Many people in the West have a hard time thinking of mushrooms as medicinal. Here, these succulent fungi have been more prized for their wonderful flavor and have played an important role in countless recipes for casseroles, soups, pizzas and pasta dishes and serve well as plant-based meat substitutes for vegetarians and vegans.
In the East, however, mushrooms have been valued not only for their flavor but also for their medicinal value. Ayurvedic traditions from India and Chinese traditional medicine but have a long (over 5,000 years long!) tradition of using fungi to help with a variety of maladies. Some of the most popular mushrooms and their uses are discussed below.
Perhaps one of the most well-known medicinal mushrooms, reishis are prized for their adaptogenic properties which help the body to deal better with stress. Reishi mushrooms help to strengthen the body’s natural immunity and to improve circulation of the blood. They have been found to be a valuable treatment for a number of ailments, including:
- Viral infections, such as the flu
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Sleep disturbances
Maitake mushrooms are another well-known treatment in Eastern healing traditions. They are best known for their use in treatment of serious conditions like cancer and are particular effective against forms of it like leukemia. However, it has proven useful for other treatments as well, including:
- High blood pressure
- Type 2 diabetes
- Poor digestion
Shiitake mushrooms are perhaps best known for their ability to protect against cardiovascular diseases and to support the overall health and function of the heart. However, they have been found to be effective for other conditions as well, including:
- Viral or bacterial infections
- Blood clots (do to its effects on platelets)
- Build-up of plaque in the arterial walls
Chaga mushrooms are not perhaps as well-known in the West as reishi or shiitake mushrooms. However, they, too, have a long medicine history. They are best known for their ability to strengthen the body’s immune system due to their strong anti-oxidants and can also:
- Provide the body with phytonutrients and a variety of other active compounds
- Stimulate the immune system due to the presence of beta-glucans
Cordyceps mushrooms also have a long history in both Chinese and Indian healing traditions and have long been valued, like reishis, for being strong adaptogenic treatments to help the body respond better to stress. In addition to this, cordyceps mushrooms are also:
- A mild sedative
- An antihistamine
- Protective of the liver and kidneys
In short, while the West is still learning about the amazing purposes that medicinal fungi can serve, Eastern healing traditions have long embraced their use to treat a number of conditions ranging from the mild to the severe. They have much to teach about these important tools to help people everywhere achieve better health.
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