anti-inflammatory molecules. This makes the shitake mushroom useful for supporting digestive health.
The easiest way to remember me and what I do is by splitting my name into two syllables, instead of 3.
- As to the first syllable, we’re in polite company so let’s change it to ‘poo’. (My fibre content can add bulk and enhance your balance of good bacteria which can help reduce constipation and keep you regular).
- ‘Ake’ sounds a lot like ‘ache’ doesn’t it? I have many anti-inflammatory compounds and nflammation is often associated with pain.
Lion’s mane mushroom
Hi, I’m Hericium erinaceus, but you can call me Lion’s mane.
I come from India, Korea, Japan and China and have a wonderfully distinct appearance as a large, white, shaggy ball. Sometimes I hang out with shitake in the supermarket, but I taste really different – more like seafood rather than the typical earthy mushroom taste.
A single-sentence description you say? Here goes:
Lion’s mane mushroom has benefits that extend to the brain, digestion and heart… research has focused on the compounds – hericenones and erinacines – which stimulate nerve growth factor and support brain cell connectivity : this is in addition to other compounds and pathways which have the overall effect of reducing stress; and in a small study on menopausal women, participants taking a daily supplement reported a reduction in feelings of depression and anxiety .
(I really shouldn’t brag, but I’ve got some big brain power going on. I even fitted all of the above into 1 sentence… #nailedit!!)
The easiest way to remember me and what I do is by thinking about the head of a real live lion.
- Male lions have a mane of thick hair which might remind you of how I look.
- If you’re a cat person you’ll know how intensively focused they are, sitting there, with an unwavering stare. There’s also the flip side where you’ll find them basking in the sun – completely relaxed and without a care in the world.
The medicinal mushrooms may seem exotic but these mainstays of traditional Chinese medicine are welcome additions to the western world of health. You may have spotted them on your supermarket shelf, but they are much more than typical food items, and contain minerals, peptides, polysaccharides and other nutrients believed to deliver a therapeutic effect.
At first glance they may be confusing. However, it’s possible to enter this mysterious world and enjoy medicinal mushrooms – as recipe ingredients, sipped as teas or taken as supplements. Reishi, cordyceps, shiitake and lion’s mane are some of the most popular medicinal mushrooms. They even have names which give you a hint to how as to how they may impact your health.
References Batra et al (2013) Probing Lingzhi or Reishi medicinal mushroom Ganoderma lucidum (higher Basidiomycetes): a bitter mushroom with amazing health benefits  Nagano et al (2010). Reduction of depression and anxiety by 4 weeks Hericium erinaceus intake
Kalineri, Anders Jilden, Minna Hamalailen, Fuu J, Seven Shooter at Unsplash.com