7 Best Functional Mushrooms You Need To Try

What Are Functional Mushrooms

Functional mushrooms might sound like a marketing tag, but anyone who’s tried this incredible superfood knows there’s nothing gimmicky about these fungi.

Mushrooms have a certain mysticism about them. Mushrooms grow from decaying materials and many feature a dark and sinuous appearance. Some are packed with psilocybin, capable of inducing intense psychedelic hallucinations — others are incredibly toxic and fatal if consumed. Then there are delicious mushrooms, perfect for adding to culinary dishes like stir fry’s or as an extra topping on a pizza.

We know that certain types of mushrooms are incredibly nutritious and a vital part of a balanced and healthy lifestyle. What’s not widely understood, is that some kinds of mushrooms have the potential to offer substantial health benefits to those that consume them with regularity.

There are several names for this unique mushroom category: Functional mushrooms, medicinal mushrooms and adaptogenic mushrooms. Regardless of what you call them, the results are the same — functional mushrooms can help you live a cleaner, longer, and healthier life.

What Are Functional Mushrooms?

The term “functional mushrooms” refers to certain types of mushrooms that perform a function beyond just sustenance. These fungi have a lengthy history of use in the eastern hemisphere and are a prominent feature in traditional medicine practices. Even today, some functional mushrooms are used as adjutant treatments for cancer patients who have compromised immune systems from chemotherapy, backed by scientific evidence.

The compounds contained in functional mushrooms are what makes them so unique. These mushrooms are very rich in adaptogens — natural compounds that help prepare the human body for physical and mental stress. Bolstering these effects are high concentrations of antioxidants with anti-cancer properties, and some have potent anti-inflammatory properties.

Functional mushrooms offer many unique functions and are available in a variety of innovative formats. You can shop based on your desired health benefits or pickup a blend of multiple medicinal mushrooms for whole body and mind effects. Before you begin frantically shopping online for functional mushrooms, you’ll want to learn the ins and outs of each mushroom strain, to see how they might improve your day-to-day function.

7 Types of Functional Mushrooms

Chaga

Chaga is a rare cold climate mushroom that’s commonly found growing on the trunks of birch trees in part of North America, and even in harsh climates like Siberia. Chaga takes a long time to develop and mature Chaga mushrooms can take upwards of 20 years to reach maturity.

Some mushrooms look appealing to consumers, but Chaga isn’t among them, and it resembles a clump of burnt tree bark. The charred black exterior conceals golden, puffy mushrooms on the inside. Perhaps it is that appearance that makes Chaga such a popular inclusion in mushroom coffee products.

For shoppers, Chaga mushrooms are one of the most in demand products due to their potent immune boosting potential. Chaga is packed with antioxidants — anti-cancer properties — and it’s traditionally used to help stave off infections. These mushrooms might also help with regulating cholesterol. Chaga can regulate cytokines too, which are linked to inflammation in the body.

Because Chaga mushrooms are so popular, they’re one of the easiest products to find online, and it’s possible to locate them in local health and wellness stores that sell functional mushrooms.

Cordyceps

Small and spindly — Cordyceps mushrooms might raise the hairs on your arms if you discovered them in the wild. The parasitic mushrooms grow on insect larvae, destroying their hosts from within. Naturally, you might wonder why in the world you’d want to consume a parasitic mushroom but there are plenty of reasons to give these unique fungi a try.

Cordyceps’ tends to feature in mushroom supplements for athletes but its traditional applications in Chinese medicine are much broader; cordyceps is used to treat kidney disease, help with sexual disfunction, and as a treatment for fatigue. This functional mushroom is also touted for its anti-aging properties and its high concentration of antioxidants suggests that it’s anti-cancer as well.

You likely notice that cordyceps is often spoken of as an anti-inflammatory mushroom — though you shouldn’t take it in place of an anti-inflammatory drug — and as a hearty healthy mushroom too.

Lion’s Mane

This versatile functional mushroom is a popular inclusion in medicinal mushroom supplements for brain health. The name is a reference to this mushroom’s appearance which features a white puffy mane that wouldn’t look out of place on a male lion.

