When you think of mushrooms, do you picture common edible types like button mushrooms, shiitakes, or portobellos? If so, then let me introduce you to an entirely new world: functional mushrooms. An estimated 3 million different species of mushrooms exist on Earth, but of these, only about 14,000 have been identified by science. Even fewer—around a dozen—are recognised as functional mushrooms.

These unique fungi stand out for their specific benefits, either as gourmet mushrooms with medicinal properties or strictly medicinal ones that don’t lend themselves to dinner plates. Just to give you some perspective, only 0.0004 percent of all mushrooms are considered functional, making them part of an extraordinarily exclusive club in the world of fungi.

In this blog, we will delve into the fascinating world of five top-tier functional mushrooms. You might be surprised to discover their wide array of benefits, backed by hundreds of scientific studies and a history of reverence that spans thousands of years. These mushrooms are now globally embraced by millions for their beneficial qualities.

Many Medicinal shiitaki mushrooms, and pills with mushroom ingredient on light background.


First on our list is the renowned “Mushroom of Immortality,” also known as Reishi. This mushroom has been a linchpin in traditional Eastern medicine for centuries, praised for its potent healing and restorative properties. This revered mushroom is loaded with a treasure trove of health-boosting compounds, setting it apart from its fungal kin.


One such powerful compound is triterpenoids, specifically ganoderic acids. These are unique to Reishi and are responsible for many of its health benefits. Ganoderic acids have been found to assist with sleep and relaxation. 


They work by helping to modulate the body’s sleep cycles, aiding those who suffer from insomnia or have trouble achieving restful sleep. These acids can provide a calming effect on both the body and mind, creating an overall sense of tranquillity that is conducive to good quality rest.


Reishi’s medicinal potential extends beyond sleep support. Its rich array of bioactive compounds like polysaccharides, peptides, and phenols are all beneficial to the immune system. 


They act as immune modulators, enhancing the body’s natural defences, and supporting overall immune health. This makes Reishi a powerful ally during flu season and when facing other seasonal allergies. Its immune-boosting properties may help reduce the severity and duration of symptoms related to common allergies and illnesses.


Even though Reishi may not win awards for its flavour, often described as somewhat bitter and woody, its medicinal properties more than compensate for its lack of culinary appeal. The Reishi mushroom is typically consumed in teas, soups, or as an extract in various health supplements. Despite its taste, it’s consumed widely for its remarkable health benefits.


The Reishi mushroom, or the ‘Mushroom of Immortality’ as it is fondly called, offers a powerful blend of sleep-enhancing, stress-reducing, and immune-boosting benefits. Its plethora of health-promoting compounds make it an invaluable addition to any holistic health regimen. With such a multitude of potential benefits, it’s no wonder that Reishi has secured a place of honour in the world of functional mushrooms

Turkey Tale

Our next feature is Turkey Tail, a mushroom whose appearance belies its potent medicinal qualities. Known for its fanned, multicoloured form that resembles a turkey’s tail, this mushroom is a true powerhouse when it comes to immune support. Its unassuming appearance masks an extraordinary array of health-promoting properties that are particularly adept at fortifying the immune system.


The magic of Turkey Tail comes largely from its high content of beta-glucans, complex carbohydrates found in the cell walls of cereals, bacteria, and fungi. When it comes to mushrooms, beta-glucans are particularly potent. They have the unique ability to interact with and enhance our immune system. By binding to white blood cells, which are the body’s primary defence against infection and disease, beta-glucans help stimulate their activity, effectively keeping our immune defences on high alert.


The interaction of beta-glucans with our immune system helps maintain a balanced immune response. This means they can modulate the immune system, stimulating it when it’s underactive, as in the case of infections, and calming it down when it’s overactive, as in the case of allergies. This dual function makes beta-glucans a powerful ally for overall immune health.


Think of regular intake of Turkey Tail as a workout regimen for your immune system. Just as regular exercise strengthens your muscles and improves physical fitness, the routine inclusion of Turkey Tail in your diet serves to bolster your immune system’s “fitness.” It prepares and primes your immune defences, enabling them to respond more effectively and efficiently to potential threats.


But the benefits of Turkey Tail extend beyond just immune support. This remarkable mushroom also boasts antioxidant properties, helps support gut health due to its prebiotic effects, and even has potential anti-cancer properties, which are currently being explored in scientific research.


With its unique combination of immune-boosting, gut-supporting, and potentially cancer-fighting properties, Turkey Tail exemplifies the profound healing potential inherent in the natural world. Even though it may not be the most visually striking of mushrooms, its medicinal benefits are unquestionably impressive, making it a standout in the realm of functional mushrooms.


