Functional Mushrooms: The Top Varieties and Health Benefits

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      The shroom boom is here - and Americans are taking notice.

      From their medicinal benefits, to their amazing taste or mind-altering capabilities, mushrooms are becoming dietary and supplementary staples for many people on a daily basis. 

      But the truth is, not all mushrooms are created equal.

      Edible (gourmet) mushrooms, medicinal (functional) mushrooms, and magic (psychedelic) mushrooms each serve their own purpose in the fungi world. Each type of mushroom is used to achieve different health and wellness goals - whether you’re spicing up a dish in the kitchen, or looking to treat anxiety with mind altering substances,  it’s important to know what type of mushroom is best for your individual needs.

      For the purposes of today, we’re going to be focusing on what functional mushrooms are, the most popular types of functional mushrooms, how the terms “medicinal” and “functional” mushrooms are interchangeably used, and more. Let’s take a closer look.

      What are functional mushrooms

      Functional mushrooms, commonly known as medicinal mushrooms, are called “functional” because of their proven benefits for the human body. These are not your run of the mill mushrooms that you find in the produce aisle of your local big box grocer, but rather the wild mushrooms found growing in wooded, mossy, and forested areas around the world.

      Quick note: you can grow them at home too, but they were first and foremost found growing naturally where mother nature put them.

      Now, these are not quick fix mushrooms that will heal the body overnight, but more so mushrooms that scientists believe will have tangible benefits for human performance when taken over a longer period of time.

      These mushrooms are known for their high levels of natural nutrients and antioxidants that can help people of all shapes, sizes, and ages live healthier lives by helping boost the immune system and even potentially prevent cancer.

      Two other elements that also make functional mushrooms different from gourmet or psychedelic mushrooms is: 1) taste and 2) impact.

      To start with taste, these are not the mushrooms you can pick up and throw in an omelet to reap the benefits while also enjoying their taste. You absolutely can use functional mushrooms in your food items, but we wouldn’t necessarily recommend them all as a delicacy.

      Functional mushrooms are usually taken in a supplement format (capsule, extract, tincture, powder) because of their earthy taste not always lending well for gourmet use.

      As for impact, functional mushrooms do NOT psychedelic properties as they do not contain the psychoactive compounds psilocybin or psilocin. 

      Functional Mushrooms Basket

      Functional vs medicinal mushrooms

      If you’re wondering why people synonymously use the two terms functional and medicinal  if they mean the same thing, you’re wondering something that we’re still trying to grasp ourselves - but we’ll do our best.

      Across the world, over 10,000 types of mushrooms have been documented, tried, and tested by humans. And out of those 10,000+ types of mushrooms, there are just 2,000 that are considered to be ingestible. To funnel that number down even more, just 15 (yes 15!) of those 2,000 are said to have functional benefits that make them natural healers for the body

      The terms “functional” and “medicinal” are used interchangeably due to the vast crossover between functional benefits and health benefits. But to put a little more distinction between the two, you can think of functional meaning more than just nutritional benefits, and medicinal meaning they have proven health benefits backed by scientific studies. 

      See what we mean by confusing? 

      The truth is, functional and medicinal mushrooms all fall into the same camp and there can be functional and medicinal properties all in one type of mushroom, so the line is very (and we mean, very) fuzzy.

      So, what are the types of mushrooms that are considered functional mushrooms? We’re so glad you asked.

      What are the types of functional mushrooms?

      As mentioned above, there is a very select group of shining star functional mushrooms that stand out due to their proven track record for having functional benefits for the human body beyond just nutritional superiority - from helping reduce anxiety symptoms to naturally boosting energy levels, these nine mushroom species are the ones you want in your supplement cabinet.

      There are many fuctional and medicinal mushroom varieties. And so many we have yet to learn about. 

