What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when I say mushrooms? A topping for your pizza? An addition to your omelet or veggie scramble? While these are all tasty ideas, when I think of mushrooms I not only think of the culinary variety, I also think of medicinal mushrooms. These little gems are specific strains of wild edible mushrooms that contain unique immune boosting compounds. They are one of nature’s greatest gifts to help heal and recharge your body and it’s easier than you think to incorporate them into your daily routine!
Medicinal mushrooms have been used for many years by Chinese herbalists to strengthen the immune system, build resilience to stress, improve mental clarity, enhance physical performance and aid in cancer treatments. Although these mushrooms have existed on earth for thousands of years, it is only recently that people have started to incorporate them into their diets. Because of their incredible healing properties it’s no wonder they have risen to the status of a “superfood.”
Research has shown that medicinal mushrooms contain polysaccharides (complex carbohydrates) and other antioxidants which provide them with a strong immune defense system. That’s right…..plants have their own defense system just like humans. When we consume these mushrooms we are fortifying our own natural resistance to environmental toxins, viruses and disease. Medicinal mushrooms are also adaptogenic so they help your body adapt to internal and external stressors.
Due to the growing interest in medicinal mushrooms, they are now cultivated commercially which is great news for us because you can find them in most health food stores. They come in a variety of forms such as teas and tinctures, capsules and powder blends. To help you choose the best medicinal mushroom for your needs, I have listed my top 5 picks. You can’t go wrong with any of these.
1. Chaga – Known as the “king” of mushrooms. Chaga grows on birch trees in colder climates and it has the highest antioxidant level of any food. Chaga is known for its ability to inhibit tumor growth, increase the production of immune cells, and due to its antiviral qualities, chaga can prevent the spread of the herpes virus to other cells. Speaking of antiviral, 1 to 2 grams of chaga at the start of a cold can prevent your symptoms from getting worse! Caution: May interact with anticoagulants and diabetes medication.
2. Reishi – The “queen” of mushrooms! Reishi is also known as the “tree of life” mushroom because of its ability to grow on decaying trees. Reishi increases the bodies natural killer cells which help fight infections. It is also used to treat diabetes, cancer, leukemia and hepatitis. Reishi calms the nervous system and can help with insomnia.
3. Cordyceps – Strengthens the immune system, supports adrenal function and enhances the endocrine system to help balance hormones. Cordyceps is the bomb when it comes to improving athletic performance. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, cordyceps nourishes the lungs and kidneys. Caution: May interact with anticoagulants and diabetes medication.
4. Maitake – Known as the “gourmet mushroom” because it is edible and very tasty. This mushroom grows at the base of oak trees and can weigh as much as 40-50 pounds….now that is one big mushroom!! Maitake contains a beta glucan called DFraction which is a powerhouse immune booster. It can help with spleen and stomach ailments, calm anxiety and repress the progression of certain cancer cells.
5. Lions Mane – Another edible and tasty mushroom. I have only consumed the dried version of this mushroom, but they say fresh lions mane tastes like seafood! This mushroom supports the brain and nervous system, enhances memory, focus and decision making and is often used in the prevention of dementia in Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s.
The cell walls of medicinal mushrooms are extremely hard and all of the beneficial qualities are located underneath this hard shell. Figures, right?? In order to release the immune boosting compounds, the mushrooms need to be heated at high temperatures. This can be done as a tea decoction, a hot water extraction or a hot ethanol extraction.
The most potent form of mushroom medicine is an extract. This is done using either hot water or hot ethanol. If you use hot water, you will end up with a powder. If you use ethanol, the end product will be a liquid tincture with an alcohol base. The nutrients in an extract are more bioavailable and easily absorbed by the body.
You can certainly make your own tea decoction at home. To do this you would simmer the raw dried mushrooms in water for at least one hour. Longer is better. The strained liquid can be used as a tea, broth or added to a smoothie. Teas may be less potent than an extraction unless you are using large quantities of mushrooms and slow brewing them for hours. I always have chaga granules in my cupboard and love to simmer a pot on the stove when it is cold or rainy outside. You get a lot of bang for your buck when you brew chaga because you can reuse the granules up to 3 or 4 times.
If you are ready to start incorporating some mushroom love into your life, look no further than the recipe below. With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, I wanted to give you a yummy chocolate treat that would make a perfect start to your day! So get your blender out and give this drink a try. After all, nothing says “I love you” like a chocolate reishi latte, right?
Chocolate Reishi Latte
1 cup unsweetened nut milk
1/2 cup tea or water (I like Choice Reishi Detox tea)
1 Tbsp. coconut butter
1 Tbsp. raw cacao powder
1 tsp. reishi powder (I love the OM brand)
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
pinch sea salt
1 tsp. coconut nectar or maple syrup
1. Combine the milk, water or tea, and coconut butter in a pot. Stir until well combined. Heat on the stove top until warm.
2. Transfer to a high speed blender, add remaining ingredients and process until smooth and frothy.
3. Pour into your favorite mug, top with a sprinkle of cacao powder and enjoy!
Makes 1 serving