Mushroom teas — dried mushrooms whole or in powdered form brewed in hot water — are the new superfood hype, but there is nothing new about these drinks. In fact, mushrooms have been particularly important to promote health and vitality for thousands of years in Eastern cultures, Russia, North America and Canada. But, as the juice bar culture continues to permeate the country, the next wave in heathy drinks comes down to mushrooms like reishi, chaga and cordyceps.
Why drink mushrooms?
It's important to maintain a healthy immune system in order to maintain a healthy body. And since our immune systems are constantly under siege, the ability of one's system to adapt determines our health. Mushrooms, known as "medicinal mushrooms" and classified as "adaptogens," are one of the only plants that are "immune modulators" — they have the ability to balance the immune system and help the body cope with daily stress.
But, medicinal mushrooms have low bioavailability unless they undergo a hot water extraction process. Meaning, we are not able to absorb mushrooms' nutrients because the fungi lock their immune activating beta-glucans and polysaccharides in chitin cell walls, which are indigestible to humans. Hence mushrooms brewed into tea. So, when purchasing medicinal mushroom tea, it's important to select a brand that that uses the correct extraction method otherwise the drink won’t have any medicinal potency. Also, look for organic mushrooms, as they absorb pesticides and heavy metals easily from the environment.
Known as "Queen Healer" and the mushroom of immortality in Chinese medicine, reishi is the most famous of all mushrooms and is a true adaptogen. Ancient Taoists called it "the herb of spiritual potency" and they believed reishi promoted calmness and centeredness.
While six types of reishi exist, red reishi is the most potent. Flavor-wise, the mushroom has a distinct bitter flavor (the more bitter the higher the quality) from the enormous amount of triterpenes, compounds that contain antioxidant and anti-cancer properties. Reishi is lauded for its anti-inflammatory and anti-viral properties, and the mushroom is believed to fight toxins, improves circulation, lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure and blood sugar, and more.
Unlike other mushrooms, reishi can grow on dead and living trees.
Chaga "King of Plants"
Chaga contains beta-glucans, compounds which help the body fight disease. The first known record of chaga use dates back to the 16th century when it was consumed to alleviate upset stomachs, hunger, fatigue, and to increase energy. Back then it was also incorporated into soap and used as a fire starter.
Chaga can quiet or activate the immune system, encouraging internal balance. (An over-active immune system will create skin disorders, allergies, asthma and autoimmune disorders.) Chaga also eliminates toxins, is anti-viral, stimulates the central nervous system, and has a high level of antioxidants.
Wild chaga is typically found on trees that are at least 40 years old, and it takes between three to five years for the fungus to reach maturity before harvesting. Chaga quality and potency depend on the conditions in which it grew; the best chaga grows in harsh climates. Just like wine, quality varies from region to region and year to year.
Turkey tail or coriolus versicolor is the most researched medicinal mushroom and can be found all over the world. The first texts on medicinal herbs in 200 BC reference turkey tail's use in connection with vitality, healthy liver functions, and strong bones and muscles.
Turkey tail is now being tested on patients who are undergoing chemotherapy to lessen side effects, help with appetite and support overall immune functions.
Cordyceps, a parasitic mushroom that often grows on insects, has been used in Chinese and Tibetan medicine for thousands of years. Traditional Sikkim healers used cordyceps as a tonic for energy, appetite, libido, sleeping and longevity. Meanwhile, ayurveda classifies these mushrooms as a source for enhancing vigor and vitality. Cordyceps is also sometimes referred to as "Himalayan Viagra."
The fungi only became known in the west in 1993 during the Chinese National Games when three out of five Chinese athletes set new world records. The athletes' coach attributed their success to cordyceps consumption.
The mushroom is known to increase stamina by maintaining blood glucose levels during prolonged exercise and oxygenating the body. It also aids in lactate clearance, allowing athletes better endurance and recovery.