Mushrooms are used both as food and medicine. In Asia alone, different kinds of mushrooms are known for their medicinal benefits. At least two hundred seventy different species of mushroom are known to have therapeutic properties. As early as the time of Materia Medica, mushrooms had been used as herbal medicines in China.
Research has focused on understanding the immunological and anti-cancer properties of mushrooms in recent years. However, mushrooms are also known for other health benefits, including:
- Liver protection
- Lower cholesterol levels
To further learn about the uses of certain mushrooms for medicinal purposes, here is a brief overview of some of the most commonly used mushrooms.
Turkey tail mushroom, Coriolus versicolor or multicolored mushroom, is also referred to as Trametes versicolor. They are found mainly in the woodlands of China and Europe. In the US, they are most commonly found in the oak woods of the Pacific Coast. They grow in clusters on fallen hardwood branches and trees. They are normally found in large colonies.
- Prevention of the common cold and flu Turkey tail is used to treat and prevent any infection, which includes the common cold and flu. It boosts the body’s immune system to effectively protect the body from disease.
- May provide support for chemotherapy patients Chemotherapy, a potent treatment for cancer, suppresses your immune system. With turkey tail mushroom, doctors aim to beef up the body’s immune system so that it can handle the weaknesses after each chemo session.
- Helps in the treatment and prevention of breast cancer Scientists released the result of a study conducted on an 83-year-old woman diagnosed with advanced, metastatic inflammatory breast cancer. The study showed how turkey tail mushrooms boosted the patient’s immune system by recognizing the tumor, proving it can be used for treatment.
- May help in the treatment of HPV (human papillomavirus) A study showed how the turkey tail mushroom can help HPV and other infections because of its immune system boosting action.
- Assists in digestion Mushrooms have mycelium which help in the digestion process. Mushrooms have prebiotics that help in the microbiome, meaning they assist in the growth of good bacteria. Examples of good bacteria are acidophilus and bifidobacterium, which are also beneficial to people suffering from leaky gut syndrome.
- May play a key role in the treatment of persons with HIV/AIDS Scientists reveal that turkey tail mushroom, when used with other East African mushrooms, may be useful in the treatment of patients with Kaposi’s sarcoma, which is a rare case of skin cancer that affects persons with HIV/AIDS. They further revealed that even HIV/AIDS patients without sarcoma can benefit from this treatment.
Lentinula edodes, or shiitake mushrooms, are mostly found in East Asia. Shiitake is the second most popular mushroom in the world. It is also the third most widely cultivated edible mushroom. For over 6000 years, the Chinese have used shiitake mushrooms for their medicinal properties.
Shiitake mushrooms are brown with slightly convex caps. The term shiitake is of Japanese origin – shii means wood that belongs to the Pasania tree where it is naturally grown, and take means mushroom.
- Essential to weight loss and fight obesity Shiitake mushrooms’ hypolipidaemic (fat-reducing) properties facilitate weight loss.
- Provides support to the body’s immune functions All types of mushrooms help boost your body’s immune system. Shiitake also helps reduce inflammation with increased consumption.
- Fight against cancer cells Studies show that shiitake is potentially an effective natural cancer treatment. Shiitake mushrooms suppress the growth of nonmalignant tumors into cancer cells. These mushrooms effectively initiate a process called apaptosis or programmed cell death.
- Maintain good cardiovascular health These mushrooms contain sterol compounds that inhibit the production of cholesterol in the liver. Also, they have potent phytonutrients that help keep cells from sticking to the walls of blood cells, thus preventing the buildup of plaque and improving circulation.
- Possess antimicrobial properties Shiitake mushrooms help protect against infections and help decrease the number of pathogenic organisms in the body, without harmful effects to “healthy” organisms.
- Helps boost brain function and energy Shiitake mushrooms are rich in B vitamins, which help support the body’s adrenal function and convert the nutrients you get from food into energy that your body can use. They also naturally maintain the balance of hormones.
Lion’s Mane or Hericium erinaceus has been used as a general tonic for hundreds of years. Known as Saty’s beard or yamabushitake, Lion’s mane mushrooms are found in China, Japan, Europe, and North America.
- Improves brain function, thereby improving focus and attention, and improving recall and memory.
- Aids in digestion Lion’s Mane has beta-glucan polysaccharides which are known to help improve the function of the stomach mucosa, an integral factor in the digestive process.
