The original superfood can help boost immunity, manage stress and much more.
Mushroom sales are soaring globally and fungi is turning up in everything from chocolates and cheesecakes to coffee and cocktails, smoothies, tea, tonics and even craft beer.
It is estimated that global mushroom sales worth $29 billion in 2013 will grow to $50 billion by 2019, largely driven by health conscious consumers and a growing demand for umami flavours.
The medicinal benefits of mushrooms have been known for centuries. And fungi’s cancer fighting powers in particular have been the subject of literally thousands of medical papers, making them one of the most studied foods in the world.
According the University of Sydney’s School of Biological Sciences, at the start of the 21st century, fungi was used in 10 out of the 20 most profitable medicines including anti-cholesterol drugs, the antibiotic penicillin and the immunosuppressant cyclosporin. More recently, cordycep mushrooms have been used in a drug to treat the autoimmune disease multiple sclerosis.
They have been making headlines for other reasons, too. Earlier this year, aNew York-based artist made a USD$1500 Infinity burial suit lined with flesheating fungi to break down the body and return it to the soil.
Meanwhile, a Dutch fashion designer grew a biodegradable dressfrom a mushroom root in just one week.
But back to the health benefits: common varieties – button, Portobello, Swiss Brown and field mushrooms are low in fat, high in dietary fibre, rich in minerals, antioxidants, enzymes, B vitamins and vitamin D (which helps your body use calcium). Vitamin D is even more important in winter (hello, mushroom soup) when most of us don’t get enough sun. And if you want to increase the vitamin D value, just leave your mushrooms outside in the sun for an hour.
Mushrooms are also adaptogens which means they help support your adrenal glands and protect your body against stress and fatigue.
If you fancy growing your own, then you can enrol in gourmet mushroom cultivation classes.
But it’s the medicinal mushrooms such as cordyceps, reishi, shiitake and chaga commanding real super shroom status right now.
The many claimed benefits of these functional fungi include strengthening your immune system, having anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, anti-bacterial and antioxidant powers and restricting blood vessel growth in tumours. Plus they are said to support your liver.
Of course, mushrooms have been used for centuries in China and Japan. However, in recent years health-savvy entrepreneurs have put powdered shrooms in cool packaging, kickstarting the trend for mushroom coffee and other unexpectedly hip new brews.
The powders can also be used to supersize the nutrients in your morning smoothie, mixed with hot water to make tea, whisked into a salad dressing or added to your favourite bliss ball or raw chocolate recipe.
Here’s a quick guide to super shrooms to try…
Reishi: Lowers LDL (the lousy kind) cholesterol, lowers blood pressure, lowers stress by helping to break down cortisol and boosts immunity. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, they are called Ling Zhi and used to fight fatigue and boost vitality.
Chaga: high in antioxidants, believed to help lower inflammation and one study has suggested it may inhibit growth of human cervical tumour cells.
Cordecyps: Are popular with athletes as they have been shown to increase aerobic capacity during exercise. They are also used in TCM to reduce fatigue and increase vitality. And they may also be an immune system stimulator with anti-tumour properties. They may also improve rate of recovery from infection.
Shiitake: Usually easy to find fresh or dried in the supermarket and common in Japanese food, these fungis are immune boosting, reduce cholesterol and blood pressure, help protect against parasites and possibly have anti-tumour properties.
Oyster mushrooms: Often used in Asian cooking, are a good source of antioxidants, calcium, zinc, folic acid, potassium and B vitamins.
Lion’s Mane: Studies have suggested this mushroom may stimulate nerve growth factor (NGF) and improve cognition while being taken.
Maitake – has been shown to reduce blood pressure and stimulate the immune system.