What are they?
Mushrooms are indeed fantastic fungi. While you may not know it, you might have interacted with functional mushrooms in your coffee or favorite protein bars. But what are they really, and what do they do to the body? Read on!
What are Functional Mushrooms?
The term ‘mushrooms’ is an umbrella for a wide variety of fungi. With over a thousand varieties, some are poisonous, some are psychedelic, and others are edible and healthy. In fact, they could be a perfect addition to your culinary experience.
Functional mushrooms are described as mushrooms that have adaptogenic properties and health benefits beyond their regular nutritional composition. These mushrooms contain adaptogens, compounds that assist the body in adapting to different types of stresses; biological, physical, and chemical.
According to research, adaptogens have been used for medicinal purposes for centuries. These compounds help the body fight off illnesses and diseases resulting from these stressors. In return, the body maintains a healthy homeostasis.
By consuming these functional mushrooms, your body gets a boost in its immune system, reduces inflammation, repairs damaged cells, and generally enhances the quality of your life.
What are Functional Mushrooms Not?
As mentioned above, there are so many species of mushrooms across the globe. It is almost impossible to have seen all of them unless you are doing research.
However, the white ones that look like buttons are nothing close to functional mushrooms. Out of 2000 species of mushrooms, only 15 have been proven functional.
In some cases, you might notice people confusing functional mushrooms with magic or hallucinogenic mushrooms. It is crucial to note that functional mushrooms contain no psilocybin. As such, they do not cause any hallucinations or psychedelic effects and are safe for most people, regardless of their scope of work.
If legal mushrooms were to be counted in most jurisdictions, functional mushrooms would top the list. This is because they help you manage stress levels, balance hormones, and improve cognitive function. They holistically foster a healthier lifestyle.
6 Popular Functional Mushrooms and Their Benefits
Mushrooms have been used in traditional medicine for centuries, particularly in Eastern cultures. Among the many types of mushrooms, functional mushrooms have gained popularity in recent years for their potential health benefits.
These mushrooms are rich in bioactive compounds such as polysaccharides, beta-glucans, and triterpenes, believed to have immunomodulatory, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties. Here are the six most popular functional mushrooms you might come across.
Lion’s Mane Mushrooms
This is the most common variety of functional mushroom. They are white mushrooms that resemble little furry brains. The mushrooms are renowned for their ability to positively influence how the brain works due to their neurotrophic properties.
Neurotrophic properties, as the name suggests, foster the growth and differentiation of neurons in the brain. These neurons are responsible for sending and receiving information (to and from the brain) to other parts of the body.
In addition to the neurotrophic benefits, the Lion’s Mane mushrooms work wonders in reducing brain inflammation. It fosters neuroprotection, thus preventing and slowing down cognitive decline. It makes a perfect addition to the diet of Alzheimer’s patients.
Cordyceps mushrooms pass the test for having the most interesting look. They look like elongated golden caterpillars and actually grow on insect larvae. Besides their magical appearance, the cordyceps mushrooms underwent a series of research studies, and the results are just as impressive as their appearance.
Further research shows that mushrooms positively impact respiratory health, blood sugar regulation, and kidney disease. Due to the high amount of antioxidants, it has properties that alleviate inflammations and fight free radicals that make the body susceptible to various cancers.
In the Cordyceps mushrooms, you will find a generous amount of fungi protein, vitamin K, and a whole range of B vitamins. Besides nourishing and energizing the body, these mushrooms promote healthy blood clotting.
Commonly known as ‘snow fungus’, Tremella mushrooms are a host of vital nutrients for the human body. They take on a rib boned look, like white seaweed. Their ethereal look makes them look like snow, hence the name.
In a recent study, researchers found that these mushrooms have a good amount of antioxidants, anti-inflammatory and antitumor effects. These properties ensure that the blood sugar is well regulated and the immune system is at its best. Further research supports their usefulness in neuroprotection for the brain.
Like most functional mushrooms, Tremella mushrooms also boast a considerable concentration of B vitamins, zinc, copper, iron, and Vitamin D. All this supports your immune system, blood cells, and bone health. It is important to understand that finding Tremella mushrooms as a whole might be a little difficult. You will likely see them as supplements, a powder, a capsule, or a tincture.
