4 Best Mushrooms to Boost the Immune System
Maintaining a robust immune system is essential to staying healthy, and many mushrooms can assist in this. Mushrooms have been used medicinally for thousands of years, for a good reason. These mushrooms provide your immune system with just what it needs.
Some of these mushrooms can be eaten, however, the majority of them are best taken as tinctures, powders, or supplements. These methods concentrate the immune-boosting properties of the mushroom to supercharge your health.
A little bit of mushroom extract in my morning coffee? Yes, please! It’s that easy. Extracts of these mushrooms are available in individual formulas and also in combinations with each other.
Packed with antioxidants, this powerhouse of a mushroom boasts strong anti-inflammatory properties as well as being an antihistamine. It’s also known to be calming due to its triterpene content, which is a compound found naturally in plants, animals, and fungi and is a mood-enhancer. This includes easing depression, alleviating anxiety, and improving sleep.
The immune system operates much better when the body is rested, calm, and happy. Stress is one of the most common defeaters of the immune system, wearing it down until it can’t provide adequate support.
This is a favorite mushroom of Eastern practitioners, based on literally thousands of years of use. Current research demonstrates it is an immune modulator, which means it can activate or suppress the immune system based on what your body needs at the time. Reishi is listed as an official cancer treatment in Japan.
Reishi is available in many forms, including tinctures, teas, powders, and capsules. If you can access whole Reishi, you can make your own tea or tincture quite easily. Try adding a dropper-full to your morning coffee or smoothie for an easy boost.
This unique fungus contains immense amounts of antioxidants that boost the immune system, but beyond that, it also gene-protective. Gene protectors, as the name suggests, protect genes in the body that prevent diseases.
This is excellent for boosting immunity against the common cold, as well as fighting more serious issues like cancer, hyperglycemia, tumors, ulcers, and dangerous microbes.
Like Reishi, Chaga also possesses immune-modulating properties. It boosts the immune system, if needed, or calms it down for those that have an overactive immune system, which is equally as dangerous.
Chaga is difficult to source whole, but if you know a local forager you may get lucky. Alternately, try these resources for whole or powdered Chaga: Birch Boys, Sayan Chaga, and My Berry Organics. The flavor is earthy and is best added to coffee or a spicy chai tea.
How To Make Chaga Tea
- Add 2-4 ounces chaga with 4 cups water. Use ground chaga, or 1” chunks. Break up larger pieces, if necessary.
- Slow simmer for two hours. [do not let it boil, boiling kills antioxidants]
- Remove from heat and let cool.
- Strain out chunks. [They can be reused for another batch, if desired]
- Store chaga tea in a glass bottle for 2-3 months in the refrigerator.
A small, unimposing mushroom, Turkey Tail is a powerful player when it comes to the immune system. PSK (polysaccharide krestin), a compound in Turkey Tail, stimulates the immune system.
It has shown effectiveness in boosting the immune system of people undergoing chemotherapy as well as increasing survival rates of people battling certain cancers.
PSK stimulates cells in the body that are responsible for fighting viral infections, and does it without side effects. Turkey Tail is a best-selling drug in Japan for use in conjunction with chemotherapy to treat cancer.
Turkey Tail is best taken as a tincture or powder. The taste is quite strong, so add it to something that will hide the flavor, like a smoothie or coffee.
One of the most well-studied mushrooms, there is a reason Shiitake is recommended as an immune-booster. A randomized study of healthy adults demonstrated daily consumption of Shiitake increased overall immunity. This mushroom is also high in vitamin B, vitamin D, niacin, selenium, and 7 essential amino acids, which are excellent for enhancing immunity.
Most notable, however, is the occurrence of Lentinan, a compound found only in Shiitake. In laboratory studies, lentinan kills microbes and viruses directly.
Preliminary laboratory tests also demonstrate lentinan has the potential to fight cancer. However, this is not because it kills cancer cells, but because it boosts the immune system.
Shiitake powder is excellent added to soups, stir-fries, and other savory dishes. It has a distinctive umami flavor.
Sourcing Medicinal Mushrooms
A search of the internet will provide you with an abundance of medicinal mushroom providers. Do some research first and only buy from a reliable source, preferably one with stellar reviews. The companies listed below offer excellent quality:
- Lull C, Wichers HJ, Savelkoul HF. Antiinflammatory and immunomodulating properties of fungal metabolites. Mediators Inflamm. 2005;2005(2):63–80. doi:10.1155/MI.2005.63
- Balandaykin, Mikhail & Zmitrovich, Ivan. (2015). Review on Chaga Medicinal Mushroom, Inonotus obliquus (Higher Basidiomycetes): Realm of Medicinal Applications and Approaches on Estimating its Resource Potential. International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms. 17. 95-104. 10.1615/IntJMedMushrooms.v17.i2.10.
- Dai X, Stanilka JM, Rowe CA, Esteves EA, Nieves C Jr, Spaiser SJ, Christman MC, Langkamp-Henken B, Percival SS. Consuming Lentinula edodes (Shiitake) Mushrooms Daily Improves Human Immunity: A Randomized Dietary Intervention in Healthy Young Adults. J Am Coll Nutr. 2015;34(6):478-87. doi: 10.1080/07315724.2014.950391.
- Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, “Lentinan” https://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/integrative-medicine/herbs/lentinan
- Powell, M. 2014. Medicinal Mushrooms: A Clinical Guide. Mycology Press.
- Tsukagoshi et al. 1984. Krestin (PSK). Cancer Treatment Reviews 11:131-155.