7 healing medicinal mushrooms


14th Jun 2021 Wellbeing

7 healing medicinal mushrooms

When you think of valuable mushrooms, you might think of gourmet truffles or posh porcini, but mushrooms are more than just a risotto filling

When you think of valuable mushrooms you might think of gourmet truffles or posh porcini, but mushrooms are more than just a risotto filling.

Medicinal mushrooms are rapidly becoming part of the wellness movement and their magical properties have nothing to do with psychedelic trips. Fungi make up an entire living kingdom, and modern scientists are starting to understand that mushrooms are closer in DNA to humans than to plants. They “breath” oxygen and release carbon dioxide, they digest rather than photosynthesis, and mushrooms even produce their own vitamin D when exposed to sunlight.

Our ancestors were fascinated by mushrooms; the benefits of reishi were recorded in texts as early as the 29th century BC and ancient healers brewed up chaga teas and used puffballs to treat wounds. Mushrooms are the original superfood; indigenous cultures have used these powerful mushrooms for thousands of years, but for a long time we have under-appreciated their role in supporting life on earth. What we are only beginning to appreciate is their health-promoting potentialmushrooms can help us fight illness, focus on work, alleviate stress and enhance our general wellbeing.

"Mushrooms can help us fight illness, focus on work, alleviate stress and enhance our general wellbeing"

Adaptogenic mushroom tonics, elixirs, coffees and lattes are popping up in the all the trendiest health cafes and stores. Companies like Four Sigmatic, Moon Juice and Sun Potion are helping us understand the uses and doses of these powerful shrooms.

Mushroom powders are great additions to smoothies and superfood lattes, and are readily available as blends, capsules, teas and tinctures.

Make yourself a reishi hot chocolate to sooth you to sleep, swap out your morning coffee for a lion’s mane latte, or add chaga to your smoothie if you’re feeling a bit run down. Wondering what you’re going to have for supper tonight? Go grab some shiitake mushrooms from your local grocery. You’re about to find out when. Here’s a list of our favourite shrooms:

Reishi - Ganoderma lucidum

Reishi, the “Queen of Mushrooms”, is often referred to as nature’s Xanax because it is a natural relaxer. Popular in Eastern medicine and known as the mushroom of immortality in ancient China, the reishi mushroom has a bitter taste but immense health benefits.

Reishi is one of the most popular medicinal mushrooms; it is known for its calming properties and ability to soothe the nervous system. The mood-boosting properties of reishi are due to the compound triterpene, which aids sleep and eases anxiety. 

Reishi has been reported to help with weight loss, contains beta-glutens that support a healthy immune system and is even believed to battle cancer cells in the body.

Lions Mane - Hericium erinaceus

A well-known edible mushroom (the texture is quite like cauliflower) lion’s mane literally has the appearance of the mane of a lion. The benefits of this shaggy white mushroom are its ability to boost brain function, memory and cognitive ability.

“History suggests that Lion’s Mane was used in traditional Chinese medicine specifically for stomach and digestive problems,” says Four Sigmatic founder Tero Isokauppila. “It was also used as a general restorative due to its anti-inflammatory, and immunomodulating properties. Newer research has come out that point to Lion’s Mane ability to support productivity, focus, and creativity.”

Taken regularly, lion’s mane has been known to help provide mental clarity and support brain function because it encourages the production of both a bioprotein called nerve growth factor (NFG) and myelin, which insulates nerve fibres.

Cordyceps - Ophiocordyceps sinensis

The cordyceps mushroom is perhaps one of the strangest out there. Known as the “caterpillar fungus”, cordyceps spores grow parasitically on the backs of insects high on the plateaus of China and Tibet.

Sherpas have traditionally used cordyceps teas to help them climb to insane altitudes, leading to the theory that cordyceps improves the body’s ability to oxygenate the blood.

