Reishi, Chaga, turkey tail, lion’s mane, agarika, cordyceps, if these don’t ring a bell, they all have one thing in common. These are medicinal mushroom species, and in the multi-billion dollar supplement industry, they are one of the fastest-growing products.
As the supplement industry is currently valued at $220 billion, $25.4 billion of that is the mushroom trade. Medicinal mushroom supplements pair with several emerging trends, such as the shift towards “functional foods” or “whole foods” supplements, i.e. products that contain an entire concentrated food item and not an isolated chemical or nutrient.
Claims abound regarding what mushrooms have the potential to do inside of us. During COVID-19 there was an interest in mushrooms not only as an anti-viral agent, but also because they are one of the only foods to contain vitamin D, one of the most essential in preventing negative COVID outcomes.
However they are also touted as having anticancer and antibacterial properties. Others are claimed to slow aging, or act as a “nootropic,” a nutrient that powers brain activity similar to caffeine. Beyond some of these admittedly well-researched claims, mushrooms are undoubtedly rich in a variety of more traditionally-researched ingredients that alone make them worth sticking in a stew, in a wok, or on top of a steak.
In the first part of a three-part story on medicinal mushrooms and supplementing with them, we will look at two of the most well-studied—going back thousands of years.