In this article, we’ll cover the 5 best medicinal mushrooms for those seeking an adaptogenic and/or healthy, plant based lifestyle. These mushrooms are highly nutritious, and have a decent amount of research into them as well that show evidence of other health benefits too! We also cover some of the basics about the mushroom itself, such as its historical use and what it tastes like, in case you want to look up more information on these great mushrooms yourself, or to get ideas on how to cook with it if seeking to add it to your diet.
Officially named Hericium erinaceus, this tree growing mushroom originates from Asia - although it can be found as far as Eastern Europe. Although it was traditionally used in chinese medicine for digestive issues, it was primarily and widely simply eaten as food, especially in place of meat. It is still actually very popular to eat in various types Asian cuisine, thanks to the mushroom having a very rich umami profile and a flavour similar to lobster.
This savory mushroom is very high in protein, packing an average of 22 grams of protein per 100 grams of dried mushroom, making it an excellent source of protein for those on plant based diets. But being a great source of non-meat protein isn’t the only benefit this mushroom brings. There’s decently strong evidence that this fluffy shroom can also aid in improving memory - at least in elderly who showed mild cognitive impairment in relation to memory. Although the group size of the trial was small, there was a very significant difference in improvement between the the group receiving a powder of the mushroom and the placebo group - a difference of about 8x by the 16th week:
*Yamabushitake is the Japanese name for Lion’s Mane mushroom. Graph score based on Revised Hasegawa Dementia Scale.
And offering more evidence that the improvement is directly correlated with the intake of the Lion’s Mane powder is that scores dropped when participants who took the powdered mushroom were given the test four weeks after discontinuing use.
Whether this translates to an improved memory function for younger or healthier adults is yet to be proven and something that should be noted. But this study is promising, and there is currently another study being done to verify the results that is larger and still ongoing.
If you’d like to read up more on the adaptogenic benefits within Lion’s Mane, as well as the study mentioned here, we have a more in depth article in our Wellness Library covering this and other notable potential benefits.
Officially known as Lentinula edodes, these mushrooms are primarily grown commercially in Japan, though they are also cultivated and can be found in the wild in other Asian countries as well. Although they were used traditionally in East Asian countries and part of Russia for general health purposes, these mushrooms were primarily used as a food source - which comes to no surprise considering how delicious this mushroom is. They were also a great source of food for the winter, when food became more scarce, thanks to the mushroom still retaining many of its nutrients despite drying (as well as staying tasty and being excellent in a hearty bowl of warm soup). This mushroom can be had any way you want - raw, cooked, fresh, or powdered - which makes it superb for either cooking with or using as a supplement. Although not the most filling or protein rich mushroom, they do contain a little bit of everything when it comes to nutrition, and a decent amount of antioxidants.
The main benefit from including Shiitake mushrooms in your diet comes from their observed adaptogenic effects. Shiitake mushroom rich diets seem to be particularly good at lowering bad cholesterol levels, along with helping control blood pressure, compared to other diets in tests.There’s also some slight evidence that Shiitake mushrooms can slightly aid in reducing painful inflammation, such as that of arthritis. These observed effects give some evidence that Shiitake is a model adaptogen, perfect for those seeking to have a lifestyle centered around adaptogens.
Not to be confused with the popular and much more commonly found Pleurotus Ostreatus (Also commonly called Oyster mushroom sans the King part, but sometimes specified as the Pearl Oyster mushroom), this mushroom, officially namedPleurotus eryngii, grows large and is not found in clusters. They develop thick and meaty stems with tan-colored caps and have a soft and crunchy texture when cooked with a savory umami flavor almost similar to that of abalone. Oyster mushrooms in general are the most popularly eaten type of mushroom in the world, and with good reason - they are highly nutritious, easy to find in the wild and to grow, and particularly tasty. Although not as high in protein as Lion’s Mane, King Oyster mushrooms are instead rich in other nutrients, and particularly very high in Vitamin D, B2, Niacin, and Copper. In fact, they’re one of the best sources of plant based copper, as the copper found in mushrooms is more easily absorbed than the copper found in leafy greens or nuts and seeds.