"This adaptogenic mushroom boosts stamina, increases sex drive and reduces fatigue"

This adaptogenic mushroom boosts stamina, increases sex drive and reduces fatigue. Cordyceps can increase energy and help with athletic performance. World records have been broken by athletes supplementing with cordyceps, and it can also be used to speed up muscle recovery post-work out.

Cordyceps supports the adrenals and has also been used to treat lung disease, respiratory illness and fatigue.

Chaga - Inonotus obliquus

Hard as tree bark and dark in colour, chaga mushrooms grow almost exclusively on birch trees and are found in the forests of Eastern Europe, Russia and North America. Shamans in Siberia call the Chaga the “gift of heaven” and the powerful adaptogen is used to fight viral infections. It also fights inflammation and helps sustain energy levels.

This particular mushroom is packed with antioxidants, which makes it particularly potent in the fight against free radicals. As well as helping combat the signs of ageing, chaga has shown to lower cholesterol and slow the growth of cancer cells.

“Chaga has been used by a variety of cultures for hundreds of years as a tea and tincture,” says Isokauppila. Like all of our functional mushrooms, Chaga is an adaptogen, meaning it works with the system to encourage the body to bring balance to itself. In Finland (where me and our founding team are from), Chaga was also used as a coffee substitute during WWII when beans weren’t available.”

Interestingly, chaga can also be used as a tinder mushroom: the dry inside of a chaga mushroom will ignite with even the smallest spark.

Turkey Tail - Trametes versicolor


Turkey tail (top), Shiitake (bottom) 

Even more than most fungi, turkey tail stimulates and supports the immune system because it contains polysaccharide-K, a compound used in Japan in prescription anticancer drugs. It has been shown to aid recovery and reduce nausea in patients post-chemotherapy and can help the body fight leukaemia and cancer cells.

Turkey tail also aids the digestive system, with gut-healing prebiotics that feed your good bacteria.

According to leading mycologist Paul Stamets, turkey tail mushrooms have been used to treat various maladies in Asia, Europe and indigenous peoples in North America. There are records of medicinal turkey tail teas being brewed during the Ming Dynasty in 15th century China. When Stamet’s mother was diagnosed with terminal breast cancer at age 84 he encouraged her to take turkey tail. She lived to 93.

"When Stamet’s mother was diagnosed with terminal breast cancer at age 84 he encouraged her to take turkey tail. She lived to 93"

Shiitake - Lentinula edodes

If many of the mushrooms on this list are sounding strange, this is probably the one that most people have eaten or cooked.

Popular on dinner plates, this mushroom lowers cholesterol and contains phytonutrients that help maintain healthy blood pressure and circulation. Shiitake also contain compounds that support cardiovascular health and may help to fight cancer.

Shiitake have represented longevity in Asia for thousands of years and are served at Chinese New Year as a symbol of immortality. They are available in most food stores and are full of vitamins B, D and zinc.



Psilocybin is a naturally occurring compound found in over 200 mushrooms. Michael Pollan’s best-selling book “How to Change Your Mind” focuses on the revolution that is taking place around the therapeutic use of psychedelics and he talks at length about his own experiences with various compounds, including psilocybin.

It’s not just Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop team who are experimenting with psilocybin. In 2016, a clinical study at Johns Hopkins Medicine reported that – under carefully supported conditions – psilocybin treatment significantly decreases anxiety and depression in patients with terminal cancer. Subsequent studies conducted at John Hopkins University and New York University have revealed that psilocybin relieves major depression, OCD and anxiety and can help in the treatment of addictions to cocaine, alcohol and nicotine.

A note on foraging:

Some mushrooms are tasty, some are tonics, but many are toxic. So, a word of warning, while mushrooms are truly powerful, if you decide to go foraging be prudent: many specials are incredibly poisonous and to the untrained eye these are very hard to tell apart from the edible and medicinal.

There are about 4500 known species of mushrooms in the UK. Many are too tough to chew or are totally tasteless, maybe 200 are edible and 50 of them are poisonous.

Keep up with the top stories from Reader's Digest by subscribing to our weekly newsletter