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3 Medicinal Mushrooms An Immunologist Wants You To Prioritize In The New Year

Image by Cameron Whitman / Stocksy
December 31, 2021

We may be entering a new year, but allergist and immunologist Heather Moday, M.D., urges us to prioritize one of the oldest healing modalities out there: medicinal mushrooms. After all, these nutritional powerhouses have been used in ancient medicine for thousands of years for liver support, heart health, enhanced energy, immune strength, and more.

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That last point especially grabs Moday's attention: "I think it's an untapped reservoir because there are so many different species in the fungi family. It's actually larger than the bacterial family," she notes on the mindbodygreen podcast. "People in the East have been using medicinal mushrooms to improve immunity [for ages]." While different species may boast unique health benefits (which we'll get into below), a bunch of them are also brimming with immune-supporting minerals, like selenium, magnesium, and zinc1.* 

Consider this your sign to devour more of these fabulous fungi in the new year. Catch Moday's favorite medicinal mushrooms below. 

1.

Reishi

Reishi has been shown to support a healthy and resilient immune system2, thanks to triterpenes and beta-glucans, which can help stimulate the innate immune response1.* Additionally, a number of studies have shown that reishi mushrooms can affect the genes in white blood cells3, thus altering inflammatory pathways and supporting a balanced inflammatory response.

"Now, reishi is something you can only take in supplement form because it's a woody, inedible mushroom," says Moday. (That's because of the triterpenes, which are very bitter-tasting.) However, you can typically find the adaptogen in capsule, powder, and tincture form—like this immune-supporting hot chocolate recipe, which features reishi powder. 

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2.

Maitake

Also called hen-of-the-woods, this tasty mushroom bolsters the immune system by supporting its natural killer cells, according to a study in the American Journal of Chinese Medicine (and these effects have been shown to be even more powerful when combined with shiitake mushroom extract4).

But the best part, says Moday, is the savory, umami flavor: "It's delicious, and it makes a great taco," she says. Because it grows in clusters, it has a textural appeal that can't be beat. (It's the star ingredient in many vegan fried "chicken" recipes since it clings to batter quite well, making it easier to create those gloriously crunchy bits.)

3.

Lion's mane

For the final must-have mushroom, Moday touts lion's mane. When it comes to immune support, "It's a little more indirect," she notes. "It's used more for neurologic support." In fact, research has found this mushroom might have the ability to regenerate and protect brain tissue5. But on the immune front, lion's mane has also been shown to increase the activity of the intestinal immune system6—aka, the gut lining that protects the body from potential invaders. (Immune health and gut health are interconnected, remember?) 

"Lion's mane mushroom is slightly harder to find, but they're really delicious," Moday adds. You can also find it in supplement form, typically in a powder to add to yummy drink recipes.  

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The takeaway. 

This list does not even begin to scratch the surface when it comes to medicinal mushrooms—but if Moday had to pick a top three, she emphasizes these players above. "You can't really go wrong with eating those," she adds.