How to Use 7 Functional Mushrooms to Improve Your Health
Now we have functional mushrooms, but did you know the whole planet was once covered in a forest filled with GIGANTIC mushrooms instead of trees?
Im talking over 24 feet tall, and about 3 feet wide.
Mushrooms themselves have shifted gears a little bit, but they are pretty cool.
Get ready to explore the secret world of functional mushrooms!
These incredible superfoods have a long history in ancient medicine and nutrition, and now they’re exactly what our modern-day lifestyles need.
We’ll look at seven unique varieties – Lion’s mane, Reishi, Chaga, Turkey Tail, and Cordyceps – and discover how we can best utilize them for better health.
Plus learn about growing or even foraging these amazing fungi!
With all their health benefits, functional mushrooms are becoming super popular as an easy addition to your daily diet.
From boosting immunity to reducing stress levels they could unlock the potential, maybe even beyond what you thought possible – so why not give one of them a try today?
Now it’s time to unlock the power of medicinal fungi!
What are Functional Mushrooms?
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Functional mushrooms are the newest and most ancient superfood on the block.
These adaptogenic herbs and mushrooms have medicinal-like properties that can help with stress and anxiety and have even been known to boost brain power.
But don’t worry – functional mushrooms won’t turn you into a fungus, (this ain’t no HBO Show!) they’re simply packed with benefits!
From chaga to cordyceps, these adaptogenic mushrooms are becoming increasingly popular for their adaptability and nourishing powers.
If you want to fortify your health and well-being, give functional mushrooms a try – they just might be the magic ingredient you need!
A Brief History of Functional Mushrooms
The use of medicinal mushrooms goes way back, dating back several millennia to ancient China, Greece, and Scandinavia.
Often cherished for their strong curative properties and nutritional benefits, these fungi also hold ceremonial, spiritual and military significance in these civilizations.
One of the earliest documented records of medicinal mushroom usage dates back to the 5th century in China, where the Reishi mushroom was thought of as “the mushroom of immortality.”
Reserved primarily for the aristocracy in ancient China, the Reishi mushroom was believed to bestow health, longevity, and increase wisdom for those who ate it.
Around the same period in ancient Greece, physicians also were learning a lot about the therapeutic uses of various fungi.
They categorized mushrooms according to their anti-inflammatory properties and their ability to help cauterize wounds.
The Agarikon mushroom, for instance, was credited by the Greek physician Dioscorides for its efficacy in treating numerous illnesses, including asthma and bronchitis.
Furthermore, leading philosophers and cultural icons of the time, such as Socrates and Plato, delved into the psychoactive properties of mushrooms – concocting hallucinogenic drinks and facilitating spiritual experiences during spring festivals.
While the Chinese and Greeks were harnessing the medicinal benefits of mushrooms, the Vikings of ancient Scandinavia arguably employed these fungi for entirely different purposes.
Legends suggest that the Vikings believed the consumption of mushrooms, specifically the Amanita muscaria, before the battle would fuel them with courage, strength, and fury, transforming them into fearsome warriors.
This practice, thought to have induced altered states of consciousness and heightened perceptions, became an essential component in the rite and ritual of warfare.
7 FUNctional Mushrooms
As a devoted mycophile and holistic health enthusiast, I have spent years researching and experimenting with various functional mushrooms.
Throughout this journey, I have discovered seven particular mushroom types that consistently stand out for their rich history, potent health benefits, and significant impact on cognitive function.
Each of these fungi provides unique properties that support brain health, improve memory, help the immune system, and increase concentration.
Get ready to embark on a captivating exploration of these extraordinary mushrooms and uncover the secrets behind their remarkable potential to enhance your cognitive function.
The Brain Shroom: Lions Mane Mushrooms
Lion’s Mane, scientifically termed as Hericium erinaceus, is called lions mane because of how this gorgeous white mushroom has these funny little cascading spines that make it almost look like a lions mane.
This functional mushroom is one of the most researched ones, for its incredible properties are also the most obvious when you consume it.
Predominantly found in the deciduous forests of North America, Europe, and Asia, Lion’s Mane mushrooms thrive on the trunks of hardwood trees such as oak and beech.
One of the most fascinating qualities of Lion’s Mane mushrooms is their potential to support healthy brain function and facilitate neuron generation.
Lion’s Mane mushrooms naturally produce critical bioactive compounds that can stimulate the synthesis of nerve growth factor (NGF), a unique protein involved in the growth, maintenance, and survival of neurons.
NGF is incredibly essential for optimal cognitive performance and healthy brain function as it protects and repairs nerve cells while fostering new neuronal growth.
A ton of studies have delved into the potential therapeutic effects of Lion’s Mane on various neurological issues, including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and nerve injury.
