Functional Mushrooms: The Ultimate Guide

By Bridget Reed
Medically Reviewed by:

Heidi Wright, BSN, RN, PCCN, and Certified Master Herbalist

Functional Mushrooms: The Ultimate Guide

November 03, 2023

Welcome to the world of functional mushrooms, where ancient wisdom intertwines with modern wellness practices. These unique forms of fungi have a rich history, once treasured in ancient herbal medicine, and are now re-emerging in today's quest for natural health support. 

This guide is designed to help you understand how functional mushrooms can maintain and support various aspects of your health, such as cognitive function, vitality, and overall wellness. So whether you're a health enthusiast intrigued by natural wellness strategies or someone just starting the journey to understanding the healing power of foods, let's dive into the functionally fabulous world of mushrooms.

What Is the History of Functional Mushrooms?

Functional mushrooms have been around for centuries, revered as significant components in traditional medicine. Particularly, they hold a key role in Eastern cultures, like China and Japan, treasured for their ability to support various structures and functions of the body.

Functional Mushrooms in Chinese Herbal Medicine

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Reishi — the "mushroom of immortality" — has been utilized for over 2,000 years. Renowned for its ability to support vitality and overall wellness, Reishi holds an esteemed place in TCM.

Role in Japanese Kampo Medicine

Like TCM, Japanese Kampo medicine also recognizes the health-supporting potential of functional mushrooms. Maitake and Turkey Tail mushrooms, in particular, have been used to maintain and support essential body functions.

Emergence in the Western World

While functional mushrooms have a deep history, they have only recently caught the attention of the Western world. Increasingly, modern research is focusing on uncovering the health-supporting properties of these potent fungi, contributing to a renewed global interest in their potential.

From Ancient Practices to Modern Wellness

The journey of functional mushrooms, from being used by ancient herbalists to modern health companies incorporating them in innovative wellness products, is truly fascinating. 

In their journey through time, they have earned recognition and found their place in wellness practices globally. Enjoying a resurgence in popularity today, functional mushrooms continue to maintain and support our health and well-being in diverse ways.

What Are Functional Mushrooms?

When we hear “functional mushrooms,” what exactly are we referring to? Essentially, functional mushrooms are specific types of mushrooms known for their unique properties and nutrient profiles. Unlike common culinary mushrooms, functional mushrooms contain a variety of bioactive compounds, making them largely beneficial additions to our health routines.

Unique Properties and Nutritional Content

Functional mushrooms are valued for their diverse nutritional content. Rich in a plethora of vitamins, minerals, and essential amino acids, these mushrooms make for a great inclusion in our diets and wellness lineups. However, what sets them apart is a potent compound called beta-glucans, a type of polysaccharide known for supporting and maintaining overall wellness.

The Biological Structure of Functional Mushrooms

The benefits of functional mushrooms are largely thanks to their unique biological structures, composed of mycelium, fruiting body, and spores. Each part lends to the overall health-supporting properties of these potent fungi.

What Are Some Common Types of Functional Mushrooms?

Now that we’ve covered some of the basics, let's explore a few of the most popular functional mushrooms, each with unique properties and benefits that can help support your wellness.

Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum)

Widely known as one of the most potent adaptogens available in nature, Reishi mushrooms possess unique properties that help support the body’s ability to adapt to various stressors. With their potential to encourage deeper and restful sleep, support the immune system, and enhance emotional well-being, they are considered a treasured ingredient in traditional wellness practices. 

At Herbaly, we understand the potential that Reishi brings to the table — that's why it's a key ingredient in our Wellness Mushroom Complete for Vitality Capsules. This powerful blend also features other health-supporting functional mushrooms like Maitake and Turkey Tail, working together to contribute to cognitive function and vitality support. 

Cordyceps (Cordyceps sinensis)

Meet the caterpillar mushroom, another marvel of nature. Aside from its unusual growth cycle, the Cordyceps mushroom has been embraced in traditional Tibetan and Chinese medicine for its potential to enhance vitality and endurance. It owes these properties to adenosine, a potent compound naturally present in cordyceps, which can boost energy production at a cellular level. 

Additionally, it's known to help support lung health and maintain a balanced stress response, making it a beneficial addition to your wellness routine.

Maitake (Grifola frondosa)

Lovingly called the "dancing mushroom" in Japan, Maitake carries potential advantages in blood sugar support, making it an excellent ally for those managing their glycemic index. It achieves this by helping to maintain proper insulin sensitivity and glucose metabolism. 

Moreover, boasting a rich load of secondary metabolites, Maitake also helps support the body's defense system, offering a natural route to maintaining immune health.

Shiitake (Lentinula edodes)

A delectable staple in Asian cuisines, Shiitake’s benefits venture beyond its culinary uses. Rich in the plant compounds lentinan and eritadenine, Shiitake may support the body’s cardiovascular system by maintaining proper cholesterol and blood pressure levels. 

