Have you noticed medicinal mushrooms are the talk of the health-food-town?
Once upon a time, the supermarket giants would restrict us to one variety of mushroom (portobello, anyone?)
But recently, it’s becoming increasingly common to see lesser-known medicinal varieties hit the shelves across the western world, shining a light on exciting strains like chaga, lion’s mane, cordyceps and reishi.
And with these fancy mushrooms becoming available in all different forms, there’s growing confusion over *how* to take them (whether that’s capsules, tinctures or powders).
Well, this article will cover…
- How to take medicinal mushrooms
- What even are medicinal mushrooms?
- The different methods of taking medicinal mushrooms, including capsules, powders and extracts
What are medicinal mushrooms?
Mushrooms are a frequent resident in most kitchens. And for good reason: they’re nutritious, delicious, low in calories and high in fibre, protein and antioxidants. But what many people don’t realise is they go waaaay beyond the traditional portobello.
Medicinal mushrooms can be defined as macroscopic fungi used for medicinal or nutritional purposes — in other words, mushrooms that are jam-packed with good stuff. Good stuff that helps the body fend off bacteria, activate immune cells, reduce inflammation and increase antibody production. Even better, all this good stuff can do cool things like help lower cholesterol, improve heart health, reduce inflammation, increase energy and stamina and activate the immune system.
But with so many different mushrooms that can be consumed in different ways, it can be daunting to know where to start. So, let’s look at how to take medicinal mushrooms.
How to take medicinal mushrooms
As a general rule, most medicinal mushroom supplements are made from either:
- The medicinal mushroom fruit body (the actual mushroom that pops out of the ground)
- The medicinal mushroom fruit body AND mushroom mycelium (the vegetative part of the fungus, kinda like the roots).
Now you might be thinking. Can’t we just… you know… eat them?
While eating mushrooms may be the first thing that comes to mind, the truth is not all mushrooms are feast-friendly. As much as we’d love to simply chop and sauté, some mushrooms are extremely tough. Like, we’re talking as hard as wood. Not to mention some are kinda gross tasting.
So, to discover the best way to take medicinal mushrooms, it’s important to first consider the physiology of our fungi friends. See, all mushrooms have a chitinous cell wall, which is similar to the exoskeletons of arthropods. And these tough cell walls lock in the beneficial polysaccharides and nutrients — AKA the interior that makes medicinal mushrooms so powerful.
So, if we can’t eat the mushroom and the outer wall is rock hard, how do we get to the good stuff? Well, there are a few different ways…
One way to break down the tough chitin wall is through liquid extraction — which can then be made into a variety of supplements (including both powders and liquid extracts).
By extracting mushrooms, we’re able to dissolve some of the active ingredients, release their powers and even increase their bioavailability (which means it’s easier for our bodies to absorb).
There are three common types of extraction: hot water extraction, alcohol extraction and dual extraction (you can read more about these in our article Mushroom Powder vs Extract: Which Is Better For You?).
Hot water extraction is one of the most common ways to create a mushroom extract. It works by heating the raw mushrooms with water to dissolve medicinal compounds. After the water evaporates, it leaves a delicious and nutritious mushroom powder.
Alcohol extraction uses alcohol instead of water in this process. It’s commonly only used on mushrooms with “hard to get” medicinal compounds that don’t dissolve with hot water alone.
Lastly, dual extraction uses both alcohol and hot water. Hot water extraction is great at dissolving polysaccharides, a group of carbohydrates that can have anti-inflammatory, antiviral and anti-tumour properties. All the stuff that’s great for the immune system. On the other hand, dual extraction focuses on compounds called terpenoids, found in mushrooms that are known for their antibacterial, antiviral and anti-inflammatory effects (that is, Reishi and Chaga).
Either way, all extraction methods essentially achieve the same thing: they’re a great way to retrieve medicinal compounds hidden behind the super tough exterior. In fact, some compounds (like Beta-Glucans) can be up to 15 times more concentrated in medicinal mushroom extracts when compared to other forms.
After extracting mushrooms, these can then be packaged as a tincture, capsule or powder (more on these next).