Another interesting area that is starting to be researched is the power this special mushroom has to support healthy blood sugar and how it might be helpful for diabetics.
Molli Lou’s Marbles
If you take a couple of individual capsules of dried lion’s mane, you will probably notice shortly after an almost euphoric feeling. While you may not experience this every day taking it long term, I will say I absolutely notice the difference if I skip a day or two.
That’s why I always suggest people who are thinking about including it in their supplement stack consider taking capsules that are exclusively lions mane rather than just a combo capsule.
The Mushroom of Immortality: Reishi Mushrooms
Reishi mushrooms, scientifically known as Ganoderma lucidum, have been revered in traditional Asian medicine for their numerous health benefits, including bolstering the immune system, promoting longevity, and supporting healthy aging.
In Asia, pregnant women consume this “mushroom of immortality” to boost their own immunity and transfer those benefits to their offspring, resulting in Reishi babies who are said to be some of the most chill most easy-going babies ever.
Consistently adding reishi to your daily routine, thanks to the polysaccharides, can lead to huge improvements in immune function, making it possible for your body to be better at fighting infections and diseases, osmosis jones style.
Recent studies have shown that the compounds in reishi might actually help cancer patients.
Reishi mushrooms can also cause cell death in cancer cells, (basically getting these little cancer cells to commit suicide) preventing them from forming the new blood vessels cancer needs to survive and doesn’t let cancer spread from one organ to another.
Not only can they do all that, but taking this mushroom during chemo has also been shown to help the patients feel fewer side effects from the treatment itself.
All the amazing things it does for cancer patients aside, it’s still really incredible for you even if you don’t have cancer.
It can help you get better sleep, create give you peace of mind, help minimize stress responses, support overall breathing health, and help with maintaining healthy blood sugar levels.
So regardless of who you are, maybe try to add some regular reishi time in your life.
Molli Lou’s Marbles
Although I didn’t know to do this with my first two babies, my third baby was a reishi baby. My MIL is Chinese, my husband is Korean, so I was encouraged to give it a try. I obviously cant say it’s absolutely the reason why, but my third child has been the most easy going chilled out baby of the 3 of them. She’s a fantastic sleeper and rarely cries. She seems to have more trust in us, and her nervous system is naturally better regulated. She just seems to trust that we will get her what she needs, and gives the occasional shout instead of cry if we take too long.
Not a Mushroom: Chaga Mushrooms
While Chaga isn’t technically a mushroom, (it’s a woody canker or conk) it’s still full of amazing mushroom-like adaptogenic qualities.
It’s super good for your skin and stomach and has had over 200 studies done on it to prove it.
Most of the benefits that come from this not a mushroom actually have to do with how it’s grown.
They’ve tried to cultivate it in a lab setting, but have failed horribly since they grow it on grain rather than a birch tree, so of course it didn’t contain any benefits of the amazing birch, or even canker for that matter.
Thankfully Finland (surprise surprise!) came to the rescue and started putting it on birch trees, which they have plenty of. (Birch, education, cankers, conks, and happiness, Finland has it all!)
The outer layer of the canker is dark black, and choc full of melanin, which is why it’s so good for your skin. (although I don’t think there is any hope of it helping us Finns with a tan)
Other things that make Chaga special are how they are high in antioxidants, supports the immune system and digestion, regulates inflammation, and the important antimicrobial substances it contains.
The Rainbow Mushroom: Turkey Tail Mushrooms
Turkey tail is fabulous for immune function.
What it does is simulate cytokine production, which in turn increases the number of natural killer cells in the immune system process.
The PBP (protein-bound polysaccharides) that are in turkey tail are incredibly well-researched when it comes to their ability to support and boost immune functions.
These PBP compounds improve and enhance things like T-cells (a type of white blood cell)
Turkey tail is a great option for use with a combination of other shrooms.
It loves to collaborate and synergize.
You might have seen these before, I find them to be one of the easiest ones to spot.
They grow on dead fallen logs in the woods, and they get their name from how they fan out like feathers on a turkeys tail.
It works really well with reishi, although it gets less street cred.
Turkey tail is sort of the old faithful as far as functional mushrooms go, but we shouldn’t take it for granted!
The Energy Booster: Cordyceps Mushrooms
Much like Chaga, cordyceps are hard to produce and cultivate in captivity.
The difference though is that rather than growing on birch trees, they grow on caterpillars.
You read that right.
Obviously, that makes it a bit tricky to mimic its natural growth.
Thankfully there are a few varieties other than the caterpillar ones, and even if they don’t match up 100 percent to the benefits of the original, Cordyceps militaris is very similar and doesn’t require the same very specific growing conditions.
More often than not your going to see Cordyceps sinensis grown in North America.
