The Fascinating History of Medicinal Mushrooms
Medicinal mushrooms are not a new concept by any means. For centuries, they have been used as immune-boosters, antibacterial agents, and even remedies for inflammation, fatigue and chronic metabolic condition. They are most often linked to Traditional Chinese Medicine, and these practices are what have largely been adopted in Western culture as of late.
Medicinal mushrooms have a rich and storied history that predates their recent surge in popularity.
Dating back to 100 BCE, ancient Chinese texts note mushrooms' ability to cure respiratory illnesses and other ailments and document their high value in society. Later, North American and Mesoamerican cultures also had documented use of mushrooms for medicinal purposes since the 16th century.
Beyond these uses, modern medicine did not turn its attention to fungi until the creation of penicillin in 1928—a medical marvel for its time. Since then, experts have leveraged different fungi to some extent in traditional medicines like antibiotics.
So, What are Medicinal Mushrooms?
Essentially, medicinal mushrooms are exactly what they sound like—mushrooms with medicinal properties. Out of the thousands of species of mushrooms humans have identified, only a select portion contain the right combination of chemical compounds and nutrients to be considered medicinal.
Some of the compounds that contribute to these mushrooms’ health benefits are vitamins, antioxidants, terpenes and special polysaccharides called beta-glucans. This combination of beneficial compounds is believed to strengthen the immune system, improve cognitive health, reduce free radical activity and even potentially fight cancer! Because of their different chemical makeups, certain mushrooms are better for certain ailments or desired benefits.
Examples of medicinal mushrooms include shiitake, chaga, turkey tail, cordyceps, lions mane and reishi.