Amanda Owen asks foraging expert about 'safe' mushrooms
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As science catches up with tradition, providing evidence of how powerful these mushrooms really are, they’re fast becoming a vital part of anyone’s wellness routine, possibly overtaking CBD which has boomed in recent years as a natural aid to manage stress and anxiety, improve sleep and calm inflammation. With stress a common feature in most of our lives, it’s no wonder that we would turn to scientifically proven methods to support us, and the benefits of choosing natural over synthetic aids are becoming ever more apparent. According to Clarissa Berry, Nutritionist for DIRTEA, a unique range of powders and Super Blends which harness the healing powers of mushrooms, adaptogens and ayurvedic herbs to naturally enhance your wellbeing, medicinal mushrooms are very safe to consume and offer a host of benefits.
She said: “I recommend choosing one to start with, and while you may feel the effects after just a few days, take it consistently for around two months to really see results.”
Berry details some of the benefits medicinal mushrooms can offer:
Stress and anxiety
The most popular medicinal mushrooms are all considered ‘adaptogens’, which means that they help the body to cope with stress. They increase our resilience to life’s stressors and regulate the body’s systems so that we’re ready to adapt to what life throws at us. Reishi is an especially powerful stress and anxiety reliever. It has calming effects on the nervous system, soothing the mind without subduing or sedating. Lion’s mane can elevate the mood, and research suggests it may reduce symptoms of mild depression and anxiety. Due to their adaptogenic nature, any medicinal mushroom you add to your routine is likely to add a layer of armour against the stresses of daily life.
Beta-glucans, found in all medicinal mushrooms, are one of their most powerful active components. They stimulate the immune system to fight off infections, as well as to find and destroy damaged or cancerous cells. They also nourish and support the gut microbiome, which further contributes to healthy immunity. Reishi has one of the highest concentrations of beta-glucans, which makes it a fantastic supporter of immunity. Chaga, with more antioxidants than any other food, has powerful anti-inflammatory properties which strengthen and support the immune system alongside its beta-glucans.
Mushrooms are actually the most fibre-rich foods on the planet, which means that they are jam-packed with goodness that only our resident microorganisms can digest. Beta-glucans act as prebiotics, feeding good bacteria in the digestive tract to support a healthy and flourishing gut microbiome. This is extremely beneficial for digestive function, as well as cardiovascular, immune and brain health. Anti-inflammatory compounds in lion’s mane also soothe the gut lining and can relieve symptoms of gastritis.
Cordyceps has been used traditionally for centuries to enhance sexual vitality, and science is beginning to support this claim. With as little as one teaspoon per day, cordyceps has been shown to increase sperm count and testosterone levels in males. It may also help improve libido in those with a low sex drive, and combat erectile dysfunction. Studies so far have focused on benefits in males, however anecdotal evidence reports similar effects in females.
Another property of medicinal mushrooms is their ability to improve energy levels without jitters or crashes. The best in this arena is cordyceps, which is thought to support energy systems at the cellular level, possibly even enhancing our cells’ ability to use oxygen. Cordyceps can help to combat fatigue as it makes energy more available to our cells, and also supports healthy energy production throughout the day. DIRTEA’s Cordyceps extract powder (£29.99 from www.dirteaworld.com) ensures a high concentration of active ingredients, making it the perfect way to naturally boost energy in the mornings. Simply mix a spoonful with boiling water in the morning and reap the natural energy enhancing benefits all day.
Similarly, cordyceps can improve athletic performance. Its ability to support our energy systems and oxygenation may improve endurance, and studies suggest it can improve exercise performance in older adults. Athletes in China traditionally take cordyceps as a natural performance enhancer and attribute many of their successes to this incredible mushroom. Cordyceps isn’t your typical pre-workout – it doesn’t jack you up or make you restless, but it could provide a natural boost to improve not only your performance but also your recovery.
Focus and brain power
Lion’s mane is the absolute standout when it comes to cognition. Compounds in lion’s mane called terpenes can regenerate nerve cells and are neuroprotective. This powerful mushroom can improve cognitive performance, focus, memory and mental clarity, making it a brilliant addition to anyone’s morning routine. There is also promising research on its ability to reduce symptoms in those with dementia and to speed recovery from nervous system injuries.
For skin, there’s no better mushroom than chaga. It is the most antioxidant-rich food known, with one teaspoon containing more antioxidants than 600 blueberries – that’s a powerful health punch. Antioxidants neutralise free radicals, reactive molecules that damage cells and are responsible for ageing. The antioxidants in chaga help to slow skin ageing and pigmentation, and their anti-inflammatory effects also calm skin irritations, redness and blemishes. Chaga is also one of the richest sources of melanin, the skin pigment. Consuming chaga boosts melanin production in the skin, offering internal protection from UV damage. Yet another compound in chaga, betulonic acid, helps to regenerate damaged skin cells. It’s the skin tonic you never knew you needed.
The beta-glucans in reishi, alongside their immune-modulating effects, reduce inflammation and can affect the production of neurotransmitters. Consuming reishi releases serotonin and GABA in the brain. These soothing and calming neurotransmitters relax the brain and body, making reishi supportive of anxiety when taken in the morning and a natural sleep aid when taken at night. One teaspoon of DIRTEA’s Reishi extract powder (£29.99 from www.dirteaworld.com) before bed is a wonderful way to encourage healthy sleep while supporting overall wellness.
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