It’s no secret that mushrooms are one of the latest foods to be given the superfood status, or at least, certain varieties are being given that special treatment.
The so-called ‘functional mushrooms’ are a collection of fungi you’ll only find in the most remote wooded locations.
They are mushrooms with curious names, odd appearances, and with many cited health benefits.
From reishi to lion’s mane, shiitake to maitake, functional mushrooms are receiving their time in the spotlight due to the abundance of health supplements that seek to extract every ounce of goodness from the fungi to make them accessible to the general public.
In an attempt to distill the wisdom of Chinese traditional medicinal practices which lean heavily upon some of the following functional mushrooms, supplement manufacturers are keen to broadcast far and wide the medicinal properties of the fungi.
And who are we to fight this messaging?
There have been many studies that verify the claims made by those companies who use functional mushrooms in their supplements, so we’re more than happy to hop aboard the mushroom train.
To give you a clear idea of what functional mushrooms there are out there, we’re going to go through eight of the most popular varieties and then show you how you can successfully supplement with them.
Alright, let’s begin our forage of these wild mushrooms and see what we can uncover!
The reishi mushroom is one of the most well-known of the functional mushrooms.
It’s not much of a looker, although if I had to describe it, I would say it looks like a deformed ear or a faceless Pacman with a pellet in his C-shaped mouth.
However, don’t be fooled by the appearance of this mushroom.
It has a strong reputation as being a powerful sedative, which means just like a Xanax, it can knock you out in a matter of mere minutes.
And that’s not all…
Reishi mushrooms can also assist with weight loss goals, help relieve symptoms caused by anxiety and depression, and give your immune system a real boost.
Most people take it for its sleep-inducing benefits, though, which is understandable given that a good night of rest can be hard to come by.
This is especially true in the age we live in.
When your mobile phone is always within reach, even at nighttime, the bright white display wreaks havoc on your ability to get shuteye and switch off for the night.
While there is no remedy for this overstimulation other than removing technology from the bedroom altogether, supplements with reishi mushrooms have been proved to have a calming effect on the body which can promote better sleep.
What The Science Says
But why does this Pacman-shaped mushroom have such a calming effect on the body, you may be asking yourself.
Well, it’s largely due to the compound found in the mushroom called triterpene.
For those interested in a quick science lesson, triterpenes are chemical compounds that have three separate terpene units or six isoprene units.
Triterpene as a compound is found in many mushroom species, but is also common in plants and animals.
This mind-calming compound isn’t only useful for helping you get the sleep you need, though, as it is also responsible for boosting your ability to concentrate.
Best For: Getting a good night’s sleep, and easing symptoms of anxiety and depression.
The lion’s mane mushroom is by far the most fascinating variety to gaze upon.
If you’re lucky enough to stumble upon one of these mushrooms in the wild (they’re mostly found in the forests of the northernmost States), you’re in for a real treat.
These fungi cling to tree stumps and look rather like lion’s manes – hence the name – with what looks to be hundreds of strands of white hair sprouting out in every direction.
The health benefits of this unique functional mushroom are numerous, but its most noteworthy for its brain-boosting powers.
If you’re looking to supercharge your brain, boost your cognitive abilities, and improve your memory and ability to focus then lion’s mane is the functional mushroom for you.
The lion mane shape of this mushroom could be nature’s way of signifying how you could boost your mental prowess and become king of the many branching thoughts that make up the jungle of your mind.
Ok, that’s definitely a stretch, but hey, sometimes imagery can help you connect to nature’s medicine.
They do say that many foods look like the organs and body parts they serve, which is why walnuts are good for your brain.
Whatever the case, lion’s mane mushrooms not only give you a brain boat but can also strengthen your immune system and help to reduce irritability and some symptoms of anxiety.
What The Science Says
What makes lion’s mane mushrooms so effective at improving your brain health and ability to focus is their ability to encourage the production of a bioprotein which is key for brain health, as well as myelin.
Nerve growth factor (NGF) is an essential bioprotein for brain health, and so is the insulating layer myelin, which grows around nerves and boosts the transmission of electrical impulses.
Meanwhile, the high level of antioxidants in the mushroom is responsible for the immune system boost.
Best For: Giving your brain a cognitive boost, and improving your ability to concentrate.
The cordyceps mushroom looks an awful lot like seaweed or some other form of sea floor life.
The functional mushroom typically has a round base and a series of worm-like sprouts which fight for space as they grow.
Cordyceps is one of the main functional mushrooms used in energy-boosting supplements.
It’s exactly the type of mushroom you need when you have a sporting event, gym workout, or run coming up.
But it isn’t just energy that cordyceps can boost…
This functional mushroom is also helpful for stimulating libido levels, so it can help you both in the bedroom and in the gym.
What’s more, even once the workout is over and you’ve benefitted from the inital energy boost, cordyceps can help accelerate the process of muscle recovery, so you can get back in the gym sooner rather than later.