What’s unique about King Oyster mushroom is that it may have metabolic lipid regulation properties. There’s multiple studies which show evidence of King Oyster mushroom lowering lipid levels by a significant amount in various animal models as well as in-vitro cell studies. A review of multiple studies believe the reason for this observed fat regulation effect is because the statin Mevinolin is very plentiful in King Oyster mushrooms, and is well metabolized by the liver. Although more evidence is still needed in the way of doing human trials to be able to say for certain if this positive effect can also occur in humans, these initial results look promising, and already some research groups are looking to try various experiments to see if these results can be replicated in humans with hyperlipidemia. If they prove to work effectively in humans, that would confirm King Oyster mushroom as a valuable adaptogen for those looking to control their cholesterol and lipid levels.
A mushroom of many benefits, this mushroom does not only have evidence of beneficial immuno properties (see our article on Top 5 Medicinal Mushrooms for Immune Support for that), but also is great for skin health. Cordyceps Militaris extract has been shown to have powerful protective effects against oxidative stress of the skin; in particular, to extrinsic aging, which occurs from exposure to environmental factors such as sunlight, smoke, and dry weather. These skin unfriendly environmental factors cause skin aging by generating intracellular reactive oxygen species in the human body - essentially, oxidants that lead to wrinkly, damaged skin. The antioxidants found in Cordyceps Militaris however are particularly good at countering these oxidants, as was demonstrated in one in vitro test done on human dermal fibroblasts, which showed significant cytoprotective effects against hydrogen peroxide-induced oxidative stress, with the percentage of protection against radicals being dependent on dosage concentration (higher dosage resulting in increased protection).
More human experimentation is needed to see if such high levels of protection hold up when ingesting Cordyceps Militaris extract, but the high metabolic absorption rates of mushrooms means it’s very likely these benefits will still be observed when the extract is intaked, making this adaptogenic mushroom a great addition to diets which are high in antioxidants.
Cordyceps Militaris is a mushroom of value (that is also great to eat!). If you’re interested in reading more about the benefits of this versatile shroom, we also have an article dedicated to it in our Wellness Library.
This peculiar mushroom has its name due to it looking very similar to an actual human ear in some cases, making it look like a tree literally has ears growing from it. Fortunately, Auricularia auricula-judae don’t taste like they look, and you may have even eaten it unknowingly before too, as they are very commonly used in the Hot and Sour soups found in American Chinese restaurants. Wood ear mushrooms have a woody, earthy fragrance with a mild, somewhat musty flavor when cooked. When added to other foods though, they take on the taste of whatever ingredients they’re cooked in - hence their popularity in Asian soups, as it’s a nice way of increasing the umami of a dish without impacting the flavor significantly, and their texture changes to a pleasant gelatinous one as well - similar to a soft but crunchy noodle. Although most popular in Asian countries, wood ear can be commonly found around the world due to how easy it is to grow and cultivate.
Wood ear isn’t too high in protein - especially compared to the other mushrooms listed here - instead being high in carbohydrates. Despite that, it isn’t really high in calories, due in part to it being really high in dietary fiber. It also makes up for its lack of protein by being extremely rich in minerals, containing 100% of daily needed intake of all but two essential minerals in as little as 200 grams (and of those two, Zinc and Phosphorus, it still covers about 70% of daily value intake). It’s also very rich in Vitamin D and Biotin, containing your daily intake values in only 100 grams of Wood ear.
Similar to King Oyster Mushroom, Wood ear is the only other mushroom as of now that seems to have hypolipidemic properties. It also seems to be particularly effective at lowering HDL cholesterol levels, along with triglycerides, and in regulating blood pressure. It must be mentioned however that so far, all this research is primarily based on animal models, with only a few done on human in vitro cells, so these benefits shouldn’t be taken at face value until more replication studies are done and more precise evidence surfaces. Still though, the current research makes this a potentially excellent adaptogen when it comes to cardiac health, and what can’t be denied is its high nutritional value, making it a worthy addition to any diet on that principle alone.
