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Health

The rise of mushrooms as medicine

November 17th 2017 / Susannah Taylor / 0 comment

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Mushrooms are the healthy super ingredient of the moment and are cropping up in all sorts of products from protein powders to skincare to coffee. Susannah Taylor investigates

Do you know your shiitake from your reishi, your maitake from your porcini? It seems we'd do well to remember the names as the wellbeing industry thinks mushrooms are a very big deal indeed. Wholefoods supermarket has named ‘functional mushrooms’ as one of the big health trends of 2018. Here's why.

They are officially a superfood.

Only last week, new research published in the Food Chemistry journal stated that mushrooms should be considered a superfood. In the study, food scientist professor Robert Beelman from Pennsylvania State University discovered that porcini mushrooms contain high levels of two key antioxidants, erghothioneine and glutathione, that help combat ageing and keep the brain healthy. In fact, research has shown that in countries where mushroom consumption is high there are fewer cases of Alzheimer's disease.

They help fight stress and boost immunity

Another factor that rates mushrooms high on the health barometer is that many, such as reishi and maitake, are high in ‘adaptogens’ - herbal compounds found in roots, barks, berries, leaves and mushrooms that help our body adapt to stress.

Naomi Buff, a wellness consultant has created a range of scientific superfood blends called Naomi’s Kitchen “Adaptogen is a term that defines a substance that positively influences different organ systems and acts to create bodily resistance to a wide array of biological, physical, chemical and emotional stress factors that occur in our normal daily lives.”

Sara Palmer Hussey, the scientist behind Naomi’s blends, says maitake mushrooms, used in the ‘Lean’ Blend', have the ability to stabilize blood sugar levels, reduce cholesterol and reduce high blood pressure. “Maitake mushrooms also have immunomodulation properties, which stabilise and boost the immune system, which is beneficial in fighting disease but also depressing disease in the case of autoimmune diseases.”

Nutritional therapist and author of Be Good to Your Gut Eve Kalinik is also a fan of mushrooms as medicine. “Mushrooms can modulate the immune system and help balance it – cordyceps and reishi particularly contain adaptogens. I use them for people who have asthma or hayfever, for stress management, andrenal fatigue, and helping people to be more resilient to stress.”

Rachel Landon, a naturopathic iridologist and herbalist, uses reishi the most out of the medicinal mushrooms, “In Chinese terms, the name means ‘auspicious mushroom’” she says. In her new book Super Herbs she talks about the reishi which in Chinese medicine is a ‘spirit plant’ and is said to balance the life-force energy, as well as mental and spiritual health. “They have been used for centuries to help enhance and extend life,” she says.

Don't dismiss the good old button mushroom.

According to Eve Kalinik we shouldn’t write them off. “Your faithful mushroom will have beneficial compounds in too, but just at lesser levels than the more medicinal ones. “But remember, it’s important to cook mushrooms in order to activate the polysaccharides to reap the health benefits,” she says.

M&S is the latest company to harness the magic of mushrooms and has spent five years developing its revolutionary Active Health mushrooms, said to provide 100 per cent of your daily dose of vitamin D.

Looking and tasting like very normal big button mushrooms, they containing vitamin B5 to fight fatigue and potassium to normalize blood pressure. Grown in the dark in Ireland they are given a regulated amount of sunlight to trigger the vitamin D producing action.

It is important, Eve stresses, to remember that mushrooms are known for absorbing chemicals from the soil so it’s important to buy organic ones (see The Mushroom Garden below).

Why are mushrooms having a moment now?

“In brief,” says Rachel, “people are so stressed now emotionally, physically and environmentally from technology, lack of real social community, and pollutants in our food, cosmetics, and cleaning products to name a few reasons. I have so many clients saying they are anxious, or constantly tired even after a good night’s sleep.

"Chronic illness is on the increase and prolonged stress has a debilitating effect on our immune system, endocrine and nervous system plus our digestive health and we are looking for solutions to balance us out.”

But don't pick them yourself…

It’s important you buy good quality mushrooms from safe sources. Eve advises, “Don’t go ‘shrooming’ (wild mushroom picking) without being with someone who knows that they are talking about – you really don’t want to get the hallucinogenic ones!”

Wellness brands and beauty brands are now infusing their products with the magic of mushrooms – here are some of our favourites:

1. Wellness blends

Naomi’s Kitchen (see above) is a range of 5 superfood powders with names such as 'I am Energised', 'I am Superwoman', 'I am Lean'. Containing maitake mushrooms which are abundant in adaptogens, they are also free from dairy, soy, whey, artificial sweeteners, synthetic fillers, vitamins and minerals. You mix them with your smoothie or a fruit juice for a healthy hit.

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Another superfood powder to add to smoothies and even tea, coffee, water, pancakes or yoghurt in the morning is Spirit dust by Moon Juice, a California-based brand passionate about beauty foods and high powered natural remedies. Containing reishi extract, it is said to help increase our resistance to stress.

2. Fungal flavourings

If you are looking to infuse your food with shroom superpowers, then look no further than the Mushroom Garden. Based in Snowdonia, they are a family run business that specializes in growing organic mushrooms which thrive in the misty, rainy Welsh weather and are award-winning producers of exciting mushroom products. You can buy dried shiitake, Mexican seasoning with a mushroom twist, shiitake mushroom powder and their award-winning Umami Seasoning which contains shiitake mushroom powder, Halon Mon sea salt and dry seaweed. You can use it as a rub on meats, in broths or as a salt alternative.

3. Shroom skincare

Mushroom ingredients are now cropping up in all sorts of skincare. One company that has long believed in their beautifying effects for a is Origins. Dr. Andrew Weil, who specializes in the uses of mushrooms has developed their newest formula, The Mega-Mushroom Skin Relief Collection. He has blended chaga mushrooms which are said to contains powerful anti-irritants and antioxidants, as well as the cordyceps mushroom, which originates from China and is known to create cellular energy necessary for the skin’s protective barrier. He has also used reishi extract which is said to calm the skin.

The range includes the Advanced Face Serum, £50 and Soothing Treatment Lotion, £27.50, both of which calm and soothe the skin while building skin’s resilience to stress.

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4. Mushroom makeup

Always ahead of the curve, makeup artist Charlotte Tilbury uses shiitake mushrooms in some of her products in an ingredient the company calls 'FermiProtect. It is said to help protect the collagen fibres of the skin, making skin look and feel firmer, toned and supple.

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It is present in her Supermodel Body, £45 skin highlighter and the Magic Foundation £30, to name a few.

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5. Fungus brews

Fancy a mushroom latte anyone? Before you write that off as pure fungus faddiness Nutritional Therapist Eve Kalinik has the reasoning behind it. “Adding mushroom powder to your coffee can help negate the jittery effect and prevent the adrenaline rush,” she says.

And it seems they are cropping up on café menus everywhere.The East London Juice Company are currently serving them and according to my taste sources, the umami flavour of the mushroom really enhances the coffee taste.

Meanwhile, on Chiltern Street, London Yeotown Kitchen serves a special blend of about several mushrooms in its adaptogenic latte, which tastes much nicer than it sounds. Fancy making your own at home? Mushroom-mad company FourSigmatic make amazing blends you can add to your tea or coffee from £8.95 here.

Prefer to pimp your hot chocolate? Look no further than Neal’s Yard Organic Cocoa Blend, £22, which contains extract of Shiitake to help de-frazzle your nerves.

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