There are more than 2,000 species of edible mushrooms on the planet, but only a few are known and eaten. Chinese and Asian medicine have been using mushrooms for their medicinal properties for thousands of years and our modern research is just catching up with this long history.
Nutrient content of mushrooms
The nutritional components of mushrooms include many nutrients: selenium, vitamin D, potassium and fibre. One compound of interest, beta glucans, are much heralded polysaccharides credited with many of the medicinal functions of these fungi. Beta-glucans are found in many foods yet the beta-glucans in mushrooms are different and unique. Research has shown mushroom beta-glucans:
- Fight inflammation
- Are antioxidant
- Activate your immune system
- Protect or destroy cancer cells and exhibit anti-tumour activity
- Reduce aging and skin damage associated with free radicals
- Reduce cholesterol
- Protect your liver
- Possess anti-viral properties
- Regulate blood sugar
- Protect the brain
Commonly used antibiotics: Penicillin, streptomycin, and tetracycline are all derived from fungal extracts. Therefore many mushrooms possess antibacterial properties.
Popular medicinal mushrooms
- Shiitake (Lentinula edodes): Shiitake is valued as a food because of it’s nutty, rich flavour and also possesses medicinal properties. Shiitake contains lentinan, a polysaccharide, which has anti-viral properties, boosts your immune system, fights cancer and supports gut health. This mushroom can lower cholesterol, help stabilise blood sugar, reduce platelet aggregation (blood clotting) and reduce atherosclerosis (disease of veins and arteries).
- Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum): Translates as “shining skin”, Reishi is often referred to as “the king of herbal medicines” and the “Mushroom of immortality” and is one of the well known mushrooms in Chinese Medicine. Reishi improves gut health and is associated with promoting weight loss. Known to protect DNA and mitochondria from oxidation, Reishi will reduce dermal oxidation that promotes wrinkling and aging of the skin. It lowers cholesterol, reduces blood viscosity associated with high blood pressure, reduces liver enzymes and enhances immunity because it has anti-bacterial actions. Due to its ability to enhance oxygenation of the bloodstream it can be used for treating or preventing altitude sickness, for all the high altitude mountaineers out there!
- Oyster mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus): There are several varieties of oyster mushroom commonly used medicinally and in cooking (Golden, King, Phoenix, Pink) Oyster mushrooms inhibit cancer cells, especially in the breast and colon, and exhibits immuno-modulating, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. They protect your liver, regulate blood sugar and reduce cholesterol. Research has indicated that the antiviral properties they hold may be useful for HIV treatment.
- Cordyceps (Ophiocordyceps sinensis): These mushrooms are valued for increasing energy and reducing fatigue. Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) is your body’s main energy source- Cordyceps boost ATP production. Used similarly to Ginseng in Chinese medicine it is considered a tonic food and rejuvenator for those with weakness and fatigue or recovering from illness.
- Turkey Tail (Coriolus versicolor or Trametes versicolor): This mushroom is FULL of polysaccharides that support immunity and immune regulation. Turkey Tail scavenges free radicals such as superoxide, has demonstrated anti-viral activity and may inhibit HIV virus. They have been used in clinical trials of cancer patients undergoing radiation therapy and increase cancer cell sensitivity to radiation, making the cancer easier to destroy.
- Lion’s Mane (Hericium erinaceus ): Named because of its long white strands and shaggy appearance, Chinese medicine uses Lion’s Mane for treating stomach and digestive problems by promoting proper digestive function, protecting your digestive tract from ulcers and gastric inflammation (Gastritis). Lion’s mane inhibits growth of cancer cells, particularly oesophageal and gastric cancers. They also enhance immunity, protecting your digestive tract from environmental toxins, inflammation and tumour formation.
WARNING: approximately 100 species of mushroom are toxic. Please remember never eat any wild mushroom if you’re not absolutely sure what it is.
Desley Hatfield is a naturopath at our Ashfield Wellbeing Clinic who believes that food is a major road to improving health. Desley works in a practical and down to earth way, getting to know you to help find the easiest ways for you to work on good health. Desley specialises in stress, fatigue and mental health issues but is interested in working with anyone who is committed to improving their health and wellbeing.