How Mushrooms Can Nourish Your Body and Save the World

Zerr, Emi. “Different Types of Mushrooms: Reishi, Chaga, and Lion’s Mane.” 2020.

Josey Murray

Written by Josey Murray | Edited by Carol Coutinho

It’s no surprise that mushrooms are a superfood. After all, when you get a mushroom in Mario Kart, it gives you a boost in speed. As much as mushrooms can do for us and our bodies, they can do even more for our planet. Different types of mushrooms have unique abilities to nourish and heal our bodies and save the world. 

As a vegetarian since birth and vegan in the past five years, mushrooms have always been a core component of my diet. In the plant-based community, they’re known for bringing a certain “meatiness” to a dish – whether that be a replacement for a burger with a classic portobello sandwich, or cremini mushrooms in a plant-based sloppy joe. There was a time in my life when the texture of a mushroom reminded me of what I imagined fish would feel like in my mouth despite not having ever eaten it, but since then, I’ve fallen in love with mushrooms. And my love for mushrooms has reached beyond the added portobello on salads at bad restaurants and the pile of enoki on my plate at my favorite hot pot place. I’ve come to realize the magical elements of mushrooms altogether and the wonder of fungi as a kingdom.

There is obvious magic to the rich earthy flavors of traditional mushrooms and the psychedelic effects of actual magic mushrooms, but that’s not all. Beyond the very basic understanding of mushrooms going on pizza and growing as a nuisance in your backyard, is a revolutionary world of mushrooms providing us with spectacular nourishment and medicine. These medicinal mushrooms have taken the wellness world by storm in the past several years and rightfully so. You’ll find these mushrooms in wellness elixirs, coffee, and supplements for energy and focus. The wellness powers of mushrooms have been covered by the New York Times, Refinery 29, Goop, and The Guardian. They’ve hit the mainstream and, with the need for our immune systems to be at top notch function and our brains to be on high alert and max productivity to think of solutions for issues like the climate crisis, they aren’t leaving anytime soon. If this is all news to you, we’re here to walk you through it. Starting with button mushrooms and moving to the crazy fungi that people now drink instead of coffee. 

 

Different Types of Mushrooms

Mushrooms have been used in folk medicine for thousands of years. With our society turning away from nature to industry and technology in the past 100 years, we’ve lost track of the wonders our natural world can offer us. Some have stayed true to nature all of these years and are perhaps the least sick of all of us. As is the solution to many problems, nature again offers us healing and enlightenment. 

The International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms names three different types of mushrooms: edible mushrooms, medicinal mushroom products, and wild mushrooms. (1)

Before we get into the mushrooms that are super cool and will boost your brain, immune system and body like a bright red mushroom in Mario Kart, let’s discuss your everyday mushrooms – the ones you already put in your pasta – and some common mushroom types that you might not even know about.

Different Types of Mushrooms: The Regular Edible Ones

Even as a mushroom fanatic, I would fail a test of mushroom identification, and that’s with the more common ones that are in simple dishes. I don’t mean to say that these “regular” ones lack brilliance on their own, it’s just that they are well known and you can throw them in any dish at home pretty easily. Categorized as farm-grown and foraged in the wild, here are fifteen different kinds of mushrooms, and a brief tidbit about them. 

Farm-Grown

Button – You know what’s up with these. Love these sliced up on vegan pizza with lots of onions. 

Clamshell – Cook to sweeten up the bitter flavor. Grown and sold in clusters.

Cremini – Denser and deeper than button mushrooms. Creminis are actually just baby portobellos!

Enoki – A personal favorite. They’re often used in ramen or hot pot like I mentioned before. 

King Trumpet (aka king oysters) – Ideal for adding “meatiness.”

Oyster – Delicate flavor.

Porcini – Deep, earthy flavor. 

Portobello – Thick and juicy. They’re just creminis that were allowed to keep growing. 

Shiitake – Grow in the wild, but the ones you find at the grocery stores are farmed.

Wild

These mushrooms can only be found in the wild, or at a farmer’s market when someone else forages for them. You can try foraging on your own, but be careful and follow a guide closely. (Here’s a guide to foraging in general and a guide to foraging mushrooms). 

Chanterelle – Have a more whimsical look to them. 

Black trumpet Mushrooms – Smoky flavor. 

Morel – Very odd-looking and alien-like. Have spongy cone-shaped tops. 

Hedgehog – Sweet and wild. 

Lobster – Named because of their bright red coloring. 

Maitake (aka hen of the woods) – Looks like overlapping leaves. (2)

Porcini Mushrooms

Medicinal Mushrooms 

These are the different types of mushrooms you’ll find in supplements and other wellness products.

(As with any wellness product, please consult your doctor so that you find out what is best for you.)

Chaga, Reishi, and Lion's Mane

Zerr, Emi. “Different Types of Mushrooms: Reishi, Chaga, and Lion’s Mane 2.” 2020.

