Eating Mushrooms: The Health Benefits Of Fungi

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I’ve been doing mushrooms for years. And it’s changed my life. My mushroom of choice is reishi,  which I drink in tea-form every morning. But reishi isn’t the only fungi with the potential for improving human health. Many mushrooms, molds and lichens are loaded with immune-enhancing, antimicrobial and antioxidant properties, making them some of the most potent forms of natural medicine on earth.


No one really knows how many species of fungi exist on our planet. Estimates vary from 30,000 to 2 million. Of these, only a fraction have been identified. 
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What we do know is that many of the same pathogens that infect mushrooms infect humans. These include staphylococcus, E.coli, Candida and streptococcus. 

Mixed bacteria colonies in petri dishes/Photo credit:

It turns out that like us, mushrooms are under constant attack from outside microbial forces. So in order to survive, they have evolved potent antibacterial and anti-fungal weapons. These weapons, known as antibiotics, can help protect us, too.


To date, the most famous example of a fungus that ended up benefiting humans is penicillin. The accidental discovery was made by a lab technician. Returning from a two-week vacation, he noticed a ‘fluffy white mass’ growing on a staphylococcus culture plate that had been contaminated. Upon further examination, he found the fungus was killing the bacteria.

The stunning discovery led to the world’s first naturally-grown antibiotic.

Mold on lemons: TwilightArtPictures/

Blue mold growing on lemons/Photo credit:

According to Robert Rogers, author of The Fungal Pharmacy, there are more than 300 species of medicinal mushrooms and lichens found in North America with the capacity to heal the human body. The fungi’s many medicinal possibilities include blood pressure lowering, cholesterol reducing, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and immune modulating properties. This offers humans a world of opportunity. 


My fungus of choice, the reishi, is a large-sized mushroom that grows on decaying tree stumps across East Asia and North America. In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), where it is known as Ling Zhi, it is revered to the point of being sacred. Often referred to as the “Mushroom of Immortality”, it has been a key component of TCM for thousands of years.

Indeed, Chinese medicine practitioners believe reishi can provide miraculous health benefits for the human body, including the capacity to boost immunities, improve liver function and lower blood pressure.

Lingzhi mushrooms growing on a log/Photo credit:

Limited data from clinical studies seems to support this point of view. According to the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, reishi not only has antioxidant properties, but it may also boost immunities. In addition, it contains complex sugars known as beta-glucans that may stop the growth and spread of cancer cells.

Other data points to reishi’s ability to strengthen the body’s immune response to specific allergens. Reishi contains substances called triterpenes that may have anti-allergy/anti-histamine effects. I can attest to the latter. After only a year of drinking an elixir made from reishi, I was able to abandon all my prescription drugs and today am allergy-free.


Many other mushrooms commonly found in supermarkets have also shown promise in protecting and repairing the human body. The white button mushroom, a favorite salad ingredient, contains specials carbohydrates that stimulate metabolism and maintain blood sugar levels. It is also high in selenium, which can aid in weight loss.

White button mushrooms/Photo credit:

When exposed to sunlight, mushrooms produce vitamin D. In fact, studies show that consuming dried white button mushroom extract is as effective as taking supplemental vitamin D2 or D3 for increasing vitamin D levels.


Another popular mushroom, the shiitake, contains a type of sugar molecule called lentinan which, when combined with chemotherapy, has shown some promise in extending the survival of patients with some cancers. Lentinan strengthens parts of the immune system, is an excellent source of vitamin D and has been shown to kill viruses and microbes in laboratory studies.

Shiitake mushrooms: Settaphan Rummanee/

Shitake mushrooms/Photo credit:


Even the long stemmed enoki mushroom, commonly found floating in Asian soups, has powerful immunity boosting properties. The tiny-capped mushroom contains beta-glucans, which have shown promise in slowing the growth of and destroying tumors.

Enoki mushrooms: somsak nitimongkolchai/

Enoki mushrooms/Photo credit:

Whatever your mushroom of choice, it’s important to remember that mushrooms are like sponges: they soak up the good and the bad of their environment. If ingested, they’ll then transfer these properties to you. Don’t go foraging in the forest unless you know what you’re doing.



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About carole funger

I'm a garden designer and Maryland Master Gardener living in the Washington, DC area. I blog about new trends in horticulture, inspiring gardens to visit and the latest tips and ideas for how to nurture your own beautiful garden. Every garden tells a story. What's yours?

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