5 Powerful Medicinal Benefits of Edible Mushrooms

Once the air turns cold and dry, we’re more prone to respiratory infections, so now is the perfect time to “tune up” your immune system by bringing more mushrooms into your diet.

Mushrooms have been used medicinally in China for thousands of years. Now, a growing body of research demonstrates that mushrooms contain an array of powerful compounds that:

1) Boost the Immune Response: Mushrooms increase immune activity at the gut lining, increasing the release of antibodies to fight infection and promote the growth of healthy gut bacteria. Mushrooms contain beta-glucans, a special structural sugar/fiber that stimulates our lymphocytes and macrophages to defend against multi-drug resistant bacteria, viruses and other pathogens. 

2) Help reduce the risk of several cancers, specifically breast, gastric and colon cancers. Numerous studies have demonstrated extended survival time, improved response to chemotherapy, and enhanced quality of life with the consumption of mushrooms and use of medicinal mushroom extracts. 

3) Support weight loss because they’re rich in fiber, minerals like potassium, copper, zinc and selenium, and an array of B vitamins. Plus, their two unique fibers, beta-glucans and chitin, have been shown to reduce appetite, increase feelings of satisfaction and weight loss.

4) Generate Vitamin D when exposed to sunlight! Just like our skin cells, the cells of mushrooms manufacture their own vitamin D, which in turn raises our vitamin D levels. To enhance the vitamin D content of your mushrooms, simply slice them and place them on a platter in the sun for 4 hours and their vitamin D levels will skyrocket. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3897585/

5) Help lower blood pressure and reduce cholesterol. Mushrooms contain a compound that is being researched for its ability to relax blood vessels, thus lowering blood pressure. Oyster mushrooms contain significant levels of monocolin, a “natural statin” that lowers blood cholesterol and LDL.

To get the most out of your mushrooms: 

1) Buy mushrooms through a trusted grocery store or farmer’s market. Never forage for mushrooms on your own unless you’ve been thoroughly trained by an experienced mycologist. Fourteen people were poisoned last winter in Northern California, causing such severe liver damage that transplants were required.

2) Buy mushrooms that are relatively dry and never slimy. Brush any remaining dirt from them with a damp towel and avoid getting water into the gills on the underside. Store mushrooms in a paper bag so they can “breathe” until use. To maximize their vitamin D content, give them a sunbath then return to the bag to use within a few days.

3) Can’t find them in a market near you? Then consider buying a kit to “grow your own” mushrooms right in your home!  “Far West Fungi”, located in the San Francisco Ferry Building ships Mushroom Mini-Farms around the country. Check out their selection at http://store.farwestfungi.com/index.html

4) Always cook mushrooms! When eaten raw, they contain mild toxins that are deactivated when cooked, so try roasting, sautéing or grilling them to bring out their flavor and health benefits. 

5) Because mushrooms have a high water content within their fibrous exoskeleton, they are best sautéed or roasted then added to greens, soups and stews. 

Edible mushrooms, like white button, crimini (with the brown caps), Portobello (big crimini), chanterelle and morels are excellent to eat and have health supportive benefits, but shitake, maitake, reishi, oyster and trumpet mushrooms have the greatest concentration of compounds with potential medicinal benefits.