Whether it's reishi for sleep, or lion's mane for focus or cordyceps for your biceps, there's a mushroom supplement to sort you out. Here's what to look for

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From reishi to cordyceps via lion’s mane, chaga and turkey tail, medicinal mushrooms (or functional mushrooms) have become a wellness obsession. They claim to change how you feel and  function in specific ways, depending on your ‘shroom of choice. Some aficionados are even dosing according to the effect they want to create. Need an extra brain boost? Ask your barista for some lion’s mane in your latte. A pre-workout fix? That’ll be cordyceps. Need help nodding off?  Sip a reishi hot chocolate.

GTG columnist Elle Macpherson understands the magic of mushrooms (her WelleCo Super Elixir contains various ‘shroom extracts). Model Gisele Bundchen has raved on Instagram about lion’s mane helping her with energy, ditto comedy actor Aisling Bea, who adds it to her coffee on "the not so great days" to, she says, "help with focus and my brain". And US rapper Wiz Khalifa loves lion’s mane so much he’s launched Mistercap’s , a kitsch grow-your-own mushroom kit (sadly it doesn’t ship to the UK). Meanwhile, TikTok is putting the fun into fungi with 60m views and counting for #medicinalmushrooms.

But is there really a mushroom for every mood and health niggle, as these devotees insist? We asked the experts about the difference between the functional fungi, what to look for in a supplement and the science behind the claims.

What is a medicinal mushroom?

The medicinal (or functional) mushroom label is generally reserved for those species with higher levels of bioactive compounds (like beta-glucans and triterpenes) rather than bog-standard edible mushrooms. They are concentrated versions of any edible mushrooms, with (in a good product) specific doses of active compounds that give you therapeutic benefits, says Aliza Marogy, formulator and founder of Inessa supplements.

They are backed by an impressive amount of research. "Medicinal mushroom extracts have been studied and used for prevention, alleviating and healing of multiple diseases and conditions," says Esteban Sinde Stompel, chief research and innovation officer at mushroom specialists Hifas da Terra, an organic brand founded by an oncologist and leading the way in the use of mushrooms for medicinal benefits. 

Benefits of medicinal mushrooms 

  • They're good for your immune system. Functional mushrooms are great 'immunomodulators', meaning they can reduce or enhance your body’s immune response. “Multiple clinical trials have demonstrated this property of mushrooms’ active compounds, in particular, beta-glucans and triterpenes," says Stompel.
  • They’re prebiotics - probiotic foods that feed your good gut bacteria.
  • They are adaptogens, nature's stress regulators. “Some species, like reishi, have been found to contain more than 400 active biomolecules in a single mushroom," says Stompel.

The ones most commonly used in supplements are reishi, chaga, lion’s mane, cordyceps and tremella (maitake, Royal Sun and turkey tail among the lesser-known species) and they all have slightly different effects and uses.

There has been quite the explosion of powders, capsules and even adaptogenic coffee brands containing mushroom blends to relax, energise, stimulate, protect and hydrate but, as with any supplement, not all are formulated equally. Stompel points to a 2017 US study that found 75 per cent of reishi products on the market contain only traces of reishi or even no fungi at all. So it pays to know how to sniff out a quality ‘shroom supplement. And that's where can help.

How to find a good-quality mushroom supplement

  • Look for one made with the  ‘fruiting body’

A quality mushroom supplement should contain the fruiting body of the mushroom, says Clarissa Berry, holistic nutritionist for Dirtea. By that, she means the actual cap and stalk we know as a mushroom, not its ‘mycelium’, the fluffy-looking, root-like fibres at the base of the stalk. While the mycelium has some active compounds, the fruiting body is far more concentrated.

  • ‘Full spectrum’ isn’t a selling point

Where ‘full spectrum’ is often regarded as a thing to look for in CBD oils and drops, this is not the case with mushrooms. “It means the product contains some combination of mycelium and fruiting bodies (also referred to as ‘mushroom biomass’), making it impossible to know the ratio: it could be 99 per cent fibres and 1 per cent mushrooms,” says Amy Peacock, founder of Earths Secret. You want your product to be as transparent and specific about its ingredients as possible.

