History of Medicinal Mushrooms
Mushrooms have been a staple in our kitchens for as long as we can remember, but did you know there is also a long tradition using mushrooms for their medicinal properties? Today we talk about five different types of medicinal mushrooms and how you can incorporate them today.
When the body of Otzi the ice man was found in the Alps, a pouch with 2 mushrooms was found on him. One, a straw-like mushroom, was used for kindling, the other was used as an anti-parasitic. The scientists indeed found that Otzi was suffering from a parasitic infection.
Mushrooms have been used for centuries in Japan and China. The reishi mushroom is revered for it’s health giving properties, and in China it is known as the Mushroom of Immortality. Taoists monks regarded reishi as a shen tonic, for it’s ability to induce meditative states and spiritual awareness.
All mushrooms, even the humble button mushroom, have anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties. Mushrooms have indeed been used as a part of cancer treatment in Japan for decades. They are also rich in prebiotic fibre, supporting the beneficial bacteria in the gut, as well as containing many vitamins and minerals.
My Favourite Medicinal Mushrooms
Reishi, already mentioned above, helps to balance hormones, reduce histamine release and therefore alleviate allergies. As a nerve tonic it helps to support sleep and relax the mind, with research showing this mushroom can help reduce depression and anxiety. Reishi is a very potent anti-inflammatory agent, perfect to support conditions such as arthritis or asthma.
Cordyceps – the mushroom for athletes. This rare mushroom has been shown to increase oxygen delivery to muscles, allowing athletes to train for longer and recover faster. Cordyceps supports hormone (testosterone) production and thus fertility. It can however make you stay awake so, like coffee, don’t take cordyceps after 3pm.
Lion’s mane – a delicious mushroom that tastes like a lobster. Lion’s mane contains compounds that support the health of our intestinal mucosa and supports the beneficial bacteria in the gut such as Akkermansia and Bifidobacteria species. Research shows this mushrooms can slow down cognitive decline due to its neuroprotective properties.
Turkey Tail – this is a very powerful anti-viral mushroomm that looks like a tail of a turkey (hence the name). It has been routinely used since the 1970s as part of cancer treatments in Japan. It has been shown to not only improve the effectiveness of chemotherapy and reduce the side-effects, but also stimulate your immune system to produce cancer fighting natural killer cells.
The best of the rest: shiitake is a powerful antibacterial, maitake helps balance blood sugar and is dubbed the weight mushroom; oyster mushrooms help combat Helicobacter pylori – a very common gastrointestinal bacterial infection; sun agaricus can calm down an over-active immune system (such as in auto-immune conditions or allergies) and polyporus supports lymphatic health.
Mushrooms have become one of the most important tools that I use in my clinic: they are an effective way to support health through interacting with our body chemistry. Using mushroom supplements is largely safe but always check with a health professional, especially if you are taking any medications, for any interactions.
Incorporating Medicinal Mushrooms into Your Routine
Cook with mushrooms several times per week, don’t just stick with your old favourites but try something new such as Japanese shimeji or the above mentioned lion’s mane.
- Go organic whenever possible, mushrooms can soak up pollutants from the soil and air.
- Leave mushrooms outside in the sun for 30 minutes, they will synthesis vitamin D that you can then eat!
- Have a mushroom based drink, they make a great substitute for coffee and hot chocolate.
- Get creative: mushroom superfood powders can be added to protein balls, raw deserts and smoothies. You can even buy mushroom chocolate.
Linda Sims – Running a Naturopathic Nutritional Therapy practice since qualifying. Over 6 years of clinical experience. Currently lecturing Nutrition at The College of Naturopathic Medicine in Bristol. Linda Sims Nutrition