• Sarahminda Czajka

Mushroom Medicine

Mushrooms are magical. I am not talking about the psychedelic types either. Mushrooms are magical fungi filled with medicinally active compounds and have been extensively researched by mycologists, doctors, herbalists, and naturopaths for their therapeutic applications. In this blog we are going to focus on the medicinal mushrooms that are available at most herbal shops and health food stores and those therapies which we encounter the most in a store setting, such as immune support.

If you’re from Humboldt County, you are probably aware of or maybe have used medicinal mushrooms. Humboldt is home to a number of native species of mushrooms and our very own Humboldt Bay Mycological Society, who host the yearly Mushroom Fair held in Eureka.

Here at Eureka Natural Foods, we carry Host Defense, OM, New Chapter, and Four Sigmatic Mushroom Elixirs. Species of mushrooms commonly found and especially in these brands are Agarikon, Chaga, Cordyceps, Lion’s Mane, Maitake, Reishi, and Turkey Tail. These mushrooms have been shown to have multiple natural active chemical constituents that are especially important to immunomodulation.

*See end for Vocabulary

Meet the Mushrooms

In an article by Paul Stamets on the safety of consuming raw mushrooms, he stresses that the only safe way to consume mushrooms and mushroom products are those which have been cooked or heat treated: “Edible mushrooms should be tenderized by heating to at least 140 ˚F —over many hours— more preferably over 180˚F, most preferably above 200 ˚F to release their nutrients and render them digestible and safe.” Mushrooms must be heated or cooked in some way before consumption due to compounds like protein-bound polysaccharides and their tough cell walls, composed of chitin, are mostly indigestible. The parts of mushrooms used for medicinal purposes here are the fruiting bodies, or what we recognize as mushrooms, and mycelium, the threadlike network of fungal cells (these are normally organically grown on sterilized brown rice).

Agarikon was once a widespread mushroom species, though now can only be found in the wild in old growth forests of Washington State and British Columbia. This mushroom species can survive all types of weather, defend itself against microbes or parasitizing bacteria, and survive up to 75 years. They have now isolated 27 different strains of Agarikon and each type brings a different microbial defense with it. In research, Agarikon has been shown to give the host defenses against pathogens.

Active Constituents: Beta glucans; triterpenoids; agaricin; extracellular antibodies

Traditional uses: pneumonia; tuberculosis

Antimicrobial properties

Chaga has become a thoroughly researched mushroom for its antioxidant properties which have the highest DNA support amongst the mushrooms. Chaga’s antioxidant activity also defends against environmental exposure, such as direct sunlight and pollution. Chaga’s active constituents target epithelial cells (skin, lungs, digestive tract, liver, and arteries) and can modulate the immune system.

Active Constituents: protein-bound polysaccharides; xylogalactoglucans; lanastanoid triterpenoids; betulin flanosterols; Inotadoil; Inositol; Lactones; melanin

High Anti-viral activity; anti-tumor; enhances endurance; reduces inflammation; stimulates immune function

Cordyceps is the all-around mushroom. Recently, the research surrounding it has led to its use by professional athletes for its ability to support lung function and increase oxygenation. Cordyceps can relax bronchioles allowing for easier breathing and supports airway hyperreactivity. Research also shows cordyceps significantly reduces the lactic acid build-up in the muscles and is an all-around energy support system.

Active Constituents: cordycepin; cordyceptic acid (mannose); galactomannans; polysaccharides; sterols

When taking a Cordyceps supplement, it is recommended to never purchase a wild harvested form or an imported (Stamets; 2002; 59-60). Cordyceps is an insect parasitizing fungus, meaning it grows from caterpillar larvae in the wild. Unfortunately, the decaying body of the larvae can easily contaminate the mycelium and fruiting bodies. Safe forms available at most health food stores are grown on organic grains.

Cordyceps is arguable one of the most recognizable mushrooms on the market due to its amazing properties: immune stimulant; cholesterol reducing; cardio tonic; aorta dilation(increases endurance and recovery from exercise); alleviate fatigue; improves asthma(decreases lung inflammation by relaxing bronchial passages and facilitating respiration; prevents Kidney disease; improves liver function; Anti-viral; suggested applications for hepatitis and Lyme disease.

