The Erbology guide to medicinal mushrooms

Reishi, cordyceps, lion’s mane, chaga… these exotic names belong to medicinal mushrooms which have been used for thousands of years in traditional Chinese medicine.

The Western world is finally beginning to recognise the value of these fascinating fungi. However, without the benefit of thousands of years of knowledge behind us, it can be hard to know where to start.

Medicinal mushrooms in ancient times

China; The Han dynasty.

How were mushrooms used in medicine?

Imagine if you had been living around this time, and were suffering from asthma, coughing, dizziness, insomnia or shortness of breath. You might have chosen to visit a medical practitioner. In order to treat your ailments, they would have taken your pulse and prescribed a handful of ingredients with instructions for their preparation.(2) Reishi is likely to have been among them.

Best for energy and vitality: cordyceps

During the Han dynasty, you might have been prescribed cordyceps as a tonic for ‘vigour’(3). Leading on from this, modern research has brought forth some compelling evidence to back up cordyceps’ health benefits.

Best for brain health and mood: lion’s mane

Lion’s mane mushroom is a creamy white colour and grows on deadwood. It has a multitude of long, thin tendrils which look similar to a lion’s mane, or the beard of a wise old man. This might explain one of its many alternative names, ‘satyr’s beard’!

“Fortunately, we now have the benefit of modern scientific research to help back up traditional knowledge about medicinal mushrooms.”

Best for immunity: reishi

This rather pretty mushroom was so valued by people in ancient times that it was thought to grow only on the isle of the immortals.(10) Taoists believed that plants which grew on these ‘blest aisles’ were able to grant everlasting life.(11)

Best for blood sugar and cholesterol: chaga

Chaga is a fungus which grows on birch trees in the northern hemisphere, including Japan, Siberia, Ukraine and Canada. Hugging onto its birch tree host in the wild, it looks a bit like brittle charcoal.(16)

Best for gut health and immunity: turkey tail

Turkey tail mushroom is another attractive-looking mushroom which grows in multicoloured fan shapes. It is found everywhere from Asia to North America, Scandinavia and even down towards the mediterranean.

Which mushroom is right for you?

While certain mushrooms seem to stand out in certain areas of health, it’s important to note that there’s a lot of crossover in their health benefits.

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