Plus, it delivers a potent dose of antioxidants and vitamins that fortify the body's defense system and support healthy skin, enhancing your well-being inside and out.

Chaga (Inonotus obliquus)

The unique black mass growing on birch trees may not look appealing, but Chaga is a powerhouse of wellness benefits. It's full of antioxidants that help support overall cell health during exposure to damaging free radicals. Free radicals can contribute to premature aging and cellular damage. 

Traditionally consumed as a tea in colder regions like Siberia, it also nourishes the immune system, enhancing overall resilience.

Agaricus Blazei Murrill (ABM)

Direct from the rainforests of Brazil, Agaricuz blazei murrill boasts an impressive beta-glucan content, a type of polysaccharide acclaimed for its immune-supportive properties. Besides, it's known to contain ergosterol, a precursor to vitamin D, contributing further to its health-promoting abilities. ABM is known for supporting cellular health and maintaining a healthy response to allergens, keeping your natural defenses strong.

Lion's Mane (Hericium erinaceus)

One of the most distinctive among functional mushrooms, Lion's Mane has a unique ability to support brain health. Known for its potential to support memory, creativity, and concentration, this mushroom could play an essential role in the overall maintenance of cognitive health. Further, it may also maintain gut health — another critical aspect of overall wellness.

Our Mood Mushroom Complete for Stress Capsules at Herbaly are infused with this powerful fungus, highly beneficial and supportive in your journey towards optimum cognitive health.

Tremella (Tremella fuciformis)

Often referred to as snow fungus or silver ear mushroom, Tremella is a star ingredient in many beauty treatments. It contains high levels of polysaccharides that assist with skin hydration by drawing moisture directly into skin cells. Besides its moisturizing properties, Tremella also supports overall skin health through its antioxidant properties, helping to soothe irritation and promote a radiant complexion.

How To Maximize the Benefits of Functional Mushrooms

Now that we've discussed the variety of functional mushrooms and their benefits, it is useful to learn how to maximize their value in our daily routines and wellness practices. Here are a few tips and suggestions to make the most out of this wonderful trove of nature's giving:

Assess Your Needs

Each functional mushroom has its unique properties. Assess which one aligns best with your health goals. For instance, if cognitive health is your goal, you may want to consider Lions Mane. “If you have any health conditions or take medication, discuss with your healthcare provider before starting a new supplement,” adds Heidi Wright, a Registered Nurse and Certified Herbalist.

Start Small

It always helps to acclimate your system by starting with smaller amounts when incorporating functional mushrooms into your routine. “Start with one kind of functional mushroom at a time,” Wright adds. “Use small amounts, and gradually increase your intake as your body adjusts and you become familiar with how they make you feel.”

Consistency Is Key

For maximum benefits, incorporate functional mushrooms as part of your daily routine. As with any new routine or habit, consistency is key if you want to experience the most benefits possible.

Maintain a Balanced Diet

While functional mushrooms have numerous benefits, it's essential to pair them with a balanced, nutrient-rich diet. True wellness and health lie in a combination of a vibrant lifestyle, a diverse diet, and nature's wellness supplements like functional mushrooms.

Listen to Your Body

Every individual is unique, and so are our bodies. Remain mindful of any changes in your body as you start using functional mushrooms. If any unfavorable reactions appear, do not hesitate to reach out to a healthcare professional.

Wrapping Things Up

At Herbaly, we embrace the power of functional mushrooms as part of our commitment to blending ancient medicinal wisdom with modern wellness. Our mission is to unveil the vast potential of these natural remedies and reveal the healthful benefits they provide. 

As we explore the bounty of nature, we invite you to join us on this journey, nurturing a comprehensive approach to health and wellness. We believe that your well-being is a journey, and we are here to support each step towards achieving your health goals. 

Let's journey through wellness together.


What Are Functional Mushrooms and How Can They Be Used in Cooking? | Escoffier

Medicinal Mushrooms: Ancient Remedies Meet Modern Science | PMC

Reishi Mushroom | Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center

4 Benefits of Chaga Mushrooms | Cleveland Clinic

Benefits and Uses of Shiitake Mushrooms | Unite For HER: Helping to Empower and Restore

Edible Mushrooms and Beta-Glucans: Impact on Human Health | PMC

Bioactive Ingredients and Medicinal Values of Grifola frondosa (Maitake) | PMC

Pharmacological and therapeutic potential of Cordyceps with special reference to Cordycepin | PMC

The Medicinal Mushroom Agaricus blazei Murrill: Review of Literature and Pharmaco-Toxicological Problems | PMC

Neurohealth Properties of Hericium erinaceus Mycelia Enriched with Erinacines | PMC.

A review on the production, structure, bioactivities and applications of Tremella polysaccharides | PMC

FOLLOW US @Herbaly