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Medicinal mushrooms: hericium, shitake, reishi (2022)

Medicinal mushrooms: hericium, shitake, reishi (2022)

Medicinal mushrooms and their benefits

We know mushrooms well for their many virtues: excellent in salads, perfect in a royal pizza or adding fondant to a risotto. Ah yes, those are…culinary virtues. Apart from these in Europe the health benefits of certain mushrooms are still little known. While some are famous for being toxic others are for their ability to support our physiology.

Mycotherapy , the art of healing with mushrooms, is booming. Until now confined to Asian countries, it has been coming to us for a few years, for our greatest benefit.

We will talk in this article about their benefits , the main species cultivated for their medicinal properties and also the pitfalls in which not to fall. Indeed, if all species are not equal, the same is true for the forms in which they are found.

What is a mushroom?

Apart from the fact that "it's what you put in a pizza", it must first be understood that a mushroom is different from a plant. The realm of the living is divided into five parts:

  • Prokaryotic organisms
  • eukaryotic organisms
  • The mushrooms
  • Plants
  • Animals

Animals and fungi share a common ancestor and diverged from plants around 1.1 billion years ago. Only later did animals and fungi separate on the family tree of life. This common ancestor was most likely a single-celled organism that had sperm-like characteristics (like an animal), and then at a later stage of development developed a stronger cell wall.

The benefits of medicinal mushrooms

We said it in the introduction: some have wonderful characteristics to help us in our daily lives. Of the 15,000 mushrooms identified, an estimated 650 would benefit. That gives you the choice, doesn't it? On top of that, it's a safe bet that the discoveries on their effects have only just begun because very few “Western-style” studies have yet been carried out, even if their number is growing rapidly.

Mushrooms are nutritional bombs with a myriad of health benefits, including the following:

All this thanks to three main families of active compounds: beta-glucans, triterpenes and ergosterol , which we will come back to in another article.

The market for medicinal mushrooms

Before taking a closer look at some of the most famous medicinal mushrooms, we suggest that you first take a look at this booming market. Since in full expansion bad information can circulate, in order to sell more and more expensive a product which will be less so for the distributor. Less expensive because… it will have less effect!

Mushrooms penetrate the world of health at great speed, to the benefit of the consumer who can then obtain the effects that we have listed above.

Organisms used for thousands of years in Asia (China, Siberia, Japan and Korea in particular) for their support for immunity and longevity, the market is now moving towards the Western world which... does not know much about it. thing. Selling a medicinal mushroom in Europe is a bit like selling red wine in China : it is quite easy to sell it at high prices and of poor quality because the consumer has not received the education for this. It is easy to find "mushrooms" containing almost only mycelium and starch, which will not have the same effects as the fruit at all. Similarly an extract will be much more effective than powder.

A little explanation is therefore in order.

Mycelium or fruit?

The mycelium is the root system of the mushroom, the precursor of the fruit (the visible part of the mushroom, which is an abusive term since we should speak of sporophore ). Like the fruit it contains certain active compounds. So what's the problem ?

Quite simply, the mycelia are grown on starch (rice, sorghum, oats) and once mature, it is practically impossible to separate them. Thus we end up with products containing a very small amount of active compounds , often sold under the very misleading term "full spectrum". In addition, many companies do not specify what their product is made of (mycelium, fruit, spore, etc.). A 2017 US study published in Nature studied 17 brands offering Reishi (called Lingzhi in China) and only 5 had the annotated values ​​certified. This therefore raises the problem of a lack of information and knowledge on this side of the world, which can then benefit producers and/or distributors.

We will therefore favor the fruit!


Powder or extract?

Before offering you medicinal mushrooms, we have studied the question extensively and believe us, the answer was not easy. Indeed "extract" reasoned with us as "does not contain all the active compounds", as if we only took part of what is good. Rather than talking about extract we should talk about "concentrate" because that is indeed what happens. The mushroom goes through fifteen stages, from harvesting to packaging. In particular, it will be extracted once with water, filtered, concentrated and then extracted with alcohol (we then speak of double extraction, which is not necessary for most species. To our knowledge only reishi and chaga are concerned).

As we mentioned above, fungi have developed a strong cell wall that protects them from predators (including humans). This can only be decomposed in a hot liquid. It is therefore quite possible to benefit from the effects of mushrooms by infusing them in a bowl of hot chocolate or in tea, as some powder sellers rightly promote. But where there is a but, even a BIG BUT , is that chitin does not decompose in a few minutes, far from it! It takes several hours (6h30 exactly for our extracts) for the chitin to break down and release the active compounds. And yes… we also initially thought that we could use simple (and much cheaper) powder instead of extract.

Whether you just want the taste or the taste AND the benefits is up to you.

Now for a brief review of…

7 most famous medicinal mushrooms


Scientific name: Inonotus obliquus

photo of chaga medicinal mushroom

Main benefits: promotes immunity, improves digestion and helps to have beautiful skin.

Chaga is rich in antioxidants, and supports immune function, liver and brain health, and increases longevity.

Medicinal and historical uses

Chaga grows on birches in cold regions of the northern hemisphere. The first medicinal uses appear in Russia in the 16th century, used as an infusion to treat stomach ailments. The chaga became known in particular in the West after the publication of the Cancer Pavilion, where Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote about its healing powers.

The chaga growing directly on birches many of its compounds are common among them, including betulinic acid and betulin. The outer black layer contains large amounts of melanin which can benefit our skin .

Our chaga is harvested in Siberia then extracted and tested in the laboratory to assess their content of beta-glucans (essential nutrients for immunity), guaranteed at a minimum of 30%.


Scientific name: Ganoderma lingzhi

photo of reishi medicinal mushroom

Main benefits: sleep aid and powerful immunomodulator .

