Author Qi Traditions
We asked 15 leading experts what medicinal mushrooms they thought were the best for health. Here's what they had to say.
Traditional eastern cultures have used medicinal mushrooms as elixirs of health for thousands of years. Revered as gifts from the gods, medicinal mushrooms were exclusively reserved for royalty, politicians and the upper echelon in ancient Egypt and the Romans. Mushrooms were highly sought after because they were seen as keys to supreme health and for extending longevity.
Today, the traditional methods of healing with mushrooms can be seen converging with modern medicine. Mushrooms are now seen as prime candidates for new medicines with studies suggesting that fungi can unlock a plethora of potential health benefits.
While you may know that mushrooms can be good for you, especially when they contain medicinal or psychoactive properties, most of us aren't sure which ones we should be taking for our health. Do you know which medicinal mushrooms you should be consuming?
To help answer that question, we asked 15 leading scientists and experts which medicinal mushrooms they thought were the healthiest and why. We were pleasantly surprised that the science community was so enthusiastic about sharing their mushroom wisdom. There were many expected answers (i.e. reishi and lion's mane) and some that may come as a surprise to you. Here are their responses.
Make sure to read the end of the article where we tally up the votes and reveal which mushrooms made the top of the list.
Photo of Chaga (inonotus obliquus), a fungus that grows primarily on birch trees in cold climates.
Rhea Mehta, PhD
Rhea Mehta has a PhD in Molecular Toxicology and Nutritional Biochemistry from the University of Toronto and a Bachelor’s in Biomedical Sciences from the University of Waterloo with over 15 scientific publications. She has over 10 years of experience working as an entrepreneur and advisor at the intersection of science, health technology, and wellness, and is currently working in the psychedelic medicine sector with mental health company Diamond Therapeutics. Rhea is a certified Integrative Health Coach and founder of Global Smoothie Day.
Dr Steven Gundry, MD, cardiothoracic surgeon
Finally, studies show that eating just 5 mushrooms a day improves brain health and protects dramatically against cognitive decline and Parkinson’s. They contain a compound called ergothioneine, a critical antioxidant for the brain. Lastly, they are a rich source of polyamines, a class of compounds that increase lifespan and health span!
Of course there are multiple other mushrooms becoming increasing available, either to cook with, or as tinctures and/or powders. I’m so impressed with the benefits of these other mushrooms, that I make Mushroom Vitality, from GundryMD that combines three of my favorites, Reishi, Chaga, and Coriolus into a liquid that can be added to coffee or any other liquid, as a guaranteed and easy way to get exotic mushrooms into your life for immune and overall health.
Dr Josh Axe, DNM, CNS, founder of Ancient Nutrition
REISHI - Reishi mushroom are known as the “king of mushrooms” because of their ability to promote longevity, improve immune function and reduce inflammation. They are considered adaptogenic herbs because they help the body to deal with the destructive impacts of chronic stress. They also strengthen the body’s defenses and are loaded with disease fighting antioxidants.
CHAGA - Chaga is an antioxidant powerhouse. It’s actually one of the best sources of antioxidants among all foods, which means that it helps to fight free radical damage that cause disease. Chaga mushrooms are known for their potent antiviral effects, ability to stimulate the immune system and anti-inflammatory properties.
CORDYCEPS - The benefits of this medicinal mushrooms are quite impressive. Cordyceps have been used for centuries to improve symptoms of respiratory disorders, boost energy levels and fight free radicals. They are considered a true superfood that enhance immunity and optimize overall health.
Dr Ilene Ruhoy, MD, PhD
Medicinal mushrooms have been used for decades in Eastern medicine for treatment of inflammatory, degenerative, and metabolic disorders. They have documented effects against microbes, including bacterial and viral, tumor cell production, immunomodulation, and cognitive symptoms.
Studies have shown medicinal mushrooms and their extracts contain bioactive compounds that have positive effects on immune response pathways, both innate and adaptive immune responses, and apoptosis pathways which are involved in cancer prevention. They help to stabilize immune cells which can reduce autoreactivity and allergic responses. Some mushroom species help promote neurogenesis - the growth of new nerves - and may be used for memory and cognition.
