Cultures around the world have been harnessing the healing powers of the humble mushroom for thousands of years. They’ve long been a staple of traditional Chinese medicine, while the pharaohs of Egypt prized mushrooms so highly they decreed only royalty could eat them.
Nobody knows how many types of fleshy fungi exist in nature – there are about 10,000 described species, but mycologists suspect that this is only a fraction of what’s out there.
Whether sprinkled on pizza or diced into a bolognese, these fungal organisms are a pretty common part of our western diet, but while you might be au fait with the likes of Portabello, Shiitake and Chanterelle, there are plenty of medicinal varieties that you perhaps haven’t yet heard of.
Here, we’ve picked out four superfood mushrooms being hailed as quiet achievers in the health and supplement industry, that any health buff worth their kale smoothie should really know about.
1. Lion’s Mane
This hairy mushroom gets its peculiar name from its appearance, which bears a resemblance to (yep, you guessed it) a lion’s bushy mane. This bearded shroom grows on broad-leaf trees in temperate areas of North America, Europe, and Asia, although it is rare to find in the wild.
So what magical properties does it possesses? “Studies have shown that Lion’s Mane mushrooms can help to improve cognitive function and ease symptoms of anxiety and depression,” says Emily Hedgman, a spokesperson from Link Nutrition (linknutrition.com). In addition to helping enhance brain function, Hedgman explains that Lion’s Mane can also help to support the heart and circulatory system, improve digestive health and reduce inflammation.
The Chaga mushroom has been slowly gaining popularity in the west for its broad range of life-boosting benefits. It’s been used for hundreds of years in Siberia and Asia, where they cut or grind dried Chaga and steep it in hot water, releasing its bioactive compounds into a mild tea. These hardy mushrooms mainly grow on the outside of birch trees in colder climates and have a lumpy exterior that makes them look similar to a piece of charcoal.
“Chaga mushrooms are most impressive for their high antioxidant content whilst also being high in fibre and naturally occurring beta-glucans,” says Hedgman. “According to a study published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology, Chaga extract may also be able to prevent liver cancer cell growth – although more research needs to be done.”
This flat fan-shaped mushroom, also known as ‘King of the Mushrooms’, has been utilised for more than two thousand years in Asia, where its effects were so powerful, it was thought by some to grant immortality.
“Reishi, which is considered to be an adaptogen, is strongly anti-inflammatory and has uses tied to longevity, better immune function, and mental clarity,” says Hedgeman. Adaptogens, if you haven’t already heard, help us to deal with the negative effects of stress, such as depleted energy levels and various types of hormonal imbalances.
“Cordyceps is an anti-ageing, energy-boosting mushroom found in the Himalayas, that many experts claim can boost aerobic capacity and improve stamina,” says Hedgman. These impressive mushrooms are known for their natural ability to fight free radicals, infections, and inflammation.
“Cordyceps have also been used for centuries to reduce symptoms of respiratory disorders, coughs, colds, liver damage and more,” she adds.
If you don’t fancy popping them in supplement form, Cordyceps has a mild flavour and can be stirred into a variety of dishes including soups, stir-fries and casseroles. Get creative in the kitchen – both your body and your mind will thank you.
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