Medicinal Mushrooms

Medicinal mushrooms can make a huge impact on your energy levels and ability to cope with stressors. Many also have amazing benefits to cure long standing illnesses and some of the more pervasive cancers. The three that I use most frequently are reishi, cordyceps, and maitake.



This is a mushroom you may have already heard of. It is quite common in the united states and you may see it when you are out hiking in the woods. It has a very unique shape and is dark red with a lighter exposed edge.

Reishi is primarily used to support the immune system, activating our natural killer T cells to fight off infections more easily. During the winter months it is great to be taking reishi regularly to help your body fight off any pathogens that come your way. With the immune support, your body has more energy to support its normal function, reducing fatigue. Reishi is also one of the herbs that a large number of studies have found to be useful against a variety of cancers as well as reducing cholesterol.


I find this species fascinating but if you are easily grossed out, skip this paragraph. Cordyceps is a fungus that grows on insects (picture here). Traditionally the insects would be used for the action of the cordyceps. This is because during the fungus life cycle it would grow inside the caterpillar (usually) and slowly break down the caterpillar and turn it into more fungus. As a result the collected caterpillars, while they often still look like caterpillars, are actually the fungus. This is what has led to this mushroom being called the zombie fungus. These wildcrafted cordyceps are very expensive and the fungus is usually grown on a culture now.

Like most medicinal mushrooms, cordyceps is an excellent immune stimulant and has anti-tumor activities, mostly due to the polysaccharide components. The research on cordyceps is extensive but this mushroom also shows great results at lower cholesterol levels and supporting the whole cardiovascular system. It is also supportive as an antioxidant, specifically in its cultivated form. As a bonus, cordyceps popularity started due to it’s use as an aphrodisiac in China and was thought to bring immortality to the dead.


The one I use least frequently of these three, the importance of this mushroom is not any less. It’s anti-tumor properties are well researched. There are even maitake products that are approved by the FDA for advanced breast and prostate cancer patients. Usually it is recommended that maitake is combined with chemotherapy treatments to support the immune system’s recovery. The anti-cancer activities of maitake are similar to reishi and cordyceps. Maitake may also be used as a treatment for diabetes and was shown to lower blood glucose levels as much as 25% in one study.

All three of these mushrooms are easily taken as a powder; they do not have much of a taste. Making extracts of them can be more complicated to extract the medicinal components. The powder also is easy to add to herbal chocolates. Find this recipe later this week when you subscribe during our Customer Appreciation Month.

Jillian Carnrick, founder and manager of The Dancing Herbalist, has a Masters of Science Degree in Herbal Medicine, practices as a nutritionist, and is a Certified Personal Trainer and Exercise Is Medicine Professional through the American College of Sports Medicine. Join her for live classes and The Dancing Herbalist’s home herbalist courses online for more learning opportunities.

For citation information on the studies mentioned here, please visit MycoMedicinals by Paul Stamets.

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