"Why did the mushroom go to the party?
Because he's a fungi!"
~ Louis Tomlinson
When it comes to mushrooms, there are typically two types of people—those that like mushrooms and those that don't.
And when you hear the word "mushroom," you probably visualize something like this:
But the most common mushrooms we see regularly differ from those we will discuss today.
The mushrooms we are going to cover are a bit more exotic.
They look more like this:
What Are Medicinal Mushrooms?
A specific class of mushrooms is called "medicinal mushrooms" due to research that suggests certain compounds in these mushrooms may have anti-inflammatory and health-improving properties.
Man has been using mushrooms for centuries to remedy various illnesses and disorders. They have been chopped, ground, chewed, boiled, brewed into tea, and mixed into food to cure everything from the common cold to fatigue.
Mushrooms are packed with something called beta-glucans, which research suggests may inhibit the growth of specific cancer cells. In addition to beta-glucans in medicinal mushrooms, they also contain many other beneficial compounds, including essential amino acids, vitamins, minerals, and protein.
Some research suggests that mushrooms are probiotics that help the body strengthen the immune system and fight off illness.
Here are some types of medicinal mushrooms, their uses and benefits, and how you can add them to your diet.
List of Medicinal Mushrooms
If you are trying to be more health conscious, explore the health benefits medicinal mushrooms offer. We break down the most significant benefits of each below on our therapeutic mushroom chart, but let's glance at the list of medicinal mushrooms before going more in-depth.
- Chaga (Inonotus Obliquus), also known as the "Mushroom of Immortality."
- Cordyceps (Ophiocordyceps Sinensis), also known as “Caterpillar Fungus”
- Turkey Tail (Trametes Versicolor, Coriolus Versicolor, and Polyporus Versicolor)
- Lion's Mane (Hericium Erinaceus)
- Red Reishi (Ganoderma Lucidum), also known as "10,000 Years Sponge", "Queen of Plants," "Immortal Sponge," and "Life Elixir."
- Maitake (Grifola Frondosa), also known as "Hen-of-the-Wood."
- Shiitake (Lentinula edodes)
- Oyster (Pleurotus Ostreatus), also known as "Oyster Fungus" or "Hiratake."
- Polyporus (Polyporus umbellatus), also known as "Lumpy Bracket" or "Umbrella Polypore."
Medicinal Mushroom Chart
Medicinal Mushroom Benefits
Instead of looking at fungus as wrong, we hope you can now see many medicinal mushroom benefits you can take advantage of.
Some mushroom species have medicinal benefits that include antioxidants, anti-inflammatory properties, antimicrobial properties, can reduce triglycerides, help balance blood sugar, help with anti-aging, protection of the kidneys and liver, balance hormones, and are also nootropic and neuroprotective.
We will break down the benefits of each medicinal mushroom below so you can see which species offers the most health benefits.
The next time you pass a birch tree, look closely to see if any dark masses are growing on the trunk. This might be chaga.
Chaga looks different from your typical mushroom with the cap and stem. It looks like a burnt charcoal and is classified as a canker disease on birch trees.
(Some may argue they aren't mushrooms at all.)
Chaga naturally grows in birch forests in the northern United States, Alaska, the North Carolina mountains, and Canada. Chaga is relatively abundant in Russia, Korea, and China.
Chaga lives off birch trees by drawing on precursor compounds such as triterpenoid botulin and turning them into inotodiol, trametenolic acid, and betulinic acid, which can be helpful to humans. Chaga can also grow on trees other than birch.
Wild Shroom #2 is a Wild harvested Birch Chaga—the chaga is cultivated by hand after it is found in the wild growing on trees in their natural habitat.
For centuries, Chaga has traditionally been used as a folk remedy for stomach illnesses and to boost immunity in Russia and other North European countries. Limited studies show the possibility of chaga killing specific cancer cells while stimulating the immune system.
Studies by the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center also revealed that chaga could inhibit the progression of inflammation and activate some types of immune cells.
- Chaga's beta-glucan content supports immune function.
- I thought to improve gastrointestinal health in Eastern cultures.
- Chaga contains betulinic acid, shown in research to break down LDL cholesterol in the bloodstream.
- Study shows possible anti-infectious disease protection on top of the immune-boosting effects.
- Chaga contains one of the highest ORAC scores of any superfood (ORAC is a rating for antioxidant levels)
How to Use Chaga
- Chaga is not a fungus you can eat in its raw form because it is neither palatable nor bioavailable to your body (it won't absorb nutrients). This is why water-extracted chaga powder extract is the most common way chaga is consumed.
