12 Medicinal Mushrooms And Their Unique Benefits

Medicinal mushroom known as the purple Shiitake mushroom by The Healthy RD

Some of the most fascinating foods on the planet are mushrooms because they cross over into the world of medicine.

Medicinal mushrooms have been eaten for several thousand years in traditional Chinese medicine and folk medicine across the globe. They are finally gaining the research they deserve to support their roles in medicine.

While mushrooms may seem weird in texture, don’t let that hold you back from the many possible health benefits you might get. You don’t have to eat mushrooms sauteed in butter or on pizza. 

You have many options to eat them and even supplement them. The benefits you may get from medicinal mushrooms in your diet include fewer illnesses, less inflammation, more energy, a reduction in cancer risk, better mental focus, improved mood, and more.

Read on to find out if medicinal mushrooms are for you. If you would like to download a free PDF of this post, click here.

What are Medicinal Mushrooms: How Are They Different from Fungi?

All types of edible mushrooms are medicinal mushrooms for our health.

Mushrooms are technically the fruiting body of fungi and aren’t closely related to plants at all.

On the other hand, fungi are considered the whole organism, including the fruiting body, the mycelium, and the spores.

Mushrooms have such complexity and have their own communication under the soil that humans have only begun to scratch the surface of understanding.

But our ancestors knew their power and by knowing their complexity, you can take back their power for yourself too.

More Mushrooms are Better?

While some people hone in on ONE type of mushroom for health, a broader variety of mushrooms likely helps our health the most. 

All edible mushrooms are medicinal. 

Eating a wide variety of mushrooms is likely the most helpful way to improve your health and also to expand your taste palate for new foods. 

Brief Medicinal Mushroom History

One way we determine mushroom medicinal qualities is to look at history.

Mushrooms were found among the oldest human mummy medicine kits dating back 4000 years ago. It contained Piptoporus betulinus, a type of birch polypore.

Some mushroom experts also claim that humans were using mushrooms in medicine as far back as 9000 years ago, as in the case of psychedelic mushrooms.

Medicinal Mushrooms List

With so many healthy mushrooms out there, the ones with the most research to support their use and ones that are readily available made this list. After all, mushrooms used in traditional medicine are too numerous to count, but there are some that shine in research today.

Your medicinal mushrooms list might include:

  • Cordyceps
  • Lions mane
  • Turkey tail
  • Reishi
  • Chaga
  • White button
  • Morels
  • Shiitake
  • Maitake
  • Agaricus blazei
  • Mesima
  • Tremella

Mushroom Nutrition

Each species of mushroom will vary a bit in the type and amounts of nutrients they contain, but most mushroom varieties have the following nutrients. As a rule, mushrooms contain prebiotics. These prebiotics support the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut.

Mushrooms can contain the following prebiotics and functional compounds:

  • Hemicellulose
  • Mannans
  • α- and β-glucans
  • Galactans
  • Xylans
  • Glutathione
  • Ergothioneine
  • Cordyceptin
  • Polysaccharide-K
  • Lentinan

And the following nutrients:

Mushrooms vary a lot in their nutrient profiles. For example, Tremella mushrooms stand out because of their high fiber content, while Turkey Tails are rich in polysaccharide K. Yet Cordyceps shine because they contain cordycepin.The health benefits of mushrooms are attributed to their high amounts of nutrition and functional compounds, but also are not yet fully understood. While mushrooms are nutritious, the most nutritious foods on the planet are organ meats.

Mushroom Health Benefits

While there are hundreds of types of mushrooms that people eat today, they all have some overlapping health benefits.  Yet, each type of mushroom also has some distinct health benefits.

