7 Types Of Medicinal Mushrooms To Eat (Boost Your Immunity)
Most people know about button mushrooms or portobello mushrooms.
But what if I told you there were so many more mushrooms with amazing health benefits?
Medicinal mushrooms like lion’s mane and reishi and chaga.
Mushrooms that were used by Greek warriors before going to war.
Or medicinal mushrooms that have been shown to cure cancer and boost our immune system, according to the latest research.
And with the pandemic taking center stage in our lives, there’s never been a better time to ensure we prioritize our health.
And that starts with our diets.
I consume a wide variety of medicinal mushrooms–lion’s mane, chaga, cordyceps, and turkey tail to name a few–and after you finish reading this article, I’m convinced you will feel the same.
Below, I go over 7 different types of medicinal mushrooms–and show you how to use them, what the science says about their health benefits, and share fascinating tidbits of how they were used and eaten throughout history.
And this isn’t your run-of-the-mill, cookie cutter article. I read hundreds of studies to write this article and have backed every claim I make below with a growing wealth of scientific research.
I hope you get as much out of this article as I did writing it.
Chaga mushroom Benefits (Inonotus obliquus)
Chaga mushrooms can be found growing on birch and hardwood trees in the forests across the northern hemisphere.
These medicinal mushrooms are currently being researched for their potential medicinal and anti-cancer properties. Traditional uses are documented for treatment of tumors, digestive disorders, liver and cardiac disease, and even as an antiseptic soap.
Chaga has been crushed and consumed as a tea historically, and Soviet researchers linked its consumption to lower cancer rates during the 1950’s. Research findings concerning chaga mushrooms to date include the following:
- Antiviral effects in lab settings for the hepatitis C virus and human immunodeficiency virus.
- Strong antioxidant properties, with one study noting DNA damage reduction by 40% versus controls when exposed to a strong pro-oxidant.
- Strong anti-inflammatory properties.
- Stimulation of cellular receptors that may improve cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
- Improved exercise tolerance in animal models
- Anticancer compounds that include inotodiol, betulin (or betulinol), betulinic acid, polysaccharides, melanin complexes, lignin derivatives, and polyphenols—with demonstrated antiproliferative and cytotoxic effects against melanoma, lung cancer, hepatic cancer, and sarcoma cancer cells in animal models and laboratory (petri dish) settings.
The Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center notes that chaga mushroom effects have not yet been verified in human research trials. The mushrooms have been consumed safely by numerous populations, though they are noted to be high in oxalates. For persons prone to oxalate-related kidney stones, or perhaps if consumed in excess, chaga mushrooms may pose a risk to their kidneys.
Cordyceps Medicinal Mushrooms Benefits
Cordyceps are native to the Himalayan highlands. These medicinal mushrooms have been used as a part of traditional Chinese medicine, consumed as a food, and are becoming the subject of numerous research studies investigating purported health-promoting properties. Cordyceps consist of the following compounds:
- Cordyceptin: a unique compound to the cordyceps mushroom (though now produced synthetically), this compound has antitumor, anti-diabetic, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, anti-blood clotting, cholesterol lowering, and pain-relieving effects in animal models and lab (petri-dish) settings.
- Adenosine: anti-seizure/ nerve calming effects, anti-inflammatory effects and anti-tumor effects
- Polysaccharides: numerous polysaccharides found in cordyceps possess anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor, immune stimulating properties
- Sterols such as β-Sitosterol with noted protective effects against prostate, breast, and colon cancer
- Numerous combinations of other compounds such as phenols, enzymes, and others with noted anti-cancer, cardioprotective, anti-malarial, and other health effects
Cordyceps mushrooms have also been found to have kidney protective effects. They are considered safe for consumption, though persons about to undergo surgical procedures or those with autoimmune disorders may want to avoid using cordyceps.