- You can also make chaga tea, similar to making bone broth. The only problem with this method is the density of the extracted nutrients is usually low enough to provide any significant metabolic benefit.
- The best way is to use a mushroom extract that is extracted using ample material and then reduced to a concentrated powder. (Like our Wild Shroom line.)
- With this powder, you can make a hot cocoa-like beverage or—the best way, methinks—add it to your coffee, smoothies, and shakes.
In 1993, Chinese runners broke nine world records at Germany's World Outdoor Track and Field Championships.
How did they pull this off? Their coach said they regularly drank a cordyceps-based tonic. This single promotion of this super-shroom has helped bring cordyceps into the limelight as a medicinal mushroom worth considering.
Of course, Cordyceps has long been used in traditional Chinese and Buddhist Medicine. Cordyceps species are abundant and diverse in humid temperate and tropical forests, including Nepal, China, Japan, Bhutan, Korea, Vietnam, and Thailand.
How Is Cordyceps Sinensis Cultivated?
Before modern cultivation of this strain, cordyceps reproduced itself using insects. Cordyceps fungus would attack a host, and the mycelium would replace the host tissue.
Some cordyceps species can affect the behavior of their insect host, causing them to seek out areas of optimal temperature and humidity or attach themselves to plants to ensure nutrients.
After the insect dies, the spores sprout from the insect's body, developing into the mushroom we know as cordyceps.
You may be glad to know that modern science has allowed the cultivation of cordyceps without sacrificing any caterpillars.
Cordyceps mushrooms were traditionally used for combating fatigue and general weakness among ancient Chinese and Tibetans.
After ingestion, cordyceps invigorates the kidneys and protects the lungs. It doesn't hurt that the mushroom has an acceptable sweet and acrid taste. Since 1993 it has also become a top-selling health supplement for athletes.
Aside from improving respiratory functions, cordyceps is also credited with improving sexual operations. However, there have yet to be definitive clinical trials to prove this claim.
How to Prepare Cordyceps Mushrooms
Toxicology-wise, cordyceps is safe for humans to consume directly. However, preparing a decoction is the most popular way to consume cordyceps. When used as a tonic in Traditional Chinese Medicine, the fruit bodies are often cooked into a chicken broth.
Like Chaga, we recommend consuming it in a powdered extract and then adding it to smoothies, shakes, coffee, or a hot tea beverage.
Try our Wild Cordyceps.
Turkey Tail Mushroom
So-called because it looks like a turkey's tail, Coriolus Versicolor was used by humans as early as the 15th century, particularly the Chinese during the Ming Dynasty.
Unlike other mushrooms that require specific temperatures or certain types of trees to thrive, Coriolus grows abundantly on dead and fallen trees, branches, and stumps. They are one of the most common mushrooms found today.
Unlike shiitake mushrooms with gills underneath the top, Coriolus contain tiny pores that release spores, making them a part of the polypore family.
Turkey Tail Uses
Coriolus is a potent immunomodulator that modulates the immune system, helping fight infections, illnesses, and diseases. In particular, mushrooms have long been known to fight off any condition associated with the common cold or flu.
Coriolus was also credited with helping a woman beat breast cancer. According to a study published in Global Advances in Health and Medicine, an 83-year-old woman diagnosed with advanced, metastatic inflammatory breast cancer was cured after using the mushroom throughout her chemotherapy.
The mushroom has also been credited with helping other patients cope with chemotherapy. Since chemotherapy suppresses the immune system, Coriolus can build it up for them.
According to another study, Coriolus may also help heal infections such as the human papillomavirus.
A study conducted on 61 patients with gum disease tested positive for HPV. 88 percent of the 41 patients who received both coriolus and reishi mushrooms showed positive results after only two months of treatment.
The mushroom is also said to help in digestion. Coriolus has prebiotics that allows good bacteria in your body to process food more efficiently.
Turkey tail mushroom shows some promise in limited studies with cancer patients, but more research is needed.
How to Prepare Turkey Tail Mushroom
The most common way to prepare Coriolus is to boil it into tea. Chop the mushroom into small pieces and add to a pot of water. Bring the water to a boil, then simmer for an hour. Strain the mixture through a colander.
Add almond or coconut milk, cinnamon, or ginger if you want more variety in the tea.
