A Wild Guide to Mushrooms

When it comes to mushrooms, there are typically two types of people—those that like mushrooms and those that don't.

And when you hear the word "mushroom," you probably visualize something like this:

But the most common mushrooms that you and I see regularly are not the ones we will be discussing today.

The mushrooms we are going to cover are a bit more exotic.

They look more like this:

A specific class of mushrooms are called "medicinal mushrooms" due to research that suggests certain compounds in these mushrooms may ​have ​anti-inflammatory and health-improving properties.

Man has been using mushrooms for centuries to remedy various illnesses and disorders. They have been chopped, ground, chewed, boiled, brewed into tea, and mixed into food to cure everything from the common cold to fatigue.

​Mushrooms are packed with something called beta-glucans, which research suggests may inhibit the growth of specific cancer cells. In addition to beta-glucans in medicinal mushrooms, they also contain many other beneficial compounds, including essential amino acids, vitamins, minerals, and protein.

Some research suggests that mushrooms are probiotics that help the body strengthen the immune system and fight off illness.

Here are some types of mushrooms, their uses and benefits, and how you can add them to your diet.

Chaga Mushroom

​The next time you pass a birch tree, look closely to see if any dark masses are growing on the trunk. This might be chaga.

Chaga doesn't look like your typical mushroom with the cap and stem. It looks like a burnt charcoal and is classified as a canker disease on birch trees.

(Some may argue they aren't mushrooms at all.)

Chaga naturally grows in birch forests in the northern United States, Alaska, the North Carolina mountains, and Canada. Chaga is relatively abundant in Russia, Korea, and China.

Chaga lives off birch trees by drawing on precursor compounds such as triterpenoid botulin and turning them into inotodiol, trametenolic acid, and betulinic acid, which can be helpful to humans. Chaga can also grow on trees other than birch.

Wild Shroom #2 is a Wild harvested Birch Chaga—the chaga is cultivated by hand after it is found in the wild growing on trees in their natural habitat.

Chaga Research

For centuries, Chaga has traditionally been used as a folk remedy for stomach illnesses and to boost immunity in Russia and other North European countries. ​Limited studies show the possibility of chaga killing specific cancer cells while stimulating the immune system.

Studies by the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center also revealed that chaga could inhibit the progression of ​inflammation and activate some types of immune cells.

Chaga Benefits
  • Chaga's beta-glucan content supports immune function.
  • Thought to improve gastrointestinal health in Eastern cultures.
  • Chaga contains betulinic acid, shown in research to break down LDL cholesterol in the bloodstream.
  • Study shows potential anti-infectious disease protection on top of the immune-boosting effects. (Research)
  • Chaga contains one of the highest ORAC scores of any superfood (ORAC is a rating for antioxidant levels)

How to use Chaga

  • Chaga is not a fungi you can eat in its raw form because it not palatable nor is it bioavailable to your body (it won't absorb nutrients). This is why water-extracted chaga powder extract is the most common way chaga is consumed.
  • You can also make a kind of chaga tea, similar to making a bone broth. The only problem with this method is the density of the extracted nutrients are not usually abundant enough to provide any significant metabolic benefit.
  • This is why the best way, in our opinion, is to use a mushroom extract that is extracted using an ample amount of material and then reduced down to a concentrated powder. (Like our Wild Shroom line.)
  • With this powder, you can make a hot cocoa-like beverage or—the best way, methinks—you can add it to your coffee, smoothies and shakes.

Cordyceps Sinensis

​In 1993, a group of Chinese runners broke nine world records at the World Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Germany.

How did they pull this off?

Their coach said they regularly drank a cordyceps-based tonic.

This single promotion of this super-shroom has helped bring cordyceps into the limelight as a medicinal mushroom worth considering.

Of course, Cordyceps has also long been used in traditional Chinese and Buddhist medicine. Cordyceps species are particularly abundant and diverse in humid temperate and tropical forests, including areas in Nepal, China, Japan, Bhutan, Korea, Vietnam, and Thailand.

How is cordyceps sinensis cultivated?

Before modern cultivation of this strain, cordyceps reproduced itself using insects. Cordyceps fungus would attack a host, and the mycelium would replace the host tissue. Some cordyceps species can affect the behavior of their insect host, causing them to seek out areas of optimal temperature and humidity or attach themselves to plants to ensure nutrients.

After the insect dies, the spores sprout from the insect's body, developing into the mushroom we know as cordyceps.

