Your At-a-Glance Guide to Nature's Greatest Medicinal Food: Mushrooms
Though not necessarily visually stunning like certain fruits,
the humble mushroom deserves major accolades. Mushrooms are
among the most medicinal of all foods; no matter what the
disease, chances are that there is a mushroom that can help
prevent or treat it.
Neither vegetable nor fruit, the mushroom is a fungus --
an organism that grows without seeds, leaves, flower or even
roots. It's estimated that there are 38,000 species of mushrooms,
cultivated and in the wild, and most are excellent sources
of protein, fiber, vitamin C, B vitamins, calcium and minerals.
About 50 of the species are poisonous.
Then there are the medicinal mushrooms, comprising another
50 species. These nutritional powerhouses have been found
- Protect heart health
- Lower the risk of cancer
- Boost immune function
- Reduce high cholesterol
- Fight off viruses, bacteria and fungi
- Reduce inflammation
- Combat allergies
- Help balance blood sugar levels
- Support the body's detoxification mechanisms
- Help fight blood clots
Their nutritional prowess has been known for centuries. Ancient
Egyptians and Asians used mushrooms to create a sacred longevity
tonic, and the 5,000-year-old "Ice Man" found in
Europe was found with dried mushrooms in his medicine kit.
Want to start adding some healthy mushrooms to your diet?
Here's your go-to guide for the best of the best of this fabulous
Medicinal Benefits: "Maitake is one of nature's
richest sources of beta-glucans ... which are among, or even
may be, the most potent natural immune forces ever discovered,"
wrote Harry Preuss, M.D., a physiology professor at Georgetown
University School of Medicine in his book "Maitake
Magic." By stimulating the immune system, it has
shown promise in fighting breast, prostate, lung, liver and
Maitake mushrooms are also rich in ergothioneine, a potent
compound produced by fungi that has strong antioxidant properties
and provide cellular protection within the human body. They're
anti-viral and may also reduce blood pressure and blood sugar.
One study also found that they may be useful in fighting HIV.
Flavor/Cooking: Maitake mushrooms can be used in any
recipe in place of (or along with) white button mushrooms.
Lore: Maitake means "hen of the woods."
It was named for its appearance--it resembles the fanned out
tail feathers of a hen. And, because they can grow to be over
50 pounds, they're sometimes called the "King of Mushrooms."
Medicinal Benefits: According to animal studies,
reishi mushrooms improve immune function, inhibit the growth
of some malignant tumors and are a natural anti-inflammatory
Flavor/Cooking: Reishi mushrooms have a bitter taste
but can be used in small quantities in soups or mixed with
other foods. They're also used for teas and dietary supplements.
Lore: The Chinese Reishi goddess was named after the
reishi mushroom. She was thought to bring health, life and
eternal youth to worshippers.
Medicinal Benefits: An active compound in shitakes
called lentinan has been found to boost the immune system.
In fact, studies have found this compound to be even more
effective than prescription drugs for treating flu and other
viruses, and it may improve the immune systems of people with
HIV. Other benefits of this powerful mushroom include cancer
protection and lower cholesterol levels.
Flavor/Cooking: Shitake mushrooms have a rich, smoky
flavor. Use them in soups, casseroles, egg dishes, sauces
Lore: In China, shitake mushrooms have been used medicinally
for over 6,000 years.
Medicinal Benefits: This mushroom favorite has a
host of healthy attributes, including:
Rich in nutrients such as selenium, riboflavin, pantothenic
acid, copper, niacinm, potassium and phosphorous
Excellent source of zinc, which is great for the immune
Flavor/Cooking: Crimini mushrooms have a richer flavor
than white button mushrooms but can be used in all the same
types of recipes.
Lore: Crimini is a coffee-colored button mushroom.
Medicinal Benefits: A Portobello mushroom has more
potassium than a banana. Foods rich in potassium help maintain
normal heart rhythm, balance fluids, and protect muscle and
nerve function. Potassium-rich, low-sodium foods may also
reduce the risk of high blood pressure and stroke, according
to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. They're also rich
in the antioxidant ergothioneine.
Flavor/Cooking: Portobello mushrooms can be used in
place of meat in sandwiches, lasagna, stews and more.
Lore: Portobello mushrooms are actually large crimini
White Button Mushroom
Medicinal Benefits: Food scientists at Penn State
found that white button mushrooms have 12 times more of the
antioxidant ergothioneine than wheat germ and four times more
than chicken liver (both of which were previously thought
to be the best food sources of the antioxidant).
Flavor/Cooking: The mild flavor of white button mushrooms
makes them a favorite for all food dishes--breakfast, lunch
Lore: Americans eat more white button mushrooms than
any other type of mushroom.
Medicinal Benefits: Preliminary data suggest that
this mushroom may be a potent cancer fighter. It's already
used to treat cancer in Asia.
Flavor/Cooking: Turkey tail mushrooms are too tough
to eat fresh, but you can boil the mushrooms and drink the
Lore: The turkey tail mushroom was given its name
because it resembles - you might have guessed it -- a turkey
Medicinal Benefits: Oyster mushrooms have the following
Flavor/Cooking: Oyster mushrooms have a mild, seafood-like
taste. Use them in stews, sautés, or combined with
other vegetables and meats.
Lore: Some people believe the oyster mushroom was
named for its faint seafood flavor. Others say they were named
for their shell-like appearance.
Medicinal Benefits: These mushrooms are:
Flavor/Cooking: Cordyceps have a licorice-like flavor
and can be used in all types of cooking.
Lore: It doesn't exactly make them sound appetizing
(though they can be), but cordyceps grow on moth larvae, until
their fine threads eventually penetrate the larvae, killing
and mummifying it.
Medicinal Benefits: These mushrooms can fight liver
disease and gastroenteric ulcers. Plus, they're:
Flavor/Cooking: Enoki mushrooms are crunchy and mildly
fruity, without the earthy flavor of other mushrooms. Eat
them raw as a healthy snack or use them as a topping on salads,
soups, stews and stir-fries.
Lore: Enoki mushrooms grow on the stumps of the Chinese
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