Mushrooms: there are the good, the bad, and the psychedelic. Most people are familiar with the latter varieties. But another class of mushrooms have been neglected and underutilized: the medicinal mushrooms. Though they have a long history of use in Chinese, Japanese, and Eastern European medicine traditions, Western medicine is just catching up to the health benefits of mushrooms.
Mushrooms support immune function, and they do so in a way that is normalizing to the immune system as opposed to being a stimulant. You can think of them as immune tonics that are applicable in a wide variety of situations, including-
- Lowered resistance and “catching things” easily
- Chronic or persistent infections
- Certain autoimmune disorders
Mushrooms affect immune function because they have compounds that resemble a microbe. Our vigilant immune cells sense this and respond to it by increasing innate immune activity (our front-line defenses). This puts our system on alert and provides a workout for our immune systems, making them stronger over time. Many types of mushrooms provide this activity, even common edibles like Shiitake and Oyster mushrooms.
They’re rock stars for our immune systems, and help support other areas of the body too, like the nervous system, liver, and cardiovascular system. For a closer look, let’s examine the some key mushroom species and their health benefits.
Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum)
Reishi is probably the most well-known medicinal mushroom. Its use as a general wellness tonic is evident in some of its other common names, like “Mushroom of Immortality” and “Mushroom of Longevity”. It can be used on an acute as well as long-term basis to support immune functioning. This restorative mushroom also helps support the adrenal glands. I think of this as the mushroom to use when you’re stressed out, run down, and getting sick frequently. It’s also a fabulous mushroom for allergies and hay fever as it can reduce the histamine response to environmental triggers. The doses are on the high end for medicinal mushrooms. It’s suggested to take 5ml of the tincture 3 times daily for active immune boosting, or 2ml twice daily for immune and adrenal support.
Lion’s Mane (Hericium erinaceus)
Lion’s Mane is a beautiful white mushroom that resembles a white pom pom with elongated spines. It too supports immunity, but Lion’s Mane is really best known for its neurological and mental health benefits. It contains compounds that protect and promote growth in neurons. Clinical research with Lion’s Mane has demonstrated efficacy for anxiety, depression, and cognitive function. This is a mushroom to consider for overall nervous system health. Lion’s Mane mushroom powder is often found as an encapsulated product. Maintenance doses are 1-2g daily, with the therapeutic doses starting at 3g daily.
Maitake (Grifola frondosa)
This is a prized gourmet mushroom famous for its immune supportive properties. It contains a compound known as D-fraction that has been heavily researched for cancer treatment. Maitake may also help address common cardiovascular risk factors, such as high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol levels, and even blood sugar issues. Maitake mushrooms can be incorporated into your diet for year-round immune health. Tincture doses are 5ml 3 times daily for active immune boosting, or 2ml twice daily for maintenance.
So how do you take mushrooms? The first thing to know is that they have to be heated in order to be bioavailable. The fungal cell wall is indigestible, and heat allows the cell wall to break down in order to access their nutrients. There are supplements available on the market in the form of capsules and extracts.
But you can also prepare teas using mushrooms. In fact, this is the traditional way that they were prepared as immune tonics. Mushrooms are easily obtained in dried and sliced forms, which is perfect for making tea.
Mushroom Tea recipe
Using 1 teaspoon of dried mushroom to 1c water,
- Add the mushrooms to water on a pot on the stove
- Bring up to a boil
- Lower heat and simmer for at least 20 mins (up to several hours)
- Strain and enjoy!
You can also reuse the mushrooms for another batch of tea. (They’re best if used within one day.) You can also add other herbs and spices, like ginger, licorice, or cinnamon to suit your taste. In fact, one of my favorite go-to mushroom tea recipes is Reishi chai. Along with whole chai spices, this makes the perfect balancing pick-me-up beverage when you’re feeling tired, worn out, and run down.
Reishi Chai Recipe
In 1 quart of water, add:
- 2-3 slices of dried Reishi mushrooms (available organically through Mountain Rose Herbs)
- ½ cinnamon stick
- 5 allspice berries
- 3 cardamom pods
- 2 cloves
- 1 peppercorn
- Pinch nutmeg
Turn heat on medium-high until the tea reaches a boil. Lower heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes. Strain and add milk and sweetener of your choice. You may also add other herbs- I add a pinch of Ashwaganda root for extra adrenal support, or dried Elderberries for added immune benefits. This can be stored in the fridge and chilled for an iced version.