Lion's Mane Mushroom
The Lion's Mane gets its name from its mane-like appearance. Unlike your typical-looking mushroom, a lion's mane has no cap or stem. Instead, it has the formation of long spines that hang out like a mane of hair.
Lion's mane is a seasonal mushroom; they can only be found in late summer to fall on dead or dying hardwood trees, especially oak, and beech. They grow in North America, China, Japan, and Europe.
Even if you know where and when to look for them, it's not guaranteed you will find them; this is a rare mushroom species that are hard to find.
Here's a helpful tip if you decide to ever hunt for them: They prefer to be as high as possible, so look up when eyeing decaying or dead trees to increase your chances of spotting them.
Lion's Mane Uses
Traditional Chinese Medicine has long prescribed this mushroom for stomach problems and to boost the immune system.
Modern research suggests this mushroom has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties and may support the immune system against attack.
Other research suggests that the mushroom may affect nerve growth and may even be used to treat dementia, Alzheimer's disease, muscular dystrophy, senility, Parkinson's Disease, and other neurological conditions.
Lion's mane has been making a hit in the nootropics space due to its potent effects on the brain. Lion's mane is said to increase the amount of NGF in the brain, a crucial protein for nerve cell function.
Lion's Mane Preparation
The good thing about this mushroom is that it can be prepared in many ways. Some consider the mushroom a gourmet edible mushroom with a slightly chewy texture and a taste somewhat reminiscent of cooked lobster or shrimp.
Tough and watery by nature, the trick in preparing this mushroom is to simmer it over a long period. Adding spices is recommended at the end of the process because the mushroom is expected to give off a lot of water while cooking.
If you want to take Lion's Mane for health benefits, we recommend Wild Lion's Mane + Check out our favorite Lion's Mane mushroom recipes here.
Reishi mushroom is common in central Maine and elsewhere in the northeast of the US. It grows on dead or dying eastern hemlock, a common tree in that region. It is also found in China, has been used for thousands of years in Chinese Medicine, and is thought to confer longevity.
Its bright red colors make it easy to spot, but this color will start to varnish as the mushroom matures. The pores are white to light tan on the outside and often brown on the inside.
Some reishi doesn't have stems, while some have branches that grow up to several inches long. The brown spores tend to cover the cap as the mushroom matures.
The mushroom contains protein-bound polysaccharides known to have medicinal properties.
Formal studies of the mushroom conducted in the 1970s in China and Japan showed the mushroom strengthened immunity by activating immune cells.
What made this mushroom unique from other medicinal mushrooms was the presence of secondary metabolites called triterpenoids, a phytochemical known to provide various health benefits.
Reishi is recommended as an analgesic, anti-allergy remedy, anti-inflammatory agent, antibacterial agent, and antioxidant. Reishi has also been linked with lowering blood pressure, enhancing bone marrow function, and promoting calm and muscle relaxation.
The best way to consume the reishi is tea. The tea is pleasant but bitter, so feel free to use flavors like honey, xylitol, or another preferred sweetener to make it more enjoyable.
Wild Shroom #1: Reishi Powder Extract is a hardwood cultivated Reishi powder.
Often called "Hen of the Wood" because their formation resembles a hen, the maitake mushroom has also been called ram's head or sheep's head mushroom.
The fungus is native to China, northeastern Japan, and North America (most prolifically in the northeastern regions, although it can also be found as far west as Idaho), where it is also called the signorina mushroom. The maitake is often easy to find because it is a perennial fungus growing in the same place for several years.
It is widely eaten in Japan and is becoming more popular in western cuisine. However, care should also be taken as it has been reported to cause allergic reactions in rare cases.
In Japan, maitake mushrooms can grow to more than 100 pounds, which is why it is also called the "King of Mushrooms."
A warning about gathering maitake; they look exactly like some other poisonous mushroom species. So do proper research to take one of these chicken-like fungi home.
The Chinese and Japanese have long used maitake mushrooms as Medicine for ailments like hay fever and chronic fatigue.
For modern illnesses, maitake is often used to treat inflammation and is thought to relieve the side effects of chemotherapy. It is also used for HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol treatments.
Maitake mushrooms were also found to help with weight loss or control. They also contain chemicals that may help fight tumors.
Studies have shown that maitake can lower blood pressure, improve cholesterol levels, lower blood sugar levels, and reduce weight in rats; however, a definitive study has yet to be performed on humans.
This is another mushroom that's great for eating. You can pull these apart and sauté them until there is some color on each side. They can also be grilled. Add them to an omelet or brew them as tea.
