Mushrooms! No, not the "Magic" kind!

brain health healthy eating healthy living healthy recipes real food resilience sugarfree Jul 10, 2022

While we may think of mushrooms as just another kind of plant, albeit a unique one, growing in the woods, in fact they are not actually plants at all!

A mushroom is a fungus—an organism that is alive until it is harvested.  Not all fungi are mushrooms, but all mushrooms are fungi.  This gives them extra nutrient power, and through research they have been found to have many health benefits.

Mushrooms are a type of fungi that mostly grow on trees and soil. The part that grows and that we eat is known as the fruiting body.  That generally consists of a stem and a cap.  Mushrooms can absorb nutrients and water from decaying plants and give them to new plants. As such they are nature’s recyclers, and are very valuable to a healthy environment!

There are more than fourteen thousand varieties of mushrooms, of which only about three thousand varieties are edible.  So before you go foraging in the woods, make sure you take along an expert so you won’t be tempted by a fungus that looks delicious but in fact may be poisonous to humans!

Are Mushrooms Nutritious?

Mushrooms are rich in a multitude of minerals and they have outstanding immune-boosting properties.  They are loaded with polysaccharides and phytonutrients that appear to possess potent anti-cancer properties.  And they are high in other antioxidants like L-ergothioneine than any other dietary source.

Mushrooms are also rich in niacin/vitamin B3, and so are believed to prevent or delay Alzheimer’s.  B3 also interrupts the negative activity of homocysteine, which is an amino acid that is associated with elevated cholesterol and an increased risk of heart disease, stroke and osteoarthritis.

And mushrooms can act as anti-inflammatories, and are adaptogenic, which means they have a balancing health effect when consumed.

They’re all prebiotic, which means they help feed our good gut bacteria. Each specific mushroom may have special properties that would make it better for certain health issues.

Some specific mushroom types and their benefits

Shiitake mushrooms invigorate the immune system with their active compound called lentinan. One of lentinan’s healing benefits is the ability to power-up the immune system, strengthening its ability to fight infection and disease.  In addition: Has anticancer properties; aids cardiovascular function; may boost energy and brain function; helps fight obesity by increasing satiety which helps lower food intake; promotes skin health; has antimicrobial properties; may help with building muscles and bones

Maitake mushrooms are known for their cancer-fighting properties. They contain grifolan, an important beta-glucan that activates macrophages, the cells considered the “heavy artillery” of the immune system, which eat up the crap we let creep in.  In addition: helps stabilize blood sugar and helps with insulin sensitivity, making it valuable for diabetics; helps with cholesterol levels; may help with balancing hormones, especially PCOS

Chaga mushrooms (often found in herb stores) contain beta-glucans, which are powerful immune boosters that work by stimulating the body’s ability to set up cellular defenses. Additional benefits: may help with ulcers and gastritis and improve digestion; has anti-tumour properties and can help fight infection, including on the skin; may also help with blood sugar, cholesterol, liver and brain function, and aids endurance

Reishi mushrooms also contain beta-glucans and are considered the queen of the mushroom kingdom. Reishi has a tonifying effect on the nervous system. In addition to helping modulate the immune system, it can also have a very powerful calming effect.  In addition: Known for its anti-aging and anticancer properties; supports the body during stressful times; can help with sleep; an anti-inflammatory; helps with liver function

Black Fungus: Helpful for circulation and heart health; may also help thin the blood; has anti-cancer properties

Cordyceps: Technically a fungus and not a mushroom; helps with stress and energy; has anticancer properties and may help with heart and respiratory health; may also help the immune system and have anti-aging properties

Enoki: May help reduce belly fat and aid metabolic function; can help with blood sugar, allergies, asthma, and eczema; aids digestion; can help with memory

Lion’s Mane: Known for helping with anxiety, depression and brain function; may also help with inflammation and Parkinson’s; has anti-cancer properties

Oyster: Has antibacterial and anticancer properties; may aid with cholesterol and blood pressure; can help lower excess acidity in the stomach and relieve constipation; supports the liver

Portobello: May help with preventing headaches and migraines and support thyroid function; helps prevent aging of the skin, promote healthy bones, and balance cholesterol.

Tremella: Helps protect the skin from sun damage and helps support moisture and collagen development; may also help memory and with repairing brain and nerve tissue; can help stabilize blood sugar; good for bone health and liver health; helps protect the gastrointestinal lining

Turkey Tail: May help prevent colds and flus and help with other viral conditions; aids digestion and helps stabilize blood sugar; has anti-cancer properties like many other mushrooms

What about white and brown mushrooms (cremini)? They are members of the same family as portobello. They also have been studied to have similar health benefits.

Cooking with Mushrooms

Some kinds of mushrooms are only available as foods, and can be used in a variety of recipes including soups, stews, grilled, etc. Meatier mushrooms, like portobellos can even substitute as a vegetarian “meat” alternative.  Mushrooms are best cooked, rather than raw.  You can buy a dried version and then rehydrate them in water before cooking or purchase them fresh and use as is.

