Reishi mushroom

As we move into the depths of winter, our sneeze and cough radar heightened to the-holidays-will-not-be-ruined-by-the-flu levels accompany megadosing ourselves with vitamin C, obsessive handwashing, of course, and a few merciful pleas to the gods of good resistance. But you can also arm yourself with several more sort-of secret immune-boosting weapons: medicinal mushrooms.

Pizzas would not be the same without mushrooms (nor would Pink Floyd albums), but their benefits don’t stop there. Asian cultures have relied on medicinal mushrooms for centuries to treat and prevent a number of ailments. Many herbalists have promoted their uses as well. And mushroom expert, Paul Stamets, has found that along with the undeniable health-giving properties, they have industrial applications as well, from cleaning up oil spills (really!) to dealing with insect infestations.

Considered the king of Traditional Chinese Medicine, the reishi mushroom is a multipurpose healer treasured for centuries. It’s a powerful tonic herb with anti-tumor level status, has been shown to lower blood-pressure, reduce cholesterol levels and balance blood sugar. It’s also loaded with antibacterial and antiviral properties, making it a useful tool in the war against the common cold and flu.

It may seem strange that a fungus could be antifungal, but that’s just the case with cordyceps. Also favored in Traditional Chinese Medicine, they’ve been used in anti-cancer treatment, for liver protection, radiation detoxification and balancing blood sugar. Its antibacterial, antiviral, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects make it a treasure in preventing the onset of colds and flu; and invaluable in the case that one sneaks in.

Maitake is commonly called the hen of the woods mushroom and eaten like any other culinary mushroom. Its yumminess though should not overshadow its potent healing abilities. While studies have linked the maitake to having both immune-boosting and immune-depressing benefits (in some cancer patients), it’s a significantly helpful fungus in boosting immunity because of the high level of beta-glucans, which can support the immune cells in protecting the body from free radicals. Maitake are also rich in minerals, amino acids and vitamins, which are essential for a healthy body in warding off intrusive germs.

For the highest quality, look for mushroom products by Fungi Perfecti, New Chapter or Herb Pharm.

Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

Image: frankenstoen