When diving into the mushroom world, there’s a lot of unfamiliar terminology that you may come across - from fruiting bodies to beta-glucans, we had never heard a lot of these terms before learning about medicinal mushrooms either.
But don’t fret, we’re here to help bridge the gap and further your mushroom education by providing a comprehensive medicinal mushroom terminology guide.
Since there are a lot (and we mean, A LOT) of terms to get through, let’s waste no time and dive right in.
Medicinal mushroom terminology - the glossary
Below you will find a comprehensive, but inexhaustive, list of mushroom terms. We’ll provide some details for each term and dive a little deeper so you can better understand how the term fits into the mushroom world. Let’s start with A…here goes.
Agaricus genus is a family of mushroom species that contains both edible and poisonous mushrooms. There are an estimated 300 members of the agaricus genus mushrooms that grow all over the world, with a commonly known one being the button mushroom.
Agaricus is commonly used in medicinal mushroom products today due to its high beta-glucan and chitin content. Agaricus mushroom species are identified by all having a similar fleshy cap, radiating gills, long stem, and white or brownish color.
Alpha-glucans live in the mushroom cell walls and are a type of polysaccharide that provides nutritional and medicinal properties to the person consuming the mushroom. Alpha glucans include compounds like starch, glycogen, pullulan, and dextran that give mushrooms a boost with nutritional value.
Amanita genus is another family of mushrooms that has over 600 family members. Similarly to agaricus, there is a mix of edible and poisonous mushrooms in the family - however, amanita contains some of the most poisonous and toxic mushrooms found worldwide. When you think of cartoon (or emoji 🍄) mushrooms, amanita mushrooms fit the bill with a red cap, white spots, and short stem.
An antioxidant is a substance that removes potentially damaging agents in the body. Vitamins, minerals, polyphenols, and more are various types of antioxidants that are commonly found in foods like mushrooms. Across the board, many mushroom species are filled with antioxidants - you’ll have to dive into the mushroom species to learn more about which type of antioxidants are specific to that mushroom.
Medicinal mushrooms are known for having immune system enhancing properties and antiviral support compounds including selenium, magnesium, and zinc. Some of the mushrooms that are known to have the highest amount of antiviral support compounds include maitake, shiitake, reishi, and cordyceps. These mushrooms have been used to treat everything from the common cold to the flu.
Beta-glucans are another type of polysaccharide found in the cell walls of mushrooms. Medicinal mushrooms that contain high levels of beta-glucans have been shown to help treat active cancer and/or prevent cancerous cells from repopulating. We went IN DEPTH on beta-glucans in this blog - check it out.
The cap of the mushroom (a.k.a. the pileus) is a hat, for lack of a better term, that sits on the top of the mushroom stalk, and protects the gills and other important parts of the mushroom. While most think mushroom caps are umbrella-shaped, mushroom caps can come in many different shapes and sizes based on the mushroom species. Learn more about mushroom caps in our mushroom anatomy blog post.
For all the on-the-go folks that are looking for ways to add more medicinal mushrooms to their diets, capsules are a good option to explore. Mushroom capsules contain medicinal mushroom powder or powder extract to help the person consuming them get all the health benefits easily and quickly. If you’re looking for the best medicinal mushroom capsules, consider checking out our guide to the best brands and what to look for in store.
Chaga mushrooms are a widely known medicinal mushroom that resembles burnt charcoal in color and texture. Chaga mushrooms are filled with vitamins, zinc, magnesium, fiber, and more. It's said that chaga helps boost the immune system, fight inflammation, lower blood sugar, and much more.
Chinese Herbal Medicine (CHM)
Chinese Herbal Medicine (CHM) is a sector of Chinese Traditional Medicine. CHM utilizes herbs to help restore equilibrium in the body and are said to help restore yin and yang. Mushrooms have long been regarded for their healing powers by Chinese culture and are considered a prescribable option for CHM healers.
When looking at the anatomy of a mushroom, you will find chitin in the cell walls. Chitin is a fibrous substance that is made up of polysaccharides like beta and alpha-glucans. Chitin is a key element of the mushroom that makes it viable as a cancer fighting treatment.
