Currently, our best approximation is that there are around five million species of fungi. Suffice to say, it can be hard to decipher and decide which mushrooms are best for you and which ones you should prioritize when purchasing a medicinal mushroom supplement.
That’s where we come in.
Reading through reams of studies, we’ve narrowed down five million species to a list of 10 of the healthiest mushrooms and how they can impact your life for the better.
Lion’s Mane, taxonomically known as Hericium erinaceus, is primarily known for its ability to stimulate nerve growth in animal studies. Due to this rather recent discovery,
Lion’s Mane and its main medicinal compounds—Hericenones and erinacines—are being looked at as a potential preventative treatment for Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and dementia. These compounds are also being looked at for their potential to repair neurological trauma from strokes, improve the muscle/motor response pathways, and improve overall cognitive function.
Lion’s Mane is also known for its immune and digestive system enhancing powers.
As a prebiotic—a prebiotic is any food ingredient that stimulates the growth of beneficial microbiota in the gut—Lion’s Mane may help protect the mucus that lines the inner stomach and intestine and may prove effective against ulcers as well as inflammation and tumors in the alimentary canal. In China, Lion’s Mane mushrooms, mycelium and the medicinal compounds within have been used for more than a thousand years to treat gastro-intestinal issues.
When a mushroom has nicknames like the Mushroom of Immortality, 10,000-Year Mushroom, Mushroom of Eternal life, and God’s Herb, you know there must be something special within those cellular walls. Rest assured, Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) doesn’t disappoint.
With more than 200 polysaccharides, over 150 triterpenes, and significant amounts of the amino acids alanine, leucine, aspartic acid and glutamic acid, Reishi mushrooms possess health benefits like being anti-HIV, anti-carcinogenic, anti-inflammatory and anti-depressive. It also enhances your gut flora, immune system, and sleep, protects your liver, modulates your blood pressure, lipid and glucose levels, acts as a prebiotic, and reduces the side effects of cytotoxic drugs.
One of the most well researched mushrooms, Reishi has for centuries been used in traditional Chinese medicine to fight cancer, viral and bacterial infections, cardiovascular diseases (including high cholesterol and blood pressure), diabetes, to slow aging, act as an antihistamine and to improve general well-being.
Turkey Tail, taxonomically known as Trametes versicolor, has been used in eastern medicine to treat various forms of cancer for decades.
The anticarcinogenic powers of Turkey Tail are well studied and primarily attributed to the presence of polysaccharide Krestin — also known as PSK — within its cellular walls. Before today’s most common chemotherapy drug, Taxol, came into being, Krestin was the number one anticarcinogenic therapy on the market.
Another polysaccharide in Turkey Tail, polysaccharopeptide (PSP), has also demonstrated an ability to inhibit the growth of cancer cells, and may help to stimulate the immune system, especially when combined with other anticancer treatments.
The PSP within Turkey Tail is also known to possess prebiotic powers. In one study, researchers found that consuming PSP from Turkey Tail mushrooms every day over the course of eight weeks led to beneficial changes in gut bacteria and suppressed the growth of E. coli and Shigella bacteria in participants.
Chaga, taxonomically known as Inonotus obliquus, is a parasitic fungus found on various birch tree species. Technically, it’s neither a mushroom nor a sclerotia (i.e a mass of mycelium). It’s a canker, created when a host tree pushes out a fungal infection within the tree, much like your body pushes out a splinter.
In the world of medicinal mushrooms, Chaga is highly popular as a coffee replacement. Though human studies on its medicinal benefits is scarce, animal and in vitro studies have demonstrated Chaga’s potential to reduce long-term inflammation and gut damage through the stimulation of white blood cells, promote the creation of beneficial proteins that regulate the immune system —known as cytokines—and prevent/slow cancer cell growth in the liver, lungs, breast, prostate, and colon.
Other studies have shown Chaga may help reduce blood sugar levels, insulin resistance, “bad” LDL cholesterol, total cholesterol and triglycerides, and increase “good” HDL cholesterol.
Chaga is also highly desired for its antioxidant profile. In fact, Chaga is one of the most antioxidant rich natural sources in the world, far surpassing the antioxidant content of blueberries, açai and cacao. And with a high zinc and melanin content, Chaga helps protect you from UV radiation.