Here is a summary of what makes mushrooms medicinal in research:

  • Immune system benefits most types of edible mushrooms have the research to back them regarding their benefits for immune health.
  • Infection reduction some research even suggests that mushrooms like Reishi can help treat infections like HPV.
  • Stress reduction-mushrooms act like adaptogens in the body, meaning they help adapt to the stress responses we have in our lives.
  • Inflammation-busting-all medicinal mushrooms have anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Antioxidant effects-rich in antioxidant compounds like selenium, mushrooms help the body fight free radicals.
  • Cancer reduction-eating mushrooms are linked to a reduced cancer risk.  Some research shows that mushrooms help support cancer treatments. Cancer cell growth tends to be reduced by various kinds of mushrooms in test tubes as well as in some preliminary human research as well.
  • Brain health-most types of mushrooms support brain structure and function and are even regenerative to neurons.
  • Pain-relieving-some medicinal mushrooms have pain-relieving properties, such as Reishi.
  • Nerve health-mushrooms like Lion’s Mane and Tremella may help nerve health by supporting nerve growth factors.
  • Energy and endurance-mushrooms like Cordyceps and Reishi help support energy production in the body.
  • Digestion benefits– many mushrooms help digestive health, especially chaga mushrooms.
  • Weight reduction- by helping balance immunity, some types of mushrooms support healthy weight as well.
  • Heart benefits–Very nutritious food to support heart health contains vitamin D2, selenium, and B vitamins. Mushrooms also may help improve cholesterol numbers as well.
  • Liver health– mushrooms like chaga mushrooms may reduce fatty liver.
  • Autoimmune benefits– by balancing TH1/TH2 ratios in our immune system, mushrooms may help reduce autoimmune illness.
  • Promotes longevity-mushrooms like Lion’s mane may increase longevity by increasing the body’s ability to make antioxidant enzymes.
  • Good for the earth-mushrooms help balance minerals and nutrients in the soil, making them great for us and the planet.
  • Generally non-toxic-edible and medicinal mushrooms have a high safety profile.
  • Skin health– mushrooms like tremella help support healthy skin and hydration.

Cons of Using Mushrooms as Medicine

There are a few risks of eating medicinal mushrooms. 

Keep in mind, that these aren’t serious health risks. They may just mean that you may not get the desired effect.

These risks include:

  • May overstimulate the immune system.
  • Reductionist science might say there is not enough evidence to make broad health claims.
  • Quality is difficult to determine in mushroom supplements.
  • Culturing mushrooms isn’t the same as getting them in the wild.
  • No standardized dosing recommendations for various types of mushrooms.
  • Foraging for mushrooms should be left to experts because you could risk eating poisonous mushrooms if you are not careful.
  • As with any food, if you are allergic or develop allergies to mushrooms, please avoid eating them.

1. Cordyceps Mushrooms

Of all the mushrooms out there, cordyceps are the most curious-looking and are also known as caterpillar mushrooms. Cordyceps has the most clinical research to back up health claims as well. Not just a single type of mushroom, cordyceps are a genus of mushrooms collectively known as caterpillar mushrooms. The most popular types of cordyceps are:

  • Cordyceps sinensis 
  • Cordyceps militaris 

Found only in cold Tibetan climates and extremely expensive, wild cordyceps mushrooms are not available to most people. You can find cordyceps mushrooms that are grown and cultured under careful conditions. Clinical research that supports the use of cordyceps for:

Cordyceps may also support healthy liver function, exercise performance, brain health, diabetes, heart health, and sexual function. Doses used in clinical trials are typically between 2-3 grams per day in split doses as Cs-4. Cordyceptin is thought to be a compound unique to cordyceps mushrooms and its purported benefits.

2. Turkey Tail Mushrooms

Turkey tail (Coriolus versicolor also known as Trametes versicolor) mushrooms are found just about everywhere in forests on fallen trees. These fascinating mushrooms are used in some countries alongside conventional cancer treatment.  A recent review of clinical research studies concluded that the use of turkey tail mushrooms during cancer treatment improved survival by 9 percent compared to no mushrooms, especially for breast cancer, gastric cancer, or colorectal cancer. This translates to an additional 1 person surviving cancer out of 11 people. Even the National Cancer Institute now suggests that mushrooms like turkey tails may help support effective cancer treatment. Turkey tail mushrooms also may help support immune function. 

Clinical studies have also found that turkey tail mushrooms may:

You can eat turkey tail mushrooms, but most people prefer to supplement them because of their rubbery texture. Additionally, you can make turkey tail tea as well by chopping turkey tail mushrooms and steeping them in hot water.