Next, let’s delve into the world of Cordyceps Militaris, an intriguing species of fungus famed for its invigorating properties. Often compared to a natural form of performance-enhancing drug, cordyceps has a long history of use in traditional Chinese medicine. But, don’t be fooled by its somewhat unassuming look. Beneath the surface, this unique fungus harbours a potent suite of compounds known for their ability to supercharge energy, bolster endurance, and enhance athletic performance.


The magic behind cordyceps’ energising properties can be traced to a molecule called cordycepin, which bears a striking resemblance to adenosine. Adenosine is a naturally occurring compound in our bodies that plays a critical role in various biochemical processes, most notably energy transfer. It’s involved in the production of ATP, or adenosine triphosphate, which is often described as the ‘energy currency’ of cells. By mimicking adenosine, cordycepin helps increase the rate of ATP production, leading to a boost in energy levels and physical stamina. 


The benefits of cordyceps extend beyond the athletic realm. This versatile fungus also falls into the category of adaptogens – natural substances that help the body adapt to various forms of stress, whether physical, chemical or biological. They work by modulating our physiological responses, helping to balance and normalise various bodily functions. By increasing the body’s resistance to stress, cordyceps can enhance overall wellbeing, promote recovery, and potentially extend lifespan.


But the adaptogenic benefits of cordyceps don’t stop there. Adaptogens are also known for their ability to promote homeostasis, or internal balance. When our bodies are stressed, be it from environmental factors, emotional distress, or physical exertion, our internal systems can become unbalanced. Cordyceps works to restore this balance, helping to regulate the body’s response to stress and, in turn, promoting overall health and longevity.


From boosting energy and endurance to helping the body adapt to stress and maintain internal balance, cordyceps militaris stands as a testament to the remarkable power of nature’s pharmacy. Whether you’re an athlete looking for a performance edge, a busy professional seeking to combat the effects of stress, or simply someone aiming to enhance overall wellbeing, cordyceps may well be worth exploring.


Delving into our list, the fourth mushroom that catches our attention doesn’t exactly win any beauty contests. With its rough, charcoal-like exterior, Chaga might be easily dismissed as a burnt remnant rather than a functional fungus. However, underneath its uninviting facade lies an extraordinary array of health-promoting properties, earning it the title of the “King of Functional Mushrooms.”


The power of Chaga lies in its potent antioxidant properties. It boasts a high concentration of antioxidants that combat oxidative stress, which results from an imbalance between the production of free radicals, harmful molecules that can damage cells, and the body’s ability to counteract their harmful effects. By neutralising these free radicals, the antioxidants in Chaga help protect our cells from damage, contributing to overall health and longevity.


Beyond its antioxidant capacities, Chaga also houses a wealth of beta-glucans. These naturally occurring polysaccharides are celebrated for their immune-supporting properties. By interacting with immune cells, such as macrophages and natural killer cells, beta-glucans help modulate the immune system, enhancing its ability to ward off diseases while keeping harmful overreactions in check. In a world where maintaining robust immunity is more critical than ever, the immune-enhancing properties of Chaga can play a pivotal role.


But the wonders of Chaga don’t end there. This remarkable fungus is also rich in triterpenoids, a class of compounds known for their diverse health benefits. Notably, triterpenoids have been observed to exhibit antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties. By inhibiting viral replication and suppressing inflammatory responses, these compounds help maintain the body’s health and wellbeing.


Moreover, Chaga’s anti-inflammatory properties are crucial, given that chronic inflammation has been linked to a host of health problems, including heart disease, cancer, and neurodegenerative disorders. By quilling inflammation, Chaga may help protect against these conditions and contribute to overall health and longevity.


Despite its rugged exterior, Chaga, with its powerful antioxidants, immune-supporting beta-glucans, and antiviral and anti-inflammatory triterpenoids, embodies a true powerhouse of health benefits. Whether you’re looking to boost your immune system, fend off viruses, or combat inflammation, this “king of functional mushrooms” holds the potential to be a vital ally in your health and wellness journey.

Lions Mane

Rounding off the fifth spot in our functional mushroom lineup is Lion’s Mane’s medicinal properties.


One of Lion’s Mane’s key claims to fame lies in its potential to improve cognition, focus, and mood. It contains two exclusive compounds, hericenones and erinacines, that have a profound effect on brain health. These compounds stimulate the production of nerve growth factor (NGF)—a protein that plays a crucial role in the maintenance, survival, and regeneration of neurons, the nerve cells responsible for transmitting and processing information in the brain. By promoting the growth of NGF, Lion’s Mane may improve cognitive abilities such as memory, focus, and learning capacity.


Given our ever-busier lives and the increasing need to stay focused and sharp, Lion’s Mane’s potential to enhance cognitive function is gaining considerable attention. Numerous studies have suggested its efficacy in boosting mental clarity and focus, and some even indicate its potential in alleviating symptoms of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.


