Top 5 Medicinal Fungi and their healing powers

Medicinal fungi are one of the greatest gifts that nature has given to us, and can even be found on our doorsteps.

For hundreds upon hundreds of years, humans have turned to nature and used various mushrooms to aid their health. Finally, science has caught up and validated this ancient wisdom. These mushrooms just might provide a boost to a person’s vitality, immune system and energy levels.

This medicinal mushroom guide will look at five popular medicinal mushrooms and their various benefits, and some simple ideas how they can be incorporated them into a regular diet.

For the inexperienced mushroom picker, we wouldn’t recommend going and looking for these out in nature, as some varieties of mushrooms are highly poisonous. However, we would encourage readers to seek out someone who is knowledgeable in mushroom picking and seek their advice, or starting with a basic guide like this one.

Don’t worry if wandering through the woods looking for fungi isn’t exactly what you would normally constitute a day out, as it’s not necessary to go to the forest to get these mushrooms; you can simply drop by your local health shop to find them in a supplement form, and even mix them into with a coffee for easy incorporation in your diet.

Most importantly, use them wisely and observe your body glowing as you add these to your healthy and varied diet and lifestyle. The medicinal fungi can improve your immune system, increase oxygen flow to your cells, improve your mental wellbeing and endurance, regulate your blood sugar levels, lower your stress levels and improve your sleep quality to name but a few benefits of these mushrooms.

Read about how to choose and what to pay attention to when buying your medicinal mushrooms fresh or in a supplement form.

1: Chaga (Inonotus obliquus)

Chaga is probably one the most popular medicinal mushroom. Chaga grows on hardwood trees, mainly birch, in Eastern Europe, Asia and Canada, as well as North-Eastern United States. Chaga is usually harvested in the late autumn or winter, proper harvesting is important for maintaining sustainable sources of wild Chaga. When harvested Chaga is then dried and after grinded or cut, you can then steep Chaga in hot water and drink it as a tea.

Chaga is great for boosting your immune system as it boosts the production of white blood cells that regulate the immune response to infectious microorganisms (perfect for keeping cold away). Chaga is also rich source of antioxidants; in fact sometimes it is referred to as a ‘super-star of antioxidants’. These antioxidants help your body fight aging as well as cancerous cells and lower inflammation caused often by our modern busy and stressful lifestyle. Chaga will also improve health of your skin and your hair.

You can find Chaga in a supplement form that use whole fruiting bodies of fungi from these companies: Myco-Nutri, Four Sigmatic, Viridian, Nutri-Fungi.

2: Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum)

Reishi quite often is referred as the queen of the mushrooms or ‘mushroom of immortality’. Reishi has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for around 2000 years. In addition in China Reishi belongs to the highest class of medicines, there it is a tonic for strength, vitality and longevity. Reishi grows throughout Europe, Asia and South America.

Reishi is often used as general tonic, as it calms your mind and body and boosts your overall wellbeing by increasing energy and resistance to stress, and longevity. It is especially good for those suffering from anxiety and sleeplessness. In particular, Reishi boosts immune system to protect it against viruses, bacteria and parasites. Reishi also helps to maintain healthy cardiovascular system. This ancient mushroom not only works internally, but also externally by reducing dermal oxidation (bye, bye wrinkles). It can also improve your hormonal balance, helping your body rest and recover during the night. And lastly and probably most importantly with spring just around the corner, Reishi is great for curing seasonal allergies. Imagine the fresh smell of spring and no sneezing and runny nose or itchy eyes.

You can find Reishi in a supplement form that uses the whole fruiting from these companies: Myco-Nutri, Mikei, Four Sigmatic, Nutri-Fungi.

3: Cordyceps (Ophiocordyceps sinensis)

Cordyceps also known as Caterpillar Fungus or ‘killer fungus’ due to the way it grows, for more detailed explanation there is a video below where Sir David Attenborough explains how Cordyceps grows; nature truly is fascinating. In the wild it is found in altitudes above 4500 meters in Himalayas, as well as other high altitude locations worldwide.

Cordyceps has been widely used in Tibetan (known as ‘summer grass, winter worm’) and Chinese medicine for its extraordinary ability to increase energy, reduce lethargy and fatigue. Cordyceps mushroom is rich in beta-glucans that boosts the body’s ability to deliver oxygen on a cellular level, which is great for improving endurance, increase energy and stamina. This mushroom is great for athletes who seek to boost their performance, as well as for elderly people who want to reduce lethargy that often can accompany aging. Cordyceps also has anti-inflammatory properties and it enhances blood circulation and heart health, libido, appetite and sleeping patterns, as well as helps to manage blood sugar levels.

You can find Cordyceps in a supplement form that uses the whole fruiting body from these companies (psst, they don’t use caterpillars or other insects in the growing process, so don’t worry about those nightmares): Myco-Nutri, Four Sigmatic, Nutri-Fungi.

4: Lion’s Mane (Hericium erinaceus)

Lion’s mane named after its unique and fascinating appearance. It doesn’t sport your typical mushroom cap and stem looks, instead this globular shaped mushroom has teeth like spines, and it is quite often nicknamed as ‘bearded tooth’ or ‘pom-pom mushroom’. Its Latin name Hericium erinaceus means ‘hedhehog’. Lion’s mane grows in hardwood forests in North America, Europe and Asia, and is usually gathered during summer and autumn season. This mushroom is well known in traditional Chinese medicine and was used to treat various digestion and stomach problems.

Lion’s mane is anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and gives a boost to your immune system. But this mushroom isn’t just different from other mushrooms due to its untraditional looks; its effects on brain distinguish it from other medicinal mushrooms. Lion’s mane boosts the Nerve Growth Factor (NGF) and supports nerve cell myelination, thus improving cognitive function, even though Lion’s mane deserves more clinical attention it is known that this mushroom optimises cognitive performance and works as an antidepressant. Lion’s mane is used to improve your memory, boost your concentration (wave away all those distractions on your screen), and to protect your nervous system.

You can find Lion’s mane in a supplement form from these companies: Myco-Nutri, Four Sigmatic, Nutri-Fungi.

5: Shiitake (Lentinula edodes)

Shiitake mushroom is probably the most commonly known medicinal mushroom as fresh Shiitake is available at many grocery stores. Plus, it is the second most widely cultivated mushroom after white button mushroom. These mushrooms are found on fallen broadleaf trees, such as chestnut, oak, and maple. Shiitake has immune system boosting properties (gives a boost when needed and cuts back when needed), anti-viral and anti-microbial properties, and it can lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, so these mushrooms are great for your heart health as well. Medicinally Shiitake is widely used to treat diseases involving depressed immune system function, including allergies, cancer, flu and colds (make yourself this Shiitake Miso Cleansing soup, next time when cold sneaks up on you).

Fresh Shiitake mushrooms can be easily found in your grocery store or try your health store to find them in a supplement form.

You can find Shiitake mushrooms in a supplement form from these companies: as single mushroom elixir from MycoNutri, and in mushroom blends from Four Sigmatic and Nutri-Fungi.

Baiba Šustere

Baiba Šustere is a writer whose work focuses on mindfulness, health and wellbeing.