You’d have to be living under, well, a mushroom, to not have noticed the massive attention mushrooms have been receiving recently. From throw pillows adorned with colorful mushroom caps to coffees enhanced with lion’s mane, fungi have taken over—and for good reason. Not only do mushrooms like shiitake and oyster add that perfect umami to any dish, but functional mushrooms like lion’s mane and reishi support different systems in the body, including one ever-important one that feels particularly timely these days: our immune system.
Although you can actually cook and eat the fruiting body of lion’s mane mushrooms, you won’t see most functional mushrooms in the produce section of your grocery store. Instead, you’ll find them in capsules and powders as supplements or added to foods and drinks (think everything from chocolate bars to probiotic drinks) for added health perks.
Mushrooms That Are Great For Immunity
If it’s immune benefits you’re after, look no further than chaga, reishi, and lion’s mane, which are the functional ‘shrooms best known for promoting a strong, healthy system, says The Vitamin Shoppe dietitian Brittany Michels, M.S., R.D.N., L.D.N. Here’s what to know about each of them, plus how to bring some of their goodness into your routine.
Often found on birch trees, this mushroom appears as a black, burnt charcoal-like mass that has a surprising orange interior. Its immune-related actions? “Chaga helps regulate the production of cytokines, which are proteins that play a vital role in stimulating white blood cells, the immune system’s first line of defense against a range of issues,” says Karen Cooney, M.A., C.N., C.H.H.C., a Holistic Health practitioner/nutritionist at The Vitamin Shoppe.
According to Michels, chaga contains high amounts of polysaccharides (a type of carbohydrate that is a major component of dietary fiber and activates defense cells involved in our immune response) from the trees it grows on. This polysaccharide content allows it to induce apoptosis (a.k.a. the process through which the body eliminates unnecessary cells and cells that have been damaged beyond repair) and promote white blood cell activity. Chaga also contains incredibly high amounts of antioxidants, which we know are an important part of staying healthy.
Read More: 8 Foods That Are Loaded With Antioxidants
Michels recommends taking 500 to 1,500 milligrams per day in a capsule or as a powder. “Incorporating functional mushrooms at any frequency can be a wonderful antioxidant boost, however, daily consistency is most beneficial for immune support,” she notes.
Our pick: plnt brand Chaga
Found high up on the trunks of dead or decaying trees, lion’s mane mushrooms resemble, unsurprisingly, the long, flowing mane of a lion. And when it comes to immune benefits, they pack the punch of a mighty lion, as well.
“Lion’s mane mushrooms can bolster immunity by increasing the activity of the intestinal immune system, which protects the body from invaders that enter the gut through the mouth or nose,” explains Cooney.
Although they contain many bioactive compounds and beneficial metabolites, the most well-known is beta-glucan, which has antioxidant and immune-modulating properties, Michels adds.
Try 1,000 to 2,500 milligrams a day.
Our pick: Four Sigmatic Mushroom Elixir Mix with Lion’s Mane
Reishi mushrooms are primarily found growing on coniferous trees. These fungi “influence the immune system by stimulating macrophages [a type of white blood cells], decreasing interleukins [immune proteins that act as messengers] and modulating the histamine response,” says Michels.
As an adaptogen, reishi is known to help counteract the effects of everyday stress within the body, which can also influence immune health. For this reason, you’ll find it in many different products designed to help you chill out, such as Four Sigmatic’s Mushroom Cacao Mix.
Read More: 4 Unexpected Ways To Manage Stress Naturally
Michels recommends 1,000 to 2,000 milligrams of reishi a day.
Our Pick: Om Reishi
What To Look For In A Top-Notch Mushroom Supplement
Beyond the visible fruiting body of the mushroom is a network of fungal threads known as mycelium. Outliving the fruiting body and existing at just a singular cell wall thickness, mycelium is connected to the greater ecosystem of the mushroom’s environment and is the real star of the show when it comes to mushrooms. “In order to get the most out of your functional mushroom supplements, look for whole-food mushroom products that include the mycelium, along with the fruiting bodies,” suggests Michels. If you want to embrace all of the benefits of these mushrooms, you’ll want a bit of that fungal network, too.
One star-of-the-show brand to consider: Host Defense, which was founded by famous mycologist Paul Stamets and prides itself on using the mycelium, identifying it as an essential component to experiencing the benefits of mushrooms. (Research also supports this.)
To experience the perks of chaga, reishi, and lion’s mane (along with four other functional mushrooms) at once, Michels recommends trying Host Defense Stamets 7 Daily Immune Support. Of course, you can also take an individual chaga, reishi, or lion’s mane supplement.
Om is another popular brand that also incorporates mushroom mycelium into its supplements. Try adding their chaga, reishi, and lion’s mane powders to smoothies, soups, and more.
Whether you’re already a mushroom fan or you’re new to the idea of functional mushrooms, their research-backed benefits and accessibility make for the perfect addition to any wellness routine.