But Lion’s Mane doesn’t stop at just improving brain function. It’s also linked to emotional well-being. Preliminary research suggests that regular intake of Lion’s Mane can help to alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression, thereby promoting overall mood and mental health. Though more research is needed to confirm these effects, the initial findings are indeed promising.


Lion’s Mane is more than just an intriguingly named mushroom—it’s a potent natural ally for brain health and emotional well-being. With its unique compounds promoting nerve growth and potentially enhancing cognition and mood, it’s no surprise that Lion’s Mane has established itself as a star player in the world of functional mushrooms. The benefits of this fascinating fungus underscore the amazing symbiosis between nature and human health.


Venturing further into our fungal journey, we encounter Shiitake, a well-loved culinary and medicinal mushroom. With its scientific name, Lentinula edodes, it hails from East Asia and is widely recognized not just for its deliciously savoury, umami-rich flavour, but also for its myriad health benefits.


Firstly, like several of its mushroom kin, Shiitake serves as an impressive immune booster. Its secret lies in its high concentration of beta-glucans. These complex carbohydrates interact with our immune system in a supportive capacity, fortifying it against a wide array of potential threats. When consumed regularly, Shiitake mushrooms can bolster the body’s natural defences, preparing it to fight off infections and diseases more effectively.


Alongside the immune support, Shiitake stands out for its cardiovascular benefits. Cardiovascular disease, encompassing conditions affecting the heart and blood vessels, remains a leading cause of death globally. Shiitake can be a vital ally in maintaining heart health, partly due to its ability to support healthy cholesterol levels. High levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol—often referred to as “bad” cholesterol—can lead to plaque buildup in the arteries, a risk factor for heart disease. Shiitake has been studied for its potential to lower LDL cholesterol levels, thereby contributing to a healthier heart.


Beyond its heart-healthy properties, Shiitake has also garnered attention for its potential anti-cancer attributes. Various research suggests that compounds in Shiitake may exhibit anti-tumor effects, although further research is needed to fully understand these properties and their applicability in humans.


Lastly, we can’t forget Shiitake’s culinary appeal. The rich, earthy flavour and meaty texture of Shiitake mushrooms make them a beloved ingredient in many dishes worldwide. They’re particularly renowned for their umami taste, the so-called “fifth taste” that rounds out the sweet, sour, salty, and bitter flavours. This robust flavour profile allows Shiitake to elevate a simple dish into a gourmet meal, making it a favourite in kitchens worldwide.


Shiitake is more than just an appetising edible—it’s a potent medicinal mushroom as well. With its immune-supporting beta-glucans, heart-healthy benefits, potential anti-cancer properties, and distinct umami flavour, Shiitake deserves a spot not just in our kitchens but in our health and wellness routines too.


Bringing up the rear in our mushroom exploration is Tremella, an enchanting variety often referred to as Snow Fungus or Silver Ear Mushroom due to its unique, jelly-like appearance. Not only does it boast a unique texture and aesthetic, but it also comes loaded with health benefits that are truly remarkable.


Tremella’s most celebrated attribute is its unparalleled hydrating capabilities. Known as a natural humectant, Tremella can absorb and retain vast amounts of water—over 500 times its own weight, to be exact. This characteristic makes it a natural ally for skin hydration. When consumed, Tremella helps to moisturise the skin from the inside out, contributing to a healthy, radiant complexion. Its use isn’t just confined to internal consumption; Tremella is also incorporated into topical skincare products for its hydrating and anti-aging properties.


Yet, the marvel of Tremella extends beyond its hydration prowess. It’s also recognized for its cognitive support. A diet enriched with Tremella has been linked to improved learning and memory capabilities. Although more research is needed to fully understand the extent of its brain-enhancing potential, initial findings suggest that incorporating Tremella into one’s diet could help maintain cognitive function and potentially ward off neurodegenerative conditions.


In addition, Tremella stands out for its robust antioxidant activity. Antioxidants are vital in combating free radicals—harmful compounds that can cause cellular damage. By enhancing antioxidant activity, Tremella helps protect the body against oxidative stress, contributing to overall health and wellness. Its antioxidant properties also work synergistically with its hydrating capabilities to maintain skin health, promoting a youthful, glowing appearance.


While Tremella might be the last mushroom on our list, its health-promoting properties ensure that it is by no means the least. With its extraordinary hydrating capabilities, cognitive support, and antioxidant activity, the Snow Fungus serves as a testament to the power and versatility of functional mushrooms. Whether you’re aiming for hydrated skin, a sharp mind, or a strong defence against oxidative stress, Tremella is a worthy addition to your wellness regimen.


Each of these functional mushrooms boasts incredible qualities, some of which have been revered for thousands of years. So, the next time you think about mushrooms, remember: there’s much more to this fascinating fungi family than meets the eye.