Mushrooms aren’t everybody’s cup of tea, but there’s certainly an abundance of them in nature.
Over 10,00 species of mushrooms are known to man, and all but 50-100 of them are edible. No wonder they’ve been a staple of modern and traditional health since the dawn of human civilization.
Mushrooms have long been used to improve immune response thanks to their long chain polysaccharides (1,2,3). More recently, several studies have demonstrated their ability to fight obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and lethargy(4).
Certain varieties are prized for their abilities, like Tochukasu, which increases ATP production, boosts endurance and strength, and fights aging and Cordyceps, which are used to fight respiratory disorders and improve liver function (5,6).
Nearly all mushrooms contain chemopreventive phytochemicals that lower breast cancer and prostate cancer risk (7).
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Despite what their fade color may indicate, mushrooms are just high in antioxidants as carrots, tomatoes, peppers, pumpkins, and zucchini.
Other key nutrients include:
Selenium: important for proper liver enzyme function, regulating inflammation and fighting tumor formation. It also improves oxygen use and promotes detoxification.
Vitamin D: mushrooms are one the best sources of vitamin D, a nutrient necessary for improving allergy symptoms, fighting viruses, and improving your mental state. It’s also one of the only vegetarian sources of the vitamin. Vitamin D is also being studied for its ability to fight cancer and HIV.
Potassium: for proper nerve and muscle function
L-ergothioneine, an antioxidant that activates immune response and kills free radicals.
Folate, which is important for producing and repairing DNA as well as preventing cancer.
B vitamins, such as riboflavin, folate, thiamine, pantothenic acid, and niacin. Mushrooms are the only vegan source of many of these vitamins, as well as other nutrients hard to find in vegetable sources.
Choline: which regulates sleep, muscle movement, learning, and memory while also assisting in cellular membrane maintenance, nerve impulse transmission, fat absorption, and regulating inflammation.
Beta-glucans: which lower cholesterol, stimulate T-cells production, improve insulin response and boost immunity.
For the best nutrient profile, choose crimini mushrooms. Just one cup of the mushroom contains 21% of your daily recommended dose of Riboflavin, 14% of your Niacin, 18% of Copper, and 27% of your daily dose of Selenium (8).
Medicinal Mushrooms You Need to Know About
Most of the mushroom on this list can be found fresh or dried at your local supermarket, health food store or Asian market.
1. White Button
These mushroom are the most common variety sold in grocery stores throughout North America. They’re very mild in flavor, making them easy to work with, and can be eaten just as well raw as cooked. Button mushrooms are slightly less nutritious than their brown counterparts, but they are much easier less intimidating to work with.
Criminis are the brown version of the button mushroom, varying from a light tan to a dark brown color. They have a slightly more intense flavor can be used to replace button mushrooms without adjusting your recipe. When in doubt, crimini mushroom are a great way to make your dish even healthier!
Portabello mushrooms are just mature criminis. They’re available in most supermarkets and are widely used in Italian dishes. Portobello mushrooms have a more meaty and earthy flavor that’s great for barbecuing, broiling, and roasting. You can even stuff them with rice and cheese or even turn them into burger patties.
Shitakes are light brown mushrooms with an umbrella shape that are much chewier than other mushrooms. Their stems are typically removed before cooking to make them easier to chew (9).
Shitake mushrooms are known to protect the liver, relieve stomach ailments, as well as fight anemia, ascites, and pleural effusion (10). hey also contain eritadenine, which lowers cholesterol, and cancer-fighting compounds (11). Eating more Shitake can even boost weight loss (12).
These delicate mushroom are very mild and crunchy and are typically sold fresh and canned. Enoki makes a great addition to soups and salads.
Also known and “hen of the woods”, these dark brown mushrooms taste like the trees they grow on. They’re known as a cure-all for HIV/AIDS, chronic fatigue syndrome, hepatitis, hay fever, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and weight loss. The mushroom can even improve fertility and promote ovulation in women affected by polycystic ovary syndrome. Sear them in a pan with a bit of butter for an easy entrée (13).
7. Oyster Mushroom
Oyster mushrooms have a soft shell-like shape with a light, pleasant flavor. They contain cholesterol-fighting nutrients that prevent plaque build-up in the arteries to keep cardiovascular disease at bay. Cook them very lightly for best results (14).
Pom-poms are soft white balls with a very delicate flavor often compared to veal or lobster. They’re used in Traditional Medicine to cure stomach ailments and nervous system problems.
Reishi mushrooms are a true powerhouse of plant goodness.
They are known to stimulate the immune system to fight off cancer, improve AIDS, and heal leaky gut syndrome. They can also be used to combat allergies, inflammatory diseases, insomnia, constipation, nervous issues, and high cholesterol (15).
The Japanese government officially recognizes the fungus as a cancer treatment as it contains glucan to help immune cells bind to tumor cells, and canthaxanthin to slow down the growth of tumors.
The mushroom also contains sterols, ganoderic acids, coumarin, mannitol, and polysaccharides, which protect the heart by lowering triglyceride levels, lowering blood pressure, reducing platelet stickiness, and reversing arrhythmia.
Other benefits include improved memory function, better focus, anti-fungal properties, and prostate-healing compounds.
Reishi mushrooms aren’t edible on their own, but can be consumed as a tea, tincture, or capsule.