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Nutrition Blog

Good For You Guide To Medicinal Mushrooms and Plant Medicine

Claire Chitham

Fungi, such as Lion’s Mane mushrooms, are fabulous for the body and brain, which is why we’ve been road-testing to find our plant medicine faves.

For the past 120 days, two members of the Good For You crew have been experimenting with taking powdered extracts of different types of medicinal mushrooms and plant medicine. We’ve gone for the ones you can buy legally over the counter from your trusted health food store.

They are: Lion’s Mane, cordyceps, reishi, he shou wu and cacao.

Mushroom Mash-up: Timothy Dykes, Unsplash

Mushroom Mash-up: Timothy Dykes, Unsplash

The reason we’ve been trying these combos is because we’re interested in how plant life can be used as nutritional supplementation to do everything from increase blood flow to brain power. 

Microbes, such as bacteria and fungi, were the first signs of life on earth and all animals have always existed in environments dense with these species. They are essential to the wellbeing of everything and they literally connect our forests.

That’s why when we eat them, we are literally eating the energy of the earth and all the goodness that comes with it. 

Why are mushrooms good for me?

Mushrooms and plant medicine, such as cacao, can be used as daily nutritional supplements to help our cells communicate more effectively. 

For example, lion’s mane mushrooms are particularly good at not just protecting our brains but actually helping neurogenesis - the growing of new brain cells.

Paul Stamets is a renowned mycologist from Washington, USA, who has been studying mushrooms for over 40 years, and has received numerous scientific awards and international recognition for his research. 

Much of his work focuses on lion’s mane mushroom because of its exciting neurodegenerative properties. “I think [lion’s mane] is rapidly becoming a premiere species, that could be an adjunct to conventional medicine,” he says.

We tested and found these fungi and plant medicines to be beneficial…

Lion’s Mane Mushrooms

Good for: Boosting brain power, improving nerve health, soothing the digestive tract.

How we use: We dissolve a 1/4-1/2 tsp of Lion’s Mane mushrooms either in water or a morning coffee. It’s also delicious with a spoonful of raw honey. 

Why we use: Research shows lion’s mane mushrooms also particularly good in protecting the brain as we age. The way lion’s mane works is that it simultaneously regenerates myelin on the brain’s nerve endings and removes amyloid plaque, one of the markers of Alzheimer’s disease. Think of it as basically being a tool to clean the brain’s nerve endings, protecting them from disease and degeneration and encouraging growth. While originally it was used by people with Parkinson’s or Alzheimers, today it is very popular among knowledge workers who are seeking a larger brain capacity and because it significantly improves the health of the nervous system. 

Verdict: A good way to enhance cognition and super-charge your brain in those moments you need it most.  We find it especially good when the brain feels a little fried. Initially taking Lion’s Mane also improved our focus and, over time, we’re noticing an increased ability to concentrate for longer periods and enjoy better brain resilience. 

Oyster Mushrooms: Damir Omerovic, Unsplash.

Oyster Mushrooms: Damir Omerovic, Unsplash.

Cordyceps

Good for: Increasing oxygen uptake, improving lung and kidney health, stabilising emotions.

How we use: We use a powdered extract blend with other fungi and adaptogenic herbs and dissolve into water or eat with honey. 

Why we use: Cordyceps are one of the most treasured herbs in Asia for maintaining youthfulness. They are also an excellent tonic for those who suffer from lung issues, such as asthma, shortness of breath, emphysema, or upper respiratory tract infection. Known as a "Jing" tonic in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), it is the life force of the universe and governs the kidney and liver, promoting organ health in these areas.

Verdict: With emotions related to fear (which in TCM relates to the kidney) and grief
(which in TCM relates to the lung), cordyceps are the ultimate for calming the nervous system. We found using this fungi  regularly over time really helps to let go of fear, grief and sadness and drastically improves the health of the kidneys. 

Reishi

Good for: Relieving stress and anxiety, calming the mind for improved sleep, improving liver function and detoxification.

How we use: We use a powdered extract blend with other fungi and adaptogenic herbs and dissolve into water or eat with honey. 

Why we use: When the big picture looks a little fuzzy, taking reishi is the answer. This is a fungi that is all about ascending you to a state of higher consciousness. It was used by the Royalty during the Ming dynasty because it was thought to speed up the path to enlightenment. Physically, it is an excellent tonic for strengthening the immune system and improving the health of the heart. 

Verdict: Using reishi has made us more aware and appreciative of our own insights and greater wisdom. It allows you to let go of the daily dramas.

He Shou Wu

Good for: Stabilising the adrenal glands and kidneys, improving liver function, strengthening muscles, tendons and bones, boosting libido.

How we use: We use a powdered extract blend with other fungi and adaptogenic herbs and dissolve into water or eat with honey. 

Why we use: He shou wu is a plant medicine called a tonic herb. Also known by the name Fo-Ti, it is good for purifying the blood. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), he shou wu is used to regulate kidney and liver functions, improve brain function and assist with healthy ageing. Because the tonic herb gets the blood moving around the body, it helps us to feel an increased ability to access Jing (our vital primordial essence). One study found that the tonic herb is particularly effective at helping people ward off the development of metabolic disorders, such as obesity and type 2 diabetes. It strengthens and stabilises the lower back and knees and is known for its ability to seriously enhance sex drive. 

Verdict: He shou wu is both energising and calming at the same time. It helps the brain build resilience. We have noticed a huge change in energy levels and a dramatic improvement in the texture of our hair. 

Cacao cacaophony: Pablo Merchan Montes, Unsplash.

Cacao cacaophony: Pablo Merchan Montes, Unsplash.

Cacao

Good for:
Increasing concentration, warding off stress and anxiety, getting a good night’s sleep, reducing blood pressure.  

How we use: We add at least 2TBSP of cacao into our daily meals. It’s yummy in porridge and steamed up in coconut mylk to make a dairy-free hot chocolate.  

Why we use: Cacao is good mood food because not only does it contain all those lovely mood-enhancing neurotransmitters serotonin, tryptophan and dopamine, it also helps us pay attention and stay alert. It is also the highest natural food source of magnesium. Magnesium is one of the body's most important minerals that assists in all metabolic processes. It helps relax all the muscles in the body.

Verdict: Having a dose of cacao a day stops cramps and muscle aches and pains. It also improves sleep quality. We notice if we haven’t had a dose!


Where To Buy

We get our powdered extracts from good mates, littlebirdorganics. As always know your source, buy from a local health food store you trust and only choose brands that support sustainable, ethical practices.