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Medicinal mushrooms - an overview of the most important mushrooms + effects
Medicinal mushrooms (also medicinal mushrooms) are becoming more and more popular and have been scientifically well researched. But how healthy and effective are medicinal mushrooms really? Which well-known representatives are there and what effects and advantages do they show?
Table of Contents
What are medicinal mushrooms?
Medicinal mushrooms (also medicinal mushrooms, medicinal mushrooms) are mushrooms that are said to have health effects (see Medicinal mushroom effects) and that have been scientifically well researched.
There are over 1.5 million mushrooms on earth, 100,000 of which are large mushrooms. Several thousand of them are edible. But in terms of their effects and based on experiences from folk and naturopathy, there are a handful of mushrooms that stand out. They are said to have interesting effects, which are now gradually being scientifically confirmed.
The mushrooms listed here are mainly known from Siberian, Chinese and Japanese naturopathy. However, they all grow (with the exception of cordyceps, almond mushrooms and shiitake) also in German forests - but have different names here.
Medicinal mushrooms for health - the benefits
From a therapeutic point of view, mushrooms contain a multitude of ingredients with enormous effects on our health. 40% of all active pharmaceutical ingredients come from mushrooms - among the best-known classes of antibiotics, immunosuppressants and statins.
Studies show the enormous potential of mushrooms in the prevention and treatment of chronic diseases. The results are most impressive for cancer:
- A study from 2009 showed that women who eat an average of 4 grams of dried mushrooms (40 g fresh weight) a day have a 60% lower risk of breast cancer.
- Dozens of studies in complementary cancer therapy show that mushroom extracts from Maitake, Shiitake, Reishi and butterfly tramete increase the response to chemotherapy, reduce side effects by up to 80%, improve quality of life, have an anti-tumor effect and the chance of survival by up to 45% (!) increase.
Other benefits of medicinal mushrooms
Medicinal mushrooms have many health benefits that are being researched more and more scientifically. These are best known:
- Mushrooms strengthen this with their high content of ß-1,3-1,6-glucan immune system, have an antiviral, antibacterial effect and provide lasting protection against recurring infections.
- Triterpenes (the essential oils of mushrooms, so to speak) have a strong effect anti-inflammatory and analgesic.
- Some medicinal mushrooms are good tonics (strengthening) for the liver, intestines and kidneys and support autophagy. The Detoxification of the body is promoted thereby.
- The central nervous system is calmed by Reishi, Hericium and Cordyceps and at the same time new nerve cells are formed: Triterpenes from the Hericium increase the body's own production of BDNF.
- Sleep is promoted - depending on the fungus, the duration of sleep, the REM or deep sleep phase. Reishi and Chaga are particularly worth mentioning here.
- You lower that Blood pressure and increased Blood sugar level.
- Lower an increased Cholesterol levels (thanks to the ß-glucans and natural statins it contains).
- Some Energize mushrooms (especially Cordyceps): They support the thyroid and adrenal glands and the production of energy in the mitochondria.
Each mushroom has its own characteristics and unique ways of using it. We will clarify this in the medicinal mushroom overview.
Ingredients of medicinal mushrooms at a glance
Let's talk briefly about the ingredients of medicinal mushrooms.
What all mushrooms have in common are some trace elements and minerals (such as potassium, which lowers blood pressure) and fiber from the class of ß-glucans.
- ß-glucans (more precisely ß-1,3-1,6-glucans) are branched fibers, about 30-50% of which is absorbed into the body. They have an antioxidant and antibacterial effect in many places in the body, can close holes similar to paste and are therefore well suited in the case of complaints in the gastrointestinal tract and chronic infections.
- ß-glucans work in this way because they stimulate the immune system at low levels (via Great-likeReceptors), causing a very strong anti-inflammatory response from the body.
- Triterpenes - the essential oils of mushrooms. They are found in all medicinal mushrooms, with the Reishi probably containing the most. Triterpenes are signaling, messenger and defense substances in mushrooms and have various effects in the human body: They also have anti-inflammatory effects, are powerful antioxidants, strengthen the immune system and complement each other very well with ß-glucans.
