Medicinal Mushrooms Are Immune System Superstars
Medicinal mushrooms have been prized in traditional medicine since ancient Egyptian and Chinese healers used them to promote health and longevity. But it wasn’t until 1928 that scientists learned to identify the beneficial properties of mushrooms and extract the active ingredients for medicinal use. Since then, medicinal fungi have been used in a wide range of clinical and traditional therapies for their ability to support health in various ways.
Medicinal mushrooms are mushrooms that produce or can be induced through biotechnology to produce medically significant metabolites. Metabolites are small molecules that are critical to cell health and growth. These mushrooms are adaptogens, which are substances that help the body adapt to stress and promote a normalizing effect on bodily processes.
Medicinal mushrooms are different from the ones you typically eat for dinner because they contain immune-supporting beta-glucans and other polysaccharides within their cell walls. Beta-glucans are known as “biological response modifiers” because they stimulate the immune system. Polysaccharides are carbohydrates that support general health in a number of ways.
Medicinal fungi are typically consumed in ground powder form mixed with hot water to make a tea, taken as capsules, or added as a raw or extract powder to food and drinks such as smoothies or yogurt.
Some of the best-known types of medicinal mushrooms are:
Bay bolete (Boletus badius) – This medicinal mushroom is named for its bay- or chestnut-colored cap. It grows in coniferous or mixed woods forests in Europe and North America, sometimes in prolific numbers. It has a mild flavor and is used in cooking, often with meat or fish, in sauces and soups, or frozen, dried, or pickled. According to several European studies, the bay bolete mushroom can bioaccumulate some trace metals from the soil, including mercury, cobalt, and nickel. It contains a phytonutrient also found in green tea, theanine, which is known to promote relaxation, improved sleep quality, mental focus, and concentration. Bay bolete is also known for its ability to support the immune system, support balanced mood, and stimulate regenerative processes in the body.*
Cordyceps (Ophiocordyceps sinensis) – Cordyceps grows around the world, thriving best in humid temperate and tropical forests. In parts of eastern Asia including China, Cordyceps is rare and commands a high price. Between 1998 and 2008, its price on the Tibetan Plateau rose by a substantial 900%.One of the earliest recorded uses of this medicinal mushroom was in the 15th century, as documented in a Tibetan medical text, for its ability to stimulate sexual function. Cordyceps mushrooms are known to support athletic and aerobic function, endurance, and workout recovery. Cordyceps was introduced to the general public during the 1993 Olympics in China, when three Chinese athletes set five new distance running records. After they tested negative for illegal drugs, their coach revealed that he had added cordyceps to their diet to promote increased energy, stamina, and endurance; support the health of joints and cartilage; and help regulate sleep patterns.*
Chaga (Inonotus obliquus) – Chaga, the medicinal mushroom superstar we at Sayan Health offer in various forms, was used in Russian folk medicine as early as the 16th century. A West Siberian tribe of people, the Khanty, gave chaga its name. They drank chaga in tea form and believed that chaga supports general well-being, stimulates internal cleansing, and promotes healthy digestion. Chaga grows best in very cold habitats, almost exclusively on birch and beech trees, though it can also form on chestnut, alder, and hornbeam trees. The only type of chaga that has healing properties is the one that grows on birch trees. And only chaga harvested from a living tree offers health benefits. It is known for its ability to support the immune system, promote detoxification of the body, stimulate the central nervous system, promote healthy skin and nails, and help support a youthful look.*
Maitake (Grifola frondosa) – Maitake, also known as hen-of-the-woods, ram’s head, and sheep’s head, means “dancing mushroom.”It is native to northeastern Japan and North America, and grows at the base of trees, particularly oaks. Maitake is known in the Italian American community as the signorina mushroom. The maitake mushroom is prized in traditional Japanese and Chinese medicine for its ability to bring body systems back into balance. In Japan, the maitake is nicknamed the “King of Mushrooms” because it can grow to more than 100 pounds. It is one of the major mushrooms used in Japanese cooking. It is known for its ability to support the immune system, promote healthy blood pressure and blood sugar levels, and regulate cholesterol levels.*
Morel (Morchella esculenta) – The morel mushroom is one of the most highly prized medicinal mushrooms. In their raw form, morel mushrooms contain a gastrointestinal irritant, but parboiling or blanching before consuming removes it. Thousands of enthusiasts hunt for morels every spring, for their excellent taste. The morel mushroom is a favorite delicacy of gourmet cooks, especially in French cuisine. Yellow morels commonly grow under deciduous trees, and black morels are usually found in coniferous forests. Certain species of morel proliferate in forests that have been recently burned by forest fire. Grizzly bears in Yellowstone National Park are known to consume black morels. Due to its polysaccharide content, this mushroom has been shown to support the immune system. The morel mushroom is used in traditional Chinese medicine to promote healthy digestion and respiratory function. It is listed in Nepal’s IUCN National Register of medicinal plants.*
Shiitake (Lentinula edodes) – The only variety of mushroom more widely cultivated than the shiitake is the common white button mushroom. About 25% of mushrooms cultivated yearly are shiitake mushrooms. Native to East Asia, the shiitake mushroom grows on fallen broadleaf trees, including chestnut, beech, maple, walnut, oak, and chinqaupin. Fresh shiitake can be found at many grocery stores, and given its delicious taste and good texture, it works well cooked fresh. In Japan, China, and Thailand, shiitake mushrooms are used in miso soup, and often steamed, simmered, or fried in popular vegetarian dishes such as Buddha’s Delight. Shiitake is known for its ability to support the immune system and help regulate blood pressure and cholesterol.*
Shiitake mushrooms are now widely cultivated all over the world, and contribute about 25% of total yearly production of mushrooms.
Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) – This medicinal mushroom likely has the longest history of medicinal use. Reishi mushroom is known in Chinese as líng zhī(“spirit plant”), and in Japanese as mannentake (“10,000 year mushroom”). In China, reishi belongs to the highest class of medicines, and is considered a tonic that promotes strength, vigor, and longevity. Of the six types of reishi mushrooms, the red reishi is the most commonly used in herbal medicine. It is known to support the immune system, and it can help regulate blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar. Many athletes use reishi to support their athletic performance, including mountain climbers, who use it to support their adjustment to high altitudes. Reishi is known to promote a balanced mood and healthy sleep patterns.*
Almond mushroom (Agaricus subrufescens) – Also known as mushroom of the sun, mushroom of life, and God’s mushroom, the edible almond mushroom has an almond fragrance and somewhat sweet taste. It is used in cooking, particularly for mild dishes like soup, seafood with mushroom sauce, and salad dressing. With its high levels of beta-glucans and polysaccharides, the almond mushroom is known to support the immune system. It is also known to regulate cholesterol and blood sugar levels, as well as stress levels. An estimated half a million people in Japan take commercial preparations of the almond mushroom, and it is used as a dietary supplement in Japan and Brazil.*
If you have any questions about medicinal mushrooms and their ability to support the health of the body, give us a call or send us an e-mail. We’d be glad to help you learn more about these wonderful gifts from nature.