Lion’s Mane mushrooms are believed to help in the brain with several key functions; they enhance creativity leading to more productivity. Regular consumption helps with memory and improves learning, and many people report better focus with Lion’s Mane mushrooms. There’s some suggestion that Lion’s Mane mushrooms might aid in the prevention of illnesses such as dementia, and with depression and anxiety. The natural compounds in these fungi can prevent ulcers in the digestive tract, and even lower the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

Maitake

Maitake is on occasion referred to as the “hen of the woods” due to its ruffled shape. This mushroom grows at the base of maple and oak trees in parts of North America, China and in Europe.

Like all functional mushrooms, Maitake contains high quantities of adaptogens and antioxidants — believed to help with cancer prevention.

This particular shroom is nutrient rich too with plenty of vitamin D and beta glucans contained in the fruit body could help in the reduction of cholesterol, thereby helping with healthy heart function. Beta glucans are also associated with lowering blood sugars and potentially helping with diabetes and as tumor inhibitors too.

Reishi

The calm mushroom. Reishi is commonly marketed as an anti-anxiety mushroom as it is brimming with adaptogens and rich in antioxidants, possibly useful as a cancer preventing supplement. This mushroom is associated with longevity in traditional Chinese medicines, and it has genuine immune boosting potential which makes it appealing as a daily supplement.

Reishi has many possible health benefits beyond those that are currently listed; it helps with heart health, can combat persistent fatigue, and may actually help with the management of blood sugar for people with diabetes. Of all the functional mushrooms for sale online, Reishi is the most accessible, found on the website of virtually every major supplier.

Shiitake

A great source of vitamin B — Shiitake are the most common variety of functional mushrooms, featured in stir-fry dishes and sold in local supermarkets across North America.

Shiitake mushrooms contain bioactive compounds that could help with cancer treatment, as well as helping to reduce inflammation. This immune boosting mushroom supports a healthy heart, and in traditional Chinese medicine it’s viewed as promoting longevity.

These functional mushrooms have antiviral properties but studies on the effects of eating Shiitake mushrooms have yet to produce any conclusive results.

Turkey Tail

When you see Turkey Tail mushrooms, you’ll have no question about the origin of the name. While many mushrooms are contained to one ecosystem, Turkey Tail grows quite easily on dead trees and is found in many different climates. Turkey Tail mushrooms are known immune boosters, and their heaping amount of antioxidants support this potential.

What’s most interesting about Turkey tail is that they contain polysaccharopeptide, thought to inhibit tumor growth; these mushrooms are given to cancer patients in Japan and China as an adjutant treatment and the evidence supports their efficacy.

References:

  1. Chong, P. S., Fung, M.-L., Wong, K. H., & Lim, L. W. (2019, December 25). Therapeutic potential of hericium erinaceus for depressive disorder. International journal of molecular sciences. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6982118
  2. Géry, A., Dubreule, C., André, V., Rioult, J.-P., Bouchart, V., Heutte, N., Eldin de Pécoulas, P., Krivomaz, T., & Garon, D. (2018, September). Chaga ( inonotus obliquus), a future potential medicinal fungus in oncology? A chemical study and a comparison of the cytotoxicity against human lung adenocarcinoma cells (A549) and human bronchial epithelial cells (beas-2b). Integrative cancer therapies. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6142110/
  3. Guggenheim, A. G., Wright, K. M., & Zwickey, H. L. (2014, February). Immune modulation from five major mushrooms: Application to integrative oncology. Integrative medicine (Encinitas, Calif.). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4684115/
  4. Rahman, M. A., Abdullah, N., & Aminudin, N. (2018, December). Lentinula Edodes (shiitake mushroom): An assessment of in vitro anti-atherosclerotic bio-functionality. Saudi journal of biological sciences. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6302894
  5. Tuli, H. S., Sandhu, S. S., & Sharma, A. K. (2014, February). Pharmacological and therapeutic potential of cordyceps with special reference to Cordycepin. 3 Biotech. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3909570
  6. Wachtel-Galor, S. (1970, January 1). Ganoderma lucidum (Lingzhi or Reishi). Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects. 2nd edition. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK92757/

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