You Either Love Them .... Or You Don't
Mushrooms tend to be one of those polarizing foods – you either love them or you don’t like them very much at all. In 2014 Fortune magazine ran an article claiming that Americans “are still afraid of mushrooms.” Whether that is indeed true or whether Americans have an under-appreciation for these edible fungi, the truth is that there are many reasons to love mushrooms – and not just the common white button mushroom that most Americans are familiar with.
The mushroom industry is alive and well in the United States, in fact, it is a billion-plus-dollar industry. I'm not talking about the "magic" kind of mushrooms, though I'll get to that towards the end of this discussion. The average American consumes approximately 4 pounds of mushrooms each year, with button mushrooms accounting for over 95% of that consumption. Our intake (in the U.S.) of mushrooms is half that of Europeans and a fraction of the mushroom consumption of Asians, particularly the Chinese. And why should that matter? Because science is showing us that mushrooms have a lot to offer us beyond the kitchen table. Even the unassuming button mushroom has been shown to possess medicinal value as you will read below. Expand your palette further and you may find a new appreciation for the many medicinal varieties available right in your neighborhood supermarket. Some species may be more difficult to find, and some may be more commonly used in medicinal forms such as tinctures, capsules, tablets, or teas.
White Button Cap Mushroom (Agaricus bisporous) (includes cremini and Portobello) – Best eaten cooked, the common mushroom is a great natural source of vitamin D and vegetarian protein. They are also protective against breast cancer as they contain chemical compounds that are known as aromatase inhibitors, which block the production of estrogen in the body. They contain conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which may support healthy immune function and decrease risk for certain cancers. Offers immune support, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity; contains B vitamins including B12, selenium, and zinc.
Shiitake (Lentinula edodes)– Fairly easy to find in most supermarkets. A bit “chewier” or “meatier” than the white button mushroom, but equally as strong in the medicinal area with immune system supportive compounds, vitamin D, B vitamins, and protein.
Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) – Considered a medicinal mushroom for sure, Reishi has cancer protective, anti-oxidant, antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal properties. They also contain a chemical that may help reduce LDL cholesterol levels.
Cordyceps (Cordyceps sinensis)– Belongs to a class of medicinal plants known as adaptogens, which help the body adapt or get back in balance, especially when due to physical, emotional, or environmental stress. It may help with physical stamina and mental alertness as well as benefit the immune system. Considered very powerful medicine by the Tibetans. Contains B vitamins as well as vitamins E, K and protein.
Maitake (Grifola frondosa) – Contains chemicals known as beta glucans, which may benefit (stimulate) the immune system.
Turkey Tail (Coriolus versicolor) – Immune system enhancement, anti-inflammatory and antiviral properties.
There are certainly many more varieties of medicinal mushrooms, but these may be the top 6 that are most available in the United States. Consider befriending a fungus and give mushrooms a place at the table.
If you're interested in experimenting with adaptogenic mushrooms, here's a link to my favorite product as of late: OM Master Mushroom Blend
What About Magic Mushrooms?
Although hallucinogenic mushrooms aren't quite "legal," voters in Denver approved decriminalization of possession and use of magic mushrooms, also known as Psilocybin mushrooms. Psilocybin or psychedelic mushrooms have been in the news a lot lately for their potential use in mental health settings. More specifically, "microdosing" of psilocybin mushrooms is being studied for its use in treating treatment-resistant depression, anxiety, and as many bigwigs up in Silicon Valley are claiming - its ability to enhance creativity.
I don't want to dive any further into microdosing here, but I do plan on exploring the topic a lot further as more science and research emerge.