Eastern medicine uses many species of mushrooms. Some common species used in Western integrative medicine include reishi, turkey tail, lions mane, cordyceps, and shiitake. Reishi has evidence of its benefit in cholesterol management and acts as an antioxidant to help prevent neurodegenerative disorders. Turkey tail has important polysaccharide complexes that can support immune responses and may help to antagonize cancer cell production. Lions mane helps with cognition and anti-tumor. Cordyceps is widely used for mitochondrial support and reduction of inflammation for improvement of pain. Shiitake too is used for its anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory effects.
Dr. Ilene Ruhoy, MD & PhD, Gut Council Member for Jetson. Dr. Ruhoy is trained in both pediatric and adult neurology at Seattle Children’s Hospital and the University of Washington. She is the founder of the Center for Healing Neurology.
Photo of dried Cordyceps mushroom. Cordyceps is a fungus that lives on certain caterpillars in the high mountain regions of the Himalayas. Natural Cordyceps is rare, extremely expensive and unavailable as a dietary supplement. Today, Cordyceps supplements are commercially cultivated.
Photo of lion's mane mushroom (hericium erinaceus).
Dr Lina Velikova, MD, PhD, is a medical advisor at Supplements101. Her areas of expertise include autoimmune diseases, allergology, internal medicine, transplantation medicine, immunotherapy, and pediatric immunology.
Dr Lina Velikova, MD, PhD
Medicinal mushrooms have been used for thousands of years as a remedy, and they only recently gained more popularity. Since they’re not meant to be eaten fresh, only in powder, we can find them in a wide variety of forms - they can be put into a smoothie, coffee, or even in a meal. Here are some medicinal mushrooms you have to try:
REISHI - If you have problems with sleep, depression, anxiety, and focus, then Reishi might be the perfect choice for you. By some studies, Reishi also aids the weight loss process, keeps the immune system in check, and alleviates signs of anxiety, due to triterpene it has.
LION'S MANE - Lion’s mane successfully relieves the symptoms of brain fog, since it promotes the production of the bioprotein nerve growth factor and myelin, which is insulation around nerve fibres - that’s why Lion’s mane is known as brain food as well. Furthermore, this mushroom is packed with antioxidants, which help in promoting a healthy immune function.
CHAGA - Chaga is a Russian mushroom that’s even called the king of medicinal mushrooms for its health properties. By some research, Chaga is proved to suppress the growth of cancerous cells, and due to its antiviral and antibacterial properties, it’s a super, immune-boosting food. What’s more, Chaga is also known to help with reducing the inflammation and help in easing the itch of seasonal allergies.
CORDYCEPS - Cordyceps has become popular due to its ability to improve athletic performance. It actually boosts ATP levels in the body - which can be described as a body’s natural battery, that fuels our cells. When we have plenty of ATP in our body, we have increased energy and straightness. Furthermore, Cordyceps has been used for centuries as an aphrodisiac, to treat sexual dysfunction and fertility.
Dr Gan Eng Cern, Ear, Nose & Throat (ENT) Surgeon
Since ancient times, mushrooms have been known for their healing properties, but the rise in folk remedies and traditional treatment integration in modern health awareness and supplementation gave these fungi parts a renewed reputation as sleep inducers and enhancers, which they effectively are. In my view, Reishi mushrooms, the queen of all mushrooms, holds the title as queen for a reason -- it packs a seriously powerful punch of immunity boosters and nootropic effects that boosts healthy hormone regulation and quality sleep induction.
Albeit the Reishi mushroom isn't a cure-all, it irrefutably promotes vitality and longevity as it helps the body maintain an optimal immune system; curing seasonal allergies and ultimately reducing the chances of developing cancer. It also significantly promotes mental wellness by aiding the body's natural ability to relieve anxiety, manage stress levels, and improve mental focus, which in the long run, lessens the chances of acquiring depression and other mental health conditions that can interfere with the body's circadian rhythm and sleeping abilities.
Dr Gan Eng Cern is an Ear, Nose & Throat practitioner and surgeon specializing in sinus conditions including snoring and Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA).
"In my view, Reishi mushrooms, the queen of all mushrooms, holds the title as queen for a reason -- it packs a seriously powerful punch of immunity boosters and nootropic effects that boosts healthy hormone regulation and quality sleep induction."
— Dr Gan Eng Cern, Ear, Nose & Throat (ENT) Surgeon
Dr Jenelle Kim, DACM, LAc
In Traditional Oriental Medicine (TOM), herbs are commonly prescribed for their medicinal powers. In East Asia, mushrooms have been used as a medicinal food and as a tea for thousands of years. For instance, Shiitake mushroom is known to have medicinal properties, with the earliest record of cultivation from the 12th century AD. Just as the Romans considered mushrooms the “food of the gods,” the Chinese referred to mushrooms as the “elixir of life.”
