What are medicinal mushrooms? Carla Oates shares their benefits and her favourite recipe
During the depths of winter, your immune system often has to work double-time to protect you from the bacteria, viruses and bugs that can make you sick. Although you can almost smell the scent of spring in the air, it’s important to bolster your immunity as the change of season draws closer.
One way to do this is by focusing on gut health, where it’s estimated 70 per cent of your immune system is housed. While there are many ways to support your gut, eating a varied diet full of immune-boosting, nutrient-rich wholefoods undoubtedly have the most profound impact.
Bone broth, turmeric, ginger, citrus and homemade chicken soup are well-known immune-boosting foods, but one incredible food you may not have considered in your quest for immune health is medicinal mushrooms such as shiitake, maitake, lion’s mane, reishi and porcini.
What are medicinal mushrooms?
In many ways, you could consider medicinal mushrooms to be the original superfood as they’ve been around for thousands of years to support health, immunity and wellbeing.
Many ancient cultures and traditions embraced mushrooms for their myriad benefits. The ancient Greeks called them the “food of the gods”, the Chinese believed they were the “elixir of life” and Japanese emperors used them as aphrodisiacs.
Today, mushrooms continue to be used widely in Western medicine and can be found in penicillin and in anti-cholesterol drugs.
How medicinal mushrooms support your health
They support immunity. Although research into how mushrooms are able to both bolster and modulate the immune system is ongoing, evidence suggests the compounds found in mushrooms — known as polysaccharides — are responsible for stimulating the immune system.
One group of polysaccharides found in mushrooms is called beta-glucans. These incredible compounds exhibit a wide range of benefits such as reducing inflammation, activating immune cells, regulating blood sugar and even reducing pro-inflammatory cytokines.
Research into reishi mushrooms, for example, found they help boost the immune system and increase natural killer cells, which work to detect and dismantle cancer cells and cells affected by viruses. Other medicinal mushrooms that may help to support immune health include shiitake, cordyceps and maitake.
They help fight free radicals. Free radicals are unstable compounds that can cause damage to cells and lead to oxidative stress and premature ageing. One way to help neutralise free radicals and reduce the damage they cause is by consuming dietary antioxidants.
While antioxidants are found in abundance in colourful fruits and vegetables, some medicinal mushrooms are said to increase antioxidant activity. Reishi, for example, helps reduce free radical activity while shiitake, maitake, oyster and porcini contain high levels of antioxidants including ergothioneine and glutathione, your body’s master antioxidant.
Antioxidants are also anti-inflammatory. Considering inflammation is largely recognised as being one of the key drivers of chronic disease, nourishing your gut with anti-inflammatory foods such as medicinal mushrooms will support your health and overall immunity.
Medicinal mushrooms contain vitamin D. While you absorb most of your vitamin D from the sun, mushrooms are also a great source of this essential nutrient. Vitamin D is anti-inflammatory and is known to be important for bone health and cardiovascular health. Vitamin D is also vital for helping support and regulate your immune system as well as for weight maintenance and metabolism and cognitive function. Shiitake mushrooms are a wonderful source of vitamin D, so try adding a handful to your next batch of chicken or vegetable soup for extra immune-boosting goodness.
They support gut health. The polysaccharides found in mushrooms are a good source or prebiotic fibre which, as we now know, is great for keeping your gut robust and healthy. There is even research to suggest that mushrooms may help to bolster levels of beneficial bacteria such as Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus in the gut, further supporting microbial health and helping reduce inflammation.
How to incorporate more mushrooms into your diet
You’ve likely noticed that medicinal mushrooms have become a bit of a trend in the health and wellness world with mushroom powders and supplements added to everything from smoothies and puddings to raw desserts and bliss balls. An even simpler and more affordable way to integrate amazing mushrooms into your diet is by cooking with them.
Golden Turmeric & Ginger Broth with Buckwheat Noodles, Chicken & Vegetables
- 1 (400–450g) organic skinless chicken breast
- 10 dried shiitake mushrooms
- 1 leek (white part only)
- 1 medium carrot
- 1 stalk celery
- 2 spring onions (green part only)
- 1.5L homemade chicken broth, store-bought stock
- 1 tbsp finely grated ginger
- 1 tbsp finely grated turmeric
- 2 cloves garlic, sliced
- 200g dried 100 per cent buckwheat noodles
- Himalayan salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- Lemon wedges, to serve
- Bring small saucepan of water to simmer over medium heat. Add chicken breast and gently simmer for 6 mins. Remove from heat and leave chicken in water for 15 mins to finish cooking. Once cool enough to handle, shred chicken into strips and set aside.
- Soak mushrooms in bowl of warm water for 10 mins or until softened. Drain. Remove and discard tough stalk. Thinly slice cap and set aside.
- Cut leek, carrot, celery and spring onions into 10cm lengths. Thinly slice lengthways and julienne into thin strips.
- Pour stock into medium saucepan. Add ginger, turmeric and garlic. Bring to boil over high heat. Decrease heat and simmer for 5 mins.
- Line colander or large sieve with muslin cloth and set over large bowl. Strain golden broth and return to pan. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
- Bring large saucepan of water to boil over high heat. Cook buckwheat noodles for 4 mins or according to packet instructions. Strain and rinse under cold running water. Set aside.
- Set broth over low heat and bring to simmer. Add leek, carrot and celery and cook for 2 mins or until just tender.
- To serve, divide noodles among four serving bowls. Top with shredded chicken. Pour in broth and divide vegetables evenly. Top with spring onion and serve with lemon wedge.
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How to eat your way to a longer life
Adopt a food-is-medicine approach and reap the benefits of an anti-inflammatory diet for a long, wholesome life.
How to create infused water jars
If your resolution is to drink more water we're here to help with flavour-infused water jars.
Don't like change? Here are 5 ways to deal with change mindfully
When change happens in life, it can be a shock or a more subtle shifting under the surface. Either way,...
Do you love avocado? Dr Karen Bridgman shares the health benefits of the fruit
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