There’s been a bit of a buzz about medicinal mushrooms in the wellness realm lately. Medicinal mushrooms, or functional mushrooms, are superfoods that have been used for centuries in various traditional healing techniques across different cultures. These unique fungi possess bioactive compounds that offer a wide range of health benefits, from immune support to anti-inflammatory properties. For our latest blog article, we’re thrilled to explore the fascinating world of functional fungi, their benefits and how they can contribute to overall wellbeing.
An Introduction to Medicinal Mushrooms
Medicinal mushrooms are unique fungi that contain bioactive compounds, including polysaccharides, terpenoids and phenolic compounds, which contribute to their medicinal properties. In contrast to ‘magic mushrooms’ (psychedelics), medicinal mushrooms are primarily valued for their therapeutic properties and potential health benefits, rather than their hallucinogenic effects. Research on medicinal mushrooms is gaining momentum, revealing their potential in promoting health and wellbeing.
The History of Medicinal Mushrooms
Ancient cultures including the Chinese, Egyptians and Greeks were aware of the curative qualities of functional mushrooms and used them in a range of medical techniques. For instance, in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the tonifying and strengthening properties of mushrooms like Reishi and Cordyceps have been cherished.
Common Types of Medicinal Mushrooms
Medicinal mushrooms come in various forms, each with its unique set of health benefits. Let's explore some of the most popular ones:
Reishi Mushroom (Ganoderma lingzhi)
Reishi mushroom, also known as the "mushroom of immortality," is believed to enhance the body's defences, improve sleep quality and support liver health. Reishi mushroom is often consumed in the form of supplements, extracts or teas.
Chaga Mushroom (Inonotus obliquus)
Chaga mushroom is a powerful antioxidant and immune system booster. It grows on birch trees in cold regions and has been used in Siberian and Scandinavian folk medicine for its potential anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties. Chaga mushroom is commonly consumed as a tea or in the form of extracts.
Lion's Mane Mushroom (Hericium erinaceous)
Lion's Mane mushroom is known for its unique appearance, resembling a lion's mane. It is rich in bioactive compounds that support brain health and cognitive function. Lion's Mane is believed to stimulate the production of nerve growth factor (NGF), which plays a crucial role in the growth and maintenance of neurons.
Read More: The 8 Wellness Benefits of Lion's Mane
Cordyceps Mushroom (Cordyceps militaris)
Cordyceps mushroom has been used in traditional Tibetan and Chinese medicine for centuries. It is famous for its potential to enhance endurance and athletic performance (and has recently gained recognition after providing the storyline basis of the incredibly popular TV series, The Last of Us!). Cordyceps is believed to improve oxygen utilisation and increase energy production in the body.
Health Benefits of Medicinal Mushrooms
Medicinal mushrooms offer a wide range of health benefits. Here are some of the key advantages associated with their consumption:
Immune System Support
Many functional mushrooms, including Reishi, Chaga and Cordyceps, possess immunomodulating properties. They can help strengthen the immune system, making it more efficient in fighting off infections and diseases.
Certain mushrooms, such as Reishi and Lion's Mane, contain compounds that exhibit anti-inflammatory effects. These mushrooms may help reduce chronic inflammation, which is associated with various health conditions, including arthritis and cardiovascular diseases.
Lion's Mane mushroom has been extensively studied for its potential cognitive benefits. It may help improve memory, focus and overall cognitive function by promoting the growth and maintenance of brain cells.
Energy and Endurance Boost
Cordyceps mushroom is known for its energising properties. It is believed to enhance stamina, increase oxygen uptake and improve physical performance. Athletes and fitness enthusiasts often incorporate Cordyceps into their supplement routine.
Stress Relief and Mood Enhancement
Several medicinal mushrooms, such as Reishi, have adaptogenic properties. Adaptogens help the body adapt to stress and promote a sense of calm and relaxation. These mushrooms may also support mental wellbeing and help alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression.
How to Incorporate Medicinal Mushrooms into Your Routine
It’s easy to introduce medicinal mushrooms into your daily routine for a wellness boost. Not sure of the best way to reap the benefits? Here are some popular methods:
Mushroom supplements, available in the form of capsules or powders, provide a convenient way to enjoy the benefits of medicinal mushrooms. These supplements are often standardised to ensure consistent levels of bioactive compounds.
Certain edible mushrooms, such as Shiitake, Maitake and Oyster mushrooms, are not only delicious but also offer health benefits. Incorporating them into your meals can be a tasty and nutritious way to enjoy the advantages of mushrooms.
Mushroom Extracts and Powders
Mushroom extracts and powders can be added to smoothies, juices, or recipes. They provide a concentrated dose of mushroom compounds and are easily absorbed by the body.
Mushroom Tea and Coffee
Mushroom-infused teas and coffees have gained popularity in recent years. These beverages combine the rich flavours of coffee or tea with the health benefits of medicinal mushrooms, offering a delightful way to incorporate them into your routine.
Although it's typically safe to eat medicinal mushrooms, we recommend using them with caution if you already have a medical problem or are using medication. Some mushrooms may have blood-thinning effects or interact negatively with certain drugs. Before taking medicinal mushrooms, we recommend speaking to your GP or a healthcare professional.
Functional mushrooms, including Lion’s Mane, Reishi and Cordyceps, have a long history of use in traditional medicine and the great news is, they are now gaining recognition in modern and mainstream healthcare. Their unique bioactive compounds offer a multitude of health benefits, including:
- immune system support
- anti-inflammatory effects
- cognitive enhancement
- increased energy and endurance
- stress relief
Medicinal mushrooms can be consumed as supplements, extracts, teas or incorporated into culinary creations, providing a natural and holistic approach to wellbeing.
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Medicinal Fungi FAQs
Are medicinal mushrooms safe to consume?
Yes, medicinal mushrooms have a high safety profile and are generally safe to consume. However, it's important to source them from reputable suppliers and follow recommended dosages. We recommend consulting with your GP before consuming medicinal mushrooms if you have any underlying health conditions or are taking medications.
Can medicinal mushrooms interact with medications?
Some medicinal mushrooms may interact with certain medications, especially those with blood-thinning properties, so it is important to speak to a GP or healthcare professional if you are taking any medication and wish to try medicinal mushrooms.
How long does it take to experience the benefits of medicinal mushrooms?
The time it takes to experience the benefits of medicinal mushrooms may vary depending on various factors, including the individual's overall health, dosage and the type of mushroom being consumed. Some people may notice improvements within a few weeks, while others may require more time. Consistency is key when it comes to adding functional fungi to your routine.
Where can I purchase medicinal mushrooms?
Medicinal mushrooms can be purchased from health food stores, online retailers and specialised mushroom suppliers. Always choose reputable sources that offer high-quality products to ensure their efficacy and safety – putting in the research is worth it.