Reishi, cordyceps, lion’s mane, chaga… these exotic names belong to medicinal mushrooms which have been used for thousands of years in traditional Chinese medicine.November 18, 2022 6:24 pm December 15, 2020 4:45 pm
The Western world is finally beginning to recognise the value of these fascinating fungi. However, without the benefit of thousands of years of knowledge behind us, it can be hard to know where to start.
Allow us to take you on a journey to understand medicinal mushrooms and how they might benefit your wellbeing.
Medicinal mushrooms in ancient times
China; The Han dynasty.
Stretching for over 400 years, from 206 BC to 220 AD, it was the second imperial dynasty of China. The dramatic events that occurred in the family’s royal courts, which included murder, intrigue and rebellion, brought the dynasty renown over the whole region. Members of the dynasty also presided over a crucial moment in China’s history.
Under their watchful eye, the Silk Road trade route opened between China and Europe, In, 105 AD, paper was invented.
Around one hundred years later, just as the Han dynasty’s star was waning, the Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing was completed.
One of the most important medical texts ever written, its name translates to ‘The Divine Farmer’s Classic of Materia Medica’. Historians believe that it was written by a collection of practitioners based on oral wisdom. Thanks to their knowledge, the text captures the details of the most important herbs and plants for medical treatment at the time.
Within its pages are advice about the use of medicinal mushrooms, including reishi, cordyceps and chaga. → See Medicinal Mushroom Products
How were mushrooms used in medicine?
Imagine if you had been living around this time, and were suffering from asthma, coughing, dizziness, insomnia or shortness of breath. You might have chosen to visit a medical practitioner. In order to treat your ailments, they would have taken your pulse and prescribed a handful of ingredients with instructions for their preparation.(2) Reishi is likely to have been among them.
Meanwhile, if you were suffering from gut issues, you may have been prescribed lion’s mane.
The lengthy use of medicinal mushrooms tells us two things. Firstly, that they are safe to take (when correctly prepared and dosed). And, secondly, that practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine have appreciated their value for almost 2,000 years.
Fortunately, we now have the benefit of modern scientific research to help back up traditional knowledge about medicinal mushrooms.
Just as in ancient times, the mushroom you should use will depend on your individual health. So, we’ve compiled a handy guide to which mushroom to choose based on common health concerns.
Best for energy and vitality: cordyceps
During the Han dynasty, you might have been prescribed cordyceps as a tonic for ‘vigour’(3). Leading on from this, modern research has brought forth some compelling evidence to back up cordyceps’ health benefits.
Cordyceps’s official name is Ophiocordyceps sinensis or simply Cordyceps sinensis, which translates as ‘club headed [fungus], from China’.(3).
In the wild, it grows from a living host: moth caterpillars. However, a spike in demand and a reduction of its natural habitat means that most cordyceps (including ours) is now cultivated in a liquid medium. No caterpillars required!
When fresh, cordyceps looks like yellow-brown fingers, and when dried, it resembles autumn leaves. And, just as traditional medicine predicted, cordyceps may be the mushroom for you if you’re in need of an energy boost.
One study conducted on mice found that cordyceps helped to reduce fatigue and improve their endurance.(4)
Another found that the anaerobic performance of human athletes improved when they took cordyceps. They were also better able to clear lactic acid from their systems.(4)
What’s more, there’s evidence that cordyceps might increase your sex drive. The same study which looked at fatigue and endurance in mice also observed that cordyceps improved the sex drive of rats.(4)
This makes sense, given that Tibetan healers have been prescribing cordyceps as an aphrodisiac for generations.(5)
Unlike some medicinal mushrooms, cordyceps has quite a traditional ‘mushroom’ taste (earthy and slightly nutty). So, it’s easy to mix our 100% Organic Cordyceps Powder into your normal recipes.
Best for brain health and mood: lion’s mane
Lion’s mane mushroom is a creamy white colour and grows on deadwood. It has a multitude of long, thin tendrils which look similar to a lion’s mane, or the beard of a wise old man. This might explain one of its many alternative names, ‘satyr’s beard’!
Back in ancient China, lion’s mane was prescribed to treat ‘Qi deficiency’. Your Qi is your life force, so a deficiency might look like low energy, insomnia and weakness.(6)
Modern science has particularly linked lion’s mane health benefits to the brain and mental wellbeing.
One study took a sample group of men and women with mild cognitive impairment and gave them lion’s mane over the course of 16 weeks. The study found that the participants who had taken lion’s mane scored higher on a cognitive function test than a control group who took a placebo.(7)
There’s also evidence that it can help treat depression. Research has shown that compounds in lion’s mane are able to somewhat mimic the effect of antidepressant medications. They support the neurotransmitter and neuro-endocrine systems, help the brain to form new neurons, and protect against oxidative stress and inflammation.(8)
Furthermore, another study looked at a group of patients who were overweight or obese and suffered from a mood or sleep disorder. When put onto a calorie controlled diet, the participants who took lion’s mane reported decreased depression, anxiety and sleep problems.(9)
So, if you’re looking for natural ways to boost your brain, simply add our 100% Organic Lion’s Mane powder to soups and stews.