  • Look for ‘standardised’

The words ‘standardised extract’, or a breakdown on the label which shows the quantity of each active ingredient (such as polysaccharides or beta-glucans) mean you get proper medicinal value, says Marogy.

  • Go for 'mushroom extract', not 'raw' or powdered mushrooms 

When it comes to veg, the word 'raw' is a health signifier. But ‘raw’ mushrooms, as opposed to mushroom extracts, are harder to digest. “Our digestive system is not good at breaking down the cell wall of mushrooms (like we break down plants to extract the valuable compounds),” says Zain Peer, co-founder of London Nootropics. “So rather than a raw mushroom powder made of fruiting bodies, you want their extracts, meaning the active compounds have been made bio-available for us to absorb.”

  • Find the right extraction process

“The way these active extracts are obtained can determine how easily your body can absorb them, and therefore their potency,” says Berry. “For maximum benefit, you should be looking for a dual process of both alcohol and water extraction. This is because some active compounds are soluble in water and others in alcohol.”

  • Err on the dark side

“If you can, check the colour of the product,” says Berry. “Mushroom blends overall should be a rich, dark colour. Reishi and chaga specifically are very dark.”

  • Check where the ’shrooms were grown

Wild-harvested mushrooms are the most expensive as they are harder to obtain – but they are best as they will contain a greater number of active compounds. Another good but more affordable options is, says Berry, “mushrooms grown on natural substrates, such as trees and logs, which imitates how they grow naturally. " 

She advises steering away from mushrooms cultivated on grain “because this isn’t the mushrooms’ natural food. They won’t have the same concentration of beneficial medicinal compounds.” Hifas da Terra is one brand that grows all its own mushrooms  to ensure quality supplements.

  • Look for proof

Berry suggests checking whether the supplements have been third-party tested and whether the concentration of active ingredients has been verified.

  • Go organic

Buying organic ensures your supplement is free from pesticides, herbicides and heavy metals.

Which type of mushroom supplement do you need?  

All medicinal mushrooms are great for supporting your gut and healthy immune function. Each also has its own unique set of benefits, some of which overlap. 

Reishi is for sleep, stress relief and longevity

Reishi is one of the best-known and most studied medicinal mushrooms, “associated with longevity thanks to its ability to help regulate immune function and the nervous system,” says Stompel. Berry adds that it stimulates the brain to produce calming neurotransmitters,  which means it’s a great one for reducing stress and anxiety. It may even improve sleep quality and duration. As a natural antihistamine, it can relieve hayfever symptoms,

Lion’s mane for focus, memory and all-round brain health

Lion's mane is the ‘brain mushroom,’ says Peer. “Its active compounds are known to cross the blood-brain barrier and can increase the growth of new neurons [which has led some research to suggest it may protect against dementia].” 

It’s associated with enhanced mental performance, memory, and focus, making it a good one to take in the morning. It’s also mood-balancing, reduces inflammation and supports healthy digestion.

Chaga for immunity, anti-ageing and great skin

Chaga is an immune-supporting powerhouse, particularly high in antioxidants and anti-inflammatories and “supported by hundreds of studies showing antiviral and even anti-tumour properties,” says Sophie Barret, mycotherapy advisor at Hifas da Terra. 

That’s not just good news for your immunity, it also means protection against the visible and invisible signs of ageing. According to Berry, it has the highest antioxidant potential of all foods and is also rich source of skin-protective melanin.

Cordyceps for energy, sports performance and libido

Cordyceps is associated with improving energy levels and “boosts aerobic capacity, oxygen flow and ATP, our energy molecule,” says Peer. It’s a smart pre-workout supplement as it can enhance both endurance and athletic performance – unsurprisingly, it can also improve libido. Immune support, stress relief, anti-ageing benefits, respiratory support (it could help alleviate asthma) are among other reported benefits.

