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Medicinal Mushrooms

by Mike Burns, Product Placement Manager

The magical, mysterious fungi that have captivated humans throughout history are continuing to mystify and sustain us today. Mushrooms, the spore-producing fruiting bodies of fungus, are incredible and have been a staple of both diet and medicine cabinets for millennia. Today, they are undergoing clinical and scientific research that supports folkloric claims and even shows promise for unforeseen health benefits. I’ve chosen a few of my favorite ‘shrooms in hopes that I can peak your interest in the potential life-changing health benefits of these fungi. 

Varieties of Medicinal Shrooms

Chaga is a mushroom that can be found in the high latitudes of the northern hemisphere growing on birch trees as a type of parasite. It has historically been used as a folk remedy in Russia and northern Europe to treat cancer, tuberculosis, diabetes and digestive issues. Studies with chaga showed evidence that it may help regulate the production of cytokines, which are the immune system’s messengers and regulators of various inflammatory responses. As a sufferer of psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis, this is of great personal interest since cytokines play a major role not just in my disease but many other autoimmune diseases.

Reishi also called the “mushroom of immortality” or ling zhi, have been used in China for thousands of years. This mushroom has been used for everything from cancer treatment to blood pressure reduction, to improving immunity, to relieving allergy symptoms, and a host of other ailments. While there have been some recent clinical studies done with reishi supporting historical claims and uses, more studies are needed to fully understand its potential health benefits.

Cordyceps are one of my favorite mushrooms because of the substrate they grow on, dead insects. In China, the cordycep most widely used is one that grows from caterpillars, called dong chong xia cao. The mushroom is believed to enhance athletic performance by improving aerobic activity and combatting fatigue. There has also been some research into its potential tumor-shrinking capacity and improvement of mental energy.

Turkey Tail gets its name from its unique colors and patterns that give it a resemblance to a wild turkey tail. Turkey Tail is found throughout the world and has been used in many cultural traditions. Like the other mushrooms mentioned, turkey tail is considered an adaptogen and an immune-boosting fungus. There are number of studies conducted over the past decade that show a wide range of health benefits ranging from increased immune capacity in people with HIV and following radiation treatment for cancer, as well as its ability to repair digestive inflammation and halt the spread of cancer cells.

Top Brands at Willy Street Co-op

Host Defense was created by Paul Stamets and C. Dusty Yao to bring the healing power and potential of mushrooms to everyone. All the mushrooms used in their product lines are certified organic and grown sustainably on their farm in Washington State. Host Defense offers mushroom supplements in tincture (liquid), spray or powdered capsule form. Each of their products contain one or more of the mushrooms I mentioned. This is a great company and I highly recommend their mushroom supplements, most of which are used in the wide range of clinical studies conducted with mushrooms over the last decade.

Om is another fungal-focused company that we carry in the Wellness department. Founded by Steve Farrar and Sandra Carter, they focus on loose powder forms of mushrooms. Unlike the more supplemental approach of Host Defense’s tinctures and capsules, Om is a medicinal mushroom powder you can add to smoothies, juices or other beverages. I use their chaga and restore blend every morning in my smoothie and most certainly notice when I go without.

Next time you are in one of stores, check out our medicinal mushroom selection in our Wellness department and try their incredible health benefits for yourself!