The humble mushroom; we fry them in garlic, scatter them on pizzas and toss them in salads, but did you know that there are a special group of mushrooms which have incredible healing qualities? Out of an estimated 5.1 million species of mushroom (which means that they outnumber plants by 6:1), 270 species are classified as having medicinal qualities.
With a rich history of use which extends way back to the Han Dynasty in China, medicinal mushrooms aren’t just another superfood fad. From the performance-enhancing cordyceps to immunity-boosting chaga, each medicinal mushroom brings with it a unique combination of healing compounds unlike anything else found on earth. Read on for 10 weird and wonderful medicinal mushroom facts.
1. Mushrooms Contain the Sunshine Vitamin
Vitamin D is a type of vitamin which can be synthesised on the skin when it is exposed to sunlight. It is an important vitamin that allows the body to absorb calcium for healthy bones and teeth, plus it helps to protect against conditions such as diabetes and multiple sclerosis.
Studies reveal that around 75% of all adults and teenagers in Europe and America are deficient in this vital vitamin, which is partly due to an increase in sunscreen use (using a factor 15 will decrease the body’s intake of Vitamin D by 99%). Mushrooms provide one of the only plant-based source of vitamin D, which makes them a particularly valuable supplement for vegetarians and vegans.
2. They are Chock-Full of B-Vitamins
As well as Vitamin D, most medicinal mushrooms also contain a unique blend of B-vitamins which are hard to find in other plant species. The exact nutritional breakdown will vary depending on the exactand where they are grown, but many medicinal mushrooms contain a blend of B2, B3, B6, and even B12. B vitamins are essential for converting food into fuel and help to keep the digestive system healthy.
3. Mushrooms are An Olympic Athlete's Perfect Ally
Back in 1993, the Russian Field and Track Team stole the show with their record-breaking performance at the Olympic World Games. In fact, they were such clear winners that they were faced with doping allegations and had to undergo drug tests. The results came back in the all clear. The coach, Mr. Ma Ju Ren, put their performance partly down to an all-natural cordyceps concoction that they took daily.
4. Many 'Shrooms Don't Need Light to Grow
Mushrooms are commonly thought of as vegetables when in fact, they are simply fungi. Unlike vegetables, many species of mushrooms don't require any light to be able to grow. This is because they don't contain chlorophyll and photosynthesise like vegetables do. But although many species can grow without any light, certain medicinal mushroom species, such as shiitake, do require some light to kick-start the fruiting process in photosensitive species of mushroom.
5. Mushrooms are Eco-Warriors in Their Own Right
Medicinal mushrooms have the ability to absorb and decompose compounds in the soil around them, including toxic waste such as petroleum and some pesticides. Mushroom mycelium also plays a vital role in helping to maintain the ecosystem by decomposing plant material, and providing a food source for insects. It’s worth noting that medicinal mushrooms which are sold as health supplements are always sourced from pristine locations (if not lab-grown) to ensure that they are filled with nutrients and have not absorbed any contaminants.
6. Mushrooms Contain Substances Which Have Been Shown to Reduce Stress
Several medicinal mushrooms species, including cordyceps and chaga, are classified as adaptogenic substances. Adaptogens are ‘smart’ substances which are capable of working with your existing state of health to enable you to better deal with environmental, physical and mental stress factors. Simply put, adaptogens can provide an all-natural chill pill which can help to ease anxiety so that you to feel calm and centred.
7. They May Have Been The Ancients' Beauty Secret
Almost all species of medicinal mushrooms have powerful anti-ageing properties because they contain antioxidants which are able to fight free radical damage and prevent cell oxidation. This means that they can help to ward off signs of premature ageing, such as fine lines and wrinkles.
Tremella is a species of medicinal mushroom which is famous for its beautifying qualities. Legend has it that the most beautiful woman in China, Yang Guifei, used tremella daily as part of her beauty regime. Tremella has the ability to increase the skin's production of hyaluronic acid, which helps to plump it up and make it appear more youthful and radiant.
8. There are Actually Three Parts to a Mushroom
Medicinal mushrooms are more than just the fruiting body. In fact, they comprise of three main parts: mycelium, the fruiting body and the spores. The mycelium spreads out in a network under or on the soil, and it helps the mushroom to absorb valuable nutrients from its surroundings. Mycelium can be visible to the eye, appearing like very fine white hairs. The fruiting body is the part of a mushroom that commonly grows above ground, while the spores act as seeds and help to spread new life. Depending on the exact species, all three parts of medicinal mushrooms can be used for their healing and rejuvenating properties.
9. Mushrooms are The Largest Organism on Earth
Did you know that the biggest organism on earth is a mushroom? In the Blue Mountains in Eastern Oregon lies an extensive 2,400-acre network of mushroom mycelium which is believed to be around 2,200 years old! While the majority of these mushrooms are believed to be of the honey mushroom variety, some mushrooms with medicinal qualities also grow in this area.
10. Mushrooms Have Been Shown To Aid Meditation
Reishi is a very special species of medicinal mushroom which is known for its spiritual potency. Used by monks, yogis and spiritual seekers for thousands of years, reishi is believed to help calm the mind and provide a feeling of energised clarity and focus, which is beneficial for long periods of meditation. Reishi also contains a rare mix of 36 nutritional compounds that can help to reduce inflammation, support the immune system and even alleviate allergies.
The bottom line: you don’t need to be an Olympic athlete or monk to reap the benefits of medicinal mushrooms. Their unique blend of health compounds help to make these potent polypores an excellent addition to any diet.
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