Mushrooms have been recognized for their culinary attributes for centuries and were relished in the most influential civilizations in history. Currently, they are the focus of renewed research because of their therapeutic abilities. Nutritional benefits from mushrooms are in the form of a significant source of essential proteins, dietary non-digestible carbohydrates, unsaturated fats, minerals, as well as various vitamins, which have enhanced its consumption, and also resulted in the development of various processed mushroom products. Mushrooms are also a crucial ingredient in traditional medicine for their healing potential and curative properties.
Research shows that certain varieties of mushrooms are one of our best dietary sources of potent antioxidants, such as sulfur-rich ergothioneine and the major biological antioxidant, glutathione. A diet rich in antioxidants like ergothioneine and glutathione protects cells from free radicals, helping the body withstand normal oxidative stress that damages healthy cells. In addition to boosting longevity, mushrooms pack a serious nutritional punch, providing a great source of vitamin D, essential for a strong immune system function.
While different varieties provide unique benefits, most of them (including the common button mushrooms) generally:
-Boost immune health through antioxidants and beta-glucans that can help fight diseases.
-Increase energy levels through a good dose of Vitamin B and other vitamins and minerals.
-Support healthy digestion by being a source of dietary fiber.
And in certain types of adaptogenic mushrooms, they are claimed to:
In functional and holistic medicine, adaptogens are classified as natural sources of herbs and foods that help the body adapt to environmental and psychological stressors. Some common ones include ashwagandha, ginseng, and macca.
As with other foods, each adaptogen has a different effect on the body. Here’s a breakdown of the types of adaptogenic mushrooms and their unique benefits.
This mushroom is the most well-known adaptogen due to its wide availability. It is commonly used in Asian cooking and is known for its savory umami flavor.
Health Benefits: immune support, antioxidant-rich, detoxification
Maitake, or “hen of the woods,” mushrooms can also be found in grocery stores in its natural state. These have a more mild flavor than the shiitake, so you can cook them into most any dish. Because maitake mushrooms may increase immunity, scientific researchers are experimenting with them for cancer prevention and treatment.
Health Benefits: immune support, regulate blood sugar levels
These next mushrooms are less commonly found in grocery stores in their whole state, but most grocery stores carry them as a blend in supplemental form in the health aisles.
This mushroom has been used for over 2,000 years in Asian countries and is referred to as the “mushroom of immortality.” Studies show that reishi can treat a wide range of illnesses such as leukemia, diabetes, and hepatitis.
Health Benefits: Stress relief, restful sleep, immune support
Best used in: extract form and added to caffeine-free drinks like tea, golden milk latte, or hot cacao before bed.
This mushroom got its name from its physical resemblance to a fluffy white lion’s mane. Studies show that this mushroom can boost memory and brain health.
Health Benefits: Cognitive function, focus
Best used in: cooking, or extract form and added into coffee, tea, or smoothie.
Turkey tail mushrooms are so powerful that they are actually used as part of cancer treatments in countries like Japan and China.
Health Benefits: Digestive health, immune support
Best used in: extract form and added to any beverage
Cordyceps are growing in popularity amongst athletes due to its claimed ability to fight fatigue and promote stamina and endurance.
Health Benefits: energy, endurance, immune support
Best used in: extract form in coffee, teas, smoothies, or protein bars.
This mushroom is known for its high antioxidant content. In WWII, chaga was used as a coffee substitute in Finland due to its similar flavor and color to medium roast coffee.
Health Benefits: immune support, antioxidant-rich
Best used in: extract form in teas, coffee, broth, or smoothiesFinal Thoughts: The Healing Magic of Mushrooms
As with any supplement or superfood, use them as a boost to your overall wellness regimen, but not a cure-all for underlying health conditions. While mushrooms are generally safe to add into your foods, we recommend talking to your healthcare provider before increasing your intake to supplement forms (e.g. ready made powders, coffees, etc.).
Dried shiitake mushrooms can easily add deep savory flavor, umami, to dishes. I like to think of them as healthy little punches of flavor.
While fresh shiitake mushrooms are just as delicious, they can be harder to find, so having dried shiitake mushrooms stocked in your pantry means that you always have a flavorful ingredient at your fingertips. They’re easily found at Asian markets and can last for months, maybe even years, if stored in an airtight container in a cool place or the refrigerator.
If used in a soup, dried shiitakes can be added directly to the broth, where they'll soften as the soup simmers. Otherwise, dried shiitakes need to be soaked in hot water before they're used in a recipe. The stems are too tough to eat but can add good flavor to stocks and stews; just discard them before serving.
The bigger the dried mushroom, the longer you'll need to soak it. In general, smaller mushrooms need about half an hour, and thicker caps can take up an hour to soften. When the mushrooms have softened, pour the soaking liquid through a coffee filter or a sieve lined with a paper towel to strain out the grit, and reserve the liquid for use in other cooking—it adds delicious mushroom flavor to soups
In addition to the healthful mushrooms, garlic is an antibiotic, ginger a natural anti-inflammatory agent, and miso is full of probiotics.