No, not the kind that you’re thinking of!
While I consider them no less ‘magic’, I’m actually talking about medicinal mushrooms.
You might be surprised to learn that some of the herbs we use as remedies strictly speaking aren’t actually ‘herbs’ at all – and certain mushrooms fall into this category. But they can be a wonderful part of your cold & flu defences during the cooler months, as well as providing some other great benefits for your body.
First off, which mushrooms?
My favourite medicinal mushrooms to use in the clinic are Cordyceps, Shiitake and Reishi. I’ve found that these guys work really well as a team, or as a star player on their own. Let’s go through what they all do:
Cordyceps (Cordyceps sinensis)
This funky little Chinese medicine has also been known as the ‘caterpillar fungus’. It has been called this because it often grows on the back of certain insects (the technical term for this is an ‘entomopathogenic fungus’, in case you were wondering). Thankfully for us, when used as a medicinal herb, it is cultivated without any insect involvement.
Cordyceps is one of the herbs I use for helping boost immunity, both for the purposes of infection prevention, and for fighting off colds, flus and other infections. It actually helps your body to produce more of a special kind of immune cell, known as a T-helper cell, who give your immune system a pep-up. Cordyceps is also an ‘adaptogen’, which means it helps your body cope with stress more effectively. With this in mind, it is one of the herbs that I find works best for people who are tending to catch lots of infections because they are continually under stress and burnt out. It is also a herb that may be used for kidney issues, blood pressure and asthma.
Shiitake (Lentinula edodes)
This quite well-known mushroom has been used in Chinese medicine as far back as the Ming Dynasty. It is typically best used when a person has been suffering from low immune defences, where one infection after another seems to come along, until the person is completely depleted. This can be particularly useful when infections such as Ross River Virus have been hanging around far too long, or there has been some other chronic immune system challenge. Shiitake has been shown to give your immune cells a kick-start, as well as enhancing your own defences against bacteria, viruses and infections.
Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum)
This mushroom is quite striking in appearance (as you can see from the photo above), as it grows off the sides of tree trunks, and you can’t miss it’s red glossy exterior and large size. It comes with a bit of a reputation in Chinese medicine – not only was it used medicinally for thousands of years, it also features widely in art, and spirituality (it has been called the ‘spirit plant’ and the ‘mushroom of immortality’). It is known as an immune modulator, which means that it can be used for both preventing infections, and balancing the immune system if it is in overdrive (such as in allergies or autoimmune conditions where the body attacks its own tissues). Reishi is also one of the most common herbs used in natural support of cancer, and it also has shown promise in fibromyalgia, a painful condition that modern medicine does not currently have many answers for.
As always, it is best to talk to a natural healthcare practitioner to work out whether a medicinal herb might be right for you. Whilst these particular herbs are ones that I use regularly in my clinic, and they have a good safety record, they don’t always suit everyone, particularly if medications are involved.