      But here are some of the most widely-used and best-studied functional mushrooms:

      1. Reishi

      reishi tea in a glass

      For over 2,000 years, the Chinese have used reishi mushrooms for their anti-aging benefits. With reishi having 54% beta-glucan content, this mushroom is a powerhouse for helping the body’s natural immune response and fighting age-related diseases. With reishi’s track record, it’s no wonder this mushroom has been named one of the top functional mushroom supplements in the world to possibly help with:

      • Anxiety and depression symptom relief
      • Improved cerebral blood flow (leading to better cognitive functionality)
      • Allergy relief
      • Anti-cancer properties
      • Improved liver function

      Before you jump in, learn more about the health benefits and side effects of reishi mushrooms.

      2. Turkey tail

      brown and red turkey tail

      One of the more widely studied mushrooms, turkey tail is known for its natural healing properties. Similar to reishi, turkey tail is also chock full of beta-glucans, making it a great supplement for boosting the body’s immune response.

      It’s also been shown that turkey tail contains over 35 different types of phenolic antioxidants. Because of these beta-glucans and antioxidants, turkey tail has numerous potential functional benefits including:

      • Cancer treatment when taken alongside chemotherapy (e.g., lung cancer, breast cancer, leukemia, etc,)
      • Gut health improvement
      • Antibacterial properties (e.g., salmonella or staph)
      • HPV treatment
      • Inflammation reduction
      • Athletic performance (increased energy)
      • Insulin resistance
      • Phlegm reduction
      • Pulmonary disorders

      Looking to learn more about turkey tail? Read more about the possible health benefits here

      3. Lion’s mane

      Lions mane in the shade

      As one of the more easily identifiable wild mushrooms, lion’s mane has a shaggy white exterior that resembles a white lion’s mane or a sea creature.

      Similar to reishi, it’s also been utilized for over 2,000 years by Chinese medicine practitioners for its numerous functional benefits that aid in general health and wellbeing.

      Today, lion’s mane is most known for it's potential to help with:

      • Mental clarity and cognition improvement (e.g., help with memory, concentration, etc.)
      • Mood regulation
      • Nerve support and repair
      • Better gut health
      • Inflammation reduction

      Lion's mane is also a delicious gourmet mushroom and is making its way onto the menus of some of the best restaurants in the world. If you're looking to learn more about the possible benefits of lion's mane for both body AND mind, check out this article

      5. Chaga

      preparing chaga mushroom

      Chaga is known as the “ugly” mushroom because of its dark, charcoal exterior. However, it’s also known as one of the best medicinal mushrooms for overall health and wellness. Despite it’s rough exterior, chaga has a soft, orange center that’s full of natural antioxidants and nutrients that help with:

      • Anti-aging
      • Skin improvements 
      • Immune boosting effects
      • Anti-inflammatory properties
      • Blood sugar balancing
      • Antitumor activity for various cancers
      • Antiviral needs

      Unlike some of its gourmet counterparts, chaga is extremely popular to consume as a tea

      6. Cordyceps

      cordyceps tea

      Cordyceps certainly look like a twisty carrot at first glance, but this mushroom is actually widely used to help enhance physical performance.

      That’s why it’s such a popular supplement with athletes.

      Cordyceps consumption has been linked to:

      • Energy levels
      • Improved kidney function
      • Immunotherapy to slow disease
      • Fight fatigue
      • Improve sexual performance
      • Enhance lung function

      Cordyceps and coffee make the perfect match. And you can see why! Many of it's potential benefits can rival your morning cup-of-joe. So why not take them together? Learn about cordyceps and coffee here

      7. Maitake

      maitake gourmet mushrooms

      Maitake (a.k.a. the “dancing mushroom”) is one of the mushrooms that crosses over between gourmet, medicinal, and functional due to its delicious taste, nutritional benefits, and medicinal properties.

      Traditional Chinese medicine has long revered maitake as a helper with:

      • Cancer prevention and treatment
      • Infection reduction
      • Upper respiratory health needs
      • Improved digestion
      • Immunomodulating capabilities
      • Antiviral properties

      Learn more about the potential benefits of maitake mushrooms here.