What The Science Says
Cordyceps mushrooms give the body the tools it needs to make the most of the oxygen it has, so that it can distribute it evenly to the muscles and subsequently boost physical performance.
The energy boost it provides is a result of increased ATP production in the body. ATP is a molecule that’s responsible for carrying energy to the muscles of the body, so the more of this you have, the easier it will be to employ the muscles fully.
Cordyceps also boosts blood flow around the body, which is what can help with muscle recovery and increased libido.
Best For: That energy boost when you need it most, and for accelerating muscle recovery after a grueling workout.
Turkey tail mushroom, like lion’s mane, has a charming name which relates to its similarity with an animal feature.
This functional mushroom has to be one of the prettiest of the lot, which makes it worth a quick Google search if you’re curious.
If that sounds like too much work, the mushroom is a collection of brilliant blue fungi stacked together as if they were meticulously layered one on top of the other.
Upon closer inspection, you’ll notice that each layer has a shade of blue, purple, and other vibrant colors which contribute to its unique, eye-catching appearance.
The astounding beauty of the mushroom corresponds to the seriously impressive health benefits it provides.
Turkey tail mushrooms are hands-down one of the best fungi to supplement with if you’re a cancer patient or you want to fight off leukemia cells.
While other functional mushrooms may have an abundance of antioxidants which makes them effective at fighting inflammation and even cancerous cells, none come close to turkey tail mushrooms.
Turkey tail mushrooms are extremely effective at fighting cancer, so much so, that in some countries like Japan it is an approved anticancer prescription.
When you have a natural ingredient that can be prescribed as medicine, then you know you’re onto something special.
The functional mushroom has studies showing that it can extend the lifespan of those with some types of cancer, boost the immune response of those going through chemotherapy, and can even combat leukemia.
As such, it is hands-down one of the best natural ingredients to include in your cancer-fighting arsenal, though it still isn’t a substitute for doctor’s recommendations or prescriptions.
What The Science Says
The healing power of the turkey tail mushroom is down to a compound that goes by the name of polysacchyaride-K (PSK).
PSK, which is also known as krestin, is crucial for boosting the immune system and is a staple of chemotherapy treatments in Asia.
This explains why Japan has deemed the mushroom worthy of prescribing in the fight against cancer.
Best For: Giving your immune system a boost and helping you fight off cancerous cells.
Shiitake mushrooms can be considered fairly ordinary in appearance, especially when compared to the likes of the lion’s mane and turkey tail varieties.
They are your bog-standard edible mushroom, with a small stem and an umbrella-like hat.
On the plus side, this means they are more readily available than other functional mushrooms, and easy to enjoy as part of a delicious stir fry.
Given how common shiitake mushrooms are used in cooking, you may be surprised to learn how beneficial they can be for your health.
Shiitake mushrooms are heart-healthy fungi, which can lower LDL (bad cholesterol) and encourage blood flow and circulation.
If your goal is simply to introduce more healthy ingredients into your dishes, and you don’t want to mess around with supplements, shiitake mushrooms are the way to go.
If you regularly incorporate them into your cooking, you can boost your heart health without even trying.
Plus, unlike other functional mushrooms, you won’t need to pinch your nose as you consume them.
What The Science Says
The reason why shiitake mushrooms are so good for your heart is that they have compounds that regulate the production of cholesterol in your liver.
In addition to this, they have a fair amount of phytonutrients in them, which can stimulate blood flow and keep things moving in your body.
Best For: Getting your cholesterol down to a healthy level, and promoting blood flow.
Do you remember how we mentioned earlier that some foods look like the thing that they can help with?
Well, chaga mushrooms look alarmingly like malignant tumors or growths when found on the side of trees.
While perhaps not the best introduction to this healthy mushroom, it’s interesting to note that the charred surface and large clump-like appearance of the fungi might make you instantly think of a cancerous growth or an unwanted tumor.
Chaga mushrooms are the pugilists of the functional mushroom community.
They’re the fungi that are here to fight in your corner, going toe-to-toe with the likes of oxidative stress which is connected to signs of aging, cancer cells, and bad cholesterol.
If you’re looking for a superfood that can supercharge your immune system and prepare your body’s defenses and better protect if from free radicals and inflammation, chaga is the one you need.
Because these mushrooms effectively combat oxidative stress, and lower low-density lipoprotein, they can give you a fighting chance against disease and illness.
What The Science Says
The science on chaga mushrooms is straightforward: these functional mushrooms have an abundance of antioxidants, which is what makes them so effective at boosting your protection against free radicals and inflammation.
Best For: Combatting the signs of aging, and dealing with inflammation.
The last functional mushroom variety we’re going to focus on is the maitake mushroom.
Maitake mushrooms aren’t the most appetising-looking fungi you’re likely to find during a forage, that’s for sure.