The Chinese have used Shiitake mushrooms medicinally for more than 6,000 years.
Shiitake used to be gathered in the wild, but after its medicinal properties were shown through research, farmers began cultivating them as demand increased.
China now yields around 80 percent of the worldwide production of this mushroom, a distinction that used to belong to Japan.
Their rich flavor has made them famous among many American foodies and health enthusiasts. There are also now around 200 shiitake mushroom growers in the US.
The mushroom doesn't look special; the cap color is dark or light brown, and white spots can be on the edges and towards the center.
Studies show shiitake mushrooms can fight obesity through their natural dietary fiber, support immune function, reduce inflammation, and fight bacteria.
According to research, the phytochemicals in shiitake mushrooms may have a potential role in fighting inflammation.
The mushroom also supports cardiovascular health by interfering with the production of cholesterol in the liver and keeping cells from sticking to blood vessel walls to form plaque buildup.
Shiitake also boosts energy and brain functions by being a good source of B vitamins that help support adrenal function and turn nutrients from food into usable energy.
There are many ways to add whole shiitake mushrooms to your diet, with many recipes found with a quick Google search. Here's a rough guide to culinary shiitake prep:
Wash them thoroughly but gently, and remove any tough spots on the stems. Note that some dishes may require the removal of the entire branch. If the stems are tender, you don't have to cut them away. They can be used along with the caps for added flavor.
After washing, dry them by blotting them with a clean paper towel.
Cut the mushrooms down to the desired size. Some dishes require them whole, but those that feature them as a side dish usually need them to be sliced into pieces.
If you want to grill them, brush them with oil and put them on the grill for 5 to 10 minutes. You can also sauté them with butter, salt, and pepper in a skillet for 4 to 5 minutes.
If you want to roast them, you can do this with the mushroom sliced or whole. Baste them with oil and put them in the oven for about 15 minutes.
Oyster mushrooms are another mushroom named by how they look. Oyster mushrooms—Pleurotus ostreatus—look like oysters. Like oysters of the sea variety, they can be eaten raw or cooked into dishes.
This mushroom is widespread in many temperate and subtropical forests worldwide, although it is absent from the Pacific Northwest of North America. The common oyster mushroom can grow in many places, but some species, like the branched mushroom, can only grow on trees.
The Germans first cultivated mushrooms to offset food shortages during World War I. Now it is known commercially around the world as a gourmet mushroom.
Oyster Mushroom Uses
Aside from culinary applications, this mushroom is also known for several health benefits, owing to its unique characteristic of having nitrogen. This mushroom is one of the few known carnivorous mushrooms out there. Its mycelia can kill and digest nematodes (worms), which is believed to be how the fungi get nitrogen.
A study showed that oyster mushroom extracts lowered cholesterol levels in some patients. This was because oyster mushrooms produced the cholesterol-lowering drug lovastatin.
The mushroom has also demonstrated immunological activity; one study credited this to the presence of statins.
Oyster Mushroom Preparation
To clean oyster mushrooms cut off the lower part of the stems (this applies to the most variety of mushrooms) as it is bitter and usually too fibrous to chew and digest. If you have wild oyster mushrooms, flush the spaces in the gills to clean out any unwanted debris or insects.
Gently press the mushrooms between paper or cloth towels to remove excess liquid.
Oyster mushrooms are excellent for stir-fried dishes since the cap is thin and cooks quickly. However, if you want to add it to a word that requires a long cooking time, add these mushrooms only at the last cooking stage.
To preserve oyster mushrooms, store them in the freezer after briefly sautéing them in butter; oyster mushrooms dehydrate rapidly.
Polyporus mushrooms are a fungi family that typically have giant golden brown shrooms with a saddle-shaped body, large pores, and a white underside. This is why it's also commonly called The Dryad's Saddle.
Polyporus mushrooms form around the roots of dead hardwoods, mainly in May or June in the US. A dead tree lying on the ground is an excellent place to look; however, they are occasionally found on living hardwood trees.
Typically this mushroom can be found in abundance in many parts of Western Europe as well as the Rocky Mountains of the US and China.
The wetter the area, the better your chances of finding these mushrooms.
The good news is that they will be found in the same places each year until the wood is consumed, so if you find a good clump in one place one year, recheck the same spot next year.
Polyporus Mushroom Uses
Polyporus fungi have traditionally been used in Chinese Medicine for thousands of years to treat and prevent many illnesses because they boost the immune system.
