What to Know About Functional Mushrooms

What exactly are functional mushrooms?

Humans have consumed mushrooms for therapeutic or medicinal purposes for millennia. East Asian herbalists, in particular, have a long history touting the benefits of functional fungi. But other cultures, including European and indigenous North American cultures, also incorporated mushrooms into their daily wellness routines. 

Now, you will find a renewed interest in functional mushrooms in the West. With the overall uptick in popularity of the wellness industry, people are increasingly open-minded about herbal practices from abroad, and that interest extends to functional mushrooms.  

What exactly are functional mushrooms? To answer that question, this article will explore popular examples of adaptogen mushrooms, delve slightly into the studies surrounding them, and offer a short overview of how they are used. 

Popular Examples of Functional Mushrooms

There are roughly five million species of fungi in the world. Of those five million species, a small fraction is edible. And of that fraction of edible mushrooms, an even smaller fraction was used in ancient herbalist practices. Consider that the selection of mushrooms for medicinal and therapeutic purposes was probably a long, multi-generational project (that saw more than a few ancient humans falling ill). 

The most popular functional mushrooms to emerge from ancient herbalism are probably chaga, lion’s mane and reishi. These mushrooms continue to enjoy popularity today.

● Chaga mushrooms were popular on the Japanese island of Hokkaido, Cree regions of North America and certain parts of Russia, among other places. They were prized for their ability to support a robust immune system.

● Lion’s mane mushrooms (so named for their appearance) were revered in traditional Chinese medicine. Practitioners used them to support brain health.

● Reishi mushrooms have roughly 2,000 years of documented use in traditional Chinese medicine. Known as the “immortality mushroom” in Eastern herbalism, they were used to lower stress and promote overall wellbeing.

While largely unknown to much of the West throughout history, these three mushrooms have recently surged in popularity, thanks to companies like Rritual Superfoods who offer them for online purchase.

Studies, Support and Use

On the whole, modern scientific study is still catching up with functional mushrooms. As the wellness industry grows in popularity, the demand for studies and clinical trials is also increasing. 

Researchers have studied the effect of chaga mushrooms on suppressing cancer progression with promising findings. Research on lion’s mane mushrooms (on mice) indicates that the mushroom may boost immune system activity. And the National Cancer Institute, in a lengthy write-up on the efficacy of various functional mushrooms, note that reishi mushrooms have demonstrated potential mechanisms of anticancer activity. 

Commonly, functional mushrooms are brewed to make a tea. Nowadays, they may also be added as supplements to smoothies, coffee drinks or even cooked meals. Recommended dosage varies from mushroom to mushroom, but generally falls within 1,000mg to 4,5000 mg per serving. 

More people are embracing the benefits of functional mushrooms. While there are many fungi species in the world, the three most popular functional mushrooms are chaga, reishi and lion’s mane. While further research is needed (and likely forthcoming), existing research indicates that these mushrooms are beneficial.