- Glycoproteins and Lectins are abundant in some mushrooms such as the butterfly tramete and are among the strongest immunomodulators in the wild.
- Statins are also found in some mushrooms - they inhibit excessive cholesterol formation. However, this is not comparable to isolated drugs.
- Eritadeness is a natural anticoagulant and valuable in the case of recurring blood clots. It can also lower blood pressure.
You can find more benefits and ingredients in the mushroom sections. You will also find a separate article for each medicinal mushroom.
History of medicinal mushrooms
Ötzi, the glacier mummy from the Ötztal, was found in his pocket with the Birkenporling (against gastritis) and tinder fungus (wound care and to make a fire). As early as the Neolithic Age (Ötzi lived around 3200 BC), probably since the dawn of mankind, people used the healing powers of mushrooms.
Reishi, Shiitake & Co. have been used in traditional Chinese medicine for several thousand years. The first records of the Reishi go back to the year 2000 BC. Back to BC; the first targeted cultivation of Shiitake was around 300 BC. Chr.
Up until the Middle Ages, mushrooms were very well established in naturopathy. Unfortunately, in the course of the Inquisition, women who were most familiar with the therapeutic use of medicinal mushrooms were systematically persecuted. With them, the knowledge about mushrooms in Europe was largely lost. From then on, medicine shaped the monasteries - since mushrooms could not be cultivated in Europe at that time, they no longer played a role here.
Medicinal mushrooms are therefore not a current trend, but a logical continuation of what we know from naturopathy. But today we can systematically research mushrooms, examine them in studies and cultivate them in a targeted manner. The perfect symbiosis of modern technology and ancient natural knowledge!
Medicinal mushrooms in Chinese medicine (TCM)
Mushrooms are an integral part of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and have been used there for 5000 years.
The teaching of the 5 elements or Chi uses a wide variety of mushrooms for different effects. In Chinese medicine, Reishi is even known as the most valuable “medicinal herb” - even before other natural remedies such as turmeric, ginger, ginseng and jiaogulan.
In conventional medicine in China and Japan, some mushrooms have been approved and established for over 30 years. They are used particularly in the context of cancer therapy. In China, mushrooms have been scientifically researched for 50 years because they are still a staple food in many regions.
Scientific studies from Europe and the USA confirm the medicinal effects of medicinal mushrooms. The number of studies has been increasing exponentially for about 2 years - in the next 5–10 years, medicinal mushrooms will also play an increasingly important role in medicine in this country.
Important mushrooms from Asian medicine are Shiitake, Maitake, Cordyceps (which is weighed with gold), Reishi and Hericium.
Medicinal mushrooms from Siberia
Other medicinal mushrooms come from Siberia. From the tundra and taiga of Russia and Scandinavia. There many of these mushrooms, for example chaga and squirrel (also found in Finland), are harvested from the wild, processed and then sold. These mushrooms are particularly used in complementary cancer therapy.
Do medicinal mushrooms also grow in Germany?
All medicinal mushrooms mentioned today (with the exception of vib cordyceps, almond mushrooms and shiitake) also grow in German forests. In addition, there are mushrooms in our forests that are unique in Central Europe but have not been scientifically well researched. This also applies to mushrooms from Siberia and East Asia.
Mushrooms, chanterelles and porcini mushrooms, for example, are healthier than most people think. However, they do not have a millennia-old tradition and not as many scientific studies as Chinese and Japanese medicinal mushrooms - among them they are only known as "edible mushrooms".
The boletus - perhaps the most popular edible mushroom in Germany (next to the chanterelle). It too has health benefits, albeit not as scientifically researched as other medicinal mushrooms
For this reason I always have a pack of frozen mushrooms or shiitake with me in the freezer. Mushrooms are an important part of a healthy diet. In Germany, mushrooms are produced cheaply and efficiently, are healthy and can be used in a variety of ways.
I would therefore recommend that you always have a pack of mushrooms (fresh or frozen) available.
About the dosage form of medicinal mushrooms
What has been known in folk medicine and naturopathy for thousands of years is currently being gradually confirmed by scientific studies.