It is also known to improve sleep, reduce stress and fatigue.

Medicinal and historical uses

Reishi has been known for about 2000 years. It is notably used in China by Taoist monks to promote calm and improve their meditative practices. At the imperial court he was promoted as "mushroom of immortality" and is now known by this nickname. Reishi is used in Chinese medicine as a Qi tonic and is classified as a major adaptogen. For more information on adaptogens we refer you to this article.


scientific name: Cordyceps sinensis and Cordyceps militaris

photo of cordyceps medicinal mushroom

Main benefits: increases energy, improves vascular and respiratory functions.

Medicinal and historical uses

Cordyceps is highly valued in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Versatile, it is an adaptogen used as a general tonic. It is particularly indicated for fatigue, weak lungs or kidneys, the improvement and recovery of athletes, the improvement of fertility, and can be used as an adjunct during chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

It is also very effective against pneumonia and other lung problems like asthma. Cordyceps improves cellular oxygen supply and strengthens the endocrine system.

Cordyceps is a very surprising fungus since it grows on… insects, mainly caterpillars. Until very recently it was harvested wild but its decline was inevitable. In recent years we have been able to cultivate it (you will find it under the name of CS-4) but it is much less loaded with beta-glucans than the wild form. Be careful though: you won't find any wild ones, with some exceptions, because at the time of writing these pages they are trading at around €20,000/kg ex China!


scientific name: Hericium erinaceus

photo of the Hydne Hérisson medicinal mushroom

Main benefits: promotes cognitive functions

Historical and current medicinal use

Lion's Mane is a beautiful mushroom that has long cascading spines resembling a waterfall. Lion's Mane grows on the trunks of deciduous trees in northern forests and has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for millennia. It has become a well-established candidate for promoting positive cognitive functions.

Lion's mane is rich in a multitude of compounds: beta-glucans of course, immunomodulatory antioxidants and neuro-protective substances. Oxidative stress, against which these compounds protect, is closely linked to the pathogenesis of neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases.

Symptoms associated with aging (loss of memory or lack of concentration) are notably caused by the shrinkage of neurons and damage to brain cells. Lion's Mane may support your brain health by stimulating the creation of two important compounds: nerve growth factor (NGF) and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). factor” in English).

NGF and BDNF stimulate the production of new cells and strengthen existing cells. NGF also plays an important role in the formation of myelin (the sheath that surrounds nerve cells and helps brain cells do their job). BDNF increases brain plasticity, which helps brain cells stay resilient in the face of stress or aging.



scientific name: Trametes Versicolor

photo of polypore versicolor medicinal mushroom

Main benefits: strengthens the functions of the immune system

Downy Polypore improves immune function by stimulating cytokine production, increasing natural killer cells and other immune system-boosting functions.

Medicinal and historical uses

The turkey tail (translate “turkey tail”) is one of the most studied medicinal mushrooms. It grows on the trunks of dead trees around the world and gets its name because its brown, tan rings resemble the tail feathers of a turkey. In TCM the polypore versicolor is used to treat lung diseases, and in Japan and China it is used to boost the immune system in modern medicine. It contains one of the highest amounts of beta-glucans of any mushroom, which helps keep our immune system healthy when used over a long period of time.


scientific name: Lentinula edodes

Main benefits: improves cardiovascular health

Shiitake is excellent for immunity, liver function and supports the cardiovascular system.

Medicinal and historical uses

Shiitake is one of the most popular mushrooms in the world. It has a pleasant flavor and has been used as a food source in Asia for hundreds of years. Excellent in the kitchen, it is also rich in B vitamins, which help control blood sugar levels and reduce inflammation. Shiitake has long been used as a food and as a supplement in TCM, as it is believed to boost longevity and improve circulation. Lentinan, a polysaccharide, has shown great promise as an immunotherapy agent. It also contains eritadenine which has lowered cholesterol in some studies.


Scientific name: grifola frondosa

photo of maitake medicinal mushroom

Main benefits: Reduces blood sugar, burns fat and fights intestinal permeability

Historical and current medicinal use

Maitake is abundant in North America and Japan. It is a slightly earthy edible mushroom. In addition to the polysaccharides common to other mushrooms (beta-glucans), it contains heteropolysaccharides and proteoglycans, linked to the growth and renewal of healthy cells.

Historical information

In Japanese it means "the dancing mushroom", indicating the joy of those who find it. Grifola has recently become famous internationally, thanks to its effectiveness as an immunostimulant, antidiabetic agent and its action on adipose tissue. Indeed it helps to eliminate accumulated fat thanks to two mechanisms: on the one hand, the fat is more solicited and on the other hand, it does not accumulate. Both of these mechanisms also help reduce appetite, which is why the remedy is such a great support when dieting.

It also reduces hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) and insulin resistance, a prediabetic condition in which insulin receptors located in different parts of the body (liver, muscles, brain) are less sensitive. This mushroom also stimulates the bone marrow to produce red blood cells when it lacks them (in anemia) and white blood cells when it lacks them (in leukopenia).

At the level of the intestine it reinforces the work of the digestive enzymes, and is anti-inflammatory. This is why it is useful in cases of food intolerance, which often causes pain and diarrhea, and in Crohn's disease. Finally, like most other mushrooms, it has important immunostimulating properties, as well as excellent anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects, useful in all types of pain, from migraine to osteoarticular pain.


A lot of information in this article - is that the world of mushrooms is so vast that it could not be covered in a few paragraphs. It is also very easy to get lost and be fooled, by consuming products that are not really effective or by buying products that are way too expensive for what they really are.

At SIHO we will always seek to provide you with accurate and relevant information so that you can make an informed choice, for products that we sell and for others that you will not find with us.

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