- Helps provide a neuroprotective effect Lion’s Mane is an effective nerve tonic, thus helping maintain a healthy nervous system.
- Aids in the repair of myelin sheaths Lion’s Mane promotes growth of myelin found around the nerves.
- Natural antidepressant It helps induce the synthesis of NGF, a contributing element that improves a person’s mood, decreases anxiety, and helps reduce the symptoms of depression.
- Boosts the immune system Lion’s Mane is rich in anti-oxidants, beta-glucan, and beta-glucoxylan, which help enhance the immune system. It also has anti-inflammatory properties.
Birch bracket, or Piptoporus betulinus (also known as razor strop), is the most common polyporous bracket fungus. It is so named because brackets are seen to burst out from the bark of the Birch tree.
- Helps in the treatment of cancer Birch bracket contains the compounds matric metallo-proteinase inhibitors, which are known to slow down the growth of cancer cells.
- Anti-inflammatory because of the triterpene acids it contains. Helps in faster wound healing because of its antiseptic and antibacterial properties. It also helps stop bleeding.
- Inhibits angiogenesis, which is the formation of new blood cells occurring during tumor growth.
- Antiviral action. Birch polypore extract contains betulinic acid, which is useful in blocking the reproduction of HIV.
- Helps correct hormonal imbalances It is known as an aromatase inhibitor, which means that it prevents the conversion of androgen hormones into estrogen.
Commonly referred to as wood ear, Judas ear, or cloud ear, black fungus (Auricularia polytricha) is dark brown to black in color. It is abundant in Asia and some Asia Pacific islands that have predominantly humid climates.
- Helps improve blood circulation Black fungus contains a chemical which can inhibit blood clotting, thus improving circulation. It also has anticoagulant substances that are similar to what aspirin has, which act as blood thinners.
- Helps lower cholesterol levels Lab tests show that black fungus can effectively lower cholesterol levels and blood sugar levels.
- Helps ease hemorrhoid symptoms Since black fungus facilitates blood circulation, it also helps ease symptoms and treat hemorrhoids.
- Helps alleviate discomfort due to dryness of the mouth, throat, and cough. It helps moisten blood and facilitates blood circulation.
- Has antiviral and antitumor properties Contains traces of the mineral germanium, which is known to energize the body to fight off viruses.
Agaricus bisporus is the common white button mushroom. It is also known as cultivated mushroom, champignon mushroom, Italian brown mushroom, and crimini mushroom. It originated in the grasslands of North America and Europe. If grown in a natural habitat, it looks greyish brown. Its cap when young is hemispherical in shape, but flattens out as it grows.
It should not be confused with the poisonous and dangerous destroying angel. The gills of Agaricus bisporus are pink (or brown), while the gills of the killer mushroom are snow white.
- Contains huge amounts of Vitamin D which is beneficial to your health.
- Excellent natural nutritional supplement Button mushroom has proteins, enzymes, and B Vitamin complex, essential nutrients needed by the body to generate energy and repair damaged cells.
- Enhances your immune system as it also has curative powers known to improve eyesight, blood circulation, and impotency. It also helps treat migraine headaches, common infections, and tumors.
- Helps in preventing the growth and regrowth of cancer cells Button mushroom contains biologically active substances that help fight cancer.
- Contains (CLA) conjugated linoleic acid which fights cancer. CLA minimizes the effects of the aromatase enzyme, reducing the risks of high estrogen levels, which is associated with breast cancer.
- Has anti-inflammatory properties Studies show that white button mushrooms inhibit the production of pro-inflammatory molecules.
- Boosts cardiovascular health as it prevents certain immune cells from binding with the lining of the heart’s aorta.
Agaricus blazei mushrooms, or Agaricus blazei Murill, is found in large amounts in Piedade, a small Brazilian village. It is known for its low calorie content and high nutrient density. It is also found in China, Korea, and Taiwan.
- Boosts the body’s immune system, as it has polysaccharides, compounds which modulate the immune system.
- May help counter weight gain It expends more energy causing you to move more, burning more calories.
- Helps in the treatment of hepatitis B and diabetes Studies show that Agaricus blazei Mulli helps normalize liver function. In addition, other research reveals that it improves your resistance to insulin, alleviating the damage caused by oxidative stress in diabetics
- Facilitates chemical and toxin cleansing The beta-glucan polysaccharides in Agaricus blazei help promote the growth of protectives cells. These cells assist in the detoxification process to eliminate harmful chemicals and toxic metal residues.
