Medicinal mushrooms are fungi that are used in the form of powder or extracts (they’re not meant to be eaten whole or raw) for prevention, alleviation, or healing of numerous diseases, and/or in balancing a healthy diet.
Due to the long list of health advantages, medicinal mushrooms have been used in Eastern medicine for thousands of years. For example, these miracle mushrooms may have brain boosting, cholesterol lowering, blood sugar lowering, hormonal balancing, immune stimulating, stress relieving, and antioxidant effects.
Even more, some of these mushrooms are said to prevent or treat cancer. In addition, medicinal mushrooms are usually packed with vitamins, minerals and other vital nutrients that cannot be easily found elsewhere in nature.
However, each mushroom is unique and provides its own specific health benefits. So it might be confusing to pick the one that suits you best. Thereby, here, in this article, we try to clear up some of the confusion by making a list of the 14 most popular medicinal mushrooms in order of importance as we see it, their effects, and medicinal uses.
Note that medicinal mushrooms aren’t a cure for all, and we still need more human research. So think these shrooms more like assistants when combating inflammation, stress, or cancer, or when you need a friend who helps you boost your immune system.
The List of 14 Most Popular Medicinal Mushrooms
1. Chaga Mushroom May Help Fight Free Radicals, Cancer and Aging
The Chaga mushroom (Inonotus Obliquus), also called “Mushroom of Immortality” is the most nutritious wild mushroom that has been used in folk medicine to treat several disorders. Chaga is an exceptionally powerful antioxidant that delivers you an impressive dose of antioxidants, SOD enzymes, essential amino acids, minerals and other vital substances. Learn more.
Animal and test-tube studies have found that Chaga mushrooms may possess several health benefits. For instance, the mixture of these extraordinary substances may:
- Boost your immune system
- Remove free radicals from your body and combat oxidative stress (oxidative stress is associated to aging)
- Protect cells
- Enhance resistance
- Fight pathogens
- Lessen inflammation
- Lower bad cholesterol (LDL cholesterol)
- Prevent long-term inflammation
- Fight, prevent or slow the growth of cancer
- Lower blood sugar
- Have antitumor properties
- Prolong cellular proliferation and extend lifespan, or in other words, Chaga may fight aging
Still, we need more human studies to confirm all these statements.
2. Cordyceps To Stimulate Your Energy and Libido
Cordyceps (Ophiocordyceps Sinensis (formerly known as Cordyceps Sinensis)), also known as caterpillar fungus, is a powerful medicinal mushroom that has been acknowledged in Chinese medical books and Tibetan medicine for a long time. This plant is a rare combination of caterpillar and fungus.
Some studies suggest, that different strains of Cordyceps, or some components inside this mushroom may have different beneficial effects on the human body, which include:
- Boosting immune system
- Anti-tumor effect
- Boosting energy
- Stimulating libido
- Anti-metastatic property
- Antioxidant effect
- Renoprotective effect
- Helps your body utilize oxygen more efficiently, stimulate blood flow, improve exercise and athletic performance, and speed up post-workout muscle recovery, which can be especially helpful for athletes or people who regularly work out (7, 8, 9).
Traditional healers and local people of Sikkim suggest Cordyceps sinensis for multiple health problems as a single drug or together with other herbs. For instance, these folk healers use it to cure as many as 21 different health conditions.
Traditional Chinese medicine practitioners have used it for centuries to treat fatigue, kidney disease, low sex drive and many other illnesses. The long history and the potential benefits of Cordyceps might be the reasons why dietary supplements and other products containing Cordyceps are achieving so much admiration. Learn more.
3. Red Reishi Calms Your Mind, Boosts Energy and Encourages Good Night Sleep
Red Reishi mushroom (Ganoderma Lucidum), also known as Lingzi, “10,000 Years Sponge”, “Queen of Plants”, “Immortal Sponge”, and “Life Elixir” has been known in China, Japan, and other Asian countries for its miraculous health-enhancing, stress relieving, and longevity promoting effects for thousands of years. It’s like nature’s Xanax.
In nature there are 6 types of Reishi, but Red Reishi mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum), is the most studied one and possesses the strongest medicinal effects. Due to its variety of potential health benefits and rich composition people use Reishi mushroom to:
- Boost the immune system
- Fight cancer cells
- Enhance many body functions
- The mood-boosting compounds in Reishi (triterpenes) have calming properties, so this mushroom may also lessen anxiety, relieve depression, calm the mind and reduce stress
- Triptanes in Reishi may also promote wound healing
- Sharpen focus
- Relieve cough and asthma
- Reduce insomnia and stimulate better sleep
- Lessen fatigue
- Improve the work of vital organs
- Strengthen and heal overall health
- Fight obesity
- In addition, to increase the so-called shen. In Chinese medicine shen is the connection of heart and mind – the channel of spirituality (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6).