The mushroom looks like a series of smaller mushrooms are fighting to free themselves, heading in every direction and sprouting with circular petal-like surfaces.
Yet despite its unappetizing appearance, maitake mushrooms are surprisingly flavorful, and the Japanese endearingly refer to them as ‘dancing mushrooms’.
Well because if you stumble upon the mushrooms while out forest bathing, you’ll find it hard not to break out into spontaneous dance out of pure excitement.
This in part due to its delicious flavor, but also because of the many health benefits it can provide to the lucky forager.
The maitake mushroom is an adaptogen, which means it can help the body combat illness and inflammation.
Specifically, it has shown promising results when used as a way of preventing and combatting cancer.
This is because the mushroom can reduce tumor size and tackle cancerous cells by limiting the amount they reproduce.
There are also studies which point to the effectiveness of maitake mushrooms for helping to manage type 2 diabetes.
Then there’s all the additional health benefits such as boosted immune function and protection from general colds and flus, which is a result of the incredible nutritional value of the mushroom.
What The Science Says
The science behind this mushroom is fairly convincing, and most of the health benefits it provides are tied to the abundance of nutrients and minerals it contains.
Maitake mushrooms are rich in everything from antioxidants to vitamins B and C, fiber to amino acids, and copper to potassium.
Like shiitake mushrooms, the maitake variety of fungi is an exceptional ingredient for any stir frywhich can elevate your cooking while simultaneously providing a wealth of health benefits.
Best For: An immune system boost, and fighting cancer.
Functional Mushroom Supplements
Fortunately, even for the mushroom varieties that aren’t commonly consumed, it’s relatively easy to get hold of each type of fungi covered in this guide.
Even if you can’t find the fruiting body of the mushroom in health food stores, there’s a very strong likelihood that you’ll be able to find each and every one of these functional mushrooms in supplement form.
A lot of the time, health supplement manufacturers will combine a few of these mushroom varieties in order to consolidate the health benefits and condense them into one convenient supplement.
Usually, these combined supplements will come in powdered form, which makes it straightforward to add the mushrooms to a nutritious smoothie, morning coffee, or a hot meal.
There are also other natural ingredients, such as adaptogens and herbs, which are often included alongside mushrooms to enhance their health benefits.
If you want to get the most out of the functional mushrooms, here are a few ingredients to keep an eye out for.
Ashwagandha is a powerful medicinal herb that is used in many health supplements, and goes very well with lion’s mane mushroom in particular.
When paired with lion’s mane mushrooms, ashwagandha brings on a deeper sensation of calming and can help knock you out at the end of a long day when you all you want to do is fall asleep.
Black Pepper Extract
While it might sound odd, black pepper extract has been shown to aid with absorption, which can improve the bioavailability of the mushrooms.
As such, if you want to make sure you’re getting the most out of the mushroom, it’s good ingredient to see on the supplement label.
Rose hip provides a generous serving of vitamin C, which can go very well with the health benefits of any of the mushrooms, and is commonly used in combined mushroom supplements.
Are They For You?
The simplest answer I can give to this question is: yes, mushroom supplements are absolutely for you.
Are you a human?
If so, mushroom supplements are for you.
And your family, friends, and work colleagues too.
While a lot of health supplements out there make bold and lofty claims about the health benefits they provide, many of them might as well be placebo pills.
Not mushroom supplements, though.
Most mushroom supplements are supported by clinical trials and scientific evidence.
Don’t get me wrong – there are most definitely poor quality mushroom supplements on the market.
But you can be sure that the core ingredient of all mushroom-based supplements has some health benefits in its natural form.
That should, in theory, translate to health benefits through supplementing with a powdered or pill form of the mushroom.
To ensure that you’re getting the real deal, there are a few things to pay attention to on the supplement label:
Organically-sourced mushrooms are best, there’s no doubt about it.
Always choose the organic mushroom supplement if you can afford to, it’s not essential, but it guarantees a certain level of quality.
Mycelium is something you have to be on the look out for.
Mycelium is a cheaper type of mushroom that health supplement manufacturers try to pass off as if it’s the real thing.
Don’t be fooled by this marketing trick.
If you see that the supplement has mycelium on the label, make sure you do some digging to see if you can unearth the truth about the potency of the product.
Another easy way to figure out if the supplement is sub-par is to head to the user reviews section of the product’s Amazon page, and see what previous customers have to say.
A Final Word From Energetic Lifestyle
The functional mushrooms are a series of weird and wonderful nutrient-rich fungi that can provide a wealth of health benefits.
There are mushrooms for helping you doze off at night, mushrooms for giving you an energy boost, and mushrooms for giving your body an extra layer of defense against inflammation and illness.
Whatever the health benefits you’re looking for, there’s a solid chance you’ll be able to find them in one of the mushroom varieties we covered in this guide.
Perhaps best of all is the fact that all of the mushrooms are readily available in stores – if not in their raw fruting body states, then as powdered supplements or convenient pills.