Further Reading: Cordycep Mushroom Supplement Buying Guide
Turkey Tail Mushrooms Benefits (Trametes versicolor or Coriolus versicolor)
Turkey tail mushrooms are noted as some of the best researched medicinal mushrooms to date. Found in temperate regions across Asia, North America and Europe, its healing properties have been a part of traditional Chinese medicine dating back several thousand years. Researched properties of turkey tail mushroom compounds include the following findings:
- Over 30 laboratory (petri dish) studies noting polysaccharides from turkey tail mushrooms to have direct cancer cell toxicity against breast, lung, leukemia, colon, melanoma, cervical, stomach, liver, ovarian, prostate, and brain cancer cells
- Upregulation of genes responsible apoptosis (cell suicide/ self-destruction) in cancer cells
- Reduced tumor size, reduction of vascularization of tumors, and reduction in cancer onset in mice implanted with cancer cells
- Meta-analysis of 13 clinical trials in humans noting a 9% reduction in 5-year mortality rates in patients with breast cancer, gastric cancer, and colorectal cancer when used in addition to standard anti-cancer therapies
- Reversal of chemotherapy-induced immune suppression in animal models
- Boosted production of immune system products such as cytokines as noted in numerous human and animal studies
- Strong antioxidant activity in animal and human trials
- Anti-inflammatory effects against arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease in animal models
- Organ protection of the heart and liver in animal models
Not only are turkey tail mushrooms supported by significant research, but they are also considered non-toxic and safe for consumption as a food and for medicinal purposes.
If you’re looking to find a high-quality turkey tail supplement, I wrote an in-depth review here on 4 excellent turkey tail supplements.
Shiitake Medicinal Mushrooms Benefits
Lentinan is a compound found only in shiitake mushrooms. This molecule, combined with the β-glucans found in shiitake mushrooms, makes for a powerful combination with demonstrated cholesterol-lowering, anti-oxidant, and anti-cancer properties. The research concerning lentinan properties notes the following findings:
- Boosted innate resistance along with direct molecular actions against bacteria, parasites, viruses
- Activation of non-specific inflammatory responses
- Dilation/ relaxation of blood vessels
- Boosted activity of the immune system with increases in cytotoxic T-cell and helper T-cell activity
- Recognized use as an adjunctive cancer therapy
Shiitake mushrooms are considered safe for regular consumption. Adverse skin reactions/ allergic reactions have been noted to occur in some individuals.
Maitake Medicinal Mushrooms Benefits (Grifola frondosa)
Maitake mushrooms are consumed regularly as a food in China, Japan, and Korea. These medicinal mushrooms have unique β-glucans and α-glucans.
The combined effects of the compounds found in maitake mushrooms promote production of the following immune cytokines and effects:
- Increased inflammatory response due to release of interleukin (IL)-1, tumor necrosis factor α, and IL-6.
- Natural killer cell production increases, anti-viral interferon production increases due to release of IL-12
- Release of interferon-y from T helper-1 cells, leading to activation of natural killer cells, neutrophils, and macrophages (components of cell-mediated immunity)
- Anti-tumor immune activity due to release of T helper-2 cell cytokines IL-4 and IL-10
Considered non-toxic and safe for regular consumption, maitake medicinal mushrooms make an excellent addition to any diet or supplement routine.
Lion’s Mane Medicinal Mushrooms Benefits (Hericium erinaceus)
Lion’s mane mushrooms are particularly fascinating due to the prevalence of a unique compound called erinacine A. According to research, this compound has been found to stimulate the release of nerve growth factor in animal models.
Not only that, pre-clinical trials have found improvements in symptoms experienced by those suffering with Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and depression when consuming lion’s mane mushrooms daily.
In a double-blinded controlled research trial, patients with mild cognitive impairment ages 50-80 were divided into two groups of 15, and given either a placebo or 1,000 mg of 96% lion’s mane mushroom powder three times daily.
The study found significant improvements in the patients taking the lion’s mane mushroom tablets over the control group.
This was measured using the Revised Hasegawa Dementia Scale. These effects DECLINED four weeks after stopping the lion’s mane supplementation, again reinforcing the effects being due to the mushroom powder as opposed to other factors.
Neuro-protective and nerve-healing properties have been repeatedly demonstrated in animal studies. Findings include:
- Protection against loss of hearing in mice ingesting lion’s mane mushrooms versus a control group
- Protection of nerve cells when an ischemic stroke was induced in mice pretreated with compounds extracted from lion’s mane mushrooms. An ischemic stroke is induced by blocking blood flow to brain tissue. Nerve tissue damage was reduced by 22%-44%. Protection was due to reductions in pro-inflammatory cytokines and reductions in free-radical levels.