Medicinal mushrooms have become known as an effective superfood and they are known to:
- Boost the immune system
- Be rich in antioxidants
- Help balance hormones
- Provide nootropic benefits
- Strengthen the digestive system
- Provide anti-aging properties
Some of the most powerful medicinal mushrooms include:
1. Reishi – in TOM it is the mushroom of immortality - is known to:
- Contain powerful detoxifying properties
- Be a powerful immunomodulator
- Help to support the liver
"Chaga is known to contain strong anti-oxidant properties (in fact it is considered to be one of the highest sources of antioxidants of all plants known today)"
— Dr Jenelle Kim, DACM, L.Ac.
2. Lion’s Mane is known to:
- Help support brain function and memory
- Help neurological function
- Help calm anxiety & balance mood
3. Cordyceps is known to:
- Have been used by the Chinese for over 2000 years
- Help boost energy & the immune system
- Help boost fertility
- Contain a powerful bio-metabolite called as Cordycepin which has very potent anti-oxidant, anti-cancer, and anti-inflammatory activities
- Help to boost immune lung capacity
4. Turkey Tail is known to:
- Be an extensively researched medicinal in East Asia
- Contain effective and powerful anti-cancer properties
- Boost & support the immune system
5. Chaga is known to:
- Contain strong anti-oxidant properties (in fact it is considered to be one of the highest sources of antioxidants of all plants known today)
- Benefit & protect the skin
Dr Jenelle Kim, DACM, LAc, is the founder and leader formulator for JBK Wellness Labs. Dr Kim is devoted to integrating the philosophy, medical wisdom, and expertise of East Asia with the advancements of modern life and medicine of the West in order to touch and positively affect the lives of others. Dr Kim is a Doctor of Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine and is Nationally Board Certified in Herbology, Oriental Medicine, and Acupuncture.
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Linda Strause, PhD
The Four Healthiest Mushrooms You Can Eat
Mushrooms are one of the most nutrient dense foods, rich in protein, essential amino acids, fiber, essential fatty acids, vitamins and trace minerals while low in saturated fats. There are over 2,000 species of mushrooms but only ~25 are commonly eaten as food. As well as being nutritious, many mushrooms have been shown to deliver health benefits. Here are my top four healthiest mushrooms and why:
Reishi mushrooms are used by cancer patients as they support a healthy immune system, have antioxidant properties, and may prevent or treat infections. Reishi mushrooms were suggested as a supplement when my husband was dying of brain cancer. Memorial Sloan Kettering studies found; “Reishi mushroom contains complex sugars known as beta-glucans. Lab studies suggest that these compounds may help stop the growth and spread of cancer cells. When animals were fed beta-glucans, some cells of their immune system became more active.”
Also used in cancer treatment, Turkey tail mushrooms contain two bioactive compounds which may improve patients’ response to chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
Shiitake and Maitake mushrooms are uniquely beneficial for immune health and have been used in traditional medicine to stimulate the immune system, lower blood sugar and cholesterol levels, and treat infections.
Photo of maitake mushroom, a polypore mushroom that grows at the base of trees, particularly oaks.
Linda Strause, PhD is a Medical & Scientific Advisory Board/Consultant with Ei.Ventures, Vice President, G. Randall & Sons, Inc./Randy’s Club and Professor, Human Nutrition, UC San Diego. Linda brings over 30 years of expertise in global clinical operations and clinical development, with emphasis in oncology, critical care, and ethical considerations for subjects with life-threatening disease.
Photo of Penicillium fungi in a petri dish.
With a Ph.D. in Neuroscience, Olga has held a number of roles in clinical trial management, drug development, biotech, and pharmaceutics. As a trained neuropharmacologist and a registered pharmacist Dr. Chernoloz leads R&D programs, runs feasibility analyses and optimizes business development strategy taking into consideration scientific and regulatory underpinnings. She has developed and delivered educational modules for medical and adult psychedelic space in both academic and business settings.