Clinical trials are scientific studies done in-vitro, on mice, or with human subjects to confirm or deny a suspicion about something. For example, there are numerous ongoing clinical trials about mushroom use for various health needs.
The cordyceps genus contains over 750 types of mushrooms. Cordyceps grow on the larva of insects (yes, gross, we know), but their potential health benefits make them worth consuming. This family of mushrooms is known to have immense health benefits including enhancing physical performance, boosting energy, fighting fatigue, treating high blood pressure, and more.
Cortinarius genus is a family of mushrooms that grows around the globe and is considered to be the biggest family of species with over 2,000 types of mushrooms under the cortinarius umbrella. Many cortinarius mushrooms are poisonous or even lethal. Once at full maturity, many mushrooms in the genus are highly colorful (think purpley-blue) and can be used as a dye.
If you read that and thought, “hmmm, that sounds like cyanide”, you would be right. Cyanogenic glycosides are natural toxins found in several plants (mushrooms included) and cyanide is formed once hydrolysis of these toxins occurs. This process takes place during the processing or crushing of the plant.
Cytosol is a component of the cytoplasm found in a cell. Similar to animal cells, fungal (mushroom) cells contain a nucleus and a lot of the same makeup, which includes the presence of cytosol in the cell walls. Cytosol is important for cell regrowth and allows for the mushroom to stay alive.
The death cap mushroom is part of the amanita genus (see above) and, if the name didn’t give it away, is considered a highly toxic and even lethal mushroom. Within six-to-24 hours of ingesting the death cap mushroom, symptoms usually start including vomiting, diarrhea, and severe abdominal cramps. Eventually, this mushroom can lead to death.
A decoction is also known as an herbal infusion and is created using hot water and herbal ingredients. By soaking the herbal ingredient in hot water for a long period of time, it draws out vitamins and enzymes. This can be done using medicinal mushrooms - in fact, mushroom tea is considered one of the most popular ways to ingest medicinal mushrooms because it helps bring out the bioactive compounds of the mushroom.
Dehydrated mushrooms are a popular medicinal option because they contain all of the same nutrients and value of fresh mushrooms, but are shelf stable for up to one year. You can dehydrate mushrooms by putting them in the oven on low for three-to-eight hours. Once all of the water that’s in the fruiting body is evaporated, you will have a dehydrated mushroom.
Diterpenes are a chemical compound that are biosynthesized by fungi and consist of two terpenes (see below). Diterpenes in fungus have been connected to anti-inflammatory properties, antimicrobial action, and antispasmodic activities.
Double extraction tincture
Double extraction means that both hot water and alcohol extraction have been used on the mushroom powder for its most beneficial nutrients to become bioavailable to a human ingesting it. For example, double extraction tinctures are recommended for all reishi products because they have a high level of beta-glucans which are only accessible and digestible after multiple extractions.
Similar to dehydrated mushrooms (see above), dried mushrooms are a shelf stable option to have handy in your pantry at all times. This is a popular way that's been used for centuries, might we add, to keep mushrooms good for longer. Dried mushrooms still have all of the same nutrients as fresh mushrooms, but are often said to have a more intense mushroom flavor. They’re highly recommended for adding flavor to soups and stews.
Endophytic fungi are a group of fungi that induce symptomless disease into their host. However, they’re not all bad - in fact, endophytic fungi are essential in the medicinal world to enhance plant growth, produce different compounds or enzymes, and more.
Ergosterol is a sterol (hence the name) found in the cell membranes of fungi species. Ergosterol helps with cell membrane fluidity, cell regulation, and control of the cell cycle.
Eritadenine is a chemical compound that lives in shiitake mushrooms that affects our metabolism and may decrease total cholesterol levels in human plasma.
If you’re a nutrition buff, or you’re simply paying attention in the cereal aisle at the grocery store, you’ve likely heard about fiber and its benefits. Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that the body is unable to digest, and therefore helps regulate bodily sugars and blood sugar levels. Mushrooms are chock full of fiber and are considered a great way to get a person’s necessary daily fiber intake.
Fu ling mushrooms
Fu ling mushrooms (a.k.a. poria mushrooms) resemble large rocks in their shape, texture, and size. This mushroom is a wood decay fungus that is commonly used to treat anxiety, memory, fatigue, and many other conditions.