- Protection of the substantia nigra and stratum brain regions when they were exposed to a toxin that causes symptoms consistent with Parkinson’s disease. This protection was achieved by providing mice with erinacine A compounds found in lion’s mane mushrooms for 25 days prior to toxin exposure. Not only did the lion’s mane extract reduce damage to these brain regions, it also appeared to promote healing and improve motor function following toxin exposure.
- Reductions of amyloid-β plaques in mice engineered to develop Alzheimer’s disease after ingesting compounds found in lion’s mane mushrooms. There were reductions in behavior abnormalities as well in these mice after they ingested lion’s mane compounds rich in erinacine-A compounds for 81 days.
- Reduction in depression symptoms induced by stress stimuli in mice exposed to restraint stress after administration of compounds found in lion’s mane mushrooms. Perhaps most interesting was a reversal in hormone and immune system changes that normally occur following a severe stress exposure. It was noted that brain-derived neurotrophic factor production increased with exposure to the lion’s mane compounds. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor promotes learning, growth of nerve tissue, and nerve cell survival.
For the research studies listed above, erinacine-A compounds from medicinal lion’s mane mushrooms were concentrated using a fermentation process. The researchers noted lion’s mane mushrooms are considered safe and non-toxic for regular consumption.
If you’re looking for a high-quality lion’s mane supplement, we created an ultimate buying guide for the best lion’s mane supplements here where we dive into the best options available. I highly suggest reading it before purchasing a random supplement from Amazon. I also suggested checking out our mushroom coffee guide for those looking to replace their morning cup of joe with some nutrient-dense mushroom cofee.
Medicinal Reishi Mushrooms Benefits or “Lingzhi” (Ganoderma)
“Mushroom of immortality?” Maybe not, but the antiviral and anti-cancer properties of reishi mushrooms are the subject of ongoing research (Image credit: Hokkaido Reishi Co., Ltd)
Reishi mushrooms were traditionally known as the “mushroom of immortality,” with use in Chinese medicine dating back thousands of years. Reishi mushrooms are consumed in teas, capsules, and powders for medicinal purposes as opposed to culinary purposes across Asia. Prior to modern cultivation practices, this medicinal mushroom was scarce and its use was limited to the nobility.
Compounds in reishi mushrooms include unique polysaccharides, peptidoglycans, and triterpenes. Reishi compounds appear to protect against inflammation, ulcers, parasites, allergies, cancer, and may lower blood sugar. Cancer protective effects of reishi mushrooms include:
- Direct toxicity against cancer cells, reduces their viability
- Carcinogen neutralization
- Blocking of cancer cell replication and metastasis capabilities for breast, colon, and prostate cancer cells
- Induction of cell-cycle arrest and apoptosis leading to cancer cell line destruction in more than 20 types of human and rodent cancers
- Improved survival times with corresponding reduction in cancer cell and tumor numbers for mice with a variety of cancers
- Improved immune system health markers (CD4/CD8 ratios), improved natural killer cell and T-cell numbers, and boosted innate immune activity with elevations in IL-2, IL-6, and interferon-y in human randomized-controlled trials involving 134 patients with various late stage cancers, as well as 68 lung cancer patients
Reishi mushroom extracts have been shown to have strong antibiotic properties against E. coli, Micrococcus luteus, S. aureus, B. cereus, Proteus vulgaris, and Salmonella typhi in petri-dish studies. Antiviral activity has been demonstrated against HIV, hepatitis b, and herpes viruses. It must be noted, however, that lab studies do not always translate to the same effects in humans. More clinical trials are necessary in humans.
Reishi mushrooms are generally recognized as safe and are widely used across Asia. However, there have been two reported cases of liver damage—with one of these cases resulting in a fatality.
What About Mushroom Blends
While many supplements are for single mushrooms, like Lion’s Mane.
However, some mushroom supplements allow you to consume multiple medicinal mushrooms in one blend.
I personally love mushroom blends (and take them myself) because it allows you to combine the different benefits of multiple types of mushrooms together, instead of consuming them separately.
If you’re looking to take a mushroom blend supplement, but don’t know where to start, I recently wrote an article on my favorite mushroom blends to help make your decision easier.
Health Benefits Of Medicinal Mushrooms – What Vitamins & Minerals Do They Contain?
The use of mushrooms for medicine and food dates back to the beginning of recorded history. Researchers note that the Greeks believed mushrooms gave warriors strength.
