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What Are Medicinal Mushrooms?

What Are Medicinal Mushrooms?

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If your experience with mushrooms is limited to pizza slices at your favorite neighborhood joint or your grandmother's classic beef stroganoff, you may be unaware of the incredible medicinal benefits found in certain fungi. 

Mushrooms are certainly a versatile and popular ingredient across a wide variety of cuisines, from their frequent presence in Asian dishes to their role as a substitute for meat in many European dishes. However, some mushrooms offer more than just a hearty texture and flavor in recipes we love. 

Mushrooms have been prized for medicinal benefits for centuries. Their popularity has been greatest among practitioners of ancient or functional medicine. As modern medicine has progressed, even more traditional healthcare providers, scientists, and researchers have begun to look to medicinal mushrooms as an opportunity to treat a wide variety of health conditions and symptoms. 

Read on to learn more about medicinal mushrooms and what we know about their incredible healing potential.

Medicinal Mushrooms: A Brief History

The history of medicinal mushrooms goes back thousands of years; most people think of medicinal mushrooms as having origins in Asia. However, historians have discovered links to mushrooms going all the way back to ancient Egyptian, Greek, and Roman cultures. Some ancient cultures held mushrooms in the highest esteem and considered them gifts from the gods.

Medicinal Mushrooms: A Brief History

It is believed medicinal mushrooms were used as far back as 202 BC in China, eventually spreading to nearby countries, including Korea and Japan. For centuries thereafter, the use of medicinal mushrooms remained largely confined to the East. 

Starting in the 16th century we have documentation of mushrooms used for medicinal purposes in North America. And 500 years later, these fungi are still considered an alternative medicine (although fungi appear in mainstream medications such as penicillin).

It is entirely likely that with additional research, we may see even more widespread use of medicinal mushrooms in the future. Next, we will dive into how they work as well as how they differ from magic mushrooms.

Medicinal Mushrooms and Their Healing Properties

In the wide world of fungi, there are thousands of different identified species of mushrooms. Each species has its own unique makeup of chemical compounds and nutrients.

In some cases, mushrooms are used primarily in cooking. They range from the everyday varieties found in most grocery stores (such as button mushrooms) to the luxury species, such as morels, which are considerably more expensive and often featured on fine dining menus.

Portobello mushrooms are incredibly popular thanks to their size and meaty texture, making them a frequent stand-in for meat in vegetarian and vegan dishes. A portobello "burger" is often hearty enough to satisfy even a meat-loving appetite!

Beyond this well-known world of the edible mushrooms named above—along with other popular types such as cremini and oyster mushrooms—there is another group of mushrooms prized for their medicinal benefits.

Medicinal mushrooms are fungi boasting a specific combination of chemical compounds and nutrients that yield positive effects on our health—beyond the general nutritional benefits of some of the mushrooms named above. What you will typically see in this makeup are antioxidants, terpenes, vitamins, and beta-glucans.

These compounds and nutrients are beneficial in strengthening immune systems and contributing to cognitive health. There are also growing theories among researchers that medicinal mushrooms could be used to fight cancer.

Medicinal mushrooms are believed to contribute to overall health

Medicinal mushrooms are believed to contribute to overall health in many ways, from supporting inflammation responses to increasing energy levels. Inflammation is at the root of so many illnesses—and fatigue is the unfortunate byproduct of so many illnesses—that these benefits make medicinal mushrooms especially appealing to anyone looking for natural remedies. 

In an age where prescription medications often come with dangerous side effects or addiction risks, many people are interested in alternatives, and medicinal mushrooms are gaining exposure as a new way to address health concerns.

Types of Medicinal Mushrooms

As researchers continue to discover the benefits of medicinal mushrooms, we may likely see even more species identified. As of now, the most common mushroom species prized for their medicinal benefits are:

  • Chaga
  • Cordyceps
  • Lion's Mane
  • Maitake
  • Reishi
  • Shiitake
  • Turkey Tail

Dried cordyceps

Before you set out on a quest to find these medicinal mushrooms in the wild—which can be dangerous for novices—rest assured there is a much safer and easier route that won't have you digging in the dirt. 

Medicinal mushrooms are now available in a wide variety of supplements in the health and wellness markets. You do not need to pop a raw mushroom in your mouth and hope for the best only to find you might be making a call to poison control. Similarly, you could find yourself ingesting a magic mushroom instead of a medicinal one. 

Magic Mushrooms vs Medicinal Mushrooms

One common misconception about medicinal mushrooms is that they are psychoactive, thanks to the reputation of "magic" mushrooms.

To set the record straight:

  • Medicinal mushrooms do not contain psilocybin
  • Magic mushrooms DO contain psilocybin

Psilocybin is a compound that produces psychoactive and hallucinogenic effects. It is found in wild mushrooms that are often dried and mixed into foods, beverages, or supplements.

Where things start to get tricky is in a burgeoning area of mental health research, which could lead some to believe magic mushrooms are also medicinal. Magic mushrooms are also being studied by researchers who believe they may contain health benefits as well, specifically mental health benefits. 

There are growing theories around the ways magic mushrooms work with the brain in such a way that it could be beneficial to those battling depression or other mental health issues.

What we identify and describe as medicinal mushrooms support brain health but in relation to cognitive function. When medicinal mushroom supplements are used, they do not create psychoactive effects or what is commonly known as a trip.

What is most important when it comes to using any mushroom supplements for health reasons, whether it is to address low energy with medicinal mushrooms or depression with magic mushrooms, is that users engage their own healthcare providers for advice. Be sure that any health and wellness supplements you plan to try will not interfere with existing conditions or prescription medications.

Side Effects of Medicinal Mushroom Supplements

Medicinal mushroom supplements are generally safe with minimal side effects, but there are a few things to look out for if you are using them for the first time.

First and foremost, anyone with a mushroom allergy would need to be especially careful with medicinal mushroom supplements. If you have a mushroom allergy—known or unknown—you could experience hives or itchy skin rashes, swelling, or difficulty breathing. Seek immediate medical attention if such symptoms occur.

Gastrointestinal effects may occur due to high fiber in certain mushroom species. Gas, bloating, or an upset stomach may occur. To avoid or mitigate such effects, always start with the lowest recommended dosage.

Some mushroom supplements can also create blood-thinning effects, so patients who are already taking blood thinners may want to avoid medicinal mushroom supplements. Similarly, patients with autoimmune disorders should use caution and speak with their healthcare providers before trying medicinal mushroom supplements, which could interfere with their medications.

Choose medicinal mushroom supplements from quality providers whose products are lab-tested and certified, and always read ingredient lists carefully.

Mushrooms as Magic, Mushrooms as Medicine

Mushrooms truly are a wonder of nature, with healing properties as well as the ability to boost our moods or send us into a dynamic psychedelic experience.

Mushrooms as Magic, Mushrooms as Medicine

At Road Trip, we believe in the fun of fungi, and our discreet and portable gummies are made with the incredible Amanita Muscaria mushroom, which is in a class of its own. We are confident our gummies will quickly become your go-to choice for all of life's adventures, and they will turn an ordinary day into an extraordinary one.

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