We’re diving into the incredible history of mushrooms, and sharing what they could be doing for your health.
There’s a reason mushrooms are beginning to find themselves more in the spotlight lately. Yes, they are a delicious addition to many recipes, but they are also nutritional powerhouses. Although we tend to hear about the same kinds of mushrooms over and over, there are actually many types — and each type of mushroom provides its own unique properties. In addition to being low in calories, these little nuggets are rich in antioxidants and have a handful of health benefits.
Did you know mushrooms have provided immune system support dating all the way back to the early Roman times? We’re going to dive into the incredible history of mushrooms, and share what they could be doing for your health. And don’t worry, you don’t have to be a mushroom fan to reap all of the benefits of these health-boosting superfoods!
A Brief History of Mushrooms
Mushrooms have a significant role in history. Going back to ancient times, mushrooms were seen as sacred medicinal foods. In fact, you’d be surprised to know how many well-known characters preached the mushroom’s health benefits. For example, Greek physician Hippocrates classified the amadou mushroom as a strong inflammatory support, as well as for cauterizing wounds. Throughout time, people have used mushrooms for their supposed medicinal benefits, and even now it is easy to receive powerful nutrients that help support our health, and all from one tiny mushroom. (1)
A SERENDIPITOUS TREAT FOR THE ELITE
Though mushrooms are estimated to have first been grown in Asia around 650, mushrooms first bloomed in 1650 in Europe, when a melon grower near Paris first 'discovered' mushrooms growing in his fertilizer. He then decided to take these strange little fungi and market it as an exotic delicacy to highly exclusive Parisian restaurants. This business blossomed, and soon there were large-scale mushroom cultivations in Europe. Back then, mushrooms were considered a treat exclusively for the elite and enjoyed by many wealthy and higher-class populations. It wouldn't be until the 19th century that mushrooms were introduced in the Netherlands. By 1950, the Dutch had learned more about mushroom cultivation and established their own cultivation areas.
Today, the Netherlands holds 3rd place in the mushroom market, next to the United States. Asia holds 1st place with control of over 70% of the world's mushroom production. (2) Not only are mushrooms widely celebrated in the culinary sense in each of these areas, but they have also been the subject of artists' inspirations for years across the world. Mushrooms have been used so many times for works of art that the North American Mycological Association has a Registry for Mushrooms in Works of Art. (3)
Types of Mushrooms
There are many types of mushrooms out there, with some falling into the edible and not-so edible categories. Here, we will share some of the most popular types of mushrooms that you've likely used in a few of your favorite dishes.
- Turkey Tail Mushrooms: Turkey tail mushrooms get their name from their striking colors. They are said to support the immune system and promote a healthy inflammatory response. (4)
- Chaga Mushrooms: Chaga mushrooms are incredibly popular in Siberia and parts of Asia, and have been making their way into the Western world. Thought to improve overall immunity and boost overall health, these dark clumps of mushrooms are widely popular consumed as tea. (5)
- Button Mushrooms: These mushrooms come in white and brown. They're the most popular type of mushroom in the United States and contain a variety of antioxidants and amino acids. (6)
- Maitake Mushroom: This very popular mushroom in Chinese and Japanese cuisines grows at the base of the oak tree. These mushrooms have been known to support the immune system by supporting healthy white blood cell activity and production, as well as maintaining systems of the body to keep them balanced. (7)
- Cordyceps Sinensis: Cordyceps helps the body utilize oxygen more efficiently and enhance blood flow during exercise. They are known to not only improve energy and athletic performance, but also speed up post-workout muscle recovery. This form of mushroom has also been a factor in ancient chinese medicine. (8)
- Royal Sun Agaricus: This mushroom has heavily established roots in Brazil, where they refer to it as “The Mushroom of the Gods”. It has been used in folk medicine for centuries and thought to support overall health of the body. This mushroom contains a unique blend of beta glucans, which are known to support the immune system. (9)
- Lion’s Mane Mushrooms: Lion’s Mane mushrooms get their name due to their large white shaggy looks. Lion's mane may benefit older adults to support a healthy cognitive function throughout the natural aging process. Scientists have also examined the effects of lion's mane on brain function. (10)
- Reishi Mushrooms: The reishi mushroom has been a staple in Eastern medicine. This mushroom contains several molecules that contribute to their wondrous effects on the body, such as triterpenoids, polysaccharides, and peptidoglycans. Reishi have been known to be a powerful brain tonic, that's used to energize and enhance your mood, plus support concentration. (11)
- Shiitake Mushrooms: Shiitake mushrooms are one of the most popular types of mushroom worldwide and are featured in a variety of cuisines. Compounds in shiitake mushrooms are believed to be able to promote good heart health, and boost immunity. (12)
- Black Fungus Mushrooms: The black fungus mushroom is a wild edible mushroom most known for its dark ear-like shape. This mushroom has been used in chinese medicine for years, and is popular in Asian dishes for it’s jelly-like consistency and chewiness. Black fungus mushrooms are thought to promote gut health due to its prebiotic properties. (13)
Mushrooms and the Body: What are the Benefits?