Traditional medicine practitioners believe Red Reishi can sustain life, increase life expectancy, promote health and balance body functions without any side effects.
Although Reishi mushrooms themselves can be consumed raw, it is also custom to use supplements, extracts or powdered forms of the mushroom that contain these particular healing molecules.
The fruiting bodies of the Reishi mushroom are a magnificent source of nutritionally important minerals, vitamins (mainly B-complex vitamins and vitamin D), antioxidants, amino acids, macronutrients, as well as protein (despite not being animal-based).
Despite the high mineral and vitamin content – the wide spectrum of prophylactic and therapeutic effects of Reishi mushroom is mainly due to the high content of polysaccharides, triterpenoids and germanium. It’s because Reishi contains an enormous collection of bioactive polysaccharides, beta-glucans and more than 120 different triterpenoid compounds.
Some people use it also for Alzheimer disease, cancer, diabetes, and cold sores. In Japan, Reishi dry extract belongs in the official list of antitumor drugs. Although research is still ongoing and most evidence is based on animal studies, there is reason to believe that the beneficial effect of Reishi on humans is similar.
4. Lion’s Mane (Hericium Erinaceus)
Lion’s mane is an edible mushroom native to Europe, North America, and Asia. Similarly to other medicinal mushrooms, Lion’s mane contains antioxidants and boosts the immune system.
In addition, it promotes the production of the bioprotein nerve growth factor (NFG), and myelin (an insulation around nerve fibers), which are both absolutely vital to brain health.
Lion’s mane is also said to help with concentration, memory and cognition, as well as to lessen anxiety (8, 9, 10, 11, 12).
This edible mushroom is native to East Asia, and considered a medicinal mushroom in some traditional medicine. For instance, shiitake mushrooms:
- May bee good for your heart
- Have been shown to lower LDL cholesterol
- As well as maintain healthy blood pressure and circulation (13).
6. Turkey Tail (Trametes Versicolor, also Coriolus Versicolor and Polyporus Versicolor)
Turkey tail is a common polypore mushroom that grows all over the world. In addition to high amounts of antioxidants that show anticancer properties (like most of the medicinal mushrooms on this list), turkey tail also contains polysaccharide-K (PSK).
Polysaccharide-K is an approved anticancer prescription drug in Japan. PSK also helps to stimulate your immune system. Therefore, turkey tails may:
- Fight leukemia cells
- Improve the survival rate of people with certain cancers
- In addition, improve the immune system of those receiving chemotherapy
However, before using any medicinal mushroom, first consult your doctor, and don’t stop your prescribed cancer treatment (14, 15, 16, 17).
7. Oyster Mushroom (Pleurotus Ostreatus), also Oyster Fungus, or Hiratake
The oyster mushroom is a common edible mushroom that is related to the king oyster mushroom. People now grow this popular shroom commercially worldwide. Oyster mushrooms contain a high amount of antioxidants, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and other important nutrients. Some research suggests that oyster mushrooms may:
- Reduce high blood pressure
- Lower cholesterol levels
- Lessen blood sugar
- Improve cardiometabolic health
- As well as possess immune-supportive benefits (18, 19, 20).
8. Hen-Of-The-Wood (Grifola Frondosa), also Maitake
Maitake is a soft-fleshed polypore mushroom that grows at the base of trees (particularly oaks), and is native to Europe, China, and North America. This mushroom may:
- Improve artery functionality
- Help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels
- Better overall cardiovascular health, and therefore lower your risk for heart disease.
- In addition, Maitake mushrooms may lower your blood sugar levels, support the immune system and help in targeting and destroying cancerous cells (21).
9. Enokitake (Flammulina Velutipes), also known as Enoki, and Velvet Shank
Enoki is an edible mushroom, and well known in Japanese cuisine. It grows wild in Western Europe, Eastern Asia, and much of North America. Enoki mushrooms are highly nutritious and rich in antioxidants. For instance, these mushrooms are said to:
- Slow cancer cell growth
- Support heart health
- Improve brain function
- As well as boost immunity (22).
10. China Root (Wolfiporia Extensa)
Ghina root is a wood-decay fungus with a large, long-lasting underground sclerotium that resembles a small coconut. This fungus is thought to possess various medicinal properties such as:
- Removing pus from wounds
- Controlling swellings (anti-inflammatory)
- Promoting urine (diuretic)
- Removing gas (flatulence)
- Clearing bowels
- In addition, bringing down high body temperature (23).
11. Yellow Morel (Morchella Esculenta), also known as Morel, Guchi, Common Morel, True Morel, Morel Mushroom, Sponge Morel, etc.
Yellow morel is an edible mushroom that is much in demand. It may possess health benefits such as:
- Antitumor activity
- Antioxidant effects
- Anti-inflammatory action
- Immune stimulating activity
However, it is said to be poisonous if eaten raw and may produce numerous adverse reactions if not used properly (24).