Based on my experience and scientific research with medicinal mushrooms, I can give you the following:
- Whole fresh mushrooms should always be preferred. Mushrooms, porcini mushrooms, shiitake, Judasohr, oyster mushrooms and maitake can now be bought in larger and well-stocked supermarkets in Germany. They taste delicious, are an asset to the kitchen - and healthy.
- Many “exotic” medicinal mushrooms are only offered as granules or extracts. You can use granules to make a hot water extract (a brew) yourself, or a tincture. Extract means that the active ingredients have been concentrated. The result is that much less has to be consumed in order to have an effect on the body.
- A good example of a hot water extract that tastes great and offers many benefits is chaga tea. Its taste is reminiscent of black tea.
- Extracts in capsule form should be dual extracts: Good dual extracts from a good quality supplier achieve clear advantages in studies and in practice. The quality is crucial for medicinal mushrooms, as there are many products on the market faked are.
About the quality of medicinal mushrooms
According to a study by Nature Magazine from 2017, 75% of the Reishi products on the market are faked: They contain no or only traces of Reishi. Even of the 25% of products that contained reishi, most were contaminated with additives and heavy metals.
We can confidently transfer this to the German market and to medicinal mushroom extracts in general. This is also my experience: Most products from most suppliers are not recommended.
Good quality is rare and good quality has its price. If you are willing to invest this price in your health, it will be worth it. If you order the first cheap product online, you will most likely be disappointed.
To prevent this, pay attention to the following quality criteria when buying medicinal mushrooms:
- Own cultivation (control of the entire production chain)
- Organic quality
- Gentle processing
- Dual extraction
- GMP seal (or other purity seal)
- Chemical analyzes
- Pollutant analyzes
- 100% traceability
Only a few manufacturers in Germany can guarantee that. The product recommendations in this article are consistent with this.
Let us now come to the most important medicinal mushrooms and their effects at a glance:
What medicinal mushrooms are there? Overview of medicinal mushrooms and their effects
In the following you will get an overview of the nine best known and most important medicinal mushrooms. How are they called? How do you look? And what effects can they have?
Reishi / Shiny Lackporling (Ganoderma lucidum)
Truly royal: the Reishi is not only healthy, but also photogenic.
Reishi is celebrated as the "mushroom of longevity" and "mushroom of the centenarians". It counteracts age-related diseases and inflammation of all kinds and has a positive effect on the immune system:
- strong antioxidant (combats oxidative stress)
- protects nerve cells and stimulates neurite growth
- lowers blood sugar
- lowers high cholesterol levels
- has a positive effect on chronic inflammation in the body
- reduces chronic stress on the adrenal gland
- supports liver detoxification
- has a calming effect
- has potentially good effects together with Cordyceps and Lion's Mane (Hericium)
Studies on Reishi can be found in the deposited article and in the list of sources: [1-2]
Chaga / slate Schillerporling (Inonotus obliquus)
Dried chaga mushroom. This can be used to brew perfect tea that tastes like black tea.
Chaga is, so to speak, the Russian counterpart to Reishi - a Russian "anti-aging agent" and tried and tested:
- widely used in Russian folk medicine as an anti-cancer agent
- reduces chronic inflammation (cause of many metabolic diseases)
- Support with pancreatitis
- calms the intestinal flora
- prevents weight gain and fatty liver in mouse studies
- Powerful antioxidant (one of the foods with the highest ORAC value)
- improves the body feeling (well-being) of the user
- has a stimulating effect, although it is caffeine-free
Caterpillar fungus (Cordyceps sinensis)
Cordyceps sinensis is not bred with caterpillars (as in nature), but in the laboratory under controlled conditions.
In nature, cordyceps - also known as caterpillar fungus - is a fungus that affects caterpillar larvae. It then eats its way through the caterpillar and ultimately spreads through spore formation. Cordyceps is also accepted as a means of payment in Tibet and is as valuable as gold.
Cordyceps, grown for food, is not grown in caterpillars, but in bioreactors. That makes things a lot more bearable, doesn't it?
