Even though certain mushrooms have been used in cultures for years to treat illnesses or maintain vitality, the overall use of mushrooms in modern society for ethnomedicinal purposes is relatively limited. Mushrooms are proven to contain antimicrobial, antiviral, antitumor, antiallergenic, and hepatoprotective properties, but they have so many other active compounds as well (1)! Studies of their use against cancer and neurodegenerative disorders could have life-altering effects on individuals that could truly use these medicines, but may not have access to their knowledge due to modern practices.
Below are 4 mushrooms growing in the midwest you can use for enhancing the natural processes in your body to help ward of diseases, increase the body’s ability to adapt to everyday stressors, improve cognitive function, inhibit negative inflammatory processes in the body, and more!
Be wary though. Not all mushrooms are edible, and even the most commonly harvested mushroom can be accidentally mistaken for a poisonous one! Always do your research and harvest with a well-trained mycologist before consuming mushrooms. And always buy supplements from well-known, trustworthy suppliers that follow sustainable harvesting practices.
Chaga is on the rage lately, and for good reason! In fact, it’s so popular that it is at risk of becoming overharvested in the wild. So while I don’t encourage you to collect your own, it’s important to understand the health benefits of this powerful fungus in case someday it could be of use to you or a family member.
Chaga grows on old birch trees, often invading through an open wound and eventually killing the tree within 10 years. The extremely high antioxidant content in chaga is what gives it the ability to ward off diseases and the appearance of aging that accompanies the free radical damage that can occur from day-to-day activities (2). The active ingredients, Betulin and Betulinic acid, are extracted from the birch tree and are what give this fungus most of its medicinal and anti-tumor properties (3). It is currently being studied for use with breast and uterine cancers, among others.
The fungus also boasts high amounts of vitamin D, vitamin K, and minerals such as calcium, iron, copper, and zinc. In addition, the polysaccharides in chaga are what help stimulate the production of leukocytes in the body, making you better able to fend off invading bacteria and viruses (4). The active constituents are said to be both water and alcohol soluble, so a double extraction tincture may prove the best way to ingest this fungus.
Reishi mushroom is classified around the world as a superfood due to its numerous benefits for the body. For one, it is incredibly anti-inflammatory and is considered an adaptogen herb, meaning that it helps the body adapt to many of life’s stresses such as inflammation, free-radical damage, internal or external stressors, and even energy or hormone imbalances (5). These well-known actions are why it is said to be responsible for bringing the body back to homeostasis. Reishi contains large amounts of amino acids, antioxidants, beta-glucans, and polysaccharides which help protect the body from DNA damage.
Recent studies suggest that reishi also boosts the body’s natural “killer cells” that help remove various types of mutated cells in the body that could eventually turn into a form of cancer (6). In this respect it can inhibit mutated cell formation and growth in the body and enhance the body’s natural immune response.
The triterpenes in reishi are said to promote lowering of inflammation within blood vessels, potentially benefiting those suffering from high cholesterol or high blood pressure. Triterpenes are a form of ganoderic acid that is responsible for reducing the body’s histamine reaction, so it may help with those suffering from an immune response to pollen or other allergens in the environment (7).
Studies demonstrate that this fungus can be beneficial for the following conditions (8):
- Chronic inflammation
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Seasonal allergies or food allergies
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Tumor or cancer growth
- High blood pressure and high cholesterol
You often consume this fungus in the form of teas, tinctures, powders, or supplements, and it is said to be mostly water-soluble.
Lion’s mane is a great mushroom for brain and nerve health! Traditionally used as a general body restorative, lion’s mane is increasingly being studied for its use on neurodegenerative diseases. This fungus has been linked to the production of Nerve Growth Factor (NGF), a protein that is crucial in the body for the growth and function of nerve cells. Through this action, it helps reduce inflammation and improve overall cognitive function through enhancing nerve growth and protection. It has proven advantageous in scientific studies against cognitive decline, enhancing memory and recall in 50 – 80 year old patients suffering from mild memory lapses when taken at a dose of 3 grams per day for 4 months (9).
In addition to memory enhancement, the ability of Lion’s mane to enhance nerve growth has proven astonishingly impressive. There are more than a dozen studies that prove the mushroom supports neurogenesis, or the creation of neurons. How does it work? When Lion’s mane is digested in the body, particles are transported across the blood-brain barrier where they are capable of stimulating the growth of NGF and helping repair nerve myelin. It is recommended as a potential treatment for those suffering from Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, and other neurological conditions (10). This supplement is also one that is said to be alcohol and water-soluble, so a double extraction is best.
Turkey tail mushroom is gaining popularity in cancer treatment labs as a potential cure for the disease. Named after its resemblance to the fanned out tail of turkeys, this mushroom is relatively easy to find on downed logs and has been used by the Chinese in the form of teas for many years. It’s particularly well-known for its ability to boost the immune system, which is why it is often used in the treatment of colds and flu (11). It is also said to be an adaptogen, helping support the body’s ability to respond to common stressors.
The FDA is currently studying Turkey tail in cancer treatments in combination with chemotherapy. The idea is that since chemo can suppress the immune system, the addition of Turkey tail in treatment can help build the body’s natural immune function back up, promoting the body’s natural defense against cancer cells. It has shown success in the treatment of prostate cancers in combination with chemotherapy, although to prove the mushroom is responsible for the success is a bit of a stretch. The combination of both is said to enhance the possibility of success with treatment (12).
Turkey tail is also said to assist in a healthy digestive system. It serves as a prebiotic in the gut which helps support the growth and proliferation of healthy gut bacteria which enhance overall gut function and health (X). This in turn also benefits your immune system since the two body systems are said to have a powerful connection.
The research pertaining to these mushrooms remains strong, but as always, discuss with your doctor before use of any mushrooms or herbal supplements. Never harvest a mushroom in the wild unless you are absolutely certain of it’s identification, and always buy your supplements from reputable dealers with sustainable harvesting practices.