While it made the list of the most popular functional mushrooms, the Chaga mushroom is the rarest to find fresh. This is because it grows in the wild. There is no need to worry, as you can always find them dried or in powder form. These mushrooms resemble truffles and could be mistaken for turmeric roots.
According to recent studies, food scientists found that Chaga mushrooms are a good source of antioxidants and boast anti-inflammatory and antiviral properties. It is also a cholesterol-lowering agent and the perfect ingredient for people looking to shed a few pounds.
Due to its high level of antioxidants, ongoing research suggests that Chaga mushrooms can effectively treat cancer and type 2 diabetes. As for the latter, it regulates insulin production in the body, thus promoting healthy sugar levels.
The mushrooms are a good source of beta-glucans, Vitamin D, zinc, copper, potassium, manganese, and B vitamins. Additionally, it contains a high amount of oxalate, a naturally occurring substance in plants. You must be careful with its consumption, as research shows it may lead to kidney stone formation and kidney failure in the extremities.
Turkey Tail Mushrooms
As you have already noticed, some of these names come as a result of the mushroom’s resemblance. Turkey Tail mushrooms are dark brown and look like beautiful fans. When looking at them closely, you will notice their resemblance to turkey tails, even in the patterns.
There has been recent evidence pointing out that these mushrooms contain nonspecific immune modulators. This means that it boosts the immune system without any specificity. With its high levels of antioxidants, it assists the body in reducing inflammation, melanoma, and even breast cancer.
In addition, Turkey Tail is high in beta-glucans, vitamin D, and B vitamins. Whether you eat the mushrooms whole or as supplements, you can be sure to get these benefits.
Reishi mushrooms are a common category of mushrooms. You’ve probably had them, especially if you often seek out healthy vegan foods. They were initially used in traditional Chinese medicine and are believed to have many health benefits.
According to 2021 research, these mushrooms were therapeutic in alleviating inflammation, diabetes, neurological disorders, liver disease, cancer, and mood disorders. While the study is still in its initial stages, it is a good sign for mushroom lovers.
When it comes to nutrients and vitamins, Reishi mushrooms are packed with vitamins C, D, and E. It is also rich in B vitamins and beta carotene, a potent antioxidant promoting eye health.
How to Use Functional Mushrooms In Your Meals
Now that you know about functional mushrooms, how can you incorporate them into your meals? Luckily, there are many ways to do so. Here are a few ways.
- Mix them in your smoothies and yogurts
- Stirring an infusing in your favorite hot beverages
- Blending with hot cereals
While these are the most common ways, there is never any harm in experimenting with various recipes and being innovative. For example, you could sprinkle the dried ones on pastries or even use them in baking. By doing so, you will get to know whatever works for you.
Safety Precautions For Functional Mushrooms
Even though functional mushrooms are generally considered safe, you must take a few precautions while introducing new products to your body. If you have any underlying conditions, contact your doctor before consuming.
For starters, you must take them in small amounts and listen to your body. If you notice or experience any allergies after the consumption, you should cease the intake and see your physician.
Due to the presence of oxalates in some of these mushrooms, people with bleeding disorders, kidney disorders, or people taking blood-pressure medication should avoid them. Additionally, pregnant and breastfeeding women are often susceptible to health issues and must be very keen on their intake. Let your doctor in on them before consumption.
As with anything, taking too much could negatively affect your body. In one study, people who took too much experienced a suppression of immunity, which is the reverse of its benefits.
As you can see, functional mushrooms are very different from magic mushrooms or fungi related to hallucinations. They are a healthy and adaptogenic option that you can include in your meals due to their unique benefits and versatility.
While we have only discussed the six most popular ones, it is worth noting that there are more than 15 functional mushrooms. However, you might only find them available in supplement or powder form.
If you are taking them for the first time, you must introduce them to your body slowly while monitoring any effects. In case of anything, get in touch with your doctor ASAP!
Here at Shaman Mushroom Spores, we do not currently offer any gourmet mushroom spores. We are working hard to expand our mushroom spore library to include gourmet varieties along with our magic mushroom spores.