Mushroom supplements are all the rage among herbalists and nutritionists these days, and the mighty maitake does not stand alone! Here’s a quick look at a few of our favorite mushrooms currently enjoyed as nutritional supplements.
The Maitake mushroom is known throughout the world by a number of different names. English speakers know it as Hen of the Woods, Ram’s Head, or Sheep’s Head. Italian American communities in the northeast often call it the Signorina mushroom. The word ‘maitake’ itself translates to ‘dancing mushroom’ in Japanese.
Native to Japan and North America, the maitake was a prized mushroom used in ancient Chinese and Japanese herbal medicine. It grows in distinctive clusters at the base of trees, particularly dead or dying oak and maple trees. In Japan, the Maitake is widely eaten as a culinary mushroom, and its popularity in the Western world is growing steadily. Likely the most studied mushroom, Maitake Mushroom Extract is traditionally used to support healthy immune function.*
Do you recognize this mushroom? It’s reishi, otherwise known as the Lingzhi mushroom – one of the oldest mushrooms known to have been used medicinally. East Asia is home to the Reishi, but it’s also found growing on a wide variety of trees in Eastern Hemlock Forests throughout the United States and even near the Amazon River in South America. The Reishi is soft and corky when fresh with a red, kidney-shaped cap. Because of its bitter taste it’s not normally consumed on its own; rather, it’s prepared as a hot water extract product or consumed as a nutritional supplement, like this one.
If you’ve ever eaten miso soup, chances are you’ve come across the Shiitake mushroom. This edible mushroom grows in humid climates on the decaying wood of deciduous trees, especially chesnut, oak, maple and poplar. In Japan, prior to 1982, shiitake could only be grown in specific locations using ancient methods. However, a report on the growth of the Japanese variety revealed opportunities that spurred cultivation in the U.S. Shiitake are now cultivated worldwide and account for 25% of total yearly production of mushrooms.
With the distinct appearance of burnt charcoal, the Chaga mushroom is the only mushroom on our list that’s primarily found in very cold, northern climates. Used in Russian and Eastern European Folk medicine and also common in Scandanavia, Chaga is commonly found on birch trees, where it grows very slowly. Chaga is traditionally grated into a fine powder and used to brew a dark, brown beverage that’s not unlike coffee or tea.
Our vegan and vegetarian readers may be more familiar with this mushroom than they realize. The unique texture of the Lion’s Mane mushroom when cooked is surprisingly similar to that of seafood. For this reason, Chinese chefs who specialize in vegetarian cuisine often use Lion’s Mane in place of meats like pork and lamb. Also called Bearded Tooth, Bearded Hedgehog or Pom Pom mushroom, Lion’s Mane grows primarily on hardwoods – especially American Beech – in the late summer and fall months throughout North America, Europe and Asia.
Known for its use in China and Tibet, Cordyceps is a stalk-like mushroom whose name translates from Chinese to ‘Winter Worm/Summer Grass.’ A Tibetan manuscripts dating all the way back to the 15th century outlined the potential medicinal effects of this exotic and unusual mushroom. Cordyceps is also known as Caterpillar Mushroom due to its unique, stalk-like shape.
Can’t decide which is right for you? Try a mushroom complex like this one, which contains maitake, reishi and shiitake in a single capsule.