This one won’t have nearly as many benefits to be worth it due to the lower levels of mycelium and beta-glucans.
Mushroom supplements aren’t as simple as just choosing a variety.
Elixir of Long Life: Agarikon Mushrooms
Foraging for this shroom is going to be a struggle.
It’s all but extinct in England, but there’s been more discovered in the USA and Canada.
Although there are over 70 strains we currently know of this mushroom, they love to hide out deep in old-growth forests.
Despite the many adversities faced by the agarikon mushroom, they can live up to 75 years.
It’s one of the earliest recorded medicines in history, used for common ailments like colds or stomach aches.
If you are lucky enough to find one of these might beasts, be gentle, and warned it’s known to taste incredibly bitter.
A Womans BFF: Mesima Mushrooms
While most medicinal qualities of the mushrooms on this list are about immune function and inflammation, mesima mushrooms are a little different.
They are known to be excellent for all areas of women’s health, allergies, and okay yes, the immune system.
The direct translation of its name even means “Woman’s Island” because of how well it supports women’s health issues, like out-of-wack menstrual cycles, and breast health.
It’s also generally just good at helping with its powerful blood-staunching abilities.
Things to Be Mindful of While Experimenting With Functional Mushrooms
When experimenting with functional mushrooms, it is important to be mindful of the source of the mushroom.
It is best to opt for organic, non-GMO sources.
The compounds we seek from mushrooms are often more concentrated in fruiting bodies and can provide greater therapeutic benefits.
Look for supplements that have been extracted from the fruiting body with water or alcohol instead of ground-up mycelium powder, because you’ll get more benefit from it.
Advanced Skill level: How to Forage Your Own Functional Mushrooms
Foraging for functional, edible mushrooms can be a rewarding and sustainable practice, allowing you to incorporate these nutritious fungi into your diet while connecting with nature.
However, it is essential to ensure that you procure the right mushrooms and follow best practices during the process.
Lions mane and reishi mushrooms are relatively easy to identify and have no toxic lookalikes.
However, some mushrooms may resemble edible varieties but can be potentially harmful or fatal if ingested.
Thus, it is crucial to invest time in understanding and accurately identifying the species desired before heading out to forage.
Chaga mushrooms ALWAYS grow on birch trees and are identifiable by their black outer crust that resembles burnt charcoal.
Ensure that you are only harvesting chaga from birch trees to minimize the risk of confusion with another non-edible tree fungus.
Mushroom hunting best practices:
1. Taking only what you need: Leave at least 50% of the available mushrooms, allowing them to continue their growth and reproduction cycle.
2. Harvesting mature mushrooms: Pick only those specimens that have already released their spores to minimize any disturbance to their reproductive process.
3. Using a porous harvest bag: This allows the spores to spread as you move, thus contributing to the mushroom population’s proliferation.
4. Treading lightly: Be mindful of your footprints and their impact on soil compaction and erosion.
5. Employing a gentle touch: Utilize a small blade and brush (click to see my favorite keychain tool!) to remove debris without damaging the mushroom or surrounding plants.
Remember, the key to sustainable mushroom hunting lies in respecting the environment and the native organisms inhabiting the area.
Once you’ve successfully harvested your functional mushrooms, remember to store and eat them properly.
Clean them thoroughly and either cook or dry them before consuming, as some mushrooms may contain indigestible compounds when raw.
Other Ideas and Options to Use Functional Mushrooms
Functional mushrooms, such as mushroom powder, can be used in a variety of ways.
You can make tea or blend the powder into smoothies and other drinks to enjoy the benefits they provide.
It can also be mixed into soups, stews, and sauces. You can even add it to bread and cakes for an added nutritional boost.
Capsules are another option if you would prefer to take them in pill form rather than adding them to food or drink.
There are so many functional mushroom products available now it makes it easier than ever to use them to boost your health!
Using a lion’s mane mushroom instead of crab makes a great substitute and tastes very similar as well! YUM!
For those interested in exploring new recipes with functional mushrooms, there are plenty of cookbooks available with creative ideas that you can use to make delicious dishes that will benefit your health.
Final Thoughts and My Experience With Functional Mushrooms
My experience with functional mushrooms has been an eye-opening one that has made me think more deeply about brain health and its importance in maintaining an overall healthy lifestyle.
I have appreciated the addition of mushrooms to my diet and the way they seem to bring balance to an otherwise unpredictable brain.
I’m sure there are many areas where they can be incorporated into my daily routine, and I love teaching my kids all about them.
They are fabulous to support immune function, have anti cancer properties, and a high nutritional value.
While some may take them simply as a brain booster, I prefer the ease with which they complement a balanced diet, and consider them essential for supporting brain health.
Mushrooms are more than a food, they are a lifestyle.