The Fungi to Have By Your Side, or Just in Your Fridge

Mushrooms have long been known to possess healing powers. Out of 10,000 identified species, nearly 300 have recognized medicinal properties and a select few of those are considered some of the most naturally powerful medicinal remedies available. While white button mushrooms, or criminis, are your go-to for dinner, the mushrooms that have the most health benefits may have never seen the inside of your refrigerator. Here are three health-enhancing mushrooms to add to your shopping list.

Reishi Mushrooms

reishi mushroom and cancerTraditional Asian doctors have been using reishi mushrooms for their health promoting effects for thousands of years. “Royalty would utilize this precious mushroom in the hopes of obtaining immortality and promoting calmness and thought. Chinese medicine now includes therapy with reishi for fatigue, asthma, insomnia, and cough,” according to Active ingredients of these mushrooms include beta-glucan polysaccharides and ganoderic acids, each of which plays its own role in improving your health.

  • Beta-glucan polysaccharides: Studies have found that beta-glucan improves the immune system by increasing the amount of macrophages T-cells. For people with AIDS and other immune system diseases, this is a crucial benefit. It’s also important for people who are suffering from cancer; a higher T-cell count means the body can fight cancer more effectively.
  • Ganoderic acids: Most health professionals agree that these acids help improve cardiovascular health in many ways. They decrease triglycerides, reduce platelet stickiness, and lower blood pressure.

You can find reishi mushrooms in your local Asian market or gourmet supermarket. Always soak them overnight and then add them to a dish, like soup. You can also steep them for a cup of warm herbal tea.

Maitake Mushrooms

Native to the northern mountains of Japan, this is another cherished natural health product in many parts of the Eastern world. Also called “Hen of the Woods”, these mushrooms often weigh in at more than 50 pounds when growing in the wild.

maitake mushroomsThere is one important component of this maitake mushroom that boasts huge health benefits: d-fraction. D-fraction is a polysaccharide that provides many of the benefits in maitake mushrooms, one of which is decreased cholesterol. A study published in October 2011 in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry found that when test subjects took maitake mushroom extract for four weeks, their cholesterol levels decreased. Study authors believe that the mushroom was effective at a genetic level, where it increased genes in the liver that promote lipid transportation.

This same polysaccharide is believed to help slow or prevent cancer development and make chemotherapy medicine more effective. Some researchers even believe that maitake promotes apoptosis, which restricts the growth of blood cells that feed cancerous tumors.

Another benefit is reduced blood sugar, thanks to the maitake molecule MT-alpha-glucan. This was discovered in a 2007 study, and researchers believe that this molecule decreased fasting blood sugar while increasing glycogen, or short term energy levels.

To reap the health benefits, try this Seared Maitake recipe from Bon Appétit Magazine. For a stronger dose, use the extract in a pill form that you can supplement with.

Cordyceps Mushrooms

cordyceps mushroomsThese mushrooms are best known for their lung and respiratory benefits. However, you may never know they were mushrooms thanks to the unique shape that earned them the name caterpillar mushrooms. This type of mushroom is believed to ease asthma symptoms, coughing, weak lungs, shortness of breath and wheezing by increasing the amount of oxygen the body can assimilate and absorb.

Cordyceps has also been found to lower cholesterol by 10 – 21% and triglycerides by 9 – 26%, according to They have also been found to improve blood cell functioning and viability and repair DNA.

Other health benefits include increased NK (natural killer) cell activity, which helps your body build muscle. It also helps to recharge these cells, in turn improving your immune system.

Purchase these cordyceps extract in pill form or try this soup from

All mushrooms hold a unique spot in the natural health world, providing health benefits in more ways that one can count. These three mushrooms in particular, the reishi, maitake and cordyceps, have been found to provide some of the greatest benefits making them an important ingredient to use or eat every once in a while. Next time you see one of these unique mushrooms in the store, be sure to grab these delicious and healthy mushrooms instead of your usual mushroom preference.

Do you add mushrooms to your diet to boost your health?

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