8 Functional Mushroom Types You Need to Know
This post is adapted from here.
It’s no secret I love mushrooms. Not the standard white button mushrooms available on grocery store shelves (though let’s be honest, I love those too), I’m talking superfood functional mushrooms.
The kind that grow in deep, dense forests and on fallen logs and trees, and have been used for their health benefits for thousands of years.
While the rest of the world has taken some time to warm up to these superfood, adaptogenic mushrooms, thankfully the tides are changing.
Offering a host of benefits from nutritional to emotional to physical, mushrooms could hold the key to health for people and the planet.
But with a kingdom that contains over 1.5 million fungi and mushroom varieties, it’s understandable to feel a little confused. After all, not all of those species are edible mushrooms. Some are poisonous mushrooms, some are psychedelic, and some are just plain tasty!
Today I’m sharing eight of my favorite functional edible mushrooms and their incredible benefits, along with some interesting history.
Note: In this article we’ll be talking about not-so common mushrooms that you can’t find in the produce section of most grocery stores. If you’re more interested in cooking with exotic mushrooms like oyster mushrooms, chanterelle mushrooms, porcini, or morel mushrooms, check out this article.
Need to chill out? Try reishi. Also called lingzhi in China, which signifies longevity and spirituality, reishi has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for over 2,000 years, making it one of the oldest mushrooms to be used as medicine.
As an adaptogen with the ability to soothe nerves and stimulate sleep cycles, reishi could help you manage stress and get a good night’s sleep[*].
Used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries, wild cordyceps' origin story reads like a science fiction novel. It begins its life as an endoparasitoid, meaning it grows as a parasite, typically on caterpillars. (Our cordyceps is much friendlier; we don't use caterpillars in our production process and our products are vegan-friendly.)
Cordyceps are most commonly used for athletic performance. I explain the science between cordyceps, energy, and exercise in this article.
One look at lion’s mane mushroom and you’ll understand where it got its name. Fluffy, bright white, and typically found growing on hardwood trees, this shaggy mane mushroom has a delicious meaty texture often used in cooking.
But the benefits of lion’s mane extend far beyond your dinner plate! Often called “the smart mushroom,” lion’s mane is one of the only mushrooms with neuroprotective benefits. Eating lion’s mane seems to stimulate the synthesis of nerve growth factor (NGF)[*].
An outlier of sorts in the mushroom kingdom where warm and humid is the preferred climate of most fungi, chaga grows in cold environments, like Siberia, North Korea, Canada, and some colder parts of the United States.
With chaga, the general rule is the more mature the chaga, the more potent and beneficial it is, taking between 15 to 20 years to fully age. Packed with antioxidant properties and beta-glucans, chaga is often brewed as a tea to help support the immune system. It can also be ground into a powder and consumed that way to reap the same amount of benefits.
Turkey tail mushroom looks just as you’d imagine it – like a fanned-out turkey tail with stripes of varying colors radiating out from the edges. Turkey tail is a polypore, meaning the fruiting body grows on the underside of the mushroom. It grows on fallen and dead trees and is quite abundant worldwide.
This mushroom is best used as a tea because of its super chewy texture, although turkey tail can be eaten as-is (if you really wanted to). Additionally, the prebiotics and antioxidant properties in turkey tail could support the microbiome, supporting digestion and encouraging growth of good bacteria[*][*].
Enoki for short, enokitake mushrooms are delicate white mushrooms with long, thin stems native to China, Japan, and Korea. Enoki are commonly used in cooking and have been found to contain a host of nutritional benefits along with their great flavor.
Enokitake mushrooms can help fill nutritional gaps in your diet, as it is an excellent source of niacin[*].
Also known as hen-of-the-woods, maitake translates to “dancing mushroom” in Japanese. Why? Because it’s said that if you find it as a wild mushroom you start dancing for joy! (In fact, it’s pretty tasty on its own.) But this pale gray mushroom is not just a delicious addition to your stir fries.
It’s rich in potential antioxidant properties, beta-glucans, and minerals. It’s even been studied for blood sugar and gut support.
Shiitake mushrooms have been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries to increase circulation. It’s a superfood with amino acids, vitamin D, many minerals, and vitamin B. When exposed to sunlight, their levels of vitamin D actually increase.
This vitamin D, plus shiitake’s antioxidant properties, has been shown to help support the liver in mice[*].
To learn more about these mushrooms and other functional mushrooms, check out our free e-learning courses on the Mushroom Academy.