White button mushrooms and portobellos are a common ingredient for everyday meals and are found in just about any supermarket near you. In fact, 90% of the mushrooms consumed in the United States are basic button mushrooms.
But did you know there's a whole other world of mushrooms just waiting for you to discover?
You've probably been hearing more about adaptogenic mushrooms lately, which are also called medicinal mushrooms or functional mushrooms. Not to be confused with the psychedelic "magic mushrooms" that were popular in the 1960s, adaptogenic mushrooms have been used for centuries in various Eastern cultures including ancient Indian, Japanese, and Chinese medicine to promote physical and mental performance.
So what exactly does adaptogenic mean? Well, a simple online search will tell you that an adaptogenic substance (or adaptogen) is a natural non-toxic material, often a plant extract, used in herbal medicine to help the body adapt to stress and restore normal bodily functioning.
Even though mainstream medicine in the Western world doesn't officially acknowledge adaptogens, proponents say they effectively improve and maintain health without the side effects of pharmaceutical drugs. Many adaptogens today can be consumed in different ways including as a powder, capsule, drink, or a whole food.
Some examples of adaptogens include:
- Ashwagandha (Indian ginseng)
- Rhodiola (Arctic root, Golden root)
- Licorice root
- Astragalus root
7 Adaptogenic Mushrooms
There is growing evidence that medicinal mushrooms can provide a number of health benefits that range from improving brain function and regulating hormones to boosting your immune system, energy levels, mental sharpness, and overall mood.
Here are some of the most-researched adaptogenic mushrooms along with their science-backed medicinal benefits.
Also known as lingzhi mushroom, reishi has polysaccharides and triterpenes that can reduce excessive fat storage for those struggling with obesity as well as lower blood sugars in diabetics. (1) As it turns out, the complex sugars in this reddish, kidney-shaped mushroom can also alleviate kidney problems (2) and provide antiviral properties to fight viral infections. (3) You can get reishi mushroom as a powdered extract, capsule, or find it in drinks like hot tea and cold kombucha, where it's often paired with cacao for added flavor.
A staple in eastern European traditional medicine, chaga mushroom has long been used across Russia, Poland, and the Baltic countries as an antiviral treatment for stomach diseases, liver and heart ailments, as well as cancer. More than just folklore, studies show that chaga has anti-cancer effects (3) and can also promote anti-inflammatory responses in the body. (4) This might be because chaga, like most mushrooms, is a powerhouse of antioxidants and beta-glucans that fight damaging free radicals.
3. Lion's Mane
Named for its long and shaggy lion-like spines, lion's mane has been a go-to mushroom in Chinese medicine when it comes to dealing with mental matters from brain fog to memory loss and other cognitive functions. According to multiple studies, nerve growth factors (NGFs) in lion's mane can regenerate and protect brain tissue. (5) One study has shown it to be effective in improving mild cognitive impairment while another clinical trial demonstrated how lion's mane reduced anxiety and depression within just four weeks. (7)
Perhaps a more familiar exotic mushroom than some of the others on this list, shiitakes aren't known for their tasty, chewy, meat-like texture alone—research has found that the bioactive compounds in shiitakes may improve immune function (8), reduce inflammation (9), and fight tumors. (10) One of the polysaccharides found in shiitakes, lentinan, was also found to reduce the growth of certain cancer cells. (11) Although shiitake mushrooms can be added to tea or smoothies as a powdered extract, you can't go wrong cooking them up fresh in your favorite recipes.
5. Turkey Tail
Named for its colorful fantail shape, turkey tail is one of the most prolific medicinal mushrooms on the planet, growing pretty much anywhere in the world there are trees—dead or alive. It's also been highly researched with studies showing that this fungi is brimming with benefits. Beta-glucans in turkey tail help improve immune function (12) as do its robust levels of prebiotics that contribute to strong gut health. (13) What's more, turkey tail can also improve the recovery rate for cancer patients, particularly those with breast cancer, gastric cancer, and colorectal cancer. (14)
Although the thought of eating parasitic fungi that grow on insect larvae probably grosses you out, the truth is that cordyceps are good for your health in more ways than one. These creepy caterpillar-looking outgrowths can fight fatigue not only because of their polysaccharide content (15) but also because of their ability to produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is the molecule that delivers energy to the muscles. (16) Cordyceps are also linked to anti-aging benefits (17). In fact, multiple animal studies have demonstrated lifespan-extending effects from cordyceps (18), making them a must-have for those who want to be forever young.
It's hard to pronounce, but himematsutake is an edible and adaptogenic mushroom worth getting to know. Also called agaricus blazei, royal sun, or almond mushroom, himematsutake originated in Brazil, but is also grown in China and Japan to treat a number of conditions ranging from liver disease and diabetes to hepatitis and high cholesterol. It's also commonly used for cancer prevention and treatment—research shows that the polysaccharides contained in this mushroom have anticancer, antitumor, and antiviral properties as well as the ability to promote healthy immune function. (19)
While there is no one mushroom that will solve all your health concerns or grant you immortality, there's no denying that the benefits of these fantastic fungi deserve all the attention they're getting. Gleaning information from both modern medicine and ancient traditions can open your eyes to what these adaptogens can do to help keep healthy for years to come.
Of course, always talk to your doctor before taking any new supplement to make sure you can reap the rewards of these healing mushrooms in a way that works best for you.
-spread the spores-