Medicinal mushrooms


As the temperatures drop and the chilly dampness of Autumn arrives, it’s a good time to think of natural remedies to boost our immune systems in preparation for the onslaught of whatever viral and bacterial lurgies this ‘flu season’ will bring.
Amongst our most powerful allies for immune system strength are the medicinal mushrooms. Humans have been using mushrooms for food and medicine for millennia, with the earliest documented medical use of mushrooms being in a 3000BCE Indian treatise.
Over 270 species of medicinal mushrooms are known, with properties including antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-viral and microbial effects, and the ability to revitalise and modulate the immune system.
Common to all medicinal mushrooms is the compound beta-D-glucan, which is essentially a long chain of sugar molecules with oxygen atoms attached. When this compound breaks down it releases oxygen at the cellular level and interacts with the immune tissue in the human gut to activate natural killer cells, B and T lymphocytes and macrophages.
We are fortunate to have a variety of medicinal mushrooms available at the Food Co-op. There are liquid extracts of Shiitake, Cordyceps, Turkey tail, Reishi and Lion’s mane stocked in the Big Little shop, and for those who prefer a powdered form, Chaga and Reishi powders are available in the spice section of the main shop.

To help you to choose which mushroom may benefit you here is a brief description of the main effects of each of these:

SHIITAKE Lentinula edodes
Shiitake mushrooms are a very tasty addition to the diet, high in fibre and full of vitamins and minerals. They are traditionally used to increase stamina, boost circulation and for immune deficiency. They are also effective as anti-inflammatory agents, and have activity against many bacteria and pathogenic fungi.

CORDYCEPS Cordyceps sinensis
Cordyceps mushrooms have traditionally been used as an adaptogen, aiding the body to deal with stress of all kinds. They are also restoring and relaxing to the nervous system and replenishing to the adrenals. As with other medicinal mushrooms they also act as immune-modulating agents and are powerful anti-inflammatories.

TURKEY TAIL Trametes versicolor
Traditionally used in Chinese medicine to clear heat and damp and to increase circulation, the local species of Turkey tail has been used by Australian First Nations peoples for oral thrush and teething pain. More recently, the compound PSK, isolated from Turkey tail, has been widely used in Japan as an adjunct to cancer treatments. This mushroom also has anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties.

LIONS MANE Hericium erinaceus
Lions mane has been used traditionally in Chinese medicine as a tonic for digestion and debility. It has been shown recently to stimulate nerve growth factor, leading to its use for dementia, Parkinsons disease and memory loss. It is also a very tasty edible mushroom.

REISHI Ganoderma lucidum
Reishi is well known for its tonifying, nourishing and adaptogenic properties. It has calming and relaxing properties on the nervous system, leading to its use in insomnia and anxiety. Reishi is a potent immune-modulator, with anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties.

CHAGA Inonotus oblquus
Chaga has been used by Native Americans as a blood purifier, and for ulcers and gastritis. It is a potent immune modulator with effects on natural killer cells and macrophages, and has anti-viral effects.

In the US it’s common to find a variety of hot drinks based on mushroom powders mixed with cacao or coffee and this is a tasty way to use these.


For one litre:
3 tbs chaga powder
1 tbs reishi powder
2 tbs dandelion root powder
1 tsp astragalus powder

Simmer for 20-30 minutes, strain and flavour with maple syrup or honey, and serve with your favourite milk.

For those with espresso machines, the mushroom powders may be blended with your coffee and used.


Chris Ireland Herbalist/Pharmacist

Join our mailing list to receive tips, recipes, news and events straight to your inbox