Functional Mushrooms: Benefits & How to Prepare Them

At a certain point the question must become: how many things are we going to put into our bodies to combat the things that we’re putting into our bodies?

But we’re not there yet. Because adaptogens just might be the kryptonite we’ve been looking for to go toe-to-toe with our modern-day diet of stress, toxins, and Trump tweets.

THE PROMISE

The claims are enough to make your chakras spin. Adaptogens have been shown to boost heart health,combat viruses, reduce inflammation, fight asthma, fight allergies, balance blood sugar, raise energy levels, lower stress levels, combat cancer, soothe PMS, curb cravings, sharpen focus, lower anxiety, up your workout, fight free radicals, lower cholesterol, enhance sexual performance, regenerate brain tissue, increase cognitive function, fight depression, boost memory, improve immune function and decrease excessive fat storage.

Oh, and Goop staffers love them. Need we say more?

But what exactly are adaptogens? Pick your metaphor, paraphrased from some of today’s leading functional medicine doctors:

Adaptogens are like little soldiers heading to the front line of your adrenal system to fight the good fight.

They’re like a dear friend who modulates her shitty mood to celebrate your awesome news.

They’re like a thermostat calming you down or boosting you up depending on what your body needs.

And while adaptogens can be found in roots, plants and mushrooms, we’re going to focus on the ‘shrooms because, hey, they’re Fun Guys.

With all due respect to the rock star doctors (a phrase we hereby nominate retiring from the community), we’ve cooked up a little metaphor of our own:
Remember the first time you took mushrooms and you thought it was going to go one way, and then the world exploded along with your sense of time and being alive, and suddenly the public bathroom stall in Central Park became a rocket ship and things took a left turn and afterwards you were so happy because it turned out that experience was exactly what you needed? That’s kind of what adaptogens are doing on a cellular level; figuring out what you need and rallying the troops. Ok, maybe not exactly, but it’s a lot more fun than a metaphor about central air, no?

Did we mention that Goop staffers love them?

HISTORY

The first recorded use of mushrooms for medicinal purposes dates back to a 7000-year-old cave painting found in Algeria of a shaman dancing among a field of mushrooms. 3000-year-old writings from India detail the health benefits, and Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine doctors have been using mushrooms in their practices for thousands of years.

Fast forward to World War II, when the former Soviet Union began testing the mental and physical effects of herbal pills on its air and submarine pilots. Two decades later, Russian scientist Israel Brekhman gave adaptogens their name, derived from the idea that when encountering stress, the body either kicks into fight, flight, exhaustion or adaptation. Adaptogens adapt the body to stress, normalizing the body’s functions and essentially telling it to chill the F out. Or rev the F up, if that’s what it needs.

THE REALITY

The science on mushrooms for medicinal use isn’t great–turns out there’s not a lot of incentive for proprietary-hungry pharmaceutical companies to spend money researching something that can literally grow in shit–but there are some standout ‘shrooms that have withstood the test of time. Check ‘em out below.

TYPES

Cordyceps

This mushroom grows on caterpillars in Asia, essentially mummifying and killing our furry friend before growing a stalk at the scene of the crime, which can then be picked come spring. Often referred to as Chinese Viagra, Cordyceps has also been shown to encourage the body to use oxygen more efficiently, reduce inflammation and fight cancer.

Cordyceps Sinensis is one of the best sources of antioxidants out there. Not only is this thing high in antioxidants, but it also has specific polysaccharides that can support your total antioxidant capacity. So it boosts your antioxidant levels and helps your antioxidants function properly. 

But this powerful mushroom can do more than that. It can also help support proper blood sugar levels and cholesterol and triglyceride levels, supporting your heart health in more ways than one. 

Cordyceps have been used in Asian cuisine for centuries. They are long and thin, making them a great addition to a noodle dish. And their savory-sweet flavor goes with just about anything. They’re most commonly found in soups and steamed foods or as mushroom supplements.

Chaga

Usually found on birch trees in colder climates, chaga has been known to fight viruses, reduce inflammation, promote fertility and combat cancer.

Chaga is a trained professional in supporting your immune system. This powerful little dude has been used for centuries to boost immunity. In particular, Chaga mushrooms help support and maintain cytokines, a protein that stimulates the production of white blood cells. So getting Chaga in your diet can help keep your immune system robust.

Not to mention, Chaga is jam-packed with antioxidants to help support your cells during exposure to stress and toxins. And it’s high in zinc, which is also great for immune health. 