Olga Chernoloz, PhD
Mushrooms are one of the better known forms of fungi. There are literally millions of types of fungi and only a fraction has been well described. Fungi are its own kingdom of life distinct from animals, plants and bacteria. Serving myriad distinct and specific functions they help us and the planet – as in yeasts helping our bread dough rise and fungi facilitating decay, soil replenishment and assisting plants to uptake and re-distribute the nutrients. And let’s not forget that penicillin – a fungi – has reshaped the trajectory of deadly infections turning into a manageable inconvenience.
Different cultures have used mushrooms as food and medicine for millenia. Functional mushrooms (you can say supplements – something you can pick in the pharmacy aisle next to, say, vitamin C and fish oil) are a group of mushrooms used medicinally for their myriad potential health benefits. Packed with antioxidants and other nutrients, functional mushrooms have long been utilized in ancient healing traditions around the world. The focus on natural medicine is strong in eastern cultures. Some types of functional mushrooms are extensively used in traditional Chinese medicine. Diverse phytochemical composition of various species renders an extremely broad spectrum of potential activity. Some of the benefits of a few types of mushrooms are:
- Blood pressure lowering satins in oyster mushrooms
- Memory boosting hericenones and erinacines in Lion’s Mane
- Immunity support, mood normalization and a host of other benefits from a variety of antioxidants in numerous mushroom types
Mushrooms seem to be the true treasure trove. The purported activity of a specific mushroom type in many cases has struck an interest in the scientific community and some mushroom supplements were tested in controlled clinical trials. Wake is expanding on this base of cultural and scientific knowledge by running its own clinical trials in partnership with academic centers around the world. We are extremely enthused by the benefits mushrooms are packed with and eager to share the knowledge and data with the world.
Jackie von Salm, PhD
Although most of the focus for functional and medicinal mushrooms is often on Lion's Mane, Reishi, and Turkey Tail, there is also great promise in the psychoactive mushroom species for mental health and central nervous system disorders. Mushrooms like Psilocybe, Amanita, and Claviceps all produce various medicinal compounds such as psilocybin, muscimol, and ergotamine. When consistently grown and properly tested, these mushroom groups will be excellent sources of psychological medicines and possibly help with mood disorders like anxiety, PTSD, and depression or even neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's and dementia.
There are toxicities associated with these mushrooms, much like many medicinal plants and fungi in nature, so standardization and dosing will be extremely important. This is similar to the fact that it is unhealthy to directly eat living fungi like mold; however, with proper research, penicillin and many antibiotics were born from studying different molds. The same type of research can be used for psychedelic mushroom species, and it is very much worth it when it could result in some of the most promising mental health treatments of the 21st century.
Jackie von Salm is an award-winning PhD (Chemistry/Philosophy), inventor and researcher with a focus on drug discovery of psychoactive natural products. The Psilera Bioscience team is researching species of mushrooms and other psychedelics for the treatment of anxiety, addiction & neurodegenerative diseases.
Chef Abbie Gellman, MS, RD, CDN
I like adding mushroom powder to a variety of dishes and meals throughout the week. My favorite is Lion’s Mane, which provides a subtle umami flavor and boasts an extensive list of medicinal benefits. This fierce mushroom can enhance cognitive function, such as improved memory, and has a number of bioactive compounds like β-glucan polysaccharides that are neuroprotective and neurogenerative.
Studies have shown the therapeutic potential of Lion’s Mane to reduce depression and anxiety. Participants in a randomized control trial were found to have improved sleep quality and decreased depression compared to the placebo group.
Today’s high-paced life and overwhelming demands can affect mental health, especially if we are putting sleep and stress relief low on our list of priorities. Including Lion’s Mane as part of our tool kit to help support brain health also promotes overall health and well-being.
Mallory Schillinger, agroecologist
For me, mushrooms and wellness are intricately twined, based on two pillars. Firstly, the symbiotic relationship between plants and fungi which is called mycorrhizae. This relationship is essential for our health as well as the health of the ecosystem. Through this symbiosis and deep sharing the fungi receives sugar from the plant, while the plant receives an increased nutrient and water absorption capability and increased resistance to pathogens, creating a healthy functioning ecosystem which is necessary for all health.
