No, not those magical mushrooms! I’m talking about the medicinal mushrooms that boost health and immunity. Not the kind that make you think you are in the Ewok village or a character in a video game (um, I’ve heard). I read about their amazing benefits in Delicious Living (read full article here). As a mushroom lover, I was excited to try out some of the medicinal varieties. I happen to teach one of my yoga classes in Kennett Square, which is known as the Mushroom Capital of the World. Phillips Mushroom Farms in Kennett Square is the largest grower of specialty mushrooms in the country. So, after my class last week, I headed to the Woodlands at Phillips and picked up some mushrooms to make an awesome mushroom bisque.
Read about the health benefits of mushrooms and some of the different medicinal varieties, or jump right to the mushroom bisque recipe at the end.
Neither fish nor foul, not animal nor even technically a plant, mushrooms occupy a nether-region of life, with tantalizing health benefits such as better athletic performance and even, perhaps, an answer to cancer.
Mushrooms are much more than just stir-fry fodder. Mushroom compounds called polysaccharides have been studied for decades for improving immunity. Beta-glucans in mushrooms have been proposed to act as “biological response modifiers,” based on their effects on the immune system. This means that they don’t so much stimulate the immune system as they simply make it work better.
Even though it seems as if mushrooms are only the above-ground fruiting bodies, the below-ground, root-like wisps of mushrooms’ mycelium are—similar to aspens—interconnected. And they can live on for decades and even centuries. What’s more is that there seems to be communication and budding nutrition benefits going on down there. Some mushroom-supplement makers tout the mycelium as being more beneficial than just the fruiting bodies, in the way that broccoli sprouts have more health-promoting nutrients than do the broccoli flower and stalk.
“The root-like mycelium has a greater range of supportive compounds as compared to a fruit body,” says Gina Rivers-Contla, national science educator at Host Defense Mushrooms. “The PubMed database houses over 10,000 studies that have been conducted over 60 years into the amazing and novel potential of mushroom mycelium.”
The compelling research around mushrooms and cancer has spurred interest in the “fungus among us” for everyday immune health. Mushrooms are even expanding into sports and performance, as well as general constitution-building nutrition. The mushroom mycelium is usually—but not always—the component used in supplements.
Here are a few of our favorite ’shrooms with potential health benefits backed by research:
This variety supports respiration, oxygen delivery and ATP synthesis for energy creation. It became famous in 1993 when Chinese runners won world championships and attributed their performance, in part, to cordyceps. One study showed 600 mg per day of cordyceps, combined with fellow adaptogen rhodiola at 1,400 mg per day, improved aerobic performance when training at altitude.
Lion’s mane is considered the “brain mushroom” because studies show it stimulates the creation of nerve growth factor, which keeps neurons ticking away upstairs and may inhibit the Alzheimer’s disease process.
Reishi is known in Traditional Chinese Medicine as the “mushroom of immortality.” Besides being a masterful tonic, reishi has been found to improve immune function among patients with late-stage cancer. Also, a 2017 study found when healthy people took 225 mg of reishi per day for six months, it acted as a substantial antioxidant with healthy liver effects.
Turkey tail is another immune-enhancer, thanks to the presence of beta-glucans. The National Institutes of Health and the FDA have been funding clinical trials of turkey tail to help with conventional cancer treatments. Six grams per day improved various markers of immune function.
Maitake contains beta-glucans for immune health. In fact, it might be the king of immunity—and not just in the mushroom set. It has been examined in breast cancer lab studies and seems to kill cancer cells by inducing apoptosis, or programmed cell death. In a published study of six individuals with various forms of cancer who were treated with maitake D-fraction, along with standard care, improvements were seen at doses ranging from 50–150 mg per day.
This is a super-yummy, immune-boosting, mushroom bisque. Why a bisque? One of the mushrooms I used was Lion’s Mane, which is said to taste a bit like lobster, so that made me think of bisque. And bisque is such a comfort food so it felt perfect for this late-fall, early-winter season. But, most important, my kids think they don’t like things like onions and mushrooms, but if I blend them up and they don’t know they are in there, they’ll eat them. My mushroom-hating son had 3 bowls!
And this mushroom bisque turned out amazing! It is Paleo, gluten-free, grain-free, dairy-free, and Vegan-able (just sub coconut oil for the ghee and veggie broth for chicken broth). It uses 2 kinds of medicinal mushrooms (Lion’s Mane and Maitake) and 4 kinds of classic mushrooms (Crimini, Yellow Oyster, Shitake, and Portabella caps). You can use whatever kind of mushrooms you like but these were all available at Phillips, and they were all delicious. I bought a half pound each of the Lion’s Mane and Maitake. The rest came in a “gourmet blend” box totaling 3 lbs. So, each variety was 1/2-1/3 lb. I used about half of each and used the rest for omelets and other yummy recipes throughout the week.
Magical Mushroom Bisque
- 1/2 lb Lion’s Mane (Pom Pom) mushrooms
- 1/2 lb Maitake mushrooms
- 2 lbs mixed mushrooms (I used app. 1/4 lb each Crimini, Yellow Oyster, Shitake, and Portabella mushrooms)
- 3 TBS ghee (or butter or coconut oil), approximately – adjust to your taste
- 2 onions
- 4 large cloves garlic
- 3/4 oz. (about 1 package) fresh herbs – I used Thyme, Rosemary, and Sage, about 1/4 oz. each
- 4 bay leaves
- 3 TBS coconut aminos
- 3 TBS tapioca flour
- 2 cups chicken broth (or vegetable broth)
- 2 cups full-fat coconut milk
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Heat large saucepan and melt ghee.
- Chop onions (big and thick slices are fine since we’ll be blending them up) and cook about 7 minutes.
- Prep mushrooms. Wash all of them. My Portabellas came as caps, but if yours don’t remove the stems. It is your choice to remove or keep the grills inside. They are edible, but can make whatever you cook darker (and yucky-looking if it’s your only mushroom) – I had so many mushrooms I left them in. Twist off the Shitake stems. Remove the Oyster stems (it’s okay to leave some little ones on). Remove the base/s of the Maitake mushrooms. You can use all the parts of the Lion’s Mane and Criminis. Chop all mushrooms in big thick slices.
- Remove onions from heat and put in blender (or food processor).
- Add mushrooms to saucepan and cook on high heat, about 5 minutes (I cooked them in batches because I had 3 lbs. The Oyster, Maitake, and Lion’s Mane cooked quickly – about 4 minutes – and the others took closer to 6.). Add more ghee as needed.
- While mushrooms are cooking, mince garlic and chop herbs.
- Remove mushrooms from heat and transfer to blender with onions.
- Lower heat to medium, add garlic to saucepan (add more ghee if needed) and heat a few minutes.
- Blend mushrooms and onions to a thick consistency.
- Add blended mushroom onion mix to saucepan.
- Add herbs, bay leaves, and coconut aminos.
- Stir tapioca flour into broth. Whisk briskly. Stir mixture into saucepan.
- Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Stir in coconut milk.
- Cook on medium heat for about 15 minutes.
- Add salt and pepper if needed.
- Lower heat to very low and cover.
- Serve when ready.