The medicinal compound credited for many of the health benefits in Cordyceps mushrooms is known as Cordycepin. Animal and in vitro studies have shown Cordycepin’s potential to modulate the immune system, inhibit tumor growth, lower blood pressure, and lower blood vessel wall tension.
Compounds within Cordyceps are also thought to increase production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), —which delivers energy to muscles— help the body utilize oxygen more efficiently, delay exercise-induced fatigue, act as an anti-aging and anti-inflammatory agent, decrease “bad” LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels and help people navigate heart conditions and the symptoms of Type 2 Diabetes.
CS4, a mycelia fermentation product of Ophiocordyceps sinensis that’s common in China, has been shown to increase antioxidant counts in aged mice, helping to improve their memory and sexual function. In two separate studies, mice and fruit flies given CS4 survived longer than the control group.
It’s worth noting that in China, Cordyceps are approved for the treatment of arrhythmia, a condition where the heartbeat is too slow, too fast, or irregular. The presence of adenosine in Cordyceps is attributed for this heart-protective effect.
Though, like most medicinal mushrooms, most of the research surrounding the medicinal properties of Maitake mushrooms—taxonomically known as Grifola frondosa and colloquially known as “Hen of the Woods”—has thus far been conducted on animals, certain polysaccharides—complex, long-chain sugars—in Maitake mushrooms have demonstrated the potential to prevent and treat cancerous tumors, prevent HIV and moderate blood sugar levels by aiding insulin production and decreasing the amount of starch that’s digested into sugar.
Compounds within Maitake have also shown the potential to lower cholesterol levels, increase fatty acids and increase the production of t-cells, which are one subset of cells that comprise the immune system. The main medicinal compound in Matiake is a beta-d-glucan—a type of polysaccharide—known as Grifolan.
Shiitake mushrooms, taxonomically known as Lentinula edodes, may be a bit of a surprise on this list given their ubiquity, but might we remind you that food is medicine!
Aside from being great sources of all nine essential amino acids, Vitamin C, Vitamin B1, B2, B3, B5, and B9 and cyanocobalamin, a precursor to Vitamin B12, they’re also naturally low in fat (0.6 to 3.1% by weight when fresh, 70% of that unsaturated fat) and high in protein (~ 4% by weight when fresh, 19 to 35% protein when dried).
They’re also highly medicinal, with in vitro studies of Shiitake mushroom aqueous extracts demonstrating anti-carcinogenic and immunostimulatory powers.
Though like Shiitake, Oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus spp.) seem to be everywhere, this commonality doesn’t take away from their power.
Oyster mushrooms are highly nutritious, antioxidant rich and have been found in animal studies to decrease the risk of obesity, diabetes, cancer, heart disease and improve immune system functioning.
For example, a 2016 test-tube study found grey oyster (Pleurotus pulmonarius) extracts to inhibit oxidative damage to human artery cells and prevent oxidation of LDL (bad) cholesterol, possibly thanks to the amino acid ergothioneine. And a 2020 study on rodents found oyster extracts to be liver protective.
If you’ve been living under a rock, perhaps you hadn’t heard, but a cascade of research has shown that as little as one dose of psilocybin— the psychoactive ingredient in “magic mushrooms”— in a therapeutic setting can cure alcohol/tobacco addiction, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic anxiety, end of life anxiety and cluster headaches.
The results have been so powerful that in 2019, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration designated psilocybin-based medicines as a “breakthrough therapy” and placed it on a fast track toward approval.
Perhaps the biggest dark horse on this list is Phellinus linteus, also known as Mesima or the “black hoof mushroom.” Polysaccharides that have been isolated from P. linteus as well as extracts from the mushroom have demonstrated anti-carcinogenic properties. They’ve also shown an ability to increase immune system activity through the stimulation of the macrophages, B-cells and natural killer (NK) cells within the immune system. As a result, it has been suggested that similar to Turkey Tail, P. linteus may have potential as an alternative treatment for cancer.
Whether you’re looking to boost your brain, protect your gut, strengthen your immune system, brighten your mind, or break addiction, these 10 mushrooms are here to help. But don’t just take our word for it; do your own research and you’ll likely find even more amazing benefits!
And remember, there are 4,999,990 other species out there begging to be researched. In fact, some of them already have research pointing toward their own unique medicinal and nutritional profile. In other words, consider this a start, not the end.