There’s a bit of overlap (and confusion) between mushroom extracts and tinctures. And the difference comes down to how they’re made.
A mushroom extract is created by soaking the mushroom in any type of solvent, whereas a mushroom tincture *specifically* uses alcohol. So, you could say that ALL tinctures are extracts, but not all extracts are tinctures.
See, mushrooms are packed to the brim with nutrients like polysaccharides, triterpenes and proteins, but these are hidden away by that super tough exterior made from chitin. And as we know, while hot water works to bring out some of these nutrients, other compounds need a little more, uh, convincing. And what’s more convincing than a lil’ bit of liquid courage, hey?
At Natura Mushrooms, we combine both hot water extraction and alcohol extraction to create a final product that contains a full range of active ingredients. This ensures maximum bioavailability, and what’s more, the alcohol in tinctures helps to give the supplement a longer shelf life! Win!
You can also find mushroom powders on the market, which are commonly made by drying out the mushroom and grinding it up.
And, as it turns out, this is a great way to consume the chitin of a mushroom (which is extremely good for you). Not only is it rich in antioxidants, but it’s a great source of insoluble fibre and can help to promote a healthy gut, reduce constipation, and lower the risk of some diseases. We recommend mushroom powders for those seeking more fibre in their diet.
But here’s where it gets confusing: some mushroom powders can also be extracts.
Yep, at Natura Mushrooms, our mushroom powders undergo a hot water extraction process to draw out the medicinal compounds before we package them up (whereas other mushroom companies may simply grind up the mushroom).
It just goes to show, it’s always important to read the label and process before purchasing a mushroom product so you know what you’re getting.
Mushroom capsules are made by taking a mushroom powder, then encasing it in a hard shell (using gelatin or a vegan alternative). It’s perfect for those seeking a quick and convenient way to consume medicinal mushrooms (without having to prepare them with your food and drinks).
The downside? It’s not great for those who dislike swallowing pills. Plus, some folks don’t like consuming the additional ingredients in the capsule case.
Mushrooms in cooking
Finally, you can add medicinal mushrooms to your diet.
Some medicinal mushrooms (like reishi) aren’t recommended for cooking. Sure, it’s incredibly nutritious, but its bitter taste might not make you many friends at the dinner table.
The good news? There is a whole range of medicinal mushrooms that can be used for cooking, some of which can be easily found in your local supermarket. One of the most well-known mushrooms, shiitake, is both delicious and nutritious (and makes a great addition to a risotto). Shiitake may assist with blood flow, weight loss and cholesterol management.
Medicinal mushrooms we love for cooking:
- Lion’s Mane
Medicinal mushrooms that may be better left as supplements:
- Turkey Tail
How long do medicinal mushrooms take to work?
As with most supplements, you might not notice the benefits immediately. In many cases, it takes at least two weeks to notice the effects of medicinal mushrooms (but this can also vary from person to person). Consistency is key, people.
How much of each medicinal mushroom should I take?
As you can see, there are sooo many ways to take medicinal mushrooms. At Natura Mushrooms, we focus on dual liquid extracts and mushroom powders.
It’s recommended to take:
- ½ a teaspoon of mushroom powder daily, or
- 2ml of mushroom liquid extract daily
As always, we recommend chatting with your doctor or health care practitioner before taking mushroom supplements.
The wrap up — taking medicinal mushrooms
At the end of the day, choosing how to take medicinal mushrooms depends on what you’re wanting to get out of it. For those seeking a diverse range of medicinal compounds, we recommend dual extraction. For those seeking medicinal compounds with the added benefit of fibre, we recommend powders.
Here’s a list of our favourite mushies (which are all available in powdered form and dual extraction):
- Lion’s Mane to boost mood, immunity and focus
- Reishi to relax the mind and energise the body
- Cordyceps to enhance energy, strength and libido
- Chaga to promote immunity and radiant skin
- Maitake for a boost of antioxidants
- Turkey Tail for gut health and immunity
Keen to learn more about each ‘shroom? Check out our Medicinal Mushroom guide here to help you get started.