Fungi are a fascinating life form. They belong neither to the plant nor animal kingdoms, and they actually share more DNA with animals that they do with plants. Adding to their strangeness, the largest organism ever discovered on the planet is a network of mushroom mycelium that weaves across a colossal 2,200 acres underneath Oregon’s ancient Malheur National Forest.
Another standout quality of fungi is that some species are among the most potent natural medicines available. They offer an amazing spectrum of health benefits, from anti-tumor and anti-oxidant qualities, to depression and anxiety relief.
Here is a list describing five of the most potent mushroom medicines known to date:
1. Reishi (Ganoderma Lucidum)
The reishi mushroom has been used by physicians for thousands of years in China, where it was deemed to be so effective at preventing illness and curing disease that it earned the prestigious title, ‘Mushroom of Immortality.’ It was once reserved exclusively for the healing benefit of the upper echelons of society, as described in a Huffington Post article. Today however, reishi mushrooms are widely available and are one of the most studied natural medicines out there.
Reishi is what is known in Chinese medicine as a tonic herb, meaning it can be consumed in large and regular quantities without causing adverse side effects, much like food. It is often advised to take reishi mushroom for long periods of time to allow it to take its full effect. Reishi falls into the category of adaptogenic herbs, as mentioned in the data base of Healthline.com, due to its ability to help the body adapt to stressors like anxiety, fatigue, trauma and emotional distress.
Largely behind reishi’s medicinal qualities is a complex carbohydrate known as polysaccharides, which have been studied extensively and are proven effective for battling tumors, as well as modulating the immune system. This was demonstrated by a study performed at Peking University Health Care Center in Beijing, China.
Other impressive functions that stand out among reishi’s long and growing list of medicinal uses are its anti-viral, blood pressure-lowering, anti-bacterial and anti-allergic properties, all of which can be researched in depth using the informative archives of Reishi.com
2. Chaga (Inonotus Obliquus)
Chaga is another mycelium-based medicine that humanity has been using for epochs. Earning the title “Gift from God” in ancient Siberia, many cultures around the world still maintain a harmonic relationship with this mushroom. Chaga’s tough texture is similar to wood, with a dark black outer layer and a golden brown interior. It can be found co-existing with, and growing up, birch trees in some of the harshest and coldest climates in the word — including Canada, Scandinavia and Russia. It not only survives in these climates, but strengthens both itself and its host tree in the process.
Chaga’s complete list of beneficial active ingredients is honestly too lengthy to list in its entirety here, but some of the most healing include: iron, copper, potassium, selenium, calcium and a selection of amino acids and enzymes. A gargantuan amount of studies have been conducted around chaga and some of its isolated active ingredients. For one, researchers at Wonkwang University in South Korea concluded that water extracts of chaga mushroom exhibited anti-cancer potentials. A research paper provided by The Department of Medical Nutrition at Kyunghee University in South Korea also details the mushroom’s ability to protect DNA. And, according to the catalog of references at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, chaga is antiviral and antiplatlet (meaning it can reduce the formation of blood clots).
One of the enzymes contained in chaga goes by the name of superoxide dismutase (SOD), and is known to boost the body’s primary functions. Chaga manufactures more of this than any other known herb. SOD assists the body in using many essential minerals, has anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties and helps to repair damaged cells. Chaga also contains melanin, an anti-oxidant that protects the skin against age spots, deep wrinkles and sun damage, as described in this thorough breakdown by Emergent Health. Upon dissecting just some of the qualities that make this mushroom such a healing powerhouse, it comes as no surprise that it is so effective at alleviating, soothing and curing a host of ailments.
Chaga is also a member of the family of adaptogenic herbs, meaning it can help the body cope with and eliminate stress.
3. Turkey Tail (Trametes Versicolor)
Turkey tail, earns its name due to its striking resemblance to a turkey’s rear plume of feathers. It’s abundant throughout North American forests, where it resides upon felled trees, decaying logs and rotting tree stumps, which it helps to decompose. It emits a warm, brown, cinnamon-esque color from its velvety cap. Another example of a mushroom rich in healing polysaccharides, turkey tail is an herbal medicine that can aid the fight against cancer, as well as attack viruses that lay at the roots of many different types of cancers.
Research out of the University of Minnesota and Bastyr University, WA, shows that the mushroom may support conventional breast cancer therapies by bolstering the patients’ immune system. Turkey tail also apparently promotes the production of natural disease-killing white blood cells, which help the body fight tumorous cells. These same white blood cells also help to combat the HPV virus, which is a root cause of cervical cancer, as well as the hepatitus C virus, which can trigger the formation of liver cancer, according to mycologist Paul Stamets, writing for the Huffington Post.
In this TEDMED talk, renowned and respected mycologis Paul Stamets explains how, by using turkey tail supplements in conjunction with
4. Cordyceps sinensis
Cordyceps has a long history as a tonic herb applied in both Chinese and Tibetan medicine. It grows at high-altitudes of over 3,800 meters above sea level in the mountainous Himalayas, where it is known as yarsa gumba. Yak herders of old, in a region known as Sikkim, noticed a correlation between their strong and prosperous cattle, and the presence of cordyceps. Folk healers in Sikkim use the fungi to treat a plethora of ailments including cancer, diabetes, asthma and erectile dysfunction. Modern scientific research is starting to confirm their intuitions with regard to the fungi’s healing properties. One of the most detailed and in-depth papers on the fungi was published by the Department of Pharmacology at the Sikkim Manipal Institute of Medical Sciences in India.
Polysaccharides are once again a key healing ingredient in cordyceps. It also contains beneficial fatty acids, amino acids and sterols. In animal studies, cordyceps demonstrated anti-tumor, anti-diabetic, radio-protective and anti-platelet effects, as reported in detail by the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Another interesting and rather unique property of cordyceps is its proven ability to enhance exercise and athletic performance, and resistance to fatigue, as demonstrated by a study out of the University of California in Los Angeles.
5. Psilocybin Mushrooms
Although doused in political controversy, these psychedelic fungi are a potential medicine that have been shown to have profound therapeutic healing value.
There are over 180 mushrooms species that contain the substance psilocybin. They have been used the world over for millennia in shamanic healing ceremonies and initiatory rituals. The history of psychedelic mushroom use is well documented within the written vaults of Erowid.
A 2013 study conducted at the University of South Florida found that psilocybin may hold the potential to alleviate, and possibly even cure, symptoms of PTSD. Upon administering a small dose of psilocybin to mice, researchers found the mice lost their conditioned fear response to an electric shock. This research could also point towards a psilocybin-based treatment for anxiety and stress, which may have the potential to replace addictive and often harmful pharmaceutical medications. Psilocybin is believed to have such healing effects due to its ability to stimulate serotonn production within the brain.
Another psilocybin study performed at Harbour-UCLA involved 12 human subjects, all of whom suffered from a terminal illness. The goal of the research was to determine what effect the chemical could have upon the mental state of terminally ill patients, who commonly suffer from severe depression, anxiety and stress. The results showed that the mental states of those given psilocybin improved significantly, across the board. Patients explained that their anxiety and stress was transformed into understanding, calm and a humbling and eye-opening glimpse into the mystical nature of reality. Annie Levy, a study participant said, “It was very gentle” and that it “connected her to the universe.” Her husband described her to be “literally glowing” after the experiment took place.