The Chaga mushroom, or Inonotus obliquus, grows on birch trees found in places in the Northern Hemisphere. It has been used as tea in the East for centuries.
- Boosts the immune system The beta D-glucans in chaga mushrooms balances the response of your immune system, boosting its functions in the process, but slows it down when it becomes overactive. Research reveals that chaga mushroom activates the immune cells that fight cancer initiation.
- Its soothing properties alleviate the symptoms of irritation. It also helps minimize, if not eliminate, pain.
- Supports gastrointestinal health because of its immune boosting properties. It also helps soothe the pain caused by ulcers and other gastro-related conditions.
- Helps regulate blood pressure and cholesterol levels Studies show that the betulinic can effectively break down bad cholesterol in your bloodstream.
- Antimicrobial properties Extracts show high levels of anti-microbial and antioxidant activity.
More commonly known as “hen of the woods” or “sheep’s head,” maitake (Grifola frondosa), is usually found at the base of oak trees, growing in large clumps. It is one of the most popular kinds of mushroom used in a variety of dishes. It is native to Japan, Europe, and North America.
- Helps regulate cholesterol levels in the blood In recent research, maitake mushrooms effectively lower liver cholesterol levels. Maitake facilitates an increase in the activity of genes in the liver, facilitating lipid transport.
- Manages blood sugar levels, thus preventing diabetes, studies reveal. Maitake contains MT-alpha-glucan polysaccharide, which lowers levels of fasting blood sugar and insulin. It also helps increase glycogen levels in the liver.
- Boosts the immune system by increasing the production of white blood cells to help activate the body’s immune response to infections.
- May inhibit cancer development and spread as maitake contains D-fraction. It also increases the potency of chemotherapy drugs.
Mesima, Phellinus linteus, is a mushroom that looks like a hoof. Other names include song-gen, meshimakobu, and sang-hwang. The colors of the stalk may vary from brown to black. Mesima is mainly grown in China, Japan, and Korea, and mainly grows on the stems and branches of the mulberry tree. It is considered a medicinal plant.
- Treatment for medical conditions like hemorrhage, diarrhea, gastrointestinal dysfunction, and cancers.
- Boosts your immune system as it contains beta D-glutan and lectin.
- Helps regulate blood sugar levels due to the presence of the compound, interfungins A.
- Controls bleeding in the ovaries and excessive bleeding during a woman’s menstruation. It also helps stop intestinal bleeding.
- An excellent antioxidant due to the substance known as hispidin. It helps eliminate harmful free radicals.
Oyster mushroom, Pleurotus ostreatus, originated from Germany. It is commonly referred to as oyster shelf, tamogitake, straw mushroom, and tree oyster. Its cap is colored white-gray or tan-dark brown.
- Helps maintain your blood sugar levels Oyster mushroom contains substantial amounts of vitamin D, which helps reduce inflammation and increases sensitivity to insulin.
- Enhances the immune system Vitamin D is also needed in the replication of healthy cells. It also helps protect the autoimmune conditions of the body to fight off flu and the common cold. It also has anti-inflammatory properties.
- Ensures cardiovascular health The vitamin B3 in oyster mushroom helps balance the levels of triglycerides and cholesterol, thus preventing heart ailments. It also helps improve blood circulation and reduces the production of histamine and inflammation.
- Helps maintain clear and healthy skin Vitamin B3 develops into niacinamide, which helps in the treatment of acne, and reduces swelling, irritation, and skin inflammation.
- Ensures a healthy brain Studies show that the copper in oyster mushroom has a significant impact on brain pathways. This helps maintain energy, outlook, mood, and focus.
- Helps in the treatment of anemia The vitamin B2 in oyster mushroom is essential in the production of red blood cells and the process of steroid hormone synthesis. It facilitates the transport of oxygen in the body and helps mobilize iron.
- Boosts energy The vitamin B in oyster mushroom facilitates the conversion of carbohydrate into glucose, which will be used as fuel for the body. Vitamin B also helps synthesize the body and aids in the metabolism of fats and proteins. Vitamin B5 helps rebuild muscles, organs, and tissues.
Cordyceps sinensis is more popularly known as caterpillar fungus. It is often mistaken for a mushroom; however, it is a parasitic fungus. It is native to Tibet and China. It is formed when fungus attacks moth caterpillars, thus infecting them with spores, during the fall and winter. As spring is ushered in, the fungus has completely killed and mummified the caterpillar. It produces a long slender body.
