Updated: Jan 6
Which is bigger: a mushroom or a blue whale? The answer is an humongous honey fungus stretching across 2,385 acres in Oregon, USA. It's so large it can be seen from outer space.
Which packs a bigger antioxidant punch: a ripe tomato or a button mushroom? You guessed it. The little button mushroom is the most widely consumed mushroom in the world and it is full of healthy surprises. Mushrooms are loaded with antioxidants, minerals and vitamins. Some varieties boast such significant quantities that they are used therapeutically to treat a range of conditions like anxiety, insomnia, fatigue, hypertension and a range of diseases.
Meet some of the big bioactive beasts of the fungi world.
Chaga has been used for centuries in Russia as a medicine to boost immunity and health. The mushroom can be found growing as 'conks' on the bark of birch trees. Chaga has one of the the highest antioxidant capacities in the world. Because of this it is said to help reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or “bad” cholesterol.
Codyceps are used in Chinese medicine to boost energy levels and treat fatigue. Research suggests that codyceps might help boost exercise performance. A bit of an aphrodisiac perhaps? It's also packed with antioxidants that can help fight ageing.
Lion's Mane looks exactly as you might expect – shaggy. It is said to contain bioactive ingredients that might benefit the brain and reduce the symptoms of generalised anxiety. Some people take tinctures of lion's mane to sharpen their cognitive function
Reishi is a large dark mushroom that grows in hot climates and is very popular in Asian medicine where it is used to boost the immune system and more recently tackle cancer. There is some evidence that it can also fight anxiety and depression.
Maitake mushrooms grow wild in parts of Japan, China, and North America at the bottom of Oak, Elm and Maple trees. Like other medicinal mushrooms they're rich in nutrients and low in carbs and fat. They have an earthy, spicy flavour and are a great complement to miso soup or scrambled eggs.
It's unlikely that you will be able to buy these medicinal mushrooms fresh, so the best way to include them in your diet is to add a small amount of mushroom tincture or powder to your tea, coffee or food. Always buy the highest quality product you can to avoid fillers and other non-essential ingredients. (Check out: Kaapa Health for great tinctures). And don't overdo it. Mushrooms are potent and you might experience some side effects if you take too much. Remember it's always best to let your doctor know when you are taking supplements and do seek advice from a nutritionist if you are not sure.
If you would like to find out more about the healing power of mushrooms here are two worthwhile books to explore:
Healing Mushrooms: A Practical and Culinary Guide to Using Mushrooms for Whole Body Health, October 10, 2017 by Tero Isokauppila
Medicinal Mushrooms: A Clinical Guide, 1 Jan. 2014 by Martin Powell