Mushroom foraging is a practice that’s been done for centuries to find wild mushrooms in their natural habitat (the great outdoors). To forage for mushrooms, you should have an understanding of wild mushroom species and what you’ll come across in the area you’re foraging. Please be sure to check on the species and state of the mushroom to ensure it’s viable to eat and it’s not decaying.
The mushroom fruiting body is what many actually refer to as the mushroom. This is the part of the mushroom that produces offspring with spores and is arguably the better part of the mushroom to eat when it comes to medicinal properties. Learn more about mushroom anatomy by visiting our blog post.
Galerina genus is a family of small brown spore mushrooms with over 300 species under its umbrella. It’s known for being extremely poisonous and can often be confused with the hallucinogenic mushroom, psilocybe. They are found growing on wood and can be identified by their small size, brown color, and brittle stem.
The gills of the mushroom, also known as pores, are located beneath the cap and are protected by the umbrella-like top of the mushroom. They are considered the reproductive part of the mushroom and are where the fruiting body creates spores. Learn more about mushroom anatomy by visiting our blog.
Glycogen is another type of polysaccharide that serves as an energy storage in the fungus. This is where glucose cells live and are held to be used by the organism.
Gyromitra genus is a smaller family of fungi with just 18 species under its name. When looking at it, it truly looks like a brown brain - let us know if you agree. Some species in the family are highly toxic while others are edible once cooked. Just make sure you choose the right one if you are going to have gyromitra for dinner!
Experienced mushroom harvesters have very specific processes they follow to get the best yield. When harvesting mushrooms, whether that’s in the wild or on a fungi farm, be sure to wait for the mushroom to reach full maturity to ensure you’re getting the best fruiting body. For more information about how to harvest mushrooms in an appropriate way, contact the professionals (that’s us…we’re the professionals).
Hericium genus is a family of odd looking and oddly textured mushrooms that are just all around…odd. However, despite their hairlike look, these mushrooms are all edible and are renowned for their medicinal benefits. In this family the most commonly known species is probably the lion’s mane mushroom (hericium erinaceus). They grow wild in North America and China, and are a common medicinal mushroom product input because of their brain health benefits, mental health support compounds, and more.
The honey mushroom is an edible mushroom found in forests growing on trees or under shrubs. It’s said that consuming honey mushrooms helps with vertigo, epilepsy, and other neurological disorders.
As mentioned before (see double extraction tincture above), a tincture is created by using hot water and alcohol extraction. A hydroalcoholic tincture is just that, but the alcohol has been diluted with water to make it a hybrid between water and alcohol.
Ibotenic acid, also known as ibotenate, is a chemical compound found in mushrooms that can be used as a psychoactive drug. When studied, it’s been shown to cause destruction when injected into mice, so it can be assumed that it’s dangerous.
Immunomodulation is the process by which the body changes in response to immune enhancing compounds. There are many immunomodulating drugs out there, but there are also natural substances - like mushrooms! - that are known to have immune enhancing capabilities. In particular, chaga, reishi, turkey tail, and lion’s mane, among others, have been shown to be immune boosting medicinal mushrooms. Try ‘em for yourself!
Inocybe genus is a large (very large) family of over 1,400 mushroom species. These little brown mushrooms are kind of a dime a dozen if we’re honest, but it’s still important to know the species and what it offers. What does make the mushroom interesting is that it turns purple after a certain period of maturity.
An in-vitro clinical trial study is done in a test tube rather than on an animal or human. In fact, the name “in-vitro” literally comes from the latin term “in glass”. This is a common type of study when looking at mushroom health benefits.
Lactarius genus is a family of mushrooms that is commonly known as milk cap mushrooms. Lactarius mushrooms can be easily identified by their orange color with hints of yellow at times, and caps that grow six to 15 centimeters in size. Plus, they bruise green. While they are technically edible, they are not very tasty and are not recommended for consumption.
The lion’s mane mushroom is named for looking like a, well, white lion’s mane. This odd looking fungus grows wild on tree trunks, but is considered endangered in parts of Europe. Lion’s mane is a popular medicinal mushroom supplement because it has numerous brain health benefits including better cognitive performance, depression and anxiety support, and mood enhancement. Additionally, it’s said that lion’s mane mushroom supplementation can help fight cancer, protect against ulcers, reduce the risk of heart disease, and more. It’s truly a multitasker!