- Helps promote longevity and vitality It can effectively slow down the signs of aging.
- Boosts endurance It is often used by people who have demanding activities, like in sports. It also helps strengthen the respiratory system.
- Cordyceps sinensis has anti-stress and anti-fatigue benefits
- Helps strengthen the cardiovascular system Cordyceps improves blood circulation, while regulating high blood pressure, and inhibiting blood clots, irregular heartbeat, anemia and high cholesterol level. It also helps prevent hyperlipidemia, which is one of the major causes of cardiovascular diseases.
- Aids in the treatment of diabetes and depression Studies show that when Cordyceps is enriched with vanadium, it can be used to treat diabetes and depression.
- An effective healing tonic, it helps speed up recovery from injuries. It also initiates fast recovery from fatigue and body malaise. It is also used as a recovery supplement during chemo sessions.
- Helps strengthen renal function by acting as an effective diuretic, thereby preventing the accumulation of excess toxins in the body.
- Cordyceps sinensis offers relief to various bronchial conditions, like asthma, chronic bronchitis, and coughs.
- Known for its anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties Medical researchers believe that its constant use helps shrink tumors, prevent and treat cancer, and prevents relapse of some infections and illnesses.
- Acts as an immune system booster As Cordyceps sinensis helps promote the production of antibodies, it enhances your body’s resistance to bacterial and viral infections.
- It is also useful in the treatment of addiction to opium.
- Known to help treat liver diseases, including hepatitis.
It should be noted, however, that while there are no case studies that support its harmful effects on pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers, doctors discourage its use. It is also not recommended for those suffering from lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and multiple sclerosis.
Enokitake, Flammulina veluptipes, is more popularly known as enoki mushrooms or enokidake. They are long and thin with small caps on one end. China, Korea, and Japan are the main sources of enoki mushrooms.
- Boosts the body’s immune system Aside from the many essential nutrients enoki mushroom contains, it also has antioxidants.
- Helps decrease and eliminate gut fat Enoki mushrooms are non-meat sources of CLA or conjugated linoleic acid, which assists in reducing body fat. The linoleic acid helps decrease gut fat.
- Helps regulate your blood sugar levels Enoki mushrooms contain substantial amounts of fiber, which also helps in lowering cholesterol levels. It also helps shave off excess weight.
- Ensures normal bowel movements and prevents constipation. This is because of the substantial amount of fiber enoki mushrooms contain.
- Promotes brain development The different amino acids in enoki mushrooms help encourage mental development and boost memory. Enoki mushroom also plays a huge role in the maintenance and conditioning of the brain to enhance intelligence in children. in fact, it is recognized as the “fungus that encourages intellectual development.”
- Helps prevent allergic reactions Frequent consumption of enoki mushrooms helps prevent rhinitis, eczema, asthma, and other allergic reactions.
- Helps regulate blood lipid levels and decreases blood cholesterol levels to prevent hyperlipidemia. Adding enoki mushrooms to your diet also helps lower the risk of coronary diseases.
- Boosts your body’s metabolic processes Regularly eating enoki mushrooms facilitates biological activity of your body which helps improve your metabolism, allowing your body to better absorb the needed nutrients.
Lingzhi (Chinese), Ganoderma lucidum, is more popularly known as reishi (Japanese) mushrooms. It is highly revered in ancient Eastern medicine. Reishi mushroom is known as the mushroom of immortality and the medicine of kings.
- Anti-aging agent It has been recognized for thousands of years for its contribution to humans’ longevity, hence the name, mushroom of immortality. The polysaccharides in reishi mushrooms boost the body’s immune system. Reishi also has antioxidant properties that help neutralize harmful free radicals, thus preventing premature aging.
- Helps in the prevention and treatment of cancer The triterpenoids in reishi mushrooms help reduce the metastasis of cancer cells and prevent growth of tumors.
- Helps detoxify the body Studies show that reishi mushroom extracts facilitate regeneration of healthy liver cells and the elimination of harmful free radicals.
- Known for its anti-inflammatory properties Reishi mushrooms increase the amount of blood flow to the brain, hence, aside from reducing inflammation from arthritis and gout, it also helps in the treatment of cognitive disorders.