You may be glad to know that modern science has allowed the cultivation of cordyceps without the need to sacrifice any caterpillars.

Cordyceps Uses

Cordyceps mushrooms were traditionally used for combating fatigue and general weakness among ancient Chinese and Tibetans. After ingestion, cordyceps invigorates the kidneys and protects the lungs. It doesn’t hurt that the mushroom has an acceptable sweet and acrid taste.

Since 1993 it has also become a top-selling health supplement for athletes.

Aside from improving respiratory functions, cordyceps is also credited with improving sexual functions. However, there have yet to be definitive clinical trials to prove this claim.

How to Prepare Cordyceps Mushrooms

Toxicology-wise, cordyceps is safe for humans to consume directly. However, preparing a decoction is the most popular way to consume cordyceps. When used as a tonic in Traditional Chinese Medicine, the fruit bodies are often cooked into a chicken broth.

Like Chaga, we recommend consuming it in a powdered extract form and then adding it to smoothies, shakes, coffee, or a hot tea beverage.

Try our Wild Cordyceps.

Turkey Tail

​So-called because it looks like a turkey's tail, Coriolus Versicolor was used by humans as early as the 15th century, particularly the Chinese during the Ming Dynasty.

Unlike other mushrooms that require specific temperatures or certain types of trees to thrive, coriolus grows abundantly on dead and fallen trees, branches, and stumps. They are one of the most common mushrooms found today.

Unlike shiitake mushrooms with gills underneath the top, coriolus contain tiny pores that release spores, making them a part of the polypore family.

Turkey Tail Uses

Coriolus is a potent immunomodulator that modulates the immune system, helping fight infections, illnesses, and diseases. In particular, mushrooms have long been known to fight off any condition associated with the common cold or flu.

Coriolus was also credited with helping a woman beat breast cancer. According to a study published in Global Advances in Health and Medicine, an 83-year-old woman diagnosed with advanced, metastatic inflammatory breast cancer was cured after using the mushroom throughout her chemotherapy. The mushroom has also been credited with helping​ other patients cope with chemotherapy. Since chemotherapy suppresses the immune system, coriolus can build it up for them. (Research.)

According to another study, coriolus may also help heal infections such as the human papillomavirus. A study conducted on 61 patients with gum disease tested positive for HPV. 88 percent of the 41 patients who received both coriolus and reishi mushrooms showed positive results after only two months of treatment. (Research.)

The mushroom is also said to help in digestion. coriolus has prebiotics that allows the good bacteria in your body process food more efficiently.

Turkey tail mushroom shows some promise in limited studies with cancer patients, but more research is needed.

How To Prepare Turkey Tail Mushroom

The most common way to prepare coriolus is to boil it into tea.

Chop the mushroom into small pieces and add to a pot of water. 

Bring the water to a boil, then simmer for an hour. Strain the mixture through a colander.

If you want more variety in the tea, add almond or coconut milk, cinnamon, or ginger.

Learn more about Turkey Tail in our in-depth guide.

Lion's Mane

​The Lion’s Mane gets its name from its mane-like appearance. Unlike your typical-looking mushroom, a lion’s mane has no cap or stem. Instead, it has the formation of long spines that hang out like a mane of hair.

Lion’s mane is a seasonal mushroom; they can only be found in late summer to fall on dead or dying hardwood trees, especially oak and beech. They grow in North America, China, Japan, and Europe.

Even if you know where and when to look for them, it’s not a guarantee you will find them; this is a rare mushroom species that are hard to find. Here’s a helpful tip if you decide to ever hunt for them: They prefer to be as high as possible, so look up when eyeing decaying or dead trees to increase your chances of spotting them.

Lion’s Mane Uses

Traditional Chinese Medicine has long prescribed this mushroom for stomach problems and to boost the immune system.

Modern research suggests that this mushroom has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties and may support the immune system against ​attack. (Study)

Other research suggests that the mushroom may affect nerve growth and may even be used to treat dementia, Alzheimer's disease, muscular dystrophy, senility, Parkinson's Disease, and other neurological conditions. (Study)

Lion’s mane has been making a hit in the nootropics space due to its potent effects on the brain. Lion’s mane is said to increase the amount of NGF in the brain, a crucial protein for nerve cell function. (Study)

Preparation

The good thing about this mushroom is that it can be prepared in many ways. Some consider the mushroom a gourmet edible mushroom with a slightly chewy texture and a taste somewhat reminiscent of cooked lobster or shrimp.