Cultures throughout the ancient world valued medicinal mushrooms highly, using descriptions such as “elixir of life,” and “food of the gods.” Nutritional properties vary by species but generally include the following nutrients:
- Minerals such as selenium, magnesium, calcium, copper, iron, potassium, calcium, and zinc
- Vitamins such as riboflavin, niacin, vitamin C, and even vitamin D (mushrooms are the only non-animal food source of vitamin D–contained in varying amounts by species and growing methods)
- Proteins and various amino acids
- Sterols and lipids
A low-calorie, low-fat, low-carbohydrate, cholesterol-free, nutrient-dense food, mushrooms can be added to a diet regardless of fitness goals. While the nutritional properties of mushrooms are noteworthy, the true magic of mushrooms involves a number of fascinating compounds found uniquely in mushrooms.
Other Amazing Compounds Found In Medicinal Mushrooms: Lectins, Glucans, Ergosterol, & Arginine
With compounds such as lectin, β-glucan, ergosterol, arginine, and additional bioactive compounds, medicinal mushrooms contain a powerful cocktail of unique properties. Research has found the following health effects of these compounds:
- Lectins: lectins are noted to have toxic effects on cancer cells, they promote cancer cell self-destruction (apoptosis), they prevent tumor growth through preferential binding to cancer cell membranes, and prevent blood vessel growth (angiogenesis) in tumors.
- β-glucans: found in mushroom cell walls, these polysaccharides stimulate immune system activity against cancer cells, bacteria, and viruses by promoting activity of natural killer cells, neutrophils, T-cells, macrophages, and monocytes.
- Ergosterol: ergosterol is a precursor to vitamin D which blocks blood vessel growth in tumors. Anti-cancer effects include anti-proliferative, anti-migratory/ anti-metastasis, and anti-tumor effects.
- Arginine: this semi-essential amino acid has been used to prolong survival in cancer patients by improving appetite, slowing metastasis, and slowing tumor growth.
Bioactive compounds: these vary by species, and include phenolic compounds and many other compounds with anti-virus, anti-blood clotting, anti-bacterial, inflammation reducing, anti-allergenic, anti-fungal, blood-sugar lowering, anti-oxidant, and neuron protecting effects.
Did you know? ––Humans have cellular receptors expressed widely in various tissues that recognize and react to mushroom and yeast β-glucans!! The same receptors also recognize and respond to various human immune T-cells—demonstrating yet another link between mushrooms and the immune system.
Each mushroom species possesses a unique combination of the compounds described above. Further, β-glucans are shaped and sized differently according to the species of mushrooms. These factors result in different bioactive effects that are at times unique to a mushroom species. Consuming a variety of mushroom species may be the best way to take advantage of the numerous health properties found across a range of species.
Are there any risks in consuming medicinal mushrooms?
Mushrooms have many potential health promoting properties. It must be recognized that finding safe, reliable sources of medicinal mushrooms is important. Mushrooms have the ability to absorb high levels of heavy metals such as nickel, mercury, and other toxins from their growth mediums. They have even been used to restore polluted environments due to this capability.
Not all mushrooms are safe or non-toxic, so it is best to stick with mushrooms with recognized safety profiles. Additionally, due to the potential to contain heavy metals, regular consumption while avoiding excessive/ obsessive consumption may be a wise approach.
Wrapping it up
Mushrooms have numerous fascinating health properties, as demonstrated by a growing body of research along with thousands of years of traditional, medicinal use.
Powerful stimulation of the immune system, along with antioxidant, anticancer, antimicrobial, and many additional health properties have been demonstrated in numerous labs, numerous animals, and several small human clinical trials.
More research is needed to validate these findings, but regular consumption of a variety of mushrooms should be part of any healthy diet plan.
And if you’re looking for a great way to include medicinal mushrooms in your diet, I strongly suggest starting with Lion’s Mane. We dove into 5 of the top lion’s mane supplements in this review here check out review on the best Lion’s Mane mushroom supplements.
Got a hankering for more awesome muchroom content? We’ve got you covered! Check out our piece on the best medicinal mushrooms for sleep here.
If you want to know exactly what to look for when choosing a mushroom supplement so you don’t get fooled by supplement companies, I created this guide for how to choose the best mushroom supplement every time.