Maitake mushrooms have been nicknamed “the dancing mushroom” by the Japanese and have been used for centuries as a healing mechanism. Maitake is an adaptogen that helps the human body fight disease due to its high levels of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, fiber, and more.
Mannoproteins, a group of proteins, are found in the cell walls of mushrooms. They can also be defined as glycoproteins that contain 15-to-90% mannose by weight. Mannans are essential to the anatomy of the cell wall of mushrooms.
There are three types of mushrooms: gourmet, medicinal, and magic. Medicinal mushrooms are used for their healing powers to help treat everything from inflammation in the body to active cancer cells. Popular medicinal mushrooms include chaga, reishi, shiitake, maitake, lion’s mane, and more, and can be purchased in various formats to be taken as part of a health regimen.
The mycelium, mycelia when not plural, is the underground part of a mushroom that is very important, but not easily seen. Mycelium is made up of hyphae (threads or roots) and can be super thickly woven together. The main function of mycelium is to extract nutrients. A cool fact is that mycelium networks are considered the largest single living organism in the world.
Mycorrhizal fungi is a mushroom species that is key in the overall plant microbiome. This species ensures that plants get adequate access to soil nutrients and water by adhering themselves to a plant’s root system.
A hot topic in the mushroom world, neurogenesis can be defined as the growth of new brain cells and neurons. The reason this has become a hot topic for mushroom lovers is that it's said that psychedelic (magic) mushrooms can create neurogenesis in the brain. The jury is still out on that…
Within a mushroom’s reproductive structure, you will find organelles. Organelles can be found in the hyphae (see mycelium above for details on what this word is) and are literally tiny organs - hence the name - for cells found within the mushroom that make it grow and function.
This naturally occurring plant compound is found in shiitake, chaga, and button mushrooms, to name a few. It’s said that a high level of oxalates can actually cause kidney stones and, if consumed in excess, may cause the body to reject key nutrients it needs to function. The good news is that oxalates are 99% insoluble, but maybe watch how many of these types of mushrooms you’re consuming to be safe.
The oyster mushroom grows in clumps and resembles many small, white trumpets protruding upward from where they grow. This extremely edible mushroom is often used in dishes around the world, but also has numerous medicinal benefits. For example, oyster mushrooms are made up of 30% proteins, so they are a great source to utilize if you’re plant-based and need more protein in your diet.
Unlike mycorrhizal fungi that quite literally help plants thrive, parasitic fungi do the opposite…they attack plants, invade them, and reap their nutrient benefits to continue thriving and killing off other plants. Oftentimes parasitic fungi create a reliant relationship on insects and use them to feed on trees. Our word of advice? Steer clear.
Polypore is a group of mushrooms that form large fruiting bodies with pores/tubes on the underside of the body. Many refer to polypore mushrooms as “shelf mushrooms” because of their growth appearance. A good example of a polypore mushroom is a turkey tail whose large fruiting body will grow sideways off of a stump or tree. Some other examples include birch polypore, the northern tooth fungus, and more.
Polysaccharides are a carbohydrate found in mushrooms that consist of numerous types of compounds like alpha-glucans (see above), beta-glucans (see above or here), and more. Polysaccharides are found in the cell wall of the mushroom and are said to be cancer fighting agents. To learn more about polysaccharides, check out our blog post on cancer fighting mushrooms.
A powder extract is a type of medicinal mushroom product created by grinding down mushrooms into a fine powder, boiling that powder at a high temperature to form an extract, and then using a spray dryer to then return it back to a powder. It’s said that powder extracts make bioavailable compounds like beta-glucans much stronger for the person consuming the supplement. When looking for a product like this in stores or online, look for the words “powder extract” to ensure this process has been followed.
Psilocin is the scientific compound (substituted tryptamine alkaloid and a serotonergic psychedelic substance) found in mushrooms that causes hallucinogenic effects alongside psilocybin. It’s said that these compounds together release large amounts of serotonin into the brain, bringing it into a euphoric, trance-like state. For many, they say this process opens the mind to possibilities it would’ve never found possible otherwise.