Tough and watery by nature, the trick in preparing this mushroom is to simmer it over a long period. Adding spices is not recommended until the very end of the process because the mushroom is expected to give off a lot of water while cooking.

If you want to take Lion’s Mane for health benefits, we recommend Wild Lion's Mane.

Check out our favorite Lion's Mane mushroom recipes here.

Reishi Mushroom

​Reishi mushroom is common in central Maine and elsewhere in the northeast of the US. It grows on dead or dying eastern hemlock, a common tree in that region. It is also found in China, has been used for thousands of years in Chinese medicine, and is thought to confer longevity.

Its bright red colors make it easy to spot, but this color will start to varnish as the mushroom matures. The color of the pores is white to light tan on the outside and often brown on the inside. Some reishi doesn’t have stems, while some have branches that grow up to several inches long. The brown spores tend to cover the cap as the mushroom matures.

Reishi Benefits

The mushroom contains protein-bound polysaccharides known to have medicinal properties.

Formal studies of the mushroom conducted in the 1970s in China and Japan showed the mushroom strengthened immunity by activating immune cells. (Similar research: 1​)

What made this mushroom unique from other medicinal mushrooms was the presence of secondary metabolites called triterpenoids, a phytochemical known to provide various health benefits.

Reishi is recommended as an analgesic, anti-allergy remedy, anti-inflammatory agent, antibacterial agent, and antioxidant. Reishi has also been linked with lowering blood pressure, enhancing bone marrow function, and promoting calm and muscle relaxation. (Source)

Preparation

The best way to consume the reishi is tea. The tea is pleasant but bitter, so feel free to use flavors like honey, xylitol, or another preferred sweetener to make it more enjoyable.

Wild Shroom #1: Reishi Powder Extract is a hardwood cultivated Reishi powder.

Maitake Mushroom

​Often called “Hen of the Wood” because their formation resembles a hen, the maitake mushroom has also been called ram’s head or sheep’s head mushroom.

The fungus is native to China, northeastern Japan, and North America (most prolifically in the northeastern regions, although it can also be found as far west as Idaho), where it is also called the signorina mushroom. The maitake is often easy to find because it is a perennial fungus that grows in the same place for several years in succession.

It is widely eaten in Japan and is becoming more popular in western cuisine. However, care should also be taken as it has been reported to cause allergic reactions in rare cases.

In Japan, maitake mushrooms can grow to more than 100 pounds, which is why it is also called the "King of Mushrooms.”

There’s a warning about gathering maitake; they look exactly like some other poisonous mushroom species. So make sure you do proper research should you decide to take one of these chicken-like fungi home.

Maitake Uses

The Chinese and Japanese have long used maitake mushrooms as medicine for ailments like hay fever and chronic fatigue.

For modern illnesses, maitake is often used to treat​ inflammation and is thought to relieve the side effects of chemotherapy. It is also used for HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol treatments. (Research: 1​)

Maitake mushrooms were also found to help with weight loss or control. They also contain chemicals that may help fight tumors. (Research)

Studies have shown that maitake can lower blood pressure, improve cholesterol levels, lower blood sugar levels, and reduce weight in rats; however, a definitive study has yet to be performed on humans. (Research)

Maitake Preparation

This is another mushroom that’s great for eating. You can pull these apart and sauté them until some color on each si​de. They can also be grilled.

Add them to an omelet or brew them as tea.

Shiitake Mushroom

​The Chinese have used Shiitake mushrooms medicinally for more than 6,000 years.

Shiitake used to be gathered in the wild, but after its medicinal properties were shown through research, farmers began cultivating them as demand increased. China now yields around 80 percent of the worldwide production of this mushroom, a distinction that used to belong to Japan.

Their rich flavor has made them famous among many American foodies and health enthusiasts. There are also now around 200 shiitake mushroom growers in the US.

The mushroom doesn’t look special; the cap color is dark or light brown, and there can be white spots on the edges and towards the center.

Shitake Uses

Studies show shiitake mushrooms can fight obesity through their natural dietary fiber, support immune function, reduce inflammation, and fight bacteria. (Research)

​According to research, the mycochemicals in shiitake mushrooms may have a potential role in fighting​ inflammation. (Research)

The mushroom also supports cardiovascular health by interfering with the production of cholesterol in the liver and keeping cells from sticking to blood vessel walls to form plaque buildup. (Research)

Shiitake also boosts energy and brain functions by being a good source of B vitamins that help support adrenal function and turn nutrients from food into usable energy.