Chaga has a deep richness and sweetness to it. Throughout history, this mushroom has been brewed as a delicious tea. People will drink the tea straight or add it to savory soups and even sweet desserts to give a deeper richness to the dish. 

Shiitake

Studies have shown that shiitakes shrink tumors (in mice, but still!), lower cholesterol, and go great in ramen.

Shiitake mushrooms are one of the more well-known ingredients from Japan. These savory little guys are known for their anti-inflammatory effects, their ability to support healthy cholesterol, and their support of the immune system. 

This immune-boosting effect is likely due to the fact that shiitake is packed with B vitamins. Some even say that shiitake could help you maintain a healthy storage of body fat and support weight loss efforts. Overall, shiitake is great for your gut, immune support, and your taste buds!

When it comes to cooking, this superfood can be used anywhere you use regular mushrooms. Their uniquely savory, umami flavor is great sauteed on their own or to bolster the savory flavor of meat or fish. 

Lions Mane

This darling grows on rotting logs throughout the northern United States and Canada, and is believed to fight brain fog, prevent memory loss and combat depression.

Lion’s Mane is one of the more well-known nootropic mushrooms out there. It has been widely studied and has shown that it is quite a health-packed mushroom. Not only does it bolster your brain health and help your mind stay in tip-top shape, but it also has a lot of great nutrients for your body. 

The reason why Lion’s Mane mushrooms are so great for your cognitive function is that they support the levels of a specific protein in the brain called nerve growth factor or NGF. This powerful protein helps to repair brain cells and protect them from damage. Not to mention, it helps support your memory, focus, and mental wellness. 

Lion’s Mane has been used in food for generations. This particular mushroom tastes a lot like crab meat, so it’s often used as a seafood substitute for people on plant-based diets. But you can also just slice it up, pan-fry it, and enjoy it as is.

Turkey Tail

The most researched of the bunch, Turkey Tail gets the prize for the cutest name and mushroom most thoroughly proven to promote immune function.

Turkey tail, known in the scientific community as Trametes Versicolor, is considered by many to be the best immune-boosting mushroom product out there. For starters, it is a great prebiotic, so it supports your gut microbiome, which is one of the first lines of defense in the immune system. 

Also, it’s a fantastic source of antioxidants, which help fight off oxidative stress. And it supports the function and production of white blood cells, bolstering the immune system. 

Turkey tail mushrooms are relatively hard, so it’s best to dry these mushrooms out and use them as tea, use them as a mushroom extract, or grind them into a powder to sprinkle on other foods. 

Reishi

Called the king of the mushrooms, reishi is thought to boost immune function, slow cancer growth, fight inflammation and promote longevity.

Reishi, or Ganoderma Lucidum, is the natural enemy of stress. It has been widely used to support a state of calm for the body. It contains high amounts of triterpene, a compound that could support lowered levels of stress, improved sleep, and improved focus. It can even support a positive mood. 

Reishi mushrooms are also great for the immune system. They help maintain the activity of killer white blood cells, helping your body keep everything safe and sound. 

These brain-boosting mushrooms have a subtle, earthy flavor that pairs well with rich tastes like coffee and chocolate. In the culinary world, it’s most often used as a powder or extract and mixed into other foods like smoothies and soups or used as supplements. But you can also just eat these mushrooms sauteed, or even fresh. 

Maitake

Often known by its more common name, Hen of the Woods, maitakes are thought to boost immune function, reduce cholesterol, fight viruses and cancer, and modulate blood pressure and sugar levels.

This mushroom comes from the Japanese, who were so enamored with the health benefits that they named it “maitake,” which means “dancing mushroom.” It has healing properties that affect so many aspects of your health. 

This medicinal mushroom is considered to be an adaptogen, which means that it helps your body respond healthily to stress. It can also support your energy levels. It even boosts your body’s production of killer cells and T cells for a bolstered immune system. 

This adaptogenic mushroom is commonly used in Japanese and Chinese cuisine. Put them in your stir-fries to add a savory, earthy flavor, or break them into pieces and pan fry them as a delicious side dish. 


OUR TAKE

Functional mushrooms have been overlooked in the western health world for some time, but their time to shine is now. They have so much to offer you and your health!

While our window for imbibing the magical sort may have closed, we’re just getting started with the medicinal. Stay tuned to see if we turn super human or just go back to tripping our faces off.

Check out Earth & Star for a variety of ways to get your daily dose and receive the benefits of functional mushrooms. 

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