3. Lion’s Mane Mushrooms

The lion’s mane mushroom (Hericium Erinaceus) looks a lot like its namesake- a lion’s mane.  It is sought after for its tasty flavor, which is a lot like lobster.More and more research is showing how powerful these mushrooms are. For example, a recent clinical trial of 68 people with Alzheimer’s disease found that supplementing 3 capsules with 350 mg each per day of Lion’s mane mushrooms had improvements in memory and activities of daily living over a 49-week study. Lion’s mane benefits in humans so far are related to brain health and memory, also known as a nootropic.Also, in people with mild memory loss, Lion’s mane was able to improve memory over a 16-week period compared to placebo.

Additionally, Lion’s mane also reduced symptoms of depression, reduced irritability, and improved brain function in women of menopausal age compared to placebo.Lion’s mane mushrooms benefit our brain health because it increases nerve growth factor and reduces inflammatory compounds like IL-6, COX-2, 5-LOX, and TNF alpha.

As an edible mushroom, Lion’s mane is generally considered safe.  Be aware that allergies or sensitivities can occur with any food. While we are still waiting on more research, many people find lion’s mane mushrooms to be very healing.  Reviews of lion’s mane suggest that it may be helpful in neurological conditions like multiple sclerosis, neuropathy, ADHD, and more. Many people feel their brain fog lists and it alleviates nerve pain as well or better than prescriptions.

4. Chaga Mushrooms

Chaga mushrooms (Inonotus obliquus) are a type of fungus that grows in birch trees in northern climates.  The mushroom was first described as used in medicine in Russia to support immunity and reduce cancer in traditional medicine. While most research studies about Chaga mushroom benefits are in animal models, one clinical study found that Chaga improved immunity in inflammatory bowel diseases. This includes diseases like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

  Animal studies show that Chaga mushrooms may help:

  • Reduce allergies
  • Reduce fatigue
  • Reduce diabetes by improving glucose and insulin
  • Reduce cholesterol
  • Improve memory
  • Support cancer treatment
  • Reduce HIV viral load
  • Improve skin conditions
  • Slow aging
  • Dampen inflammation

5. Reishi Mushrooms

Reishi mushrooms (Ganoderma lucidum) are also known as the Mushroom of Immortality.  Reishi mushrooms have over 400 active compounds in them and are a powerhouse for health. Clinical trials of reishi are used for various types of patients.  While small, research studies are supportive of the positive health effects of reishi mushrooms.

  • Reishi reduces fatigue and improves the quality of life. In a trial of patients undergoing breast cancer treatment, reishi mushrooms reduced fatigue and improved quality of life with no negative side effects.
  • Reishi also improved health, energy, and well-being in people with chronic fatigue syndrome in a study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food.
  • Improves lung function A clinical study found that a combination of reishi and herbs improved lung function in people with asthma compared to placebo.
  • Reduces precancerous adenomas- Patients with precancerous tumors in their colons had a reduction in the number and size of colon tumors called adenomas when given 1.5 grams of reishi mushrooms over a 12-month period.
    • *This does not mean that reishi should replace conventional cancer treatment for cancer patients.

While more research is needed, many people find reishi mushrooms are beneficial for health.  In reviews, people state that it improves their insomnia, immune system, improve cholesterol, blood pressure, digestive, issues, and more.

6. Maitaki Mushrooms (Grifola frondosa)

Also known as hen of the woods, the maitake mushroom is a tasty edible mushroom that can also be supplemented. Maitake is also known as the dancing mushroom, sheepshead, or ram’s head. It is a soft polypore type of mushroom, unlike many polypores, it is edible.  The rest are too hard to eat! All research about maitake mushroom benefits is early, but that doesn’t stop mushroom enthusiasts from avidly seeking maitake out!

Early research about maitake mushrooms finds that they may have:

Immune effects

  • increase natural killer cell response
  • increase macrophage and cytotoxic T-cell activity
  • improve antibody response
  • activation of immune complement pathways

Maitake mushroom extract may reduce cholesterol according to research in mice. It may do so by stimulating cholesterol elimination from the body and through stimulating fat burning through beta-oxidation. Many other potential benefits of maitake include a reduction in cancer risk, a balancing effect on blood pressure and blood sugar, and improving insulin sensitivity. They are safe to eat even in large amounts. However, in some reviews, people do experience some digestive discomfort when supplementing maitake mushrooms.  Start at low doses in this case.