The 12 best functional mushroom supplements

The women's health and beauty all-rounder: health: Hifas Da Terra Optimum, £65

Hifas da Terra really does set the standard for mushroom supplements that can make a difference to health, and this is the first mushroom blend formulated for women's health to help balance hormones, energy, immunity, sleep, stress and anxiety as well as supporting glowing skin. Optimum combines cordyceps, lion’s mane and reishi mushrooms with high-nutrient algae (chlorella and spirulina) plus Affron (from saffron), which has been studied to help with anxiety and depression and probiotics. It comes in a beautiful refillable glass jar.

Buy now

For immunity: Inessa Immunity Complex, £24.99 for 30 days

Teams immune-support hero mushrooms chaga and reishi with therapeutic doses of vitamin D, black elderberry, vitamin C, selenium, zinc and additional beta-glucans. This takes no prisoners when it comes to nixing that cold.

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For supercharging your morning run: The Herbtender Perform & Recover Training Mix, £27.50 for 30 days

Has dual-extracted, organic reishi and cordyceps extracts alongside their full-spectrum biomass, alongside energy-boosting adaptogens ginseng, rhodolia and vitamin C to help you train harder and minimise fatigue after your exertions.

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For a night-time calmer: Ancient & Brave Cacao + Reishi Rest Ritual, £28 for 25 servings

Organic, 100% fruiting body reishi extract with ashwagandha for a 360-degree soothing hot chocolate. There are hops, raw cocoa, prebiotics and baobab fruit pulp in here as well.

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To zhuzh up your libido: Erba Woke + Focus, £32.44 for 15 serving

Flavourless (well, practically) powder sachets you can add to a favourite drink, with a blend of adaptogens, nootropics and superfoods that increase focus and performance. Aside from cordyceps and lion’s mane (no details on their provenance), there’s ginseng, rhodolia, vitamin B12, astralagus root, and more in here.

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For all-day Zen: Dirtea Matcha Super Blend, £59.99 for 30 servings

A hefty dose of organic, dual-extracted chaga, reishi and tremella (rich in hyaluronic acid) fruiting body extracts work alongside soothing and antioxidant-rich ceremonial-grade matcha to give focused energy without agitation, and a hydrating skin boost as well. Add water and milk to cook up a brew and sip peacefully.

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To bust brain fog and calm nerves: Centred Organic Lion’s Mane Mushroom Extract, £32 for 30 days

This serious daily dose (1g – so 1000mg) of this nervous system balancer, extracted from or organic mushrooms cultivated on a wood-rich substrate, helped the brand’s co-founder recover from burnout and hair shedding.

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For sustained energy: Earth’s Secret Boost, £35 for 30 days

Organic reishi alongside other immunity and energy boosters black elderberry, spirulina, turmeric and ginger root to make you feel alive and support digestion as well.

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The coffee to improve memory: London Nootropics Flow Coffee, £15 for 12 sachets

An adaptogenic coffee formulated with dual-extracted lion's mane and rhodiola rosea: this combo of functional mushroom and other compounds that work synergistically is called ‘mushroom stacking’. It supports short and long-term memory and helps beat brain fog and procrastination.

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Best for keeping colds and niggles at bay: Wunder Workshop Superior Chaga Mushroom Powder, £25 for 12 days

This is ethically and sustainably wild-harvested from birch trees in a Chinese mountain range and is dual-extracted in order to create a high potency mushroom powder. There’s a breakdown of medicinal compound contents on the pot.

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For memory and energy : Anatome Cognitive Focus + Memory Support Supplement, £30 for 30 days

This combines focus and endurance ‘shrooms lion’s mane and cordyceps with memory-boosting bacopa monnieri and energising guarana. There’s also vitamins B6, B5, B12 and niacin to support the normal functioning of the nervous system and brain function.

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