Mushrooms are a great way to add environmentally friendly nutrition to your life. Hopefully this article assisted in your decision making process of what to add to your adaptogenic lifestyle, or on what mushrooms you may want to add more of to your diet to help improve. If you want to cook these mushrooms into dishes, they all make great choices, although Lion’s Mane and Wood Ear are the best choices for hearty warm soups once the colder season starts rolling around (and great alternatives to seafood stocks if vegan).
We also have more articles covering mushrooms that I recommend reading if you’re seeking yet more information about the benefits of adding mushrooms into your diet, all found in our Wellness Library.
1: Friedman, M. (2015). Chemistry, Nutrition, and Health-Promoting Properties ofHericium erinaceus(Lion’s Mane) Mushroom Fruiting Bodies and Mycelia and Their Bioactive Compounds.Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 63(32), 7108-7123. doi:10.1021/acs.jafc.5b02914
2: Mori, K., Inatomi, S., Ouchi, K., Azumi, Y., & Tuchida, T. (2009). Improving effects of the mushroom Yamabushitake (Hericium erinaceus) on mild cognitive impairment: A double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial. Phytotherapy Research, 23(3), 367-372. doi:10.1002/ptr.2634
3: Kabir, Y., Yamaguchi, M., & Kimura, S. (1987). Effect of shiitake(Lentinus edodes) and maitake(Grifola frondosa) mushrooms on blood pressure and plasma lipids of spontaneously hypertensive rats.Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology, 33(5), 341-346. doi:10.3177/jnsv.33.341
4: Dai, X., Stanilka, J. M., Rowe, C. A., Esteves, E. A., Nieves, C., Spaiser, S. J., . . . Percival, S. S. (2015). Consuming Lentinula edodes(Shiitake) Mushrooms Daily Improves Human Immunity: A Randomized Dietary Intervention in Healthy Young Adults.Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 34(6), 478-487. doi:10.1080/07315724.2014.950391
5: Choi, J., Kim, D., Kim, S., & Kim, S. (2017). In Vitro Antioxidant and In Vivo Hypolipidemic Effects of the King Oyster Culinary-Medicinal Mushroom, Pleurotus eryngii var. ferulae DDL01 (Agaricomycetes), in Rats with High-Fat Diet–Induced Fatty Liver and Hyperlipidemia.International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms, 19(2), 107-119. doi:10.1615/intjmedmushrooms.v19.i2.20
6: Wei, H., Yue, S., Zhang, S., & Lu, L. (2018). Lipid-Lowering Effect of the Pleurotus eryngii (King Oyster Mushroom) Polysaccharide from Solid-State Fermentation on Both Macrophage-Derived Foam Cells and Zebrafish Models.Polymers, 10(5), 492. doi:10.3390/polym10050492
7: Patel, Yashvant. (2012). Medicinal Properties of Pleurotus Species (Oyster Mushroom): A Review. World Journal of Fungal and Plant Biology 2219-4312. 3. 01-12. 10.5829/idosi.wjfpb.2012.3.1.303.
8: Park, J., Lee, J., Lee, K., Ha, S., & Hong, E. (2014). Cordyceps militaris Extract Protects Human Dermal Fibroblasts against Oxidative Stress-Induced Apoptosis and Premature Senescence. Nutrients, 6(9), 3711-3726. doi:10.3390/nu6093711
9: Reza, M., Hossain, M. A., Damte, D., Jo, W., Hsu, W. H., & Park, S. (2015). Hypolipidemic and Hepatic Steatosis Preventing Activities of the Wood Ear Medicinal Mushroom Auricularia auricula-judae (Higher Basidiomycetes) Ethanol Extract In Vivo and In Vitro. International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms, 17(8), 723-734. doi:10.1615/intjmedmushrooms.v17.i8.30
10: Francia, C., Rapior, S., Courtecuisse, R., & Siroux, Y. (1999). Current Research Findings on the Effects of Selected Mushrooms on Cardiovascular Diseases. International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms, 1(2), 169-172. doi:10.1615/intjmedmushrooms.v1.i2.60
I live in Northwest Arkansas - I specifically call out the region because it’s a distinct part of the state, unlike the rest. I love it here - it gives me the progressive nature of a larger city with the comfort of community. There’s still opportunity for growth and change, so I’m happy to be a resident who can play a part in its future.