Humans have been consuming mushrooms for health and nutrition for thousands of years. Many edible varieties are rich in vitamins and minerals while being low in calories and fat. Other species play an essential role in ancient healing systems, such as traditional East Asian medicine.
Nowadays, many experts consider mushrooms a functional food. What this means is that they may have benefits far beyond their nutritional value. Therefore, people around the globe are becoming intrigued about what these fabulous fungi have to offer.
This article explores some common uses of functional mushrooms and what makes them so special. Here is all you need to know.
Are Mushrooms Good for Health?
Absolutely! Mushrooms are among the healthiest foods around. They are low-calorie, low-fat,, high in fiber and rich in vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients.
Their nutrient value varies depending on the type, but, generally speaking, edible mushrooms may contain significant amounts of the following:
- B vitamins
- Vitamin C
Mushrooms also synthesize vitamin D when exposed to UV light. Unfortunately, though, most store-bought varieties grow in the dark, meaning they lack this essential nutrient.
However, it is possible to boost their vitamin D content by placing them in the sun for a couple of hours before consumption. Doing this makes mushrooms one of the top natural vitamin D sources for vegetarians and vegans.
Some edible mushrooms also contain a chemical called ergothioneine. It is an amino acid that experts believe has powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. A few other foods also contain ergothioneine, but button mushrooms and oyster mushrooms are some of the best sources.
Finally, a group of compounds called beta-glucans are responsible for most of the medicinal properties of mushrooms. They are a type of complex carbohydrate known as polysaccharides, and may have a positive impact on the immune system.
Various functional mushroom species also contain unique chemicals that give them distinct health benefits. We will discuss some of the most famous examples in more detail below.
Mushroom Health Benefits and Side Effects
Many of medicinal mushrooms’ benefits are due to their potential effects on the immune system. Reports suggest that they have a regulatory effect to help maintain a state of balance.
Different types of mushrooms also have specific uses, such as supporting mental clarity, improving energy, or promoting a sense of calm. However, the benefits of mushrooms in our body will vary depending upon their chemical makeup and the individual taking them.
With mushrooms being a type of food, most people can consume them without experiencing any issues. However, some people do have a bad reaction to certain varieties. For example, reported side effects of reishi mushrooms include:
- Dry mouth
- Stomach upset
Certain groups of people should also be cautious when using mushroom products, such as pregnant or nursing women and those with long-term health conditions. Mushroom supplements may also interact with certain medications. Therefore, it is recommended that individuals check with a physician before use.
Which Mushrooms Are the Healthiest?
Mushroom experts believe that many different species have beneficial effects. However, some have more research to support their use than others. Some of the best-known and best-researched mushrooms for health and wellbeing include:
- Lion’s mane
- Turkey tail
Below is a brief description of each of these mushrooms and their common uses. You can find more detailed information in our in-depth guides to each species.
Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) is among the most recognizable functional mushrooms in the world. It is prized in East Asian medicine and is sometimes known as the “Mushroom of Immortality.” It is traditionally believed to promote longevity and combat the signs of aging.
Like most mushrooms, reishi contains beta-glucans for immune system support. It is also rich in chemicals called triterpenes which give it a bitter taste.
Users report that this mushroom may help promote a state of calm and relaxation. Therefore, many people take it to assist healthy sleep cycles.
Lion’s mane (Hericium erinaceus) is another popular mushroom in East Asian culture. It is probably most famous as a gourmet mushroom with a delightful, seafood-like taste and meaty texture.
In the western world, lion’s mane is also gaining attention as a possible nootropic. Nootropics are substances that improve mental function, including memory, concentration, and more.
This mushroom could be the ultimate brain food as it contains two unique groups of compounds called hericenones and erinacines. They appear to stimulate the production of chemicals called nerve growth factors in the brain.
Users report improvements in focus and mental clarity, making this an excellent option for supporting mental wellness.
Turkey tail mushrooms (Trametes versicolor) are one of the most common mushrooms in the world. They grow on rotting wood in many countries and have muted brown caps with concentric rings like a turkey’s tail.
However, these mushrooms’ modest appearance belies their potential usefulness, and they are considered one of the best immune-boosters around.
In addition to containing an extensive array of antioxidants, they contain two primary active compounds: polysaccharopeptide (PSP) and polysaccharide krestin (PSK). These two chemicals have been the subject of multiple clinical trials with promising results.
Chaga (Inonotus obliquus) is prized in Russian and North European folk medicine. It is not technically a mushroom but a mass of mycelial tissue known as sclerotium. It grows on trees, primarily birch, and this feature is partially responsible for its benefits.
Chaga contains the triterpenes betulin and betulinic acid, which come from birch bark and reportedly have a range of therapeutic properties. Like other fungi, it is also a good source of polysaccharides.
People traditionally use chaga to support immune function and general wellbeing. It is often considered one of the best all-around mushrooms for health.
Cordyceps (Cordyceps sinensis or Cordyceps militaris) is a famous mushroom that develops in the bodies of insect larvae. This strange growth habit led to its Chinese name Dong Chong Xia Cao, meaning “winter worm, summer grass.”
Cordyceps grows at high altitudes in the Himalayan foothills and is extremely rare in the wild. Traditionally, this has made it one of the most expensive functional fungi around. However, scientists have now learned how to cultivate cordyceps making it more accessible than ever before.
It contains a chemical called cordycepin, and users report that it can increase energy levels and fight fatigue. Therefore, this mushroom is popular among athletes hoping to enhance their performance and other people who lead active lives.
What Is the Best Way to Take Medicinal Mushrooms?
Functional mushrooms tend to be hard and woody, although there are a few exceptions. Therefore, eating them like ordinary, edible mushrooms is not an option.
The most traditional way of using most varieties is by brewing them into a strong tea known as a decoction. However, there are several downsides to this method.
Firstly, it is time-consuming since it typically takes at least 40 minutes to extract the active compounds. Secondly, it can be challenging to measure an accurate dosage. Finally, some species like reishi are incredibly bitter, and many people do not enjoy the taste.
Therefore, most companies that sell mushroom supplements provide alternative consumption methods. Some offer extracts made using water or alcohol. Others grind their mushrooms into a powder that consumers can add to food or beverages.
However, here at VidaCap, we believe the most effective and convenient option is mushroom capsules. Each one contains a pre-measured dose of whole-mushroom powder so you can be sure you are getting a consistent amount every day.
The other significant advantage is that capsules are so easy to take. Simply swallow them with water as you would any other pill. There is no fuss, no mess, and no unpleasant flavor. Plus, all our capsule coatings are vegan-friendly, meaning everyone can enjoy the benefits of mushrooms for health with VidaCap.
Turkey Tail CapsulesDefend | Enhance | Protect
- Supports Immune System*
- Supports Gut Health*
- Packed with Immunity Activators*
- Packed with Beta Glucans*
- 60 Capsules Per Bottle
- 750mg of Turkey Tail Mushroom
Audrey has worked as a registered dietitian for 6 years. She graduated from the University of Florida in 2013 with a Bachelor of Science degree. In 2014 she began an internship with the Veterans Affairs Healthcare System, and was hired as an Outpatient Dietitian following graduation. She started her career counseling a variety of patients with different health concerns and disease states. After a few years into practice, she found her passion was working in cancer care, and has spent the last 4 years specializing in oncology nutrition.
In her practice, Audrey has spent a significant amount of time reviewing literature on herbal and dietary supplements in the cancer care setting. Through her work at Vidacap, she hopes to continue to expand her knowledge and understanding of the benefits of supplements in conjunction with promoting a healthy, balanced diet and management of overall health and well being.