Preparation

There are many ways to add whole shiitake mushrooms to your diet, with many recipes found with a quick Google search. Here’s a rough guide to culinary shiitake prep:

Wash them thoroughly but gently, and remove any tough spots on the stems. Note that some dishes may require the removal of the entire branch. If the stems are tender, you don't have to cut them away. They can be used along with the caps for added flavor.

After washing, dry them by blotting them with a clean paper towel.

Cut the mushrooms down to the desired size. Some dishes require them whole, but those that feature them as a side dish usually need them to be sliced into pieces.

If you want to grill them, brush them with oil and put them on the grill for about 5 to 10 minutes. In a skillet, you can also sauté them with butter, salt, and pepper for 4 to 5 minutes.

If you want to roast them, you can do this with the mushroom sliced or whole. Baste them with oil and put them in the oven for about 15 minutes.

Oyster Mushroom

​Oyster mushrooms are another mushroom named by how they look. Oyster mushrooms—Pleurotus ostreatus—look like oysters. Like oysters of the sea variety, they can be eaten raw or cooked into dishes.

This mushroom is widespread in many temperate and subtropical forests worldwide, although it is absent from the Pacific Northwest of North America. The common oyster mushroom can grow in many places, but some species, like the branched mushroom, can only grow on trees.

The Germans first cultivated the mushroom to offset food shortages during World War I. Now it is known commercially around the world as a gourmet mushroom.

Oyster Mushroom Uses

Aside from culinary applications, this mushroom is also known for several health benefits, owing to its unique characteristic of having nitrogen. This mushroom is one of the few known carnivorous mushrooms out there. Its mycelia can kill and digest nematodes (worms), which is believed to be how the fungi get nitrogen.

A study showed that consumption of oyster mushroom extracts lowered cholesterol levels in some patients. This was because oyster mushrooms produced the cholesterol-lowering drug lovastatin. (Study)

The mushroom has also demonstrated immunological activity; one study credited this to the presence of statins. (Study)

Preparation

To clean oyster mushrooms cut off the lower part of the stems (this applies to the most variety of mushrooms) as it is bitter and usually too fibrous to chew and digest. If you have wild oyster mushrooms, flush the spaces in the gills to clean out any unwanted debris or insects.

Gently press the mushrooms between paper or cloth towels to remove excess liquid.

Oyster mushrooms are excellent for stir-fried dishes since the cap is thin and cooks quickly. However, if you want to add it to a word that requires a long cooking time, add these mushrooms only at the last cooking stage.

To preserve oyster mushrooms, store them in the freezer after briefly sautéing them in butter; oyster mushrooms dehydrate rapidly.

Polyporus Mushroom

​Polyporus mushrooms are a family of fungi that typically have giant golden brown shrooms with a saddle-shaped body with large pores and a white underside. This is why it’s also commonly called The Dryad’s Saddle.

Polyporus mushrooms form around the roots of dead hardwoods, mainly in May or June in the US. A dead tree lying on the ground is an excellent place to look; however, they are occasionally also found on living hardwood trees.

Typically this mushroom can be found in abundance in many parts of Western Europe as well as the Rocky Mountains of the US and China.

The wetter the area, the better your chances of finding these mushrooms. The good news is that they will be found in the same places each year until the wood is consumed, so if you find a good clump in one place one year, recheck the same spot next year.

Polyporus Mushroom Uses

Polyporus fungi have traditionally been used in Chinese Medicine for thousands of years to treat and prevent many illnesses owing to their ability to boost the immune system.

It has also been used to treat diarrhea as it absorbs excessive moisture accumulating in the stomach, resulting in the hardening of the stool. (Research)

It is also used as a diuretic; Polyporus is used to get rid of the toxins causing infections in the urinary tract. This way, it is also good for the kidneys. (Research)

Some herbalists recommend Polyporus for maintaining overall joint health. It also relieves edema by allowing the excess water to be flushed out through the urine. (Source)

Preparation

Slice them into thin strips and cook them fast, but be warned that overcooking will cause them to become tough.

Sautéing or pan frying is an excellent way to prepare it too.

Like other wild mushrooms, this one can give off an attractive aroma, but this smell also disappears within hours after it is picked.

Drying them can also turn them into white and crunchy edible chips sprinkled with a bit of Wild Salt. This process can also retain some of their smell as unpicked mushrooms.

They can also be made into a powder for brewing tea.

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