The caterpillar mushroom is known as the "mushroom for more energy" and supports energy production as well as the thyroid and adrenal glands. Also:
- helps against night sweats
- lowers high blood sugar
- reduces bad cholesterol (LDL), increases good cholesterol (HDL)
- lowers high blood lipid levels
- helpful for respiratory diseases such as asthma
- helps with kidney problems
- improves heart rhythm problems
- prevents blood clots
- has a positive effect on the liver and against hepatitis
- lowers inflammation in the body
- increases blood circulation in the body
- improves cognitive abilities (nootropic)
- good for chronic exhaustion and chronic fatigue
- promotes libido and increases testosterone levels
Lion's mane / hedgehog goatee (Hericium erinaceus)
Dried lion's mane - an excellent edible mushroom.
This very interesting-looking mushroom - the Hericium - actually looks like a lion's mane and is the secret star among the medicinal mushrooms:
- helps against stomach ulcers / gastritis and dementias
- in mouse studies helpful against depressions and Anxiety - could also be used in humans in the future
- helps with liver damage caused by alcohol
- protects the stomach lining from stomach acid or pathogens
- reduces systemic inflammation in the body and also prevents chronic diseases
- improves communication between immune cells in the intestine and can strengthen the immune system so that it reacts more flexibly to pathogens
- increases the formation of new nerve cells (via an increase in BDNF)
- could prevent Alzheimer's
- increases focus and concentration
- increases myelin formation in nerve tracts, which is very helpful in multiple sclerosis
Shiitake / Chinese mushroom (Lentinula edodes)
Dried Shiitake ("King of Medicinal Mushrooms"), next to mushrooms the most cultivated and eaten mushroom in the world.
Shiitake is the most commonly eaten edible mushroom in Asia and is increasingly being used here too. In traditional Chinese medicine, it is an important medicinal mushroom and is used especially for tumoral and metabolic diseases:
- very rich in ß-glucan, has potential against viruses and cancer cells
- can lower blood fat and cholesterol
- works against fatty liver
- supportive with weight loss (see lose weight quickly)
- is used in Asia for: headaches, arteriosclerosis, fatty liver
- increases response to chemotherapy and radiation therapy for cancer
Maitake / rattle sponge (Grifola frondosa)
Maitake - the "dancing mushroom" - is also a very delicious edible mushroom and is reminiscent of artichoke.
The Maitake complements itself very well with the Shiitake in terms of its effects and has its focus mainly on the immune system and metabolism:
- Supports a healthy immune system
- increases energy consumption and can be used when losing weight
- has an anti-inflammatory effect
- also works against fatty liver (fatty liver is a major health problem, especially in western countries, which has been shown to contribute to metabolic syndrome and obesity.)
- the fiber ß-glucan is said to have an anti-tumor and anti-viral effect through stimulation of the immune system
- Lowers cholesterol and blood sugar levels
- lowers side effects of chemotherapy in cancer
- increases human chi (life force), which is why this mushroom is very popular in Chinese medicine
Silver ear (Tremella fuciformis)
Dried tremella - it looks like ... a sponge.
In traditional Chinese medicine, the tremella has been used against tuberculosis, colds and high blood pressure for thousands of years. What is interesting is what modern science has to say about this:
- strong antioxidant thanks to the polyphenols and fiber it contains
- has an immune stimulating effect and helps to fight acute infections
- protects nerve cells throughout the body
- has a cholesterol-lowering effect, probably due to the increased formation of bile acids
- lowers blood sugar
- helps in the elimination of heavy metals
- protects against radioactive pollution by binding parts of the radioactive substances and discharging them from the body
- inhibits cancer cells from growing
- protects the liver from hepatitis
- supports the regeneration of skin and connective tissue and is becoming increasingly popular as an "anti-aging fungus".
Judas ear / Chinese morel (Auricularia polytricha)
Dried morel - known from the “ten treasures” of Chinese cuisine.
Any idea why it's called Judasohr? 🙂
The mushroom of the year 2017 is also known as "Chinese morel". It is this classic black slimy mushroom that can be found in the "Ten Delicacies" in Chinese restaurants. I really like to eat it because I like its consistency and it allows me to regenerate much faster after exercise.