So, we’ve established that mushrooms are an integrated part of the culinary world and even the arts. They also have a long history filled with ancient beliefs, myths, and exclusivity. Now it’s time to focus on the big picture, which is: what do mushrooms have to do with the body, what kind of nutrients do mushrooms give off, and what are the health benefits one reaps when consuming them?
Mushrooms have been known to boost the immune system, maintain healthy cholesterol levels, aid in the natural aging process, and support a healthy inflammatory response. (14) This is all due to their nutrient-rich compositions. Some of the most common health benefits when consuming mushrooms include:
#1 INCREASED ENERGY
Mushrooms have been thought to give the body an added boost. So if you find yourself lacking in energy for your everyday routine, mushrooms could be the way to go!
#2 HEALTHY MUSCLE RECOVERY
Many mushrooms can assist in supporting the physicality of the body. Help your body recover after a grueling or tiresome workout with an additional boost of mushroom.
Antioxidants are the strong warriors for the body that not only boost the immune system, they are also known to help reduce free radicals in the body. Mushrooms are rich in a variety of different antioxidants, such as selenium and others.
#4 IMMUNE SUPPORT
Another key benefit of mushrooms is encouraging a functional immune system. We all want our immune systems to be at their best, and eating immune supporting foods can be a major step to get there! Mushrooms have continually been linked to immune-supporting compounds.
#5 SUPPORTING A HEALTHY INFLAMMATORY RESPONSE
It’s important for us to know that our body has the support to recover in the best way possible. These mushroom superfoods are known to promote a healthy inflammatory response, which in turn can help the body maintain mobility, reduce bloating, and decrease brain fog.
#6 BETTER FOCUS OR COGNITION
Mushrooms have been known to be a brain power superfood. By supporting neurons in the brain, mushrooms support cognition for better focus and concentration.
What if I Don’t Like Mushrooms?
Mushrooms have long been around in history to aid in culinary and health conquests. However, if you just can’t get around the taste or texture, mushrooms also come in the form of mushroom supplements. BalanceGenics has formulated each capsule with 10 revolutionary mushrooms that don’t have a mushroom or earthy taste. Plus, there is the added advantage of being able to take a variety of beneficial mushrooms, including some that are difficult to add to your everyday diet.
Whether you are eating fresh mushrooms or turning to a mushroom supplement, you can feel good knowing your food supports your immune system. Any way you spin it, the truth is that mushrooms can be your body's new best friend. So do yourself a favor, and get some more mushrooms in your life today!
This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of medical advice or treatment from a personal physician. Readers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither the author(s) nor the publisher of this content take responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All readers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement or lifestyle program.
- Stamets P, Zwickey H. Medicinal Mushrooms: Ancient Remedies Meet Modern Science. Integr Med (Encinitas). 2014;13(1):46-47.
- Guggenheim AG, Wright KM, Zwickey HL. Immune Modulation From Five Major Mushrooms: Application to Integrative Oncology. Integr Med (Encinitas). 2014;13(1):32-44.
- Kim YR. Immunomodulatory Activity of the Water Extract from Medicinal Mushroom Inonotus obliquus. Mycobiology. 2005;33(3):158-162. doi:10.4489/MYCO.2005.33.3.158
- Vetvicka V, Vetvickova J. Immune-enhancing effects of Maitake (Grifola frondosa) and Shiitake (Lentinula edodes) extracts. Ann Transl Med. 2014;2(2):14. doi:10.3978/j.issn.2305-5839.2014.01.05
- Xu YF. Effect of Polysaccharide from Cordyceps militaris (Ascomycetes) on Physical Fatigue Induced by Forced Swimming. Int J Med Mushrooms. 2016;18(12):1083-1092. doi: 10.1615/IntJMedMushrooms.v18.i12.30. PMID: 28094746.
- Sabaratnam V, Kah-Hui W, Naidu M, Rosie David P. Neuronal health - can culinary and medicinal mushrooms help?. J Tradit Complement Med. 2013;3(1):62-68. doi:10.4103/2225-4110.106549
- Wachtel-Galor S, Yuen J, Buswell JA, et al. Ganoderma lucidum (Lingzhi or Reishi): A Medicinal Mushroom. In: Benzie IFF, Wachtel-Galor S, editors. Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects. 2nd edition. Boca Raton (FL): CRC Press/Taylor & Francis; 2011. Chapter 9.
- Dai X, Stanilka JM, Rowe CA, Esteves EA, Nieves C Jr, Spaiser SJ, Christman MC, Langkamp-Henken B, Percival SS. Consuming Lentinula edodes (Shiitake) Mushrooms Daily Improves Human Immunity: A Randomized Dietary Intervention in Healthy Young Adults. J Am Coll Nutr. 2015;34(6):478-87. doi: 10.1080/07315724.2014.950391. Epub 2015 Apr 11. PMID: 25866155.
- Jayachandran M, Xiao J, Xu B. A Critical Review on Health Promoting Benefits of Edible Mushrooms through Gut Microbiota. Int J Mol Sci. 2017;18(9):1934. Published 2017 Sep 8. doi:10.3390/ijms18091934