Mushrooms are not only a delicious addition to many meals (we’re looking at you, mac ’n’ cheese), it turns out they also have quite a few health and skin benefits
The magic of mushrooms has long been known. Used for their medicinal properties in the East for thousands of years (as far back as 200AD in China), they were “classified in the superior category of herbs”, explains herbalist, naturopath and founder of Cloud Twelve, Jenya Di Pierro. “They were used to increase life span, prevent any kind of illness, improve cognitive function, treat infertility, and give fortitude and bravery. In fact, medicinal mushrooms were referred to as ‘herbs for the immortals’.”
In an interview with British Vogue last year, Anjelica Huston described the mushroom-packed, energy-boosting “witch’s brew” she drinks each morning instead of coffee. “I very much like this melange of fungi that I’ve been taking instead of coffee or tea in the morning,” she said at the time. “I drink a combination of six different kinds: cordyceps, lion’s mane, maitake, tiger tail and chaga. They come in powder form and I do a couple of teaspoons of all of them with lemon and hot water.”
The fungi phenomenon doesn’t stop at Huston. In both wellness and skincare, there has been something of a “shroom boom”, with brands and consumers alike increasingly enamoured with their effects. Cult Beauty, which sells both supplements and skincare, has seen a 480 per cent increase in searches for the term “mushroom” in the past year, as well as a number of new skincare products that harness their powers. Whether shiitake or reishi, they are also a key ingredient in many supplements, boosting immunity and easing stress. Increasingly, the more “magic” types are being micro-dosed to treat mental health issues, like depression and anxiety.
Supercharging your immune system
An adaptogen (any herb or plant that has the ability to reduce stress on the body), the humble mushroom’s wellbeing benefits are also numerous when incorporated into the diet. “They are a nutritional powerhouse,” says Di Pierro. “They contain phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper, magnesium, as well as vitamins B and D – the latter is particularly present in mushrooms that have been exposed to the sun.” They are also high in protein and fibre but low in fat, which makes them perfect for a balanced diet.
They are also high in glutathione, an antioxidant and detoxifying nutrient, as well as ergothioneine, which protects DNA from oxidative damage, explains Di Pierro, who also highlights that their most important medicinal property is the active ingredient – mushroom polysaccharides – within them. These polysaccharides have a “significant impact on the immune system with potent immunomodulatory and anti-tumour effects”, and boost production of the immune cells which help to fight viruses, bacteria and other pathogens.
From reishi (the “mushroom of immortality”), which helps lower blood pressure and support a healthy immune system, to chaga, the mushroom with the most medicinal properties of all (it fights pathogens, takes down inflammation, lowers blood sugar and pressure and alleviates arthritis), getting your mushroom fix can only be a good thing for your health. Di Pierro advises incorporating them into your diet by way of soups, fritters or curries, and advises cooking them to activate their medicinal properties.
Main Image: lifealth.com