There are quite a few foods out there that you might not have heard of but that are packed with powerful health benefits. Some might even seem strange, but they're all incredibly nutritious.
Known as medicinal mushrooms, these unusual plants are often used in traditional Eastern medicine. And while most people don't eat them regularly, their unique taste and high concentration of beneficial compounds make them worth adding to your diet. Here's everything you need to know about medicinal mushrooms and whether or not you should be eating them.
What Are Medicinal Mushrooms?
Mushrooms are a type of fungus that has been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years, particularly in Asian cultures. Even though there are several varieties of mushrooms, when we discuss medicinal mushrooms, we are referring to a particular class of mushrooms known as "lentinan-rich fungi."
This group of mushrooms is also known as shiitake mushrooms, reishi mushrooms, and maitake mushrooms. Some fungi are also classified as medicinal mushrooms but differ from lentinan-rich mushrooms.
How are medicinal mushrooms different from other mushrooms?
While many different types of mushrooms are edible and tasty, the lentinan-rich mushrooms are unique in that they're high in lentinan, a compound that has been shown to boost immunity and help prevent and fight cancer. The other edible mushrooms are often too low in lentinan to benefit your health in any way. That's why medicinal mushrooms differ from different types: they're high in lentinan, while most edible mushrooms are not.
Why Should You Be Eating Medicinal Mushrooms?
As we mentioned above, medicinal mushrooms are packed with health benefits. Some of the most notable benefits are improved immunity, reduced inflammation, and an ability to fight cancerous cells.
Regarding your immune system, medicinal mushrooms can help enhance your body's response to pathogens. And for people particularly susceptible to catching colds or other types of infections, that's a big deal.
Regarding inflammation, medicinal mushrooms have been shown to reduce symptoms associated with chronic disease and autoimmune conditions. This can make living easier with arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, and allergies.
Finally, many studies have shown that lentinan-rich medicinal mushrooms can kill or slow the growth of cancerous cells in the body. That makes them a great addition to any anti-cancer diet.
Which Medicinal Mushrooms Should You Be Eating?
- Shiitake Mushrooms: Shiitake mushrooms are one of the most commonly consumed medicinal mushrooms. They're a rich source of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals and a rich source of lentinan. One shiitake mushroom has about the same amount of lentinan as 100 grams of broccoli, so they're a great way to up your intake of this powerful compound.
- Maitake Mushrooms: Maitake mushrooms have been used in Chinese medicine for thousands of years, and several research studies show they're as effective as many pharmaceuticals. Maitake mushrooms can be added to soups, used as a side dish, or even ground into a powder that can be put into baked goods.
- Reishi Mushrooms: Reishi mushrooms are packed with antioxidants, but they're also a good source of iron, protein, and B vitamins. Like other lentinan-rich mushrooms, reishi mushrooms have been shown to boost the immune system and fight free radicals. They're also one of the most expensive medicinal mushrooms, so there are better options than this if you're trying to save money.
How to Buy and Store Medicinal Mushrooms
- Make sure you buy fresh mushrooms: if the mushrooms are wilted or have any signs of black or green spots, don't buy them.
- If you're buying dried mushrooms, ensure they're 100% mushroom and not mixed with other ingredients.
- If you're buying fresh mushrooms, ensure they're stored in the fridge.
- If you're buying dried mushrooms, they don't need to be refrigerated.
- When you're ready to cook with the mushrooms, remember that you can rehydrate dried mushrooms by soaking them in hot water. Fresh mushrooms can also be rehydrated by pouring hot water over them.
Cooking with Medicinal Mushrooms
One of the best ways to incorporate medicinal mushrooms into your diet is to cook with them. Most medicinal mushrooms can be eaten raw and cooked in various dishes.
You can make soups, add them to stir-fries, or even put them in baked goods such as muffins or bread. Another great way to eat more medicinal mushrooms is to put them in smoothies. To make a nutritious drink, you can blend them with leafy greens, fruits, seeds, and other superfoods.
Mushrooms are a unique type of plant that has been used in traditional medicine and cooking worldwide for thousands of years. Several different kinds of mushrooms are used in cooking, but the most popular ones are medicinal mushrooms.
Medicinal mushrooms have health benefits, including boosting the immune system and helping fight cancer cells. You can add medicinal mushrooms to any dish or blend them into a smoothie.