Once the domain of psychedelic hippies, medicinal mushrooms have now hit the mainstream health, wellness and culinary spheres. This diverse group of plants – there are more than fourteen thousand varieties, of which only about three thousand are edible – are rich in a multitude of nutrients and are now accessible to us around the world. In this Guide to Medicinal Mushrooms, we’ll talk about the health benefits of medicinal mushrooms, how to select them, and how to use them.
Culinary Nutrition Guide to Medicinal Mushrooms
General Health Benefits of Medicinal Mushrooms
As a whole family, mushrooms:
- Contain anti-cancer properties
- Have immune-boosting and modulating polysaccharides called beta glucans
- Are rich in vitamins and minerals, such as energy-enhancing B vitamins, Vitamin D, iron, copper and selenium
- High in antioxidants, which help to combat free radical damage in the body
- Contain additional polysaccharides that have anti-viral, antibiotic and anti-inflammatory properties, plus they can help to balance blood sugar levels
- Are a source of fibre, which is beneficial to the gut, weight management and cardiovascular health
Choosing + Buying Medicinal Mushrooms
Many varieties of mushrooms are inedible or poisonous. It’s important to purchase mushrooms from a competent source that you can trust. If you’re interested in foraging, find an expert forager in your area – there are reputable classes and trips that you can take to ensure your safety. Otherwise, you can visit your local farmers’ market for fresh or dried mushrooms, travel to your local health food store or purchase mushrooms online.
There are several ways you can buy and consume mushrooms:
- Fresh: These types of mushrooms are easy to prepare and cook with, like shiitake, maitake, oyster, etc. You don’t have to go to any extreme measure to extract their benefits – a simple roast, sauté or simmer will do.
- Dried: Whole mushrooms are dried and then need to be reconstituted for use in recipes like teas or dairy-free elixirs.
- Powders: Mushroom powders are a handy way to glean the benefits of mushrooms that are tougher to cook with or find at the grocery store (they are often more potent than the average culinary mushroom, too). You can find these at health food stores and online. There are a couple of methods to increase the bioavailability of the powerful constituents of mushrooms; one is steam distillation, where the compounds are extracted using water, and alcohol distillation to decoct the nutrients that aren’t soluble in water (basically the second method is making a tincture).
- Chunks: Some mushrooms are rock hard, like reishi and chaga. You’ll find these available in chunks of different sizes, which you can boil for teas or soups, or use to make tinctures.
How to Use Medicinal Mushrooms
You can incorporate medicinal mushrooms into your cooking! Trying using mushroom powders in:
- Cold drinks, like iced elixirs, smoothies and smoothie bowls
- Warm drinks, like teas and elixirs
- Dairy-free ice cream
- Cereal and porridge
- Dairy-free chocolate
- Raw desserts
- Gluten-free baking, both sweet and savory
- Energy bites and balls
- Salad dressings
Mushroom powders are potent, so start small and increase the amount as you get used to them.
Whole culinary mushrooms, like shiitake and maitake, can be used in:
- One-pot meals
- Dairy-free soups
- Savory breakfasts, like eggs, omelettes and oatmeal
- Gluten-free flatbreads
Whole mushrooms that are tough, like reishi and chaga, can be boiled to extract the beneficial properties. Drink as a tea, use it as a base for soups, or chill the liquid to use in smoothies.
Using Medicinal Mushrooms In Cooking
Health Benefits: Known as the queen of the mushroom world, reishi mushrooms soothe and calm the nervous system. They contain immune-modulating compounds called beta-glucans that help boost the immune system or dial it down as needed, and they have anti-cancer, liver-protective and blood sugar-balancing properties.
Health Benefits: Chaga is the king of mushrooms, and like reishi, it’s a powerful immune-booster that has anti-cancer and anti-oxidant properties.
Recipe to Try: Chocolate Covered Dates stuffed with Chaga Chai Ghee by Sweet Lizzy (*Culinary Nutrition Expert)
Health Benefits: Shiitake mushrooms invigorate the immune system with their active compound called lentinan. One of lentinan’s benefits is the ability to power-up the immune system, strengthening its ability to fight infection and disease. Research also points to potential benefits of lentinans to help with cavities and oral health.
Health Benefits: If you’re looking for a brain boost, Lion’s Mane can support the nervous system and cognitive health. It’s been shown to help stimulate brain cells and nerve growth, while animal models indicate it has potential to help with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, memory, and regeneration of damaged nerves.
Health Benefits: In addition to its cancer-fighting and anti-tumor properties, cordyceps can help reduce fatigue and boost energy levels, and has been studied for its anti-inflammatory, antifungal, anti-allergic, anti-bacterial and analgesic effects.
Health Benefits: Turkey Tail has been studied for its anti-tumor properties and is beneficial to our digestive health. It’s a prebiotic food and turkey tail has been shown to improve the helpful bacteria in our gut.
We encourage you to explore the world of medicinal mushrooms, and reap the amazing health benefits, as well as the taste!