It has also been used to treat diarrhea as it absorbs excessive moisture accumulating in the stomach, resulting in the hardening of the stool.
It is also used as a diuretic. Polyporus is used to get rid of the toxins causing infections in the urinary tract. This way, it is also good for the kidneys.
Some herbalists recommend Polyporus for maintaining overall joint health. It also relieves edema by allowing the excess water to be flushed through urine.
Polyporus Mushroom Preparation
Slice them into thin strips and cook them fast, but be warned that overcooking will cause them to become challenging.
Sautéing or pan frying is an excellent way to prepare it too.
Like other wild mushrooms, this one can give off an attractive aroma, but this smell also disappears within hours after it is picked.
Drying them can also turn them into white and crunchy edible chips sprinkled with Wild Salt. This process can also retain some of their smell as unpicked mushrooms.
They can also be made into a powder for brewing tea.
Medicinal Mushroom Tea
Tea and coffee can be made with Chaga or Reishi mushrooms, becoming an increasingly popular health beverage. Mushroom tea is more of a supplement than a beverage, however.
Usually, you can purchase a medicinal mushroom powder that you can then blend into your tea. The powder versions differ significantly from what you buy at a grocery store. The medicinal mushroom powder is much more concentrated than the actual mushrooms.
Health Benefits of Mushroom Tea
When you purchase fresh mushrooms, you will find they are high in fiber and antioxidants and can also be a great source of Vitamin D. The fiber helps you stay full longer and can strengthen the bones and immune system.
Mushrooms in tea aren't about the fiber content but their anti-inflammatory properties and antioxidants. Some possible mushroom tea health benefits include the following:
Cancer-Fighting: Research has shown that mushroom extracts may potentially fight cancer, but these studies have only been done on animals, not humans.
Blood Sugar Control: Reishi and Chaga mushrooms, as medicinal compounds, can help with liver health and blood sugar control. There was a study in 2018 published in the Journal of Functional Foods said mushrooms improve gut bacteria and help the liver regulate blood sugar.
Supports Athletic Performance: A small study once showed that those using mushroom extracts exercised more heavily than those who didn't. However, this is based on a much larger dosage than you would get from mushroom tea alone. With that being said, mushroom tea has the potential to boost energy.
Improves Gut Microbiome: Prebiotic foods help with gut health, especially those with complex carbohydrates, like mushrooms. Mushrooms contain chitin, hemicellulose, and other carbohydrates that act as prebiotics, so consuming medicinal mushroom powders in teas or as mushroom supplements can benefit your gut microbiome.
Medicinal Mushroom Powder
Mushroom extract supplements are extracts or powders from different types of healing mushrooms. It is a versatile superfood you can use in coffee and tea and offers many nutritional benefits. The medicinal mushroom powder is dried mushrooms that have been turned into powder form.
- Shiitake Mushroom Powder: This is one of the more popular dried mushroom varieties and one of the most affordable. It has all eight essential amino acids and linoleic acid or fatty acid.
- Chaga Mushroom Powder: Chaga has an almost earthy flavor and contains the same compounds in the vanilla bean. It is a good source of antioxidants and helps prevent disease.
- Lion's Mane Mushroom Powder is a nootropic food with brain-boosting properties. It is often in powdered form and added to mushroom coffee. It is also an anti-inflammatory and helps with digestive health.
- Reishi Mushroom Powder: This mushroom has been used in Chinese Medicine for centuries and is often called the king of mushrooms. Reishi mushroom powder is filled with antioxidants, can balance hormones, and promotes heart health while stabilizing blood sugar levels.
- Cordyceps Mushroom Powder: This is another staple in holistic Medicine that helps reduce inflammation and promote cardiovascular health.
The Importance of Mushroom Identification
Now that we have covered a few of the more familiar mushrooms and their medicinal benefits, we need to discuss mushroom identification before you go out hunting.
Care should be taken when making a mushroom identification to avoid poisoning yourself by eating something you collected in the wild while mushroom hunting. One of the more critical parts of the mushroom used for identification is the spores. Some have distinctly colored spores.
The best way to accurately learn how to identify each mushroom, especially if you will be using them for tea, is to join a local mycology association to get some first-hand knowledge from experts. You can also get a pocket guide like the Peterson Field Guide or Audubon Society Field Guide.
"Mushrooms are miniature pharmaceutical factories, and of the thousands of mushroom species in nature, our ancestors and modern scientists have identified several dozen that have a unique combination of talents that improve our health."
~ Paul Stamets