7. Shiitake Mushrooms

As far as taste goes, shiitake mushrooms are my favorite. They resemble the texture and taste of bacon when sauteed. When it comes to medicinal effects, shiitake is currently used in Japan as a treatment alongside conventional treatment for gastric cancer. Shiitakes contain lentinan, a type of compound that may help the body’s immune response to cancer cells.

This includes:

  • CD86+ cells
  • Natural killer cells

When patients with advanced stomach cancer were given lentinan, they survived longer than those who didn’t receive lentinan. This could be because shiitake may reduce the spread of cancer cells. Shiitake mushrooms may benefit health because they may reduce inflammation, improve heart health, and more, but more research is needed.

8. Agaricus Blazei

Popular mostly in Japan, Agaricus Blazei Murill mushroom was first discovered in Brazil.  There, it is also used as food and for medicine. Also known as Royal Sun Agaricus, They have so much respect for this mushroom that they call it “The Mushroom of the Gods”. It is known to have strong immune-enhancing properties.While Agaricus appears safe and appears to be good for health, there are no clinical studies to support its use medicinally. Be aware that allergic reactions or nausea and vomiting have occurred with the use of Agaricus mushrooms, although not commonly.

9. Button Mushrooms

Agaricus bisporus (Agaricomycetes) is commonly known as white button mushrooms. While they may not seem fancy or important, the common white button mushroom is also considered a medicinal mushroom in my book. Like many other species, white button mushrooms are rich in antioxidants, nutrients, and beta-glucan. Button mushrooms contain polyphenols as well as gallic acid, both great antioxidants. In animal studies, white button mushrooms improved memory and motor function, such as balance.

Button mushrooms may also reduce cancer, such as breast cancer, by decreasing estrogen production via the reduction in aromatase enzyme activity. White button mushrooms may also help immune function by increasing natural killer cell activity. In a clinical study, white button mushroom supplements increased immune markers, such as secretory IgA, which is involved in innate immunity.

10. Morel Mushrooms

Also known as Morchellas or true morels, morel mushrooms are a rare but rewarding find. A popular mushroom for mushroom hunting, morel mushrooms are quite a delicacy. Morel mushroom season is usually early spring to early summer. Morels are often found in ravines and runoff areas as well as areas of a forest fire. You can also purchase dried morel mushrooms. If you are hunting for morels, make sure to know the difference between true morels and false morels.  False morels are poisonous! There are many varieties of true morels as well.  Find out more at The Great Morel.

Morel mushroom benefits may be numerous, but research work is still considered preliminary. For instance, Morel mushroom’s antioxidant content is quite high. Cell studies have shown that Morel mushrooms may reduce cancer cell growth.  Morels may also help protect liver tissue from the damage of alcohol according to animal research. But always make sure to cook morel mushrooms; raw morel mushrooms are slightly toxic and may result in some digestive distress. Because they are so delicious, you can find many Morel mushroom recipes online.

11. Mesima Mushrooms

Mesima mushrooms (Phellinus Linteus) are an orange-colored mushroom that often grows on mulberry trees.  These mushrooms have been sought after for thousands of years in Japan, China, and Korea. Also known as black hoof mushrooms, Mesima mushroom health benefits could be many, just like all medicinal mushrooms. Mesima mushroom cancer benefits may include strong antitumor effects.

Other Mesima benefits may include:

  • Imunomodulatory benefits for autoimmune diseases
  • Biological response modification
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Antihistamine
  • Antioxidant effects

By improving immune responses, Mesima mushroom may be helpful in cases of asthma, allergies, and more.  While more research is needed to prove these benefits, Mesima mushrooms are edible and safe to try. Other popular folk uses for Mesimas are to reduce heavy menstrual periods and is well-known for this benefit. Mesimas may also help protect breast tissue due to their immune effects. While we can’t yet say if patients with breast cancer benefit from Mesima, these mushrooms are healthy for breast tissue.