In terms of daily wellness, I go for Chaga, Reishi, Maitake, Cordyceps, Turkey Tail, and Lion’s Mane. Lion’s Mane promotes healthy brain function and neuron regeneration. It keeps the late-afternoon brain fog at bay. The Chaga mushroom is also my alley in brain health and also supports immunity. Other immune champions are Reishi, Turkey TaiI and Maitake. They have high antioxidants and beta-glucans which will help keep our immune systems healthy when used over an extended period of time. Last (but not least), Cordyolis is also a must in a mushroom blend. They are incredible energy-boosting fungi because of their ability to increase ATP production which is the compound that gives our cells energy. My sister and I formulated a beautiful blend of these mushrooms with other plant allies (adaptogens) to create Inner Wisdom Balance. Drinking this daily has kept me healthy during Winter months and infuses me with extra energy.
Mallory Schillinger is an expert agroecologist who has a strong passion for teaching people about the many benefits of properly sourced and stored foods, medicinal plants and soil health. She is completing her double degree in MSc Agroecology from the Norwegian School of Life Sciences and the University of Isara-Lyon, France.
Alicia Galvin, MEd, RD
LION'S MANE - helps to increase nerve growth factor (NFG) and myelin which insulates nerve fibers. Both of which are important to brain health and Lion’s Mane has also been shown to improve cognition. You can add Lion’s mane to teas.
REISHI MUSHROOMS have calming properties and can be helpful in adrenal health. This is due to the compound triterpene, which reishi has its fair share of. These mood-boosting compounds may alleviate anxiety, ease depression, and encourage better sleep. Use a spoonful of reishi powder in hot water to make a tea.
SHIITAKE - these have been shown to lower LDL and also contain phytonutrients, which have shown to help prevent plaque buildup and maintain healthy blood pressure and circulation. Add a spoonful of shiitake powder to any recipe to add a a hint of asian flare.
CORDYCEPS - can help the body use oxygen more efficiently and enhance blood flow. It also has been shown to speed up post-workout muscle recovery in athletes. Add a spoonful of Cordyceps to your pre- or post-workout meal for energy or quicker recovery.
Alicia Galvin, MEd, RD is the resident dietician for Sovereign Laboratories.
"Cordyceps can help the body use oxygen more efficiently and enhance blood flow. It also has been shown to speed up post-workout muscle recovery in athletes."
— Alicia Galvin, MEd, RD
Photo of turkey tail mushroom (trametes versicolor)
Morgyn Clair, MS, RD
Mushrooms have been used for thousands of years for their medicinal properties. Scientists recently have discovered many bioactive compounds found in several types of mushrooms. My top choices are shiitake, turkey tail, and maitake. These 3 types of mushrooms are especially high in B vitamins and antioxidants, which can help protect against disease.
Bansari Acharya, MS, RD
In my opinion, the best medicinal mushroom for health is the reishi mushroom. Along with being good for physical health, this mushroom is also great for mental health as it may produce a calming effect and may help ease anxiety and depression symptoms. In regards to physical health, reishi may decrease your risk of cancer, strengthen the immune system, and aid in weight loss. It is definitely at the top of my favorite mushrooms!
Bansari Acharya RDN, is a Registered Dietitian & Nutritionist holding a Master's Degree in Nutrition and Food Science. Bansari has almost 5 years of experience working and developing nutrition plans for a wide range of age groups and a wide range of conditions including obesity, diabetes, hypertension & heart disease.
Photo of red reishi mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum)
And the winner for best medicinal mushrooms is...
Fifteen experts offered unique perspectives and recommendations on which mushrooms they thought were the best and why. Out of the 15 experts surveyed, 10 of them recommended Reishi as one of the best mushrooms to support good health. This was followed by Lion's Mane and Cordyceps, which both received 7 votes.
It comes as no surprise that reishi topped the list. Reishi mushroom was mentioned in the Shen Nong Ben Cao (The Materia Medica Classic) over 2,000 years ago when it was written that "protracted taking may make the body light, prevent senility, and prolong life so as to make one an immortal." It's also no surprise that Lion's Mane, Cordyceps, Chaga, Turkey Tail, Shiitake and Maitake made the list as current research strongly suggests that these mushrooms can be beneficial for your health.
Here's the list and vote count of which medicinal mushrooms are the best, according to the experts:
Mushroom / # of VoTES
We were pleased (and surprised) to see 3 mentions of magic mushrooms. If we had asked this question five years ago, we're not sure if this class of mushrooms would have made the list. Fortunately, research and interest in psychedelic mushrooms has emerged in the past few years, leading to the potential of new breakthrough medicines. As advocates of psychedelic mushrooms for mental health, we are eager to see where the research leads.