As noted above, this naturally occurring compound is found in over 200 mushroom species around the world and can cause hallucinations. When you hear about magic mushrooms, most people will instantly think of psilocybin.
Krestin, also known as polysaccharide krestin extract, is a naturally occurring compound found in various medicinal mushroom species that helps promote immune response. Turkey tail mushrooms are high in PSK and that is why they are used for cancer treatment alongside traditional chemotherapy.
Reishi mushrooms are a popular medicinal mushroom and have been used for over 2,000 years by Chinese doctors for their anti-aging healing powers. Today, we have over 24 ongoing clinical trials about the health effects of reishi and how this mushroom can be used to treat cancer, Parkinson’s disease, and overall immune system function.
Russula genus is another large family of mushrooms that includes over 750 species that grow around the world. They are very common in numerous climates around the globe and are considered one of the most widely seen mushrooms when out foraging. However, this mushroom can cause people to vomit when ingested (that’s why it’s earned the not-so-nice nickname of the “vomiting russula”).
While shiitake mushrooms are well known as a grocery cart staple for anyone looking to spice up a dinner meal, it is also now known for its medicinal properties. With 25.3% beta-glucan content, this mushroom has been used for centuries as a cancer fighting agent and for its immune boosting effects.
Similar to shiitake mushrooms, split gill mushrooms are known for their immune boosting effects as well. This fan-like mushroom grows on tree trunks and is known to boost energy, improve immunity, and support overall health and wellbeing. It’s currently being studied as a helpful supplement alongside chemotherapy.
The spore is the reproductive structure of the fungus that spreads to create other fruiting bodies of that species. Spores are created in the gills or pores of the mushroom, located underneath the fruiting body cap. Spores can spread in two ways: active ejection by surface tension catapults in the mushroom or they’re carried by the wind.
The spore print is obtained when the fruiting body cap falls and leaves a powdery deposit in its place. This is commonly used by mushroom foragers and hunters to identify a type of mushroom. If you come across a spore print, chances are the mushroom cap has been there for over 24 hours.
The stem of a mushroom, a.k.a. the stalk or stipe is what physically holds up the cap and gills of the mushroom. Beyond being a support system, the stem is also used to help identify the species of mushroom sometimes. This is why it’s never recommended to cut a stalk in half. It’s important to note that not all mushrooms have stalks - each mushroom species is unique. Check out our mushroom anatomy blog for more information.
When growing mushrooms yourself, a substrate is used to feed the mycelium and give it something to feed off of and grow. A good substrate is necessary in order to have a fruitful (no pun intended) mushroom yield. Agricultural waste (poop) is a great example of a substrate that will help mushrooms thrive. Gross, we know, but, hey, it works.
Mushrooms produce terpenoids (terpenes) that are considered bioactive compounds. These compounds are important because they may have the ability to fight a wide range of diseases - however, terpenes are still undergoing studies.
Similar to how medicinal mushrooms can come in capsule format, they also are widely available in liquid format (a.k.a. tinctures). There are various methods to make a tincture so it’s important to review your product’s process before buying and know that not all tinctures are made equal. For example, some bioactive compounds are not best suited for double extraction tinctures, so you would want to find one that’s made with hot water only (no alcohol). Read up to make sure you’re getting what you need!
Here we go with our last genus of the list, trametes genus - a small family of mushrooms (just 50 known species) that are widespread and often used as caterpillar and moth food. They closely resemble turkey tail mushrooms in how they grow off trees or stumps in a skirt-like way, but they differ in size and color.
Similar to diterpenes, triterpenes are a compound made up of three terpenes and are linked to potential immune boosting benefits when consumed by humans through mushroom ingestion.
Last, but certainly not least, we have turkey tail mushrooms - a tried and true medicinal mushroom favorite. These mushrooms grow skirt-like fruiting bodies and are one of the most highly studied medicinal mushrooms on the market. They are highly regarded for their high PSK and PSP (polysaccharopeptide) makeup to promote immune response in the body when taken regularly. 10/10 recommend.
Whew! Thanks for sticking with us through that long list - but truthfully, all of those terms are key, so we’re glad you read through them to learn more about what makes medicinal mushroom anatomy, health benefits, and more so important and special.
Want to learn more about the magical world of mushrooms? Dive in.