Susannah Taylor: The medicinal ‘shroom boom

Mushrooms are hardly new to the world of wellbeing. According to Hania Opienski, a naturopath and expert in mycotherapy (the study of the healing power of mushrooms), there were mentions of them in Ancient Greek and Roman medical books. In Chinese medicine, mushrooms have been used since 202 BC, treating everything from insomnia to digestive problems. Opienski even says the ‘Iceman’ mummy from the Italian Alps, at 5,300 years old, was found with an antibacterial mushroom in his pouch, suggesting he was using it for a bit of self-care.

‘Mushrooms should be part of your daily self-care,’ says naturopath Hania Opienski. Image: Getty Images

Fast forward to 2021, and there is a ’shroom wellness boom going on, with mushrooms appearing in everything from teas to tinctures. However, we’re not talking about magic mushrooms here – which contain psilocybin, a natural hallucinogenic – but medicinal mushrooms such as chaga, reishi and shiitake, which are considered nutritional powerhouses that can superboost your health.

Opienski is such a fan of these mushrooms’ benefits she believes they should have their own food category like ‘greens’ or ‘essential fats’ do. ‘As a practitioner, I recommend medicinal mushrooms to everyone (unless allergic) to add to their daily self-care,’ she says. Packed with nutrients – some of which are unique to these mushrooms – they are rich in beta-glucans, she explains, which both balance our immune system and protect cells from damage. Medicinal mushrooms are also adaptogens – compounds that help the body fight the harmful effects of stress.

So how do we take them? A few medicinal mushrooms, such as shiitake or lion’s mane, can be cooked in the kitchen (Opienski says buy organic as mushrooms absorb toxins if grown in the wrong environment). Otherwise, supplements are a great option. She recommends checking out hifasdaterra.co.uk, which specialises in powdered mushrooms you can add to drinks, soups or stews. I can also recommend these super-boosters…

The energy lifter

Cordyceps Known as nature’s performance enhancer, it increases oxygen uptake in cells, improving energy levels, virility and physical performance. Try Innermost Protein Powder, £29.95, from liveinnermost.com. Boasting pea and rice protein and Japanese medicinal mushrooms, it’s great for sporty types.

The digestive do-gooder

Lion’s mane Studies have shown that lion’s mane mushrooms help fight inflammation and can benefit digestive issues such as inflammatory bowel disease. Lion’s mane is also said to enhance memory and cognition. Try Hericium Digest Powder, £18, hifasdaterra.co.uk. Opienski is a fan – its mushrooms are hand-picked and sundried in order to obtain maximum efficacy.

The beauty booster

Reishi Dubbed the mushroom of eternal youth according to Opienski, this potent antioxidant calms the mind and promotes restful sleep. It is also thought to reduce inflammation in skin and improve its texture. Try Reishi Mushroom Powder, £29.99, dirteaworld.com. Mix with hot water, a smoothie or try with coffee for a supercharged brew.

Bolster body and mind

A firm yet comfortable support, bolsters are often used in restorative yoga to encourage total relaxation. I’m in love with the new block-printed designs from yogamatters.com, £45, which are made from 100 per cent organic cotton (the cover is removable) and filled with eco-friendly buckwheat hulls.

Could this help slow Alzheimer’s?

Recent research from Harvard University has studied the effects of vitamin K2 on slowing and preventing the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. Already shown to lessen attacks in people suffering from multiple sclerosis, vitamin K2 is also deficient in those suffering from Parkinson’s disease. The vitamin (found in meat, eggs and chickpeas) was shown to improve neural health, suppress neuro-inflammation and improve cognition and vascular health. Try Wild Alaskan Fish Oil with Vitamin K2 + Omega 3, £34.99, wileysfinest.co.uk. Note: do not take if you are on blood-thinning medication or about to have surgery.