- in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) for thousands of years arteriosclerosis used
- has a blood thinning effect
- increases microcirculation (blood flow)
- can lower cholesterol levels
- forms melanin - the brown pigment that forms on your skin when you are exposed to the sun
- strong anti-inflammatory
- promotes libido
- has an antihypertensive effect and stimulates blood circulation
Butterfly tassels (Coriolus versicolor)
Wild butterfly tassels in all their shapes and colors - it's almost a shame that this mushroom is so healthy.
Wild butterfly tassels - pretty, isn't it?
The butterfly tramete is one of the most effective immunomodulators in nature. In Japanese medicine, their extracts are approved as complementary medicine for some types of cancer.
- The ingredients PSK and PSP have a clinically proven effect against various types of cancer (stomach cancer, colon cancer, prostate cancer, lung cancer)
- strong antiviral effect - especially with chronic infections such as EBV, CMV, varicella zoster
- currently in phase 3 studies against cancer in Europe
More medicinal mushrooms that are neglected here
In addition to these 9 medicinal mushrooms, there are others that I can only mention for reasons of space:
Video reporting on medicinal mushrooms / medicinal mushrooms
If you still have a few minutes and want to hear from doctors, naturopaths and patients who have been using medicinal mushrooms successfully for a long time, I can highly recommend this video:
Tips for taking medicinal mushroom products
- Whole mushrooms or powder-extract mixtures are ideal for preventing illnesses and increasing well-being. You can get fresh or dried mushrooms in larger supermarkets, weekly markets and on the Internet.
- I can highly recommend shiitake, maitake, lion's mane, judas ear and oyster mushrooms as fresh mushrooms for cooking.
- When dry, I recommend Judasohr, Maitake, lion's mane and almond mushroom.
- As a supplement for chronic diseases, anti-inflammatory or for certain effects, dual extracts have proven themselves
- Only in extracts are the active ingredients dosed high enough to achieve a lasting effect without having to eat 1 kg of mushrooms every day.
- In addition, extracts have been very well researched scientifically and their effectiveness has been proven.
- With extracts, you should make sure that they dual extracted were. In other words: aqueous and alcoholic extraction - only then are all effective ingredients (minerals, terpenes, ß-glucans, etc.) included!
- In addition to dual extraction, it is important that the manufacturer can prove that their products are free from pesticides and heavy metals.
- I think a chemical analysis is absolutely necessary to prove that it really is the respective fungus. About 90% of the products on the market either contain no mushrooms at all or only contain traces!
- For the highest quality extracts, I recommend the company Hifas da Terra. Real, high-quality mushroom extracts are a little more expensive, but significantly more effective than the "cheap" products that you can find on Amazon.
I would like to recommend three of my favorite medicinal mushroom extracts to you: Extracts from Reishi, Cordyceps and Lion's Mane:
And lion's mane extract:
Conclusion - the time for medicinal mushrooms has come
Medicinal mushrooms are said to have many great benefits, which studies have confirmed. In addition, they are evidence-based (in the true sense of the word) and have been used by us for a long time for prevention and therapy.
Most of the preparations on the market (especially the cheap ones) are unfortunately not recommendable in terms of quality. I advise you to invest a little more money, but to choose a really good manufacturer.
Hifas da Terra is the manufacturer that I personally trust. Good mushroom extracts are expensive, but worth it.
For medicinal mushrooms in powder or granulate form (to make your own extracts, tinctures or brews) I can also recommend Gamu and Hawlik.
What is important for you:
- Try to incorporate more mushrooms into your daily diet.
- Mushrooms, porcini mushrooms, oyster mushrooms, Judasohr and Shiitake can be bought all year round in well-stocked supermarkets - fresh and frozen.
- Other medicinal mushrooms can be used as an extract. I personally take the Reishi, Hericium and Cordyceps extracts from Hifas da Terra.
- Do you have any further questions about mushrooms or mycotherapy? Feel free to write me an email, I'll be happy to help you 🙂
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