Taking Advantage of the Medicinal Benefits of Mushrooms


New research into the medicinal benefits of certain mushrooms might get you thinking about munching on them more, or even sipping mushroom tea.

Wild chaga, for example—harvested mostly in Siberia—is a source of antioxidants. It’s been used traditionally in Eastern Europe to fight bacteria, inflammation, stomach ailments, and other health problems. Now research has shown it also has anti-cancer effects.

In Asia, the reishi mushroom is prized for its disease-fighting properties. But chaga and reishi aren’t generally considered to be enjoyably edible—they’re very woody in their natural form. Fortunately, their extracts have been turned into teas and supplements and are available in health food stores.

Other mushroom extracts like maitake can also be taken as supplements and come in several forms, including tablets and tinctures.

Mushrooms for Health
All mushroom varieties—and this includes the tasty ones in the produce aisle—are fat-free and low calorie.  They’re also a source of B vitamins, vitamin D, and minerals like selenium (a strong antioxidant) and potassium (great for blood pressure).

Immunity-boosting substances called beta-glucans are abundant in several mushroom species, too. A recent study found significant immune-boosting effects from extract of the commonly consumed white button mushroom. Crimini, maitake, oyster, and shiitake mushroom extracts also had the effects at a lower level.

And recent research found breast-cancer-fighting compounds in maitake, crimini, portabella, oyster, and white button.

Meaty Mushrooms
Cooking usually intensifies the flavor of any mushroom and also enhances the texture. Throw them into soups, sauces, and stir fries for their taste and health benefits.




“Anticancer Effects of Fraction Isolated from Fruiting Bodies of Chaga Medicinal Mushroom  . . .” by M.K. Lemieszek et al., Int J Med Mushrooms, 2011

“The Cancer Preventive Effects of Edible Mushrooms” by T. Xu et al., Anticancer Agents Med Chem, 5/12

“Commonly Consumed and Specialty Dietary Mushrooms Reduce Cellular Proliferation in MCF-7 Human Breast Cancer Cells” by K.R. Martin and S.K. Brophy, Exp Biol Med, 11/10

“The Effects of Whole Mushrooms During Inflammation” by S. Yu et al., BMC Immunol, 2/10

“Immune Enhancing Effects of WB365, a Novel Combination of Ashwagandha (Withnia somnifera) and Maitake (Grifola frondosa) Extracts” by V. Vetvicka and J. Vetvicka, N Am J Med Sci, 7/11

“Vitamin D and Sterol Composition of 10 Types of Mushrooms from Retail Suppliers in the United States” by K.M. Phillips et al., J Agric Food Chem, 7/11




Mushroom ABCs


Chanterelle: These yellow or orange mushrooms have a delicate, nutty flavor. They toughen up when cooked for long periods, so throw them in only for the last few minutes.


Crimini (also called baby bella): These have a dark brown cap and an earthy flavor that’s similar to the white button but stronger.


Morel: These are related to truffles and, like their cousins, can be costly. The smoky, earthy flavor is wonderful.


Oyster: The delicate flavor of these brownish-gray mushrooms intensifies during cooking.


Porcini: These look like toadstools and can get very large. They’re quite meaty.


Portabella: The large, saucer-shaped caps have a meaty flavor and texture. Trim off the lower part of the stem, which is fibrous and tough.


Shiitake: The thin stems are tough but make a good stock. The umbrella-like brown caps have a meaty texture.


White button: They’re slightly chalky when raw, but a bit of salad dressing negates that. Their flavor intensifies when sautéed or baked, and they’re great on pizza.