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Different from the mushrooms you find in the produce section, this powerful category of food is worth considering as a supplement.

There’s a new, trendy superbeverage in the house, and its secret ingredient may not sound very appetizing: It’s mushrooms. Medicinal mushrooms to be exact, and they’re different from the edible culinary mushrooms (like Portobello, shitake, etc.) we’re used to seeing in the produce department of the grocery store.

First off, unlike edible culinary mushrooms, which grow on the ground, medicinal mushrooms grow on trees and take energy and nutrients from trees as well. Secondly, medicinal mushrooms aren’t eaten raw or whole because humans can’t process their outer layer. Instead, these types of mushrooms have to go through a hot-water dual-extraction process (called decoction) and are dried and packaged into either powder or capsule form to be consumed safely and effectively and to get the most medicinal benefits.

And it’s worth the effort. Medicinal mushrooms are like a little pharmacy found in nature. In fact, they’ve been said to possess approximately 130 medicinal functions, like detoxifier, antiviral and antibacterial (and are often used in popular pharmaceuticals).

What mushrooms can do for your health

When taken strategically as part of your health and wellness routine, medicinal mushrooms can help you to fight stress, perform better, recover quicker and feel more balanced all -around. And that’s because medicinal mushrooms are considered adaptogens, which is a category of substances and foods that can rebalance your body whenever it is out of whack. (Did we mention that they’re made in nature, and you can’t beat that.)

“Medicinal mushrooms have been used for thousands of years, because they have clinically proven powers that interact with the human body,” says Shawn Stevenson, author and creator of the top-rated The Model Health Show podcast (who is also a 24Life contributor). “Something like the chaga mushroom is actually training your immune system to do a better job, and there are very few things in the world with that power.”

High-performing wellness experts, like Stevenson, have fallen in love with the benefits of medicinal mushrooms. For instance, Stevenson doesn’t leave home without instant packets of Four Sigmatic’s Lion’s Mane Elixir tea. According to Stevenson, lion’s mane is a medicinal mushroom that actually looks like the mane of a lion and is clinically proven to be neuro-protective, which means it helps create new brain cells and supports keeping your body eternally young. This extra boost keeps him on his game when he is working or traveling, and it’s a secret he shares with his audience members to improve their own mental prowess.

Types of medicinal mushrooms

There are several varieties you will come across, each with a different benefit:

Reishi. Known as one of the most sought-after tonics in traditional Chinese medicine, reishi has a bitter and woody taste. Reishi soothes nerves; can help alleviate certain age-related diseases; has antioxidant properties; and is said to improve sleep quality, help with vitality and reduce stress.
TAKE IT TO: Calm your nerves and get to sleep.

Cordyceps. Found living on caterpillars and moths in China, cordyceps are the most-sold mushrooms and are known to boost athletic performance, enhance stamina and improve energy.
TAKE IT TO: Get revved up for a workout.

Lion’s mane. With the appearance of a lion’s mane, this type of mushroom boosts brain power as a natural cognitive-enhancing nootropic and helps your nervous system recover.
TAKE IT TO: Prepare for a presentation or to study.

Chaga. Grown on birch trees, chaga is one of the top antioxidants in the world and is said to stimulate the immune system, reverse cell damage, normalize cholesterol and blood pressure, lower inflammation, support joint and gut health, and help with healthy aging (and is also used to help treat cancer).
TAKE IT TO: Fend off sickness and feel good.

Note that some doctors believe more medical research and human studies are required for these benefits to be scientifically proven, but they are generally agreed upon in the health world.

How to find high-quality medicinal mushrooms

Not all medicinal mushroom products are created the same. The hot-water dual-extraction process mentioned above is said to be best for maintaining the integrity of the mushrooms. To reap the benefits of the immunomodulation (the way that medicinal mushrooms are able to naturally adjust the immune system), the whole mushroom must be extracted before being turned into a powder or capsule form to be consumed. Note, though, that many health experts believe that consuming the powder form of medicinal mushrooms helps you to absorb more nutrients than taking them in pill or capsule form.

You can find medicinal mushrooms in instant teas, coffees and supplement powders online through companies such as Four Sigmatic and Mountain Rose Herbs or possibly at your local health store or apothecary, but beware of misleading labels using the word mushroom without the appropriate variety name from above. It’s also important to note that the product uses the actual fruiting bodies of the mushroom, not just the roots or mycelium.

Ways to incorporate medicinal mushrooms into your routine

  • Replace your daily soda with a mug of lion’s mane tea to give your brain support to create new cells.
  • Add a scoop of powdered chaga blend to your morning oatmeal to keep you illness- and inflammation-free.
  • Skip dessert and instead sip on a reishi hot chocolate before bed to improve your sleep quality.
  • Drop a scoop of powdered cordyceps into your afternoon smoothie for an extra dose of energy and an edge during your workout.
  • Mix lion’s mane with grass-fed butter and MCT oil for your morning coffee to power up your nerves before work.

While medicinal mushrooms have been around for centuries, it’s as of late that athletes, authors and experts have been singing this special food’s praises for benefiting a high-performance lifestyle.

In your quest to live your best life, you don’t have to jump on every trend, but this one’s worth partaking in for better health.

Photo credit: ThinkStock, SuradechK

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