The human immune system is a complex balancing act. When we have an infection or disease to fight, our immune system “upregulates” (becomes stronger) to battle the infection. Too much immune activity, however, can lead to an overactive immune system — which is the case in autoimmune conditions.
Medicinal mushrooms (not to be confused with mind-altering magic mushrooms) have been shown to have immunomodulating effects, meaning they help keep the immune system in balance — stimulating it when there’s something to fight (such as cancer) and downregulating it when it’s overactive.
Note: Mushrooms may not be right for your particular condition. When dealing with a serious illness or diagnosis, always consult your doctor to determine the best treatment plan for you.
Mushrooms and the Immune System
Helping to regulate the immune system is one of the greatest known superpowers of all medicinal mushrooms. Every medicinal mushroom covered in my book, The Rebel’s Apothecary, has been shown in studies to have potent immunomodulating effects, and mushrooms have been celebrated as immune enhancers throughout all of history.
All medicinal mushrooms contain powerful polysaccharides called beta-glucans, which have been found to help fight inflammation and balance the immune system. “Beta-glucans attach themselves to the receptor sites on the immune cells and activate them, allowing them to recognize cancer cells as ‘foreign’ and create a higher level of response,” says Robert Rogers in The Fungal Pharmacy.
It’s tough to pick one medicinal mushroom as the most powerful for immunity — they all have tremendous benefits to the immune system, so taking a medicinal mushroom blend is a powerful choice. Many mushroom supplement companies have “immunity” blends that include all seven of the mushrooms mentioned in my book. Three of my favorite spots to buy from are Catskill Fungi, Four Sigmatic and SuperFeast.
And, as with the “entourage effect” seen in cannabis, taking multiple mushrooms together may be more effective than taking just one.
How to Use Medicinal Mushrooms to Support the Immune System:
- Add a blend of medicinal mushrooms to your daily regimen. Chaga, reishi, turkey tail, shiitake, maitake, lion’s mane and cordyceps have all been shown to have immune-balancing effects and antioxidants, which fight free radicals in the body. You can find blends in tincture or powder form to add to a daily smoothie or tea and you can also find mushroom blends in capsules.
- If you’re coming down with a cold, take a chaga or reishi tincture (or drink chaga or reishi tea) every day. Chaga and reishi are both powerhouses for immunity and their potent medicinal properties can ward off sickness and boost you back to vitality.
- Cook with medicinal mushrooms, especially shiitake and maitake. Lentinan, the active compound in shiitake mushrooms, has been widely studied for its immune system–enhancing effects. A compound in maitake mushrooms called D-fraction has been shown to support the immune system and fight cancer cells. To add an extra immune system boost to your daily life, add shiitake and maitake to your cooking wherever you’d normally use any culinary mushroom!
- Add a teaspoon of medicinal mushrooms to any smoothie for daily immune support.
Shiitake or Maitake Bacon Recipe
Mushroom bacon has become one of my medicinal mushroom staple foods, and one of my favorite things to make for dinner with my friends. Mushroom bacon adds a satisfying crunch to any salad or meal. I’ve tried this recipe with shiitake and maitake mushrooms and it works well with both. Don’t blame me if you get addicted to eating mushrooms this way!
- About 2 cups chopped shiitake or maitake mushrooms (enough to line a pan), cut into thin slices
- 1 tbsp coconut oil
- 1 tbsp tamari (wheat-free soy sauce), or coconut aminos
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
- Add the sliced mushrooms to a bowl and gently coat them with the coconut oil.
- Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and arrange the mushrooms on the parchment paper so they aren’t overlapping one another.
- Bake mushrooms for 30 minutes, or until they are lightly browned and crispy. During the last 5 minutes of cooking, remove pan from oven, sprinkle tamari or coconut aminos over the mushrooms and put back into the oven. (The reason to wait until the end of cooking is because the tamari can burn easily if you add it at the beginning.)
- Remove mushrooms from the pan and put them on a paper towel to blot the oil if needed, just as you would regular bacon. Add to any meal, or eat them alone as a snack!
Note: Just as with regular bacon, you can also make your mushroom bacon in a pan — use the same recipe but put the chopped up mushrooms in a skillet instead of in the oven. Cook with coconut oil and splash with tamari or aminos right before removing from the heat. Transfer the mushroom bacon to a paper towel to blot out oil before serving.