These medicinal mushrooms also have fertility benefits that are promising for women.  By reducing inflammatory compounds, mesima may support healthy fertility. This is because Mesima mushroom beneficial compounds including polysaccharides, proteoglycans, hispolon, caffeic acid, davallialactone, interfungins A and inoscavin A.

12. Tremella Mushrooms

The Tremella mushroom (Tremella fuciformis) species has many names, including snow mushroom, dried white fungus, white jelly mushroom, and silver ear mushrooms.  This delicate mushroom is a gelatinous fungus that is traditionally eaten in desserts in China. Used as a beauty secret of concubines, one of the Four Beauties of China named Yang Guifei ate tremella to stay youthful and beautiful. Tremella mushroom extract for skin is gaining a lot of attention. The beauty industry has picked up this mushroom and added it to high-end skincare products because of its ability to hydrate the skin. In fact, tremella extract actions are similar to hyaluronic acid, which helps bind water molecules in the skin.

Many dermatologists think that the gelatinous molecules of tremella are smaller than hyaluronic acid, which better penetrates the skin than hyaluronic acid. Unlike most beauty products,  tremella mushroom benefits our bodies because it carries immune, neurological, and anti-tumor benefits like other medicinal mushrooms. One recent clinical study found that tremella extracts improved memory in people with mild memory loss.

A Note About Psilocybin Mushrooms

Collectively known as psychedelic mushrooms, psilocybin mushrooms are not one type of mushroom, but many.  In fact, over 180 types grow in the wild. Hallucinations are considered a side effect of this class of mushrooms. Some consider this side effect a benefit and traditional uses show that the potential for healing is vast.

Other mushroom species can also cause these side effects as well. Research is emerging about the medicinal uses of psilocybin mushrooms, including cancer treatment and mental health treatment, but due to legal status, it is not often possible to access these readily or legally.

Are Mushrooms Vegetables?

Even though they can grow on the ground, they are more like animals than plants. Can vegans eat mushrooms?  Well, mushrooms sometimes eat or thrive on animal decay sometimes.  It is a gray area for vegans to eat mushrooms, but most do. Mushrooms can be found growing on trees and on decomposing plants and animals on the ground.

With over 14,000 known species of mushrooms, these fungi have far-reaching health effects and environmental effects.  In fact, experts now know that mushrooms share intelligence via mycelia, an underground network.  These networks of mycelia are able to communicate between plants. The mycelia help balance our environment and also help us when we eat them.

Personal Note about Medicinal Mushrooms

Incorporating mushrooms into my life has had some of the biggest impacts on my health so far. 

It is hard to describe the overall improved well-being that has taken effect since I have made an effort to add medicinal mushrooms every day. I have more energy, less anxiety, more mental focus, less pain, healthier skin, and a better immune system. While I can’t say for sure that all of these are related to medicinal mushrooms, my gut tells me they are.

The connections of mushrooms and fungi to our health and the health of the planet are fascinating and transcend words. While many of the benefits and claims of benefits still remain anecdotal, there are very few risks of incorporating mushrooms into your diet.

How to Use Medicinal Mushrooms

There is really no right or wrong way to incorporate edible mushrooms into your diet. You really can eat them liberally with very little risk, but there is no consensus on the dose of various mushrooms. That said, I recommend following the label instructions if you are buying supplements. Make sure to find mushrooms that are organic whenever possible and also 3rd party tested for purity. When in doubt cook your edible mushrooms as some raw mushrooms can have toxic effects. And last but not least, never forage for mushrooms without a mycology expert.

Medicinal Mushrooms Summary

To review, you might look for the following benefits from different types of mushrooms:

  • Skin benefits: Tremella
  • Hormone benefits: Mesima
  • Antioxidants: Morels, Reishi, Turkey Tail, and others
  • Balanced immunity: Buttons, Reishi, Chaga, and all of the edible mushrooms
  • Cancer risk reduction: Turkey tail, Reishi, Chaga
  • Memory, nerve, and brain benefits: Lion’s mane, Mesima
  • Heart and cholesterol benefits: Shiitake and Maitake
  • Lung function, energy, and stamina: Cordyceps

Frequently incorporating medicinal mushrooms into your life has wonderful nutritional and health benefits that may be cumulative over time. Research is beginning to support many of the traditional uses of these fascinating foods.

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