What is Mushroom Tea?
Unlike other medicinal plants and herbs, mushroom tea does not come from just one plant. In fact, six medicinal mushrooms—Chaga, Reishi, Turkey Tail, Lion’s Mane, Cordyceps, and Maitake—are all used. Mushroom Tea is made in different ways. Some Mushrooms are made by boiling the whole mushroom, most notably Chaga. However; in recent years Mushroom Powders have been readily available, allowing an “add water” approach to making Mushroom Tea. Let’s learn some more about the most common Mushrooms used to make Mushroom Tea.
Chaga is also known by the Latin name Inonotus obliquus and is colloquially called the “King of Medicinal Mushrooms.” It grows primarily on birch trees in North America, Northern Europe, Russia, and Korea. It likes cooler temperatures, so can be also found in the high elevations of more southernly climates like North Carolina.
It grows to be between 10 and 15 inches around and has a burnt charcoal look to its outside, and is always colored black. The inside of the Chaga, once it is removed from its host tree, is a dark yellow-brown color.
Chaga was traditionally used for medicinal purposes in Siberia, other parts of Russia, and Asia. It has vanillin in it, which can also be found in the vanilla bean, which makes tea made from Chaga have a slightly vanilla flavor. This mushroom is used solely for medicinal tea but can be combined with a number of different ingredients.
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Reishi is known as Ganoderma lucidum in Latin and Ling Zhi in Chinese. It doesn’t favor a particular type of tree like the Chaga, but it will grow on dead or dying hardwoods. It prefers temperate climates and is found throughout the world. It can be harvest from May to November in most places.
The mushroom grows in a conk or antler shape, comes in a lot of different colors, and has a shiny top. It can vary in size depending on when it was harvested.
Reishi’s flavor has been described as woody and bitter. This makes it less desirable for culinary uses other than medicinal teas and tinctures.
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Turkey Tail is called either Coriolus versicolor in Latin, Yun zhi in Chinese, or cloud mushroom colloquially in English. It is an extremely common mushroom and can be found all over the world. In fact, it can usually be found anywhere that there is dead or fallen trees and stumps. Turkey Tail holds an important place in the decomposition of these words, and so is beneficial for any forest.
You can recognize the Turkey tail mushroom by its plume of colorful mushrooms that fan out in the shape of a turkey’s tail. Its other colloquial name comes from the Japanese word kawaritake, which links the shape to swirling clouds.
Turkey Tail mushrooms are extremely chewy, so it is not used for culinary purposes other than in tea or powder forms. It has been used since at least the Ancient Egyptians as a medicinal plant.
If you want an unusual looking mushroom, then Lion’s Mane, or Hericium erinaceus (hedgehog) in Latin, is the one for you. It is also called sheep’s head, bear’s head, pom pom blanc, and yamabushitake in Japanese.
Lion’s Mane globular white mushroom with teeth-like spines that flow down its sides. As the mushroom ages the tips of the teeth-like spines turn from white to brown-yellow. You can find this mushroom most often in the southern part of North America, where it prefers to grow on dead oak, walnut, beech, maple, sycamore, and other broadleaf trees. It can take years for the Lion’s Mane to reach its full size.
Of all of the medicinal mushrooms listed here, Lion’s Mane is one of the few that has culinary uses as well as medicinal ones. It is about 20% protein and tastes like lobster or shrimp. However, it can be bitter if not cooked properly. Many people prefer it sautéed in butter and deglazed with sake or white wine.
Maitake which means “dancing mushroom in Japanese, is also known as Grifola frondosa in Latin, sheep’s head, and rams head, grows primarily in North America and Northeast Japan. In general, Maitake mushrooms grow at the base of oak or similar trees. It takes longer for Maitake mushrooms to grow naturally, so today many are commercially farmed indoors. This means that they can be grown anywhere in the world as long as the environment is kept stable.
Maitake mushrooms can be identified by their layers of caps that resemble the folds of a brain. This mushroom can grow quite large. It can measure up to a few feet across and weigh between 40 and 50 lbs. Younger Maitake mushrooms are a darker gray color, while older ones are light gray or yellow.
Maitake is a common ingredient in culinary, especially Japanese, dishes. It tastes fruity, earthy, and spicy, which makes it a great addition to any dish with other spicy ingredients. It is also regularly used as a medicinally plant and has been used in detailed medicinal studies.
Cordyceps sinensis grow in high altitudes, especially those of Tibet, Nepal, and areas of China. In Tibet the fungus is called yartsa gunbu and in English it is known as the Zombie Mushroom. Unlike the other five mushrooms discussed so far, the name Cordyceps describes both a Genus and a species. There are over 680 species in the Cordyceps Genus. Cordyceps are actual not a true mushroom, but another type of fungus, called Ascomycetes. However, Ascomycetes fungus is extremely close to mushroom fungi, so many people still consider cordyceps a type of mushroom.