      8. Agaricus mushrooms

      cremini mushrooms

      Agaricus mushrooms make up a family of mushrooms (think crimini, button, and portobello mushrooms, to name a few). Many agaricus mushrooms are considered some of the most well-known gourmet mushrooms in the world and are widely cultivated by mushroom farmers, but many don’t know that they also have medicinal benefits to boot. Those benefits include:

      • Chemotherapy symptom reduction
      • Addressing insulin resistance for Type 2 Diabetes
      • Better immune response for colorectal cancer patients
      • Reducing ulcerative colitis symptoms
      • Antitumor properties
      • Antiviral capabilities
      • Anti-allergy capabilities

      Dive into the magical world of agaricus mushrooms with this in-depth article

      8. Shiitake

      shiitake mushrooms in a bowl

      Shiitake mushrooms, another mushroom kitchen staple that crosses over between the gourmet and functional categories, are the second most widely cultivated mushroom in the world behind the button mushrooms.

      It’s long been thought that eating a few shiitake fruiting bodies per week may help boost the body’s immune system.

      Beyond that, functional benefits of shiitake mushrooms include:

      • Cancer treatment and prevention
      • Blood sugar regulation
      • Infection prevention
      • Anti-microbial properties
      • Better liver health

      Interested in mushrooms that may be able to boost your immunity? Check out this guide!

      9. Oyster 

      Oyster mushrooms

      Last but not least, we have oyster mushrooms - this more common type of functional mushroom is full of ​​phenolic compounds, flavonoids, and polysaccharides that have been shown to boost the immune system (are you finally sensing a theme here…?). Studies have shown that oyster mushrooms may help with:

      Did you know that growing oyster mushrooms at home is incredibly easy? Plus, it's fun and safe for adults AND kids. Check out some of the top oyster grow kits and bring the magic of mushrooms into your kitchen. 

      What are some of the benefits of functional mushrooms?

      As you may have seen from all of the mushrooms listed above - pretty much every one of these bad boys has immune boosting effects that aid in general health and wellbeing. Hence why they are in the functional category! Making more sense? Awesome.

      The immune boosting effects of each of the mushroom species listed above is there due to an impressive roster of different nutrients, minerals, proteins, and healing compounds.

      These nutrients, mixed with bioactive compounds that are only available when extracted properly (we’ll get to this in a moment), enable functional mushrooms to support your personal health and wellbeing goals. 

      Beyond immunotherapy, functional mushrooms have been shown to help with:

      • Cancer prevention and/or treatment alongside chemotherapy
      • Arthritis symptoms
      • Anxiety and depression symptoms
      • Cognition enhancement
      • Inflammation reduction
      • Blood sugar reduction
      • Blood pressure reduction
      • Anti-aging
      • Cholesterol management
      • Energy levels
      • And more

      Now, we said we’d get more into the bioactive compound discussion, so let us make good on that promise.

      What are bioactive compounds in functional mushrooms?

      The immune boosting capabilities of functional mushrooms are made possible by unseen compounds deep within the mushroom - these are commonly known as bioactive compounds.

      To get more granular, these compounds are called beta-glucans (we mentioned these up above) and terpenoids - both of which are shown to help the body out in various ways.

      Some foods and functional mushrooms are higher in beta-glucan content than others. Here are some of the most popular varieties: 

      sources of beta-glucans graphic

      However, these compounds are really only accessible if extracted properly using hot water and/or alcohol extraction

      Which leads us to…

      Should you use an extract for functional mushrooms?

      Let’s break this down simply without going too deep into the extraction process itself. 

      Bioactive compounds are so unique because they are only accessible by using the proper extraction processes that differ based on the type of mushroom. Mushroom cell walls are made of a very tough material called chitin that extraction helps to break down in order for the body to be able to access these helpful compounds. 

