The Best Bits about Mushrooms

Katie Noble, BNatMed 
2019 SPCNM Graduate Practitioner

Mushrooms have been revered throughout human history. The ancient Egyptians believed they were the secret to immortality and only the pharaohs were allowed to consume them. While I don’t think they quite lived up to that reputation, the Romans considered them a “food from the gods”, and the worship of mushrooms has continued through the ages.

As far as their nutritional profile goes. all mushrooms have varying amounts of protein, fibre, vitamin D, and B vitamins as well as being anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory. Mushrooms also provide prebiotic oligosaccharides to feed the healthy bacteria in your gut. Mushrooms are one of the only vegetarian sources of those elusive vitamins: D & B12 which can be hard to get in a vegan or vegetarian diet.

But by far the most amazing thing about mushrooms is the β-glucans they contain which have been shown to stimulate the immune system and modulate it’s response to fungal, bacterial, viral and protozoal pathogens. The use of a  β-glucan supplement over 4 weeks showed improvements in overall wellness markers like fitness, energy and stress.

Types of Common and Medicinal Mushrooms

Button Mushrooms:
Portobello, white and brown mushrooms are all button mushrooms, in fact the Portobello is just an overgrown brown button mushroom. 

Button mushrooms are a good source of minerals: selenium, copper, potassium and zinc and also phytochemicals (β-glucans and polysaccharides which have been the subject of anticancer research). Vitamins wise button mushrooms provide B vitamins (thiamine, riboflavin, pantothenic acid and niacin) and the brown mushrooms are a good source of B6 and B12 (thumbs up for vegetarians!)

Shiitake, Maitake and Reishi Mushrooms
These ones in particular are health food superstars. These mushrooms have been a big part of Asian medicinal traditions and feature in texts that are tens of thousands of years old. They are excellent sources of selenium and polysaccharides and are also high in iron. They provide protein, dietary fibre and vitamin C.

Shiitake are meaty, robust mushroom that you can buy dried and fresh. In Asia they are a symbol of longevity. 
It is the lentinan in shiitake which provide the most benefit. 
It has been shown to stimulate the immune system to help fight infection and disease, it has also shown to have anticancer activity. It has also been shown to reduce cholesterol. 

Maitake “hen of the woods” have a mild slightly aromatic flavor and have been used to improve wellness and vitality. They too have immune-enhancing and anticancer properties and are effective given orally compared with shiitake which are more effective given intravenously. Maitake are high in β-glucans which activate white blood cells and increase their ability to engulf and destroy cancer cells, microbes and foreign cells boosting the immune system in general. They stimulate production of white blood cells within bone marrow to help reduce infection and cancer risk. Maitake can be just as an adjunct to conventional cancer therapy by helping with fatigue, nausea, weight loss and immune suppression while enhancing the effectiveness of chemotherapy drugs.

Reishi are a very woody mushroom which are not usually eaten but added for their flavor and removed from dishes before eating. They are known as a general health tonic and has been shown to be helpful in viral illness as it boosts the immune system.

Ideas for incorporating more mushrooms in your diet:

  • Top Portobello mushrooms with pesto or feta and a drizzle of olive oil and pop them under the grill. Nice to add to the BBQ for a vegetarian option.
  • Add shiitake to miso soup.
  • Add shiitake or reishi mushrooms to vegetable stock for extra depth of flavor (remember to remove and discard the reishi before eating).
  • Reconstitute dried mushrooms in boiling water and reserve the liquor as it will have some of the valuable leeched nutrients and this can be added to stocks, soups or stews.

Buying tips:

  • Button mushrooms: Make sure your mushrooms are firm plump and clean, avoid slimy, wet or wrinkled mushrooms.
  • Reishi are usually dried and brown to dark reddish orange in colour. They are quite wax like with firm gills underneath.
  • Dried maitakes have thin brown strands with uniform colour.
  • Fresh shiitakes are light brown/grayish on top with splits in the surface.
  • Store your mushrooms in a brown paper bag in the fridge for about a week. Keep dried mushrooms in airtight containers refrigerated or frozen for up to a year.

Here is a winter warming recipe to try:

Chicken, Mushroom and Ginger Hotpot
(from The Essential Edible Pharmacy)


500g skinless chicken breast, cut into 2 cm pieces
1 knob ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
1 onion, sliced thinly
3 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 cup homemade chicken stock (or quality bought one)
Salt and pepper to taste
¼ cup tamari
250g large mushrooms, sliced thinly
Sesame seeds and sesame oil, to serve

Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
Put everything except the mushrooms, sesame seeds and oil into a casserole dish with a lid and cook in oven for 70 minutes.
Check after 70 mins and add the mushrooms, give it a stir and cook another 20 mins.
Serve into bowls, over ½ cup cooked brown rice or quinoa, and top with sesame seeds and oil. 
You could also add some spinach before serving to boost the vegetable content.


Biopractica. (2019). Harnessing immune intelligence with natural biological response modifiers. [Seminar notes]. Auckland, New Zealand: Biopractica.

Neal’s Yard Remedies. (2013). Healing foods: Eat your way to a healthier life. London, England: Dorling Kindersley Limited.

Manolas, S. (2016). The essential edible pharmacy: Heal yourself from the inside out. Wollombi, Australia: Exisle Publishing.

Murray, M., Pizzorno, J. & Pizzorno L. (2005). The encyclopaedia of healing foods. New York, NY: Atria Books.