Lion’s Mane – For Focus

Lion’s Mane mushrooms are large, white, and – you guessed it- resemble a lion’s mane. People sometimes compare the flavor to that of crab or lobster. Unlike the other mushrooms in this list that are really only sold in powdered form, lion’s mane mushrooms can be found raw – and eaten raw. I’ve even found lion’s mane mushrooms at my local farmer’s market! They are especially beneficial for the brain, heart, and gut. (5)

Other benefits include: Stimulating the growth of brain cells to protect against Alzheimer’s, improving mental functioning, promoting nerve growth, relieve mild symptoms of depression and anxiety by reducing inflammation, improved functioning of the hippocampus, speed recovery of nervous system injuries, help reduce the severity of brain damage after a stroke, protect against stomach ulcers, may help treat inflammatory bowel diseases, decrease rate of blood clotting and lowering risk of heart attack, lowers blood sugar, reduce diabetic nerve pain, has cancer-fighting abilities, slow spread of cancer and kill cancer cells, reduce inflammation and oxidative stress, boost immune system. (6)

“One small study in menopausal women found that eating cookies containing lion’s mane mushrooms daily for one month helped reduce self-reported feelings of irritation and anxiety.” — Great for people with uteruses and those who love cookies! (6)

 

Recipes:

Lion’s Mane Latte 

Vegan Lobster Roll

If you’re looking for more brain foods, check out this post

Chaga – For Overall Wellness and Immunity

Chaga mushrooms are incredibly strange looking. They appear as a black mass growing on the side of trees. Mainly appearing on birch trees, these mushrooms can be found in northern Europe, Asia, Canada, and the northeastern United States. Although black in appearance on the outside, they are bright orange on the inside. It is most often dried, powdered, and made into tea, extracts, and tinctures. (3)

Benefits include: preventing progression of liver problems, help control diabetes by aiding the pancreas in functioning more normally, has anti-cancer effects possibly due to its high amount of antioxidants, boosting immune by stimulating white blood cells, and lowering cholesterol levels. (3) (4)

Recipes:

Chaga Hot Chocolate 

Chaga Maca Cookie Bites

Chaga mushroom

Reishi – For Relaxation and Sleep

Reishi mushrooms are hard to find in the wild. They were initially reserved for royalty. With a woody texture and a bitter taste, you’re not going to want to eat these straight. Reishi mushrooms are nicknamed “the mushroom of immortality.”

Benefits include: boost immune system, alleviate fatigue, combat stress, relieve aches and pains, improve irritability, relive chemotherapy-induced nausea, inhibit metastasis of tumors, lower blood pressure, protect the brain from seizures, antihistamine effects, reduce total and bad cholesterol, lower blood sugar, improve liver function. (7)

Recipes:

Mushroom Latte

Uplifiting Reishi “Snickers”

Different Types of Mushroom Products:

Four Sigmatic

From coffee to protein powder to matcha lattes, Four Sigmatic has everything you need to add these superfoods to your daily life. To enhance your thinking, they add lion’s mane to ground coffee. To defend your body, they have elixir mixes with chaga and protein powders packed with a powerhouse blend of chaga, reishi, cordyceps, lion’s mane, and turkey tail. And to unwind, they have chai latte mix with reishi.  

Four Sigmatic Mushroom Coffee

Host Defense Mushrooms 

Paul Stamets, trusted famed figure in the mushroom community, has his own line of mushroom supplement products. When looking for different types of mushroom supplements, it’s important to go for high-quality – even if the price is higher. These products are of high quality and should cover all of your mushroom needs. They even have teas and chocolate bars! 

Did you know…

Did you know you can get vitamin D by leaving your mushrooms out in the sun before eating them? 

Fortunately, you can make your own supply of vitamin D-enriched mushrooms by simply exposing them to sunlight. You can sun dry or UV-zap store-bought or homegrown shiitake, maitake, button, and many other mushroom species. My personal preference is home grown organic shiitake. The high vitamin D levels generated will last for more than a year.” – Paul Stamets (9)

How Mushrooms Can Save the World 

Paul Stamets, who has the great mushroom products that I mentioned above, is an incredible mycologist, author, and speaker. He and his wife, Dusty, live in the Pacific Northwest. They spend most of their time looking for mushrooms in the Old Growth Forest. This is where he says they “go to church.” He believes mushrooms can save the world.

Watch this TED talks to see how mushrooms can be used to protect us from viruses, clean up pollution, and create energy. 

Mycology in the past has focused on the damage that fungi can cause, but recent research is exploring what fungi can provide in industry, agriculture, health, and pharmaceuticals; “it is now well documented, even in scaled up practice, that fungi can generate tangible and substantial value through improved resource efficiency, resulting in decreased pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.” (8)

“Fungi play an important role in addressing major global challenges. Use of fungal processes and products can lead to increased sustainability through more efficient use of natural resources. Applications range from upgrading bio-waste for value added products to use of renewable plant biomass as a substitute for oil-based products such as biochemicals, plastics, fertilizer, and fuel. Fungal inoculum, introduced into soil together with seed, can promote more robust plant growth through increasing plant uptake of nutrients and water, a robustness of importance for maintaining crop yields under climate change condition. Fungal enzymes can lead to production of food ingredients with prebiotic effects for a healthier human gut biota and hence greater resilience towards life-style diseases. Similarly, use of fungi can be a short cut to healthier animal feed and less use of antibiotics in, for example, meat production, one of the current prime sources of multiple drug resistant bacteria. Fungi are one of nature′s most promising hotspots for finding new drug candidates and antimicrobials. Last but not least, fungi have interesting potential as the new way of manufacturing biological medicines and a wide spectrum of new value added bio-based products.” (8)

Let us know how different types of mushrooms have improved your health. If you try any of these recipes, tag us on Instagram @cookandculture.

Happy Foraging!

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