12. Auricularia Auricula-Judae, also known as Wood Ear or Black Wood Ear
Auricularia auricula-judae grows worldwide. It is an edible ear-like shape fungus that grows on wood (especially elder). This mushroom is claimed to be a significant source of both vitamin B5 and copper (contains also small amounts selenium and vitamin B2), and possess health benefits such as:
- Anti-inflammatory effects
- Antimicrobial effects
- Anticoagulant action
- Anti-cancer action
- Anti-cholesterol properties
- In addition, cardioprotective effects (25).
Lentinus is a genus of fungi in the family Polyporaceae. This widely distributed mushroom has many species that all grow in subtropical regions. Lentinus edodes is popular edible mushroom that is used for conditions such as:
- Fungal infection
- Depressed immune function (including AIDS)
- Environmental allergies
- Frequent flu and colds
- Bronchial inflammation
- Heart disease
- Hyperlipidemia (including high blood cholesterol)
- In addition, infectious diseases (26).
Tremella is a genus of fungi that grows as a slimy, mucus-like film until it encounters its preferred hosts. Yes, all Tremella species are parasites of other fungi, and there are over 100 species of Tremella presently recognized worldwide. The most important tremella mushroom benefits are considered to be effects such as:
- Cholesterol lowering
- Obesity combating
- Cancer fighting
- In addition, nerve protecting effects (27).
Due to the fact that medicinal mushrooms may help treat numerous health conditions and are usually safe, they can be great natural health boosters for those who believe in traditional treatment methods and herbal remedies. Though, before using, consult your healthcare provider for further information.
NB! The information provided here is for informational purposes only, so do not consider it as health care or medical diagnosis and treatment. Do not consider this information as a guarantee of the results you want to achieve. In addition, do not take this information as a replacement for the advice of your physician or other healthcare professional.
Even more, you should not use it to diagnose or treat a health problem. Before changing or discontinuing your existing medication, treatment, or care, or taking any dietary supplements, be sure to consult with your healthcare professional or doctor before starting any diet or program, or if you suspect you may have a medical condition.
Written by Maria-Helena Loik
Pictures: Pexels.com, Pixabay.com, Shutterstock.com
- 6 Mushrooms That Act as Turbo-Shots for Your Immune System (healthline.com)
- Ganoderma lucidum, a new prebiotic agent to treat obesity? | Nature Reviews Gastroenterology & Hepatology
- Suppression of the inflammatory response by triterpenes isolated from the mushroom Ganoderma lucidum – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Anti-Tumor Effects of Ganoderma lucidum (Reishi) in Inflammatory Breast Cancer in In Vivo and In Vitro Models (nih.gov)
- Extract of Ganoderma lucidum prolongs sleep time in rats – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Triterpenes with healing activity: A systematic review – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Pharmacological and therapeutic potential of Cordyceps with special reference to Cordycepin (nih.gov)
- Improving effects of the mushroom Yamabushitake (Hericium erinaceus) – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Neurotrophic properties of the Lion’s mane – PubMed (nih.gov)
- The influence of Hericium erinaceus extract on myelination process in vitro – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Reduction of depression and anxiety by 4 weeks Hericium erinaceus intake (jst.go.jp)
- Effects of Hericium erinaceus – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Cholesterol-lowering effects of maitake (Grifola frondosa) fiber, shiitake (Lentinus edodes) fiber, and enokitake (Flammulina velutipes) fiber in rats – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Cancer Researchers Present Turkey Tail Findings in Japan | Bastyr University
- Efficacy of immunochemotherapy as adjuvant treatment after curative resection of gastric cancer. Study Group of Immunochemotherapy with PSK for Gastric Cancer – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Effects of extracts of Coriolus versicolor – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Phase 1 Clinical Trial of Trametes versicolor in Women with Breast Cancer (hindawi.com)
- Lipid lowering effects of oyster mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus) – ScienceDirect
- Effect of the Intake of Oyster Mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus) on Cardiometabolic Parameters (nih.gov)
- Oyster mushroom reduced blood glucose and cholesterol in diabetic subjects – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Maitake Mushroom: Health Benefits, Nutrients per Serving, and Preparation (webmd.com)
- 7 Unique Benefits of Enoki Mushrooms (healthline.com)
- China Root health benefits (healthbenefitstimes.com)
- Morchella esculenta: The Yellow Morel Mushroom Benefits (healing-mushrooms.net)
- Auricularia Auricula-Judae: Benefits & Identification of Wood Ear Mushroom (healing-mushrooms.net)
- Lentinus edodes pharmacological activities – PubMed (nih.gov)
- (PDF) Chemical compounds and health benefits of Tremella (researchgate.net)