Our Opinionated Guide to Medicinal Mushrooms, Including the Best Supplements to Buy Now
If you don't know your chaga from your turkey tail, read on to learn about the amazing properties of mushrooms.
Medicinal mushrooms (not to be confused with magic mushrooms, although they are quite magical in many other non-psychoactive ways) are becoming increasingly popular in the wellness world because of a wide spectrum of health benefits—from immunity boosting powers, to lowering cholesterol, battling brain-fog, and even helping to fight cancer cells. Mushrooms are a great addition to your supplement routine for many reasons. But if you're new to the fantastic world of fungi it can be a bit overwhelming, so here's our guide to getting started with medicinal mushrooms: what mushrooms you need, what to look for in supplements, and how to incorporate them into your diet.
Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum)
This powerful mushroom contains a high amount of triterpenes which are very powerful antioxidants and give reishi its bitter flavor. Because of their high levels of beta-glucans, reishi mushrooms are also considered a powerful booster to the immune system. But reishi is perhaps most well known for its calming properties, because of its high level of the compound triterpene, reishi is used by many people as a mood booster, to ease symptoms of anxiety and depression, and also for better, more relaxing sleep.
Lion's Mane (Hericium erinaceus)
Lion's Mane is a superfood for the brain. New studies have shown the mushroom stimulates production of a bioprotein called nerve growth factor (NGF) in the brain which has been shown to improve cognition, memory and concentration. It also promotes the growth of myelin (an insulation around nerve fibers).
Chaga (Inonotus obliquus)
The chaga mushroom grows on birch trees throughout the northern hemisphere, and has been used for centuries in traditional medicine. Chaga is extremely rich in vitamins, minerals, and nutrients. Because of its high level of antioxidants, it has been shown to fight forms of oxidative stress that can be linked to slowing (or even reversing) the signs of aging, and is a powerful inflammation fighter. These antioxidants may also have the ability to help lower LDL (bad cholesterol) levels and blood pressure levels, making it a great addition to a heart-healthy diet.
These more familiar mushrooms have a wonderful umami flavor that has made them a popular addition to stir-fry dishes, soups, and other dishes, but they may also have a big impact on heart-health. Shiitakes contain compounds that may help lower your cholesterol: eritadenine, which inhibits an enzyme involved in producing cholesterol; sterols which help block cholesterol absorption in your gut; and beta glucans, a type of fiber linked to lowering cholesterol. They are also high in B-vitamins and other antioxidants that help with inflammation in the body, and maintain healthy blood pressure levels.
Turkey Tail (Trametes Versicolor)
Here's one of the most well-researched mushrooms because of its cancer-fighting potential. Turkey Tail mushrooms have higher levels of beta-glucans than any other mushroom, and also contains a compounds called polysaccharide-K (PSK) and Polysaccharide Peptide (PSP). Both of these compounds stimulate the immune system and are commonly used in Asia in conjunction with other cancer treatments. PSK is also being researched for its ability to slow the growth of tumors in cancer patients.
Cordyceps (Cordyceps militaris)
These mushrooms are known to be an energy (and libido) stimulator. It has also been used to enhance physical performance and athletic recovery due to the presence of adenosine and cordycepin which can help increase the body's natural production of ATP, which delivers energy to our cells.
What to look for in Mushroom Supplements
Many supplements in the U.S. market that boast they contain all of the health benefits of their mushroom ingredients don't actually contain any actual mushrooms. These supplements contain mostly mycelium (the root system of the mushroom and the grain on which it is grown) instead of the actual mushroom (fruiting body). While mycelium does have health benefits of its own, it cannot be separated from its grain—all of it gets ground up and so these powder supplements end up being mostly barley, rice, or corn that have no benefit. Also check to see if there is information about the method of extraction, this affects the potency of all the beneficial compounds. A reputable source should also show levels of beta-glucans right on the label; this is usually a percentage, and most brands will show their actual lab results online.
It is important to buy a product that will be an easy addition to your daily routine in order to really benefit from the mushrooms. While there are many different forms of mushroom supplements available (coffees, coffee substitutes, powders, tinctures, even fudge sauce!), the following is a selection of high-quality products that contained only fruiting bodies, were lab-tested, and are something that would be easy to take every day. While there are many supplements containing specific blends of mushrooms and other adaptogens or additional herbs and supplements to target specific needs, we have focused on products that had a wide range of beneficial mushrooms without a lot of other (sometimes very expensive) ingredients.
RealMushrooms 5 Defenders Immune Strength
This supplement is a capsule containing mushroom extract powder that is easy to take daily. The company is extremely transparent about their sourcing and the lab results of all of their products. This blend contains fruiting bodies from turkey tail, reishi, maitake, shiitake, and chaga.
Shop Now: RealMushrooms 5 Defenders Immune Strength, $34.95, amazon.com.
Four Sigmatic Plant-Based Protein
Four Sigmatic offers a wide-range of mushroom products that are available at many grocery stores such as Whole Foods, Stop and Shop, Lassens, Sprouts, and at Target. They have mushroom coffees and cocoas but we love that their protein powder contains 18 grams of plant proteins and tastes great in any smoothie (or shake, overnight oats, chia seed pudding, etc). The powder contains chaga, cordyceps, reisi, turkey tail, and lion's mane.
Shop Now: Four Sigmatic Plant-Based Protein, $41.67, amazon.com.
Plant People WonderDay Mushroom Gummies
Founder and chef Gabe Kennedy set out to create a high-quality mushroom supplement that people would look forward to taking everyday and he's done exactly that. These raspberry flavored gummies are delicious, and their powerful blend of lion's mane, cordyceps, reishi, chaga, turkey tail, and maitake pack a huge punch. Truthfully, it's hard to only take the recommended dose of two per day.
Shop Now: Plant People WonderDay Mushroom Gummies, $29.99, plantpeople.com.
Malama Superfood Mushroom Chocolate
Kailua-Kona-based founder of Malama Superfoods, Ben Lillibridge is also the founder of Hawaii Fungi Project, a nonprofit dedicated to the discovery and responsible use of the islands' native species. These mushroom chocolates are so popular it's been difficult for the small company to keep up with demand. If you need another excuse to have chocolate, this fair-trade bar is blended with their eight mushroom blend of 100 percent fruiting body mushrooms.
Shop Now: Malama Superfood Mushroom Chocolate, $24.99 for five bars, malamamushrooms.com.
Golde Shroom Shield
If you really want to ease into the world of medicinal mushrooms, this delicious turkey tail and reishi blend with cacao may be the way to go for you.
Shop Now: Golde Shroom Shield Superfood Blend, $22, golde.co.