Cordyceps are parasitic in nature and grow on caterpillars, insects, plants, and fungi. It’s spores land on the living organism and then enter their bodies. When the fungi begin growing it kills and emerges from the body of the host. Because there are so many different types of cordyceps it is hard to describe. However, most are long, yellow-orange and thin.
Whether or not you agree that cordyceps should be considered a mushroom or a fungus, no one can deny that it has been used for over 1500 years as a medicinal plant. Cordyceps is most common in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) but is now growing popularity around the world. It is reported to have a mildly sweet taste that complements chicken, pork, and fish well.
Mushroom Tea vs Mushroom Coffee
Mushroom tea and mushroom coffee are just about the exact same thing, except for one key difference. Mushroom tea has only mushrooms steeped in water, while mushroom coffee introduces a little bit of coffee into the mix. Often the coffee beans used are of a mild variety, so that the mushrooms can be tasted as well.
One other difference is that mushroom tea can be made from dried and powdered or whole mushrooms. Mushroom coffee, on the other hand, because it is included in packets with ground coffee beans is made from only powdered mushrooms.
In addition to its slight differences from mushroom coffee, mushroom tea has also experienced a change in definition. It no longer means that someone is using Magic Mushrooms—mushrooms that induce psychedelic effects. Instead, all of the mushrooms currently used to create mushroom tea have medicinal, not pharmaceutical, properties.
How to Make Mushroom Tea?
You make mushroom tea very similarly to other types of herbal tea. In general, you will either take whole mushroom pieces or dried mushroom powder (often provided in a normal tea pouch) and steep it in boiling water for a specific period of time. The steeping times differ depending on the mushroom used, so you will want to read the recipe or tea packet carefully before making the mushroom tea.
In addition to making your own mushroom tea, you can now by most types in the form of tea bags. This form takes dried and powdered mushrooms and puts them in the typical mesh bags for tea making. You can then pop the bags in boiling water and steep for the required amount of time. Companies that make mushroom tea bags include Four Sigma Foods, Moon Juice, Buddha Teas, and Cap Beauty.
Mushroom Tea Benefits, and Uses
Many different mushroom teas have been studied as a potential cancer treatment. Reishi especially has been shown in multiple studies to have anti-cancer properties. These studies investigate Reishi’s treatment for multiple different cancers (lung carcinoma, human leukemia, human liver tumor, human ovarian cancer, among others) and used a variety of different experiment types—such as in vitro, animal studies, and human studies.
Cordyceps have also been studied as a potential cancer treatment. Studies from the last three years have proven that cordyceps seem to inhibit growth of breast cancer cells and human colorectal carcinoma.
Finally, Turkey Tail has been studied in relationship to humans with gastric cancer, breast cancer, colorectal cancer, and lung cancer. These studies have shown that Turkey Tail may be effective as a cancer treatment because of the large amount of Polysaccharide K (PSK) found in the mushroom.
Many studies have shown that Lion’s Mane mushrooms have neuroprotective properties. This means that the mushroom may increase cognition scores for people with mild cognitive impairments. Studies have been conducted on humans (2009), rats (2014), and mice (2017 and 2009).
Anxiety and Depression
Lion’s Mane has also been shown to have the possibility to improve anxiety and depression in humans. A 2010 study examined the effect of the mushroom on thirty women and used the Kupperman Menopausal Index (KMI), the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale (CES-D), the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI), the Indefinite Complaints Index (ICI) to measure their responses to the mushroom. The group that took Lion’s Mane had better scores than the placebo group for all of the indices. Obviously, this study used a small sample group, so larger studies are needed to determine the full effect of Lion’s Man on anxiety and depression.
Reishi has been studied as an anti-inflammatory treatment, especially in relationship to Crohn’s Disease, and chronic gastrointestinal disease. The specific compound that created an anti-inflammatory response was triterpene ganoderic acid C1 (GAC1), which a 2015 study isolated and used as an alternative treatment for Crohn’s Disease.
Cordyceps have been shown as a substance that has both potentiating and suppressive effects on the immune system. This mushroom is a bidirectional modulator that can regulate innate and adaptive immunity. Essentially, many scientific studies have found that Cordyceps can improve our immune system.
Lions Mane has been shown to have immunomodulating activity in studies with mice (2017). There have been no studies that examine the effects of this mushroom on humans.
A final mushroom that has been shown to have immunomodulating effects is Chaga, which has been featured in studies examining its immunomodulatory activity as far back as 2005. A water extract was used in this 2005 on immunosuppressed mice. The results showed that Chaga is a potentially effective treatment for suppressed immune systems.
