Skip to content
what are medicinal mushrooms

What are Medicinal Mushrooms? How are They Different?

We're big fans of fungi. 

Mushrooms in general are a low-calorie, nutrient-packed food that are an important part of a healthy, well balanced diet. They contain a variety of vitamins and minerals, and can even provide digestive enzymes and probiotics. 

But what are medicinal mushrooms and what sets them apart from regular mushrooms you cook with?

Let’s dig in…

What are Medicinal Mushrooms?

Thousands of mushroom species have been discovered over the years. They’ve been eaten and used as medicine for thousands of years, particularly in the East.

What are medicinal mushrooms? Well, medicinal mushrooms are called medicinal because they serve some type of therapeutic function. 

Medicinal mushrooms contain a variety of nutrients that regular mushrooms don’t.

This includes much higher numbers of polysaccharides 

These mushrooms have many different health benefits, including:

  • supporting immune health
  • boosting heart health
  • reducing inflammation
  • regulating blood sugar levels
  • improving gut health

You can eat many different medicinal mushrooms to get the benefits, or they can be processed to isolate the active compounds and taken as supplements.  

How are medicinal mushrooms different from culinary mushrooms? 

Well, that’s a little harder to answer. We go through a ton of regular white button mushrooms in our house - we put them in almost every dish. And while they have a good nutritional profile, they’re not medicinal.

That said, some medicinal mushrooms are also great to cook with. Shiitake, for example, have a great flavour as well, as we cook with them on a regular basis also. 

The Most Popular Medicinal Mushrooms

What are medicinal mushrooms best known for? These are the most popular functional fungi and their therapeutic properties:

  1. Chaga. Known as the “king of medicinal mushrooms”, chaga is a powerful anti-inflammatory and supporter of a vibrant immune system. Research shows Chaga mushrooms are a powerful natural helper for everything from gastrointestinal disease to tuberculosis. They’re also super high in antioxidants, which fight free radicals and can stem the development of chronic disease.

  2. Reishi. Reishi mushrooms help enhance immune function by increasing the activity of the body’s white blood cells, which can help fight infection and cancer. Their high beta-glucan content helps support immune health and can even promote better sleep.

  3. Lion’s Mane. Lion’s mane has a special affinity for the brain, and many celebrate it for boosting brain health and it’s potential to help protect against Alzheimer’s and dementia. These shaggy mushrooms are also good for the gut, with research suggesting some potential for treating stomach ulcers. It is also a popular culinary mushroom.

  4. Turkey Tail. The Turkey Tail mushroom is, to date, the first medicinal mushroom that the FDA has funded for research in the fight against various types of cancer, including breast cancer and prostate cancer. Its natural polysaccharides are what give these mushrooms the power to aid the body’s natural response to inflammation and support immune health. 

  5. Cordyceps. Cordyceps is a type of parasitic fungi that grows on the larvae of insects. That might sound gross, but their health benefits far outweigh the gross factor, trust us. These mushrooms can help improve vitality and boost energy, they contain powerful antioxidants to fight free radicals, their anti-cancer properties can help slow the growth of tumors, and they’ve even shown potential for heart health.

  6. Shiitake. Shiitake mushrooms have powerful antiviral, antibacterial, and anti-fungal properties. The therapeutic properties found in the shiitake mushroom help to support the liver, cardiovascular system, and the immune system. They also help control blood sugar levels and reduce inflammation within the body. 

Mushrooms in general are often disregarded for their value, but as we see the rise, particularly in the West, of their medicinal value, they may finally be getting the recognition they deserve. Medicinal mushrooms can add a great deal to your daily health regimen, whether you cook with them or take them in supplement form. It’s time to celebrate these fantastic fungi!!

Previous article What is Wildcrafting (and Why Does it Matter)?
Next article The Benefits of Antioxidants and Where to Find Them