In natural health—or more precisely, in Ancient Chinese Medicine—there are a few healing mushrooms that have been used for centuries to treat a wide array of illnesses. Cordyceps, Reishi, Maitake and Shiitake mushrooms are some of the basics you should know about, so let’s take a closer look at what natural health practitioners use them for.
What Are The Health Benefits of Mushrooms?
These two short videos with David Law are really great for people who are first beginning to learn about the beneficial properties of mushrooms, in both food and supplemental forms. Mr. Law is the President of Gourmet Mushrooms and has a degree in Biology from the Univeristy of Oregon.
Common Mushroom Types
If you happened to catch the “Planet Earth” series on the Discovery Channel, you might remember one amazing piece of footage that captures a fungus growing out of the body of a dead ant. Cordyceps sinensis is a similar kind of fungus that is also known as “caterpillar fungus” because it grows from dead caterpillars.
As a modern version of an ancient Chinese medicinal secret, cordyceps is quickly gaining worldwide attention, even within the modern medicine world. Recent research has shown that cordyceps may promote cellular health and have anti-depressant activity. Cordyceps was the foundation of a pharmaceutical drug called Cordycepin produced decades ago.
The reishi mushroom is known in natural health circles as the “mushroom for the nerves.” Pronounced ree-shee, these mushrooms were believed by alchemists to actually grant eternal life. In China and Japan, reishi mushrooms continue to be used to promote good sleep and neurological health.
The reishi mushroom is a traditional Chinese symbol of health, and for good reason. Research has shown reishi mushrooms may possess immune system enhancing properties, as well as anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-fungal properties.
The maitake mushroom is known as “the miracle mushroom,” but it means “dancing mushroom” in Japanese, a name for which there are at least two explanations. One explanation is the way the maitake mushroom looks—the overlapping leaflets of the mushroom resemble butterflies in a wild dance.
Another explanation is that when Japanese people centuries ago would stumble upon these mushrooms growing out in the wild, they would dance for joy because they could be traded for their weight in silver.
These massive mushrooms are valued both for their rich flavor as well as their usefulness as an all-purpose health tonic.
“The healing mushroom,” shiitake means “shii mushroom” in Japanese, referring to the shii tree on which it most commonly grows in Japan. The shiitake mushroom is also called the “king” or “monarch of the mushrooms,” enriching the diet with a good source of protein and potassium, and from the stems, zinc—an important element for immune health.
These mushrooms also produce an amino acid compound called eritadimine, which accelerates the conversion of low-density LDL cholesterol into high-density lipoproteins or HDL.
Modern research has indicated that Shiitake mushroom may stimulate the immune system, possess anti-bacterial properties, reduce platelet aggregation and possess anti-viral properties.
Almost every mushroom helps bolster you body’s natural defenses, but one of the most potent mushroom varieties is Polyporus umbellatus, also known as zhu ling.
Popular in Asian countries like China and Japan, it has antioxidant capabilities that help maintain lung and respiratory health. The Chinese also traditionally use zhu ling to support kidney health.
Polyporus is closely related to the maitake mushroom, which is known for its powerful immune-boosting properties. Polyporus is often used in combination with other mushroom varieties to create a powerful herbal tonic.
So common, so boring, yet so special…white button mushrooms deserve some of the spotlight! French researchers found that white button mushrooms have as much antioxidant power as wild cream and brown varieties, like popular, immune-booster Shiitake.
Mushrooms are a good vitamin D source, which helps the body absorb calcium for healthy bones and may even help regulate levels of the feel-full hormone leptin. In fact, one study in the journal Appetite found that people who ate lunches made with white button mushrooms consumed at least 300 fewer calories than same-size lunches made with beef. Use in place of meat in lasagna, chili and stir-fry dishes.
This post was written by Anthony D. Nelson, who would like to thank you for reading his entire post (and looks forward to your feedback in the comments section below).
What are your favorite kinds of mushrooms? How do you cook with them? Have you ever taken mushroom supplements for immune support?