Most people consume a very limited variety of mushroom species. In fact the majority consume mostly the white button mushroom. Whilst the button mushroom is a low carbohydrate food and therefore especially helpful for those trying to manage energy levels and whilst it contains a number of valuable nutrients, including some protein, enzymes, B vitamins (especially niacin), and vitamin D2 there are far more potent mushrooms available.
One of the best ways of consuming mushrooms, to get the greatest medicinal value from them, is in their dried form. In fact, even consuming dried white button mushroom extract has been found to be as effective as taking a vitamin D supplement for increasing vitamin D levels.
When it comes to using mushrooms as possible alternatives to supplements and even medication there’s some compelling evidence. For example, mushrooms have developed such strong antibiotics – their own defence mechanism against bacterial invasion - that they could be considered as a possible antibiotic for human use. After all penicillin, streptomycin, and tetracycline all come from fungal extracts.
Mushrooms are known to boost the immune system. They’re able to do so due to their long chain polysaccharides, particularly alpha and beta glucan molecules. We don’t need to consume a lot to gain from these alpha and beta glucan molecules. Simply adding 1 - 2 teaspoonfuls of dried shiitake mushroom to a dish for example was found to have a beneficial, modulating effect on our immune system function. (See new research here).
This is the term used to describe the treating or healing of the body with mushrooms. There are multiple ways in which mushrooms – different types – have been used to heal or treat the human body in the past. Some of these more traditional uses also hint at how these could be used in the future and in fact there are some very exciting new findings in relation to the anti-tumour properties of certain medicinal mushrooms too.
Let’s take a look at some of the types of mushrooms and how they could benefit human health:
Shitake is one of the medicinal mushrooms you may be able to find in your supermarket. It’s very popular in dishes from many parts of the world, in particular Asian cooking. Whilst people know it is healthy they don’t always know why. In fact, the shitake mushroom has several health boosting properties. Not least is lentinan which is a polysaccharide. The plant name for shitake is in fact Lentinus Edodes. Lentinan has already been used to treat stomach and other cancers because of its antitumor properties.
Shitake mushrooms have been shown to demonstrate immune boosting properties by increasing the body’s natural production of secretory IgA which is our first line of immune defence as it secreted across the mucosal lining. (see pubmed reference)
Furthermore, these mushrooms demonstrate both anti-fungal and anti-viral properties and have been shown to inhibit both leukaemia cell proliferation and reduce the activity of the HIV (virus). (see pubmed reference)
Finally, Shiitake also contain a substance called eritadenine, which is linked to lowering overall cholesterol levels.
Reishi has been used medicinally in Asia for thousands of years. It shares a common property with Shitake in that it is also found to have anti-tumour effects. (See pubmed reference)
It is found to be an effective anti-fungal and anti-bacterial. One of the extremely useful properties of reishi is in breaking down the normally impermeable biofilms of candida species. These are notoriously very difficult to break through making recovery from some types of candida very difficult without using mycotherapy. (See pubmed reference)
Cordyceps are used commonly by athletes because they’re known to increase the production of ATP and therefore provide advantages including stamina and endurance. (see pubmed reference)
Studies show that cordycepin, one of the active medicinal compounds found in cordyceps, has anti-tumour properties. They’re also known to have powerful anti-inflammatory properties. The findings indicate that cordycepin acts by a completely different mechanism than currently used in anti-inflammatory drugs, making it a potential drug for patients in which these drugs don't work well. (see medical news today)
Turkey Tail is perhaps less well-known but no less important when it comes to biological and medicinal value. Its benefits include anti-tumour properties, immune-boosting properties, elimination of prostate cancer cells and helping to control the intestinal microbiome. This last benefit is further enhanced by it’s role as a prebiotic – i.e. the fuel for the probiotic bacteria naturally present in the gut. As our understanding of the critical role the microbiome plays in multiple aspects of health this mushroom is well worth investing in and completing your medicinal mushroom cabinet.
How else can medicinal mushrooms be of use?
Mushrooms are especially efficient at breaking down toxins. They are capable of transforming them to form that our body can eliminate. One of their unique features is that they contain the enzymes required for phases I and II detoxification. In phase I, toxins are decomposed, which releases numerous free radicals. Being able to break down the free radicals using their anti-oxidant properties in Phase II makes mushrooms very suited to detoxification during periods of stress or illness.
How to include medicinal mushrooms in your diet
Mushroom powders can give umami – our fifth taste – effect to foods so they’re worth considering for most dishes to add that extra satisfying taste and mouthfeel. However here are some ideas to get you started:
- Sprinkle over a salad
- Add to your omelette
- Add to soups
- Add to hummus
- Sprinkle over pasta sauce
- Add to savoury porridge
- Make into mushroom tea
Most of all, enjoy this wonderful addition to your culinary possibilities.