Did you know that as an organism mushrooms are more closely related to animals than they are to plants? Mushrooms are full of many medicinal properties that can support the human body. They have been used in Chinese medicine for over 1000s of years and are great allies to support our immune system and more!
One reason why mushrooms are such good helpers of the immune system is because they are rich in polysaccharides that help to strengthen and maintain the structure of our cells. Another fun fact about mushrooms is that because they do not have stomachs, mushrooms digest their food outside their bodies! They do this by excreting enzymes and acids to break down their food before it enters and is then absorbed by the mushroom. This is why mushrooms are known for being great decomposers in the garden, they have the ability to break down a large variety of things and use them as food.
So, mushrooms and us! There are over 10,000 known mushrooms in the world, and even more still unidentified and unknown. Personally, I have really enjoyed getting to know mushrooms better and adding them to my daily and weekly up keep for my healthy being in the world. I like to ingest them either by making a tea or through a tincture. A tincture is a liquid extract of an herb or mushroom that is taken by the mouth. Tinctures are usually made by soaking an herb or mushroom in alcohol to infuse and concentrate the useful chemical constituents and medicinal properties of the mushroom or herb into a liquid that is then taken orally. Alcohol is a great mode of transportation for these medicinal properties because it allows them to enter the body through the mucus membrane in the mouth, and is directly absorbed into the blood stream. This means fast acting results in the body for you!
Some of the most exciting mushrooms to me these days include Reishi, Chaga, Cordyceps, and Lion’s Mane!
I take my Reishi mushroom tincture daily to give a boost to my immune system! Reishi, or scientifically known as Ganoderma Lucium, has been used in Chinese medicine for more than 200 years. It’s first use was documented by the Han Dynasty (206 B.C. - 220 AD). Reishi is known for boosting the immune system and protects the body from pathogens such as viruses, bacteria, and parasites. It also helps to protect your cellular DNA and mitochondria that is responsible for the biochemical processes of respiration and energy production in the cell.
Next is Chaga. With Chaga I like to have a crock pot going with big chunks of Chaga in it so that I always have some chaga tea on hand. It is great on it's own and it can also be a good base for any type of cooking I choose to do. Chaga (Inonotus Obliquus) is great for warding off the common cold. It is known for lowering inflammation caused by stress and can even keep your hair shinny ! This mushroom dates back to Russian folk medicine of the 17th century and grows on birch trees. Chaga is a powerful immune booster because of its polysaccharides, specifically its beta-glucans that have the ability to boost the production of the specific white blood cells called lymphocytes, that regulate the immune response to infectious micro organisms.
The next mushroom to mention is Cordyceps! Cordyceps (Ophiocordyceps sinensis) are known to increase energy, stamina, alleviate asthma and bronchitis. It also can help to invigorate the labido, improve blood flow, and it is an anti-inflammatory. This is a great mushroom for athletes and the elderly because it contains beta-glucans, a type of sugar found in it's cell wall that delivers oxygen to the human body on a cellular level and boost ATP, the body's main source of energy. It's first recorded use dates back to the Tang Dynasty of 620 AD.
Though there are many more medicinal mushrooms to mention, I want to note Lion's Maine because this one truly fascinates me. This mushroom has a very particular look to it. Unlike a classic mushroom cap, or the dancing mushrooms you may have seen in the beloved movie Fantasia, this one looks like a white pom-pom or like a long haired lion's mane (hence the name). This mushroom aides to improve memory, boost concentration, and helps to protect the nervous system. In general, it also stimulates the immune system, is an anti-inflammatory and antibacterial, but it is most known for its remarkable properties to repair and regenerate neurons. This property of Lion's Mane can be great for supporting people with neurological diseases and general maintenance of the nervous system.
There is always more to learn about mushrooms and it is an easy and effective way to boost the immune system. Who knew so much goodness could come from these little fugi growing in the forest.
Madeline Lynch is a receptionist at the Brooklyn Acupuncture Project. She is an artist, massage therapist, reiki practitioner, and currently studying the bridge between psychology and spirituality in a masters program at Teachers College, Columbia University.