- Relief for respiratory conditions The reishi mushroom extract is used to help reduce irritation and eliminate allergic reactions for those suffering from bronchitis, asthma, and other chronic respiratory illnesses. It helps prevent the release of histamine, thus preventing various conditions – from mild skin irritation to life threatening symptoms of anaphylaxis.
- Helps regulate blood pressure One of the most pervasive problems today is hypertension. Cardiovascular ailments and other complications remain the major killer around the world. Reishi mushrooms can help improve blood flow to the heart and thereby regulate high blood pressure. It also facilitates more oxygenation for the rest of the body and organs by reducing the amount of oxygen that the heart consumes. There are also studies that prove reishi mushroom extract helps reduce bad cholesterol levels in your blood, further strengthening the body’s protection against heart attacks and strokes.
Chestnut mushroom, Agrocybe aegerita, belongs to the white rot fungi family, however, it looks more like the button mushroom with a darker color. Its gills are colored pink to dark brown, getting the name, brown cap mushroom. It is largely found in China, Japan, Korea, and Australia.
- Keeps the digestive organs healthy The Chinese also use it to keep kidneys functioning properly.
- Known for its anti-inflammatory, antibiotic, anti-tumor, and antifungal properties It contains compounds that fight against the cyclooxygenase enzyme.
- Has anti-cancer properties Chestnut mushrooms have metabolites, like Cylindan, which helps prevent cancer.
Tinder conk, Fomes fomentarius, also goes by the names tinder polypore, hoof fungus, ice man, and tinder fungus. Their bodies resemble a horse’s hoof. Colors range from silver gray to black.
- Used as a cauterization substance to treat wounds. It is also used to stop bleeding. It is known as surgeon’s agaric.
- Medication for hemorrhoids It is also used to alleviate symptoms of dysmenorrhea.
- Used as a diuretic in ancient Indian medicine. It is also utilized as a laxative to induce bowel movement.
Sparassis crispa is more commonly known as cauliflower mushroom because of its resemblance to the vegetable. It is also called brain fungus because it looks like a brain. Other names include ruffle mushroom, white fungus, hen of the words, and in Japanese, hanabiratake. Generally, it takes on an irregular spherical shape with a short stem. The color of the spores vary from white to pale yellow. It has a distinctly delicious taste.
It grows in conifer trees and hardwoods in countries like the US, Korea, Australia, and Japan. The cauliflower mushroom can weigh up to six kilograms, and is considered to be the biggest of all types of mushrooms. It can be harvested even when it is still white in color. However, it if turns yellow, it means that it it overripe and you might suffer indigestion when you eat it. Some people dry and preserve them so that they remain cartilaginous, with the nutrients still intact.
- Increases the blood’s hemoglobin levels, thereby strengthening the body’s immune system. Hemoglobin is responsible for carrying oxygen and circulating it throughout the body. When your blood’s hemoglobin decreases below the required level, you suffer from anemia. This usually occurs in cases of abnormal blood loss, like during accidents and problematic deliveries.
- Known for its anti-tumor properties, hence, it is used in the treatment of sarcoma.
- Helps counter fungal diseases, including Athlete’s foot and onychomycosis (fungal infection affecting the nails).
Active Compounds in Mushrooms
They are responsible for the bitter taste of the Ganoderma. Triterenes are a group of active natural compounds found in plants. They are proven to strengthen the digestive system, fight allergies, reduce inflammation, and fight tumor causing cells.
Polysaccharides are the most abundant carbohydrates. They are polymers that have ten or more simple sugar units. They have two main functions: structural support and energy storage.
Phenols are a group of compounds that are beneficial to one’s overall health. They are used for cancer prevention, as anti-aging tools, and antioxidants.
Sterols are natural fatty substances found in plants. They have a similar structure to that of cholesterol. They have health benefits, like boosting the immune system, controlling cholesterol levels, and relief from prostate diseases.
Statins are a class of medicines used to lower blood cholesterol levels. They inhibit the HMG-CoA reductase enzyme, which controls the production of cholesterol in the liver.
Indole is also known as benzopyrrole. It is a heterocyclic organic compound found in some flower oils like orange blossom and jasmine, coal tar, and fecal matter. It is a colorless solid that has a pleasant smell. Indole compound is used in making perfumes. It is also utilized in the production of tryptophan, an essential amino acid, and indoleacetic acid or heteroauxin hormone, which facilitates the development of roots in plant cuttings.