Medicinal mushrooms support your immune system, are packed with antioxidants, and contribute to gut health. Kirsten Chick explains there’s more to mushrooms than meets the eye…
Medicinal mushrooms include oriental mushrooms such as shiitake, reishi and maitake, as well as chaga, cordyceps, coriolus and many more. Their medicinal properties are largely, but not exclusively, due to substances they contain called beta-glucans – so make sure any powdered form you are buying contains these.
Beta-glucans are known to modulate the effect of both the innate and adaptive immune systems – so both the more generalised protection they afford and their ability to target specific diseases and threats. They have also been studied for their anti-tumour abilities, which may be directly related to their effect on the immune system.
For a while it was thought by some that mushrooms were to be avoided by anyone with a candida or other fungal issue, and by anyone with cancer – but it seems, in fact, that the opposite is true. Mushrooms, whether categorized as medicinal or not, can have great benefits for fungal issues and the immune system.
Shiitake are perhaps the best known of medicinal mushrooms, and have been readily obtainable in the UK for many years now. Fresh shiitake mushrooms are making a regular appearance in some supermarkets, and dried, whole shiitake have been reconstituted in oriental soup and stir-fry recipes for several decades.
Mushrooms … can have great benefits for fungal issues and the immune system
You can also buy shiitake powder, and other mushroom powders, either on their own or combined with other medicinal mushrooms, sometimes in capsule form to be taken like a supplement. However, I prefer to use all of these in cooking. I stir-fry whole mushrooms into stir-fries and mix the powders into soups, sauces, smoothies and even hot drinks, such as dandelion coffee and cocoa; try my immune-boosting hot chocolate recipe, below.
What types of mushrooms are most effective?
It’s not just the oriental mushrooms that have been getting attention. Mushrooms are now known to be the richest food source of a powerful pair of antioxidants: ergothioneine and glutathione. Such compounds protect your skin, heart, blood vessels, nerves and DNA, and so are important in the prevention of conditions such as Alzheimer’s, MS, heart attacks and strokes.
Porcini mushrooms (or “ceps”) have been found to be the best source. Ergothioneine and glutathione levels are maintained even when you cook them, so mushroom soup, grilled mushrooms and baked mushrooms are all excellent sources.
Ceps are also an excellent source of ergosterol, as are reishi, chaga and other medicinal mushrooms. Ergosterol has been studied for its anticancer effects in a number of different cancer cell types, including breast, ovarian, colon, laryngeal, and more.
And if that wasn’t enough to get you reaching for some mushrooms, their polysaccharide content is excellent food for the microbes in your gut that form such an integral part of your immune system.
Immune-boosting hot chocolate
The cocoa and medicinal mushrooms contain a wealth of nutrients for your immune system.
Ingredients (serves 2)
- 2 cups plant-based milk (e.g. almond, oat, brown rice, coconut, hemp etc.)
- 4 tsp unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1-2 tsp reishi mushroom powder – or any medicinal mushroom powder blend
- 1-2 tsp raw (unpasteurised) honey, preferably local (optional)
- Make a paste by stirring together the honey, cocoa powder, mushroom powder and a splash of the milk – half in one mug, half in another.
- Gently warm the rest of the milk in a small pan.
- Pour the milk into the mugs, stir well and enjoy.
Excerpt from Kirsten Chick’s book, Nutrition Brought to Life, Alchimia Publishing, RRP £14.99