Lion’s Mane is a beautifully cascading mushroom native to Europe, North America, China, and Japan. It is most well known for its nerve support abilities. Lion’s Mane has been used in clinical studies on nerve regeneration.

Active Constituents: Cyanthane derivatives; Erinacuines; Hericenones; Beta-D-Glucans; galactoxyloglucan; glucoxylan; mannoglucoxylan; xylan; ergosterol

Antimicrobial; immune stimulation; atrophic gastritis; nerve growth regeneration (clinical trials and lab experimentation showed benefits for such nervous system based diseases such as Parkinson’s, Dementia, and Alzheimer’s); protects brain function; relieves inflammation; preserves digestive health; and fights free radical formation

Maitake is indigenous to deciduous forests of the northeast in North America, Canada, Japan, China and Europe. It has been researched for its tumor necrosis factor, but it is best known for its effect on human blood sugar levels. Maitake has been shown to both lower and modulate blood glucose levels. Maitake has also been shown to have the highest density of beta-glucans, one of the most beneficial constituents of medicinal mushrooms.

Active Constituents: Beta glucans; Grifolan; 1-4 B-D-Glucans; 1-3 B-D-Glucans; Acidic B-Glucasn; Hetero-B-Glucans; Mannogalactofucan; Mannoxyloglucan; xyloglucan; GFL

Anti-tumor; anti-diabetic; anti-viral

Reishi is among the most recognized medicinal mushrooms today. Reishi has been researched for its immunomodulating properties and its stimulation of the production of macrophages, natural killer, T cell, and tumor necrosis factors. The research for Reishi leads into all fields of health, making it live up to its name “The Mushroom of Immortality”.

Active Constituents: Hetero-Beta-Glucans; B-(1-6)-gluronoglucan; Mannogalactoglucan; Ganoderans; Ganaderic; ganaderic acids; triterpenoids; Ling-Zhi 8 Protein; polysaccharides

Immune enhancing; biological response modifier; anti-oxidant; anti-inflammatory; enhances oxygen absorption in alveoli; fights CFS; balances hormone levels; improves heart and liver function; stabilizes blood sugar levels; and fights allergies, asthma and infection

Turkey Tail is a well-documented mushroom due to its wide distribution of growth throughout the world. It is also the source of the nutrient PSK, the ingredient in a Japanese approved cancer treatment known as Krestin. Turkey Tail provides full spectrum immune supports and is a natural prebiotic.

Active Constituents: B-glucans; PSP (polysaccharopeptide); PSK (protein-bound polysaccharide); B-(1-4)-D-glucan; ergosterol derivatives;

Immune enhancing; anti-tumor; anti-viral; anti-bacterial; anti-oxidant (especially SOD); inhibits HIV replication; immunomodulation; anti-microbial (especially against E. Coli, Listeria, and, Candida)

Products and Therapies

Eureka Natural Foods stocks a well-rounded selection of mushroom supplements, including pills, powders, and tinctures, all organically grown, heat activated, and/or fermented. One of our nationally recognized brands and best sellers is Host Defense. Fungi Perfecti and Host Defense were founded by Paul Stamets, a renowned mycologist of over 40 years, whom has been the recipient of several awards for his work on mushroom based medicine. Host Defense’s most recent work with NIS, which deepened our understanding of the complex benefits of mushrooms, lead to the recent FDA recognition of immune enhancing effects of mushroom mycelium and fruiting bodies.

OM Mushroom Superfood is a California grown, organic mushroom powder company. Their company uses fruiting bodies and myceliated biomass in their powders.

New Chapter is a company everyone knows and love for their amazing organic, fermented nutrients. Their mushroom line comes with identity verification and helpful blends for the whole body.

Four Sigmatic is a mushroom drink powder mix company that has been featured in TIMES, VOGUE, bon appetite, and Forbes. Their wonderful drink blends encompass all parts of the day to deliver mushroom wellness.