      But they’re only accessible if the chitin is broken down properly.

      chitin found in crab shells graphic

      For example, lion’s mane or reishi mushrooms require a fruiting body dual-extraction that uses hot water AND alcohol extraction methods to ensure the bioactive compounds within the mushroom are digestible in the human body. But, like we said, the extraction needs will differ mushroom to mushroom.

      Ensure you do your research before diving into a specific supplement - otherwise you could end up taking something that your body isn’t even able to break down properly (a.k.a. you’re wasting your money!)

      Want to learn more about mushroom extraction? Check out our complete guide here

      Growing functional mushrooms at home

      Thanks to modern technology, we no longer have to forage for all of our favorite functional mushrooms in the wild. Quite the opposite actually…we can now grow some of them right from the comfort of home. Grow kits are super easy to use and are a great way to learn more about the mushroom process from start to finish. 

      North Spore Lions Mane Spray & Grow Kit

      We want to make this simpler for first timers, so we created a best grow kits blog post for you to utilize. 

      Common ways to incorporate functional mushrooms

      Now that we have a fundamental understanding of the who, what, when, where, and why of functional mushrooms, let’s get to the “how” and learn how we recommend taking these supplements. The best ways to incorporate functional mushrooms into your daily routine are*:

      • Mushroom Powder: If you can reap the benefits of the functional mushroom by simply drying and crushing the fruiting body, mushroom powder is a great option for supplementation. It’s in an almost pure format and great to sprinkle on your favorite savory dish or into a beverage. You can even steep the powder as a tea if you’d like.  

      • Mushroom Extract: If the bioactive compounds of the mushroom you’re consuming require specific extraction processes beyond just a fruiting body powder, you’ll need to consider taking an extract powder to ensure the bioactivity is present. This can also be sprinkled on food items, steeped as a tea (chaga, we’re looking at you), or added into your beverage of choice (we promise you’ll barely notice). 

      • Mushroom Capsules: Just as you take your daily vitamins, adding in functional mushroom capsules to your daily routine is a piece of cake. These capsules contain extract powder so you’re taking the quick and dirty route to getting in your daily functional mushroom dosage. 

      • Mushroom Tincture: Also known as liquid extract, tinctures are a super easy way to add mushrooms into your daily life with little to know change in your routine. Simply add a few droplets (note dosage before dumping it in) to your beverage of choice and voila - you’re supplementing!

      *Please note that dosage will vary for each mushroom. Please consult the packaging and talk to a doctor if you have any health concerns or questions before consuming a new supplement.

      Some important things to consider about your functional mushroom supplements

      When looking for the best supplement for your body and health needs, consider the following before just buying the first one you see:

      • Look for fruiting body supplements: There is a continuous debate about whether or not the fruiting body or mycelium of mushrooms are better for health and wellness, but we lean fruiting body at Remeday. Consider this when looking at the supplement of your choice.

      • Good companies show a Certificate of Analysis (CoA): Legit mushroom companies publish CoA’s that show their testing process, ingredients, and methods. If the company you’re checking out doesn’t have these things, get outta there!

      • We said it before and we’ll say it again - extraction processes matter: We won’t beat a dead horse here, because we said it all above, but please please please check out the extraction processes to ensure you’re getting the most bang for your buck with your chosen supplements.

      Now that you have the download on all things functional mushrooms, dive further into medicinal, psychedelic, and gourmet mushrooms by subscribing to our popular mushroom newsletter, The MorningMush!

      There’s always so mush more to explore. Thanks for stopping by!

      Hi, we're Remeday!

      When we dove head-first into the fascinating world of mushrooms, we hit a wall of misinformation and deceptive marketing. It has been our goal to preserve the history and future of mushrooms as medicine by providing you with an unbiased, trusted source into all facets of fungi. But we've only just scratched the surface. Learn along with us by subscribing to our newsletter: The MorningMush. We always welcome your thoughts and feedback.

      Mush love,

      🍄 The Remeday Team

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