Tip: For rehydrating dried mushrooms, use room temperature water and let sit for at least 30 minutes. For more wood-like dried mushrooms, such as reishi and maitake, soak for at least 1 hour. Do not put them in boiling water in an attempt to do it faster. It can make them tough.

Other preparation tips:

Should you wash them? Yes, if there is visible dirt; otherwise, it is your personal preference.  I like to wipe them with a damp towel to remove obvious dirt.

Should you cut off the stems? The highest amount of fibre is in the stem. Ideally, the stem would be left on and just cut off the very end tip. However, you can cut off the tip if you don’t enjoy the texture.

Mushrooms as Superfood Powders

Other mushrooms come as powders or as supplements. They can be added to recipes to accentuate the flavour or the nutrient value.  And one common use is to add powders to beverages such as smoothies or elixirs–which is an easy way to consume them.  

  • A smoothie is a blended drink that typically incorporates a mix of fruits, vegetables and liquid, and can include a number of additions such as herbs, spices, superfoods including mushroom powders, proteins and healthy fats. 
  • An elixir is a beverage—usually a warm one—that can support our health in a targeted way, based on the herbs and spices that are included.  They often start with a base of tea, hot chocolate or other warm beverage, and go from there adding a variety of ingredients.  
  • Mushroom coffee (yes, it’s a thing!) could fall into this category.  For example, to your coffee base (preferable organic, fair-trade) add mushroom powders such as Lion’s Mane to help you think, focus, and be more creative; Cordyceps mushroom to help support endurance and stamina; or Chaga, which has antioxidant properties that may help support your immune function.

See below for some recipes!  And yes, you can also purchase pre-mixed drink and elixir mixes (such as by Four Sigmatic) but it’s more fun (and less expensive!) to make your own.

Fantastic Fungi

Lastly, if you have Netflix, be sure to watch Fantastic Fungi (see https://fantasticfungi.com/ ​ for a preview)​.  “It's not an animal, it’s not a plant, it’s somewhere in between!”  Wow - that got my attention!

So there you have it - mushrooms are nutritious, delicious and come in many shapes and sizes.  Start experimenting with them and let me know how you enjoy them!

 

Recipes

Chaga Chocolate Strawberry Smoothie

Serves 1

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup milk of choice
  • 1/2 cup frozen strawberries
  • 1/4 cup frozen raspberries
  • 1 tbsp raw cacao powder
  • 1 tsp dual extraction chaga powder
  • 1 scoop unsweetened protein powder of choice (optional)
  • 1 tbsp ground chia seeds
  • 1 tbsp maple syrup

Directions:

  1. Place all the ingredients in a blender and blend. Transfer to a glass and serve.

Tip: A scoop of a neutral collagen powder or 2 small scoops of colostrum powder can be used instead of the protein powder.

Mushroom Chai Latte

Serves 1

Ingredients:

  • 1 black tea or green tea bag
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1/8 tsp allspice
  • 3/4 cup filtered water
  • 1/2 cup whole milk or coconut milk
  • 1 tsp dual extraction mushroom powder such as chaga, reishi, lion’s mane, turkey tail, maitake
  • 2 tsp raw honey or maple syrup (to taste)

Directions:

  1. Put the teabag and spices in a small pan. Add the water and bring to a boil.
  2. Remove from the heat and let steep for 15 minutes. Strain and pour into a cup.
  3. Meanwhile, heat the milk and mushroom powder together in a small pan on the stove until warm. Mix well.
  4. Pour into the tea and add the honey or maple syrup. Stir and serve.

Sleepy Time Tea

Serves 1

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup non-chlorinated water
  • 2 chamomile tea bags
  • 1 tsp reishi powder
  • 1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp raw honey (optional)
  • Pinch of black pepper

Directions:

  1. Put the water, chamomile, reishi, cinnamon, and turmeric in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil.
  2. Remove from the heat and cover. Let steep for 15 minutes.
  3. Strain and pour into a cup.
  4. Add honey, if using. Add black pepper. Serve.

Tip: Reishi is helpful with sleep. Cinnamon, turmeric, and honey all lower anxiety. Chamomile is for relaxation. Other dual extraction powders can help with stress, but reishi is the best for sleep.

 

References

Best Medicinal Mushrooms for Optimal Health https://www.annandachaga.com/blogs/news/medicinal-mushrooms

Mushrooms That Act as Turbo-Shots for Your Immune System https://www.healthline.com/health/food-nutrition/best-medicinal-mushrooms-to-try

Medicinal Mushrooms: Ancient Remedies Meet Modern Science https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4684114/

St. Francis Herb Farm - Medicinal Mushrooms https://stfrancisherbfarm.com/medicinal-mushrooms/



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