Mushroom therapies can be used for a multitude of conditions due to their ability to work so symbiotically with the human body. Mushrooms are among the nutrients that can cross multiple blood/issue barriers to directly affect the part of the body being treated.

Mushrooms are brilliant by design.


Agaricin (agaric acid)- fatty acid of Agarikon

Arabinoxylane - A compound comprised of two sugars: arabinose and xylose, and derived from the conversion of rice bran via extracellular enzymes exuded from mycelium. Enhances immune response.

Beta-Glucans - Polysaccharides found in mushroom cell walls, formed of sugar molecules arranged in specific patterns, and notable for immune modulation.

Cordycepin (cordyceptic acid)- a mannose based sugar

Ergosterol - A biological precursor (provitamin) to vitamin D2, native to fungal cell membranes.

Erinacuines/Hericenones- derived from Lion’s Mane, has been shown to have an increasing effect on nerve growth factor and is a kappa opioid receptor agonist

Extracellular metabolites - Substances excreted from fungal mycelia into the growth medium. These compounds include enzymes, acids, sterols, antimicrobials, etc., whose functions range from digesting the substrate to protecting the organism from predators and competitors.

Fruitbodies - The reproductive phase of the fungal organism that holds the spores for propagation. This form typically has a stem and cap.

Galactose - Simple sugar (monosaccharide) found in plants, fungi, and dairy products. Precursor or building block to complex compounds like glycoproteins and other glycol forms.

Ganoderans (Ganoderic acid)- triterpenes of Reishi with biological activity

Glucose - Simple sugar (monosaccharide) found in plants and fungi. Absorbed directly into the bloodstream during digestion, and used as primary metabolic fuel.

Glycoproteins - Compounds consisting of carbohydrates (saccharides) and proteins. Immunologically important in cell-to-cell interactions, including white blood cell recognition. Glycoproteins also help bind together connective tissues.

Inoculate - To introduce fungal mycelia into a new environment that contains the nutrients and other conditions necessary for expansion or growth (e.g. mycelia added to brown rice).

Inositol- carbocyclic sugar that is one of the B-vitamins (B8)

Ling-Zhi 8- protein identified to have incredible immunomodulatory effects and researched extensively for its potential used as part of some cancer therapies.

Macro-nutrients - Proteins, fats and carbohydrates found within foods that provide energy to human bodily systems.

Mannose - Simple sugar (monosaccharide) found in plants and fungi, and important in human metabolism. Precursor or building block to complex compounds like glycol proteins and other glycol forms.

Micro-nutrients - Vitamins, minerals and trace elements which humans cannot produce, yet are required for various physiological functions. Other substances (typically complex molecules) such as antioxidants, phyto-chemicals, sterols, etc., also fit within the micronutrient classification.

Mycelium - The vegetative, root-like part of a fungus, consisting of a mass of branching, thread-like hyphae. Typically found on/within the growth medium (wood, grain, organic matter).

Mycology - The scientific study of fungi.

Polysaccharides - Long, complex carbohydrate compounds. Important dietary elements for humans that provide source of energy.

Primordia - A stage of the fungal life cycle at which the mycelial mat has developed adequately to support the reproductive stage of the organism and birth the fruitbody. Moreover, the primordial stage contains the constituents of both the mycelia and the fruitbody, as both stages are simultaneously present.

Spores - Seed-like structure of fungal life cycle containing genetic material that is matured in the fruitbody and ejected into the environment to propagate the species.

Sterols - Unsaturated plant steroid alcohols, primarily waxy solids

Triterpenoids - Large class of organic compounds that form the structural precursors to all steroids. Are major biosynthetic building blocks within nearly every living creature.

Xylose - Simple sugar (monosaccharide) found in plants and fungi. Precursor or building block to complex compounds like glycoproteins and other glycol forms.

PSK (protein-bound polysaccharide, Polysaccharide-K, PSP or polysaccharopeptid) - a protein polysaccharide that consists of beta-glucan chains, derived from Turkey Tail.

More Reading!

Stamets, Paul; MycoMedicinals: An Informational Treatise on Mushrooms; MycoMedia Productions; 2002 Ling Zhi- 8 Protein

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