Because it has been shown to help all aspects of brain health, it is no wonder that Lion’s Mane has also been studied in relationship to human nerve health. A 2013 study found that Lion’s Mane can trigger neurite growth and regenerate damaged nerves. This makes Lion’s Mane a potential treatment for people with nerve damage as a result of accidents.
Cordyceps have been a part of multiple studies that examine its potential use as an anti-aging treatment. A 2015 study found that Cordyceps liquid prolongs the lifespan of fruit flies. Cordyceps’ anti-aging properties have also been studied on mice (2004 and 2009).
Chaga tea and coffee have been traditionally used to create boosts of energy. There are no published studies that proves this, so Chaga’s ability to raise energy levels should be regarded as anecdotal.
Cordyceps have been studied as both a spermatogenic and steroidogenesis. Cordyceps increased sperm production in Sprague-Dawley rats in a 2008 study and in sub-fertile boars in a 2007 study. A 2001 and 2011 study also found that Cordyceps increased testosterone production in mice.
Cordyceps extract was studied in 2001 and found to increase hepatic energy metabolism and blood flow to the live. This study was conducted on mice but shows promise for treating human liver disease.
In many anecdotes people highlight Cordyceps supposed benefits to a person’s digestion. As with Chaga’s supposed energy boosting powers, there have been no studies backing up claims about Cordyceps ability to aid a person’s digestions. However, this has been a traditional use of the fungi.
Three different studies have tested Cordyceps effect as an anti-diabetic medication. These studies were conducted on human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVECs) (2011), Mice (2003), and rats (2006). The 2011 study found that Cordyceps extract reduced oxidative stress that was brought about because of high glucose levels. This indicates promise for use of Cordyceps as a treatment for the side effects of diabetes.
Mushroom Tea Dosage
Hardly any studies conducted on mushroom tea describe the ideal dosage for each individual mushroom. However, there are dosages that are used in traditional preparations of the tea. If you want to be completely sure that you are not taking too much or too little of the mushrooms, then you should buy prepared tea packets. This way you can follow the instructions on the box, and don’t have to do your own measuring.
Mushroom Tea Side Effects, Safety, Dangers and Warnings
As with all other aspects of Mushroom tea, the type of mushroom used determines the potential side effects.
Chaga: There have not been enough studies to determine if Chaga is safe to consume for most people. Pregnant and nursing women especially should avoid the plant, since it has not been proven safe to consume during these times.
Only a few side effects of the mushroom are currently known. Chaga can increase the symptoms of some autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis. It could also increase the risk of bleeding for people with certain bleeding disorders or after surgery. Finally, Chaga seems to lower blood sugar levels, which can be a problem for people with diabetes.
Reishi: Reishi extract has been proven to be safe for most people when take consistently for up to a year. However, its powdered form may be unsafe for some people when taken with the same frequency because of its toxic effects on the liver. Reishi may also trigger allergies in some people.
Reishi is associated with a range of side effects including dry mouth, throat, or nose, itchiness, stomach problems, nosebleeds, and bloody stools. If you have a bleeding disorder like thrombocytopenia or have recently had surgery, you are at a higher risk for bleeding issues when taking Reishi. Reishi can also lower blood pressure, so people being treated for low blood pressure should avoid this mushroom.
There are a few known negative interactions between Reishi and certain medicines. Because Reishi can lower blood pressure, it can interact with blood pressure medications like captopril (Capoten), enalapril (Vasotec), Iosartan (Cozaar), valsartan (Diovan), diltiazem (Cardizem), Amlodipine (Norvasc), hydrochlorothiazide (HydroDIURIL), and furosemide (Lasix). Reishi can also interact with medicines that slow blood clotting like aspirin, clopidorgrel (Plavix), diclofenac (Voltaren, etc.), ibuprofen, naproxen (Anaprox, etc.), dalteparin (Fragmin, enoxaparin (Lovenox), heparin, and warfarin (Coumadin).
Finally, there is not enough evidence to state that Reishi is safe for pregnant or breastfeeding mothers to consumer. So, professional recommend avoiding the plant.
Turkey Tail: Turkey tail is considered safe for most people. However, its potential side effects and drug interactions have not been well studied. This means that people with existing health concerns, and especially pregnant or breastfeeding mothers should avoid it as a cautionary measure.
The few side effects that have been reported with Turkey Tail include nausea, low white blood cell counts, and liver issues. These side effects were reported in a study that paired Turkey Tail with chemotherapy and PSK, so the exact cause of the problems can not be determined. It is as likely as not that the mushroom did not cause these side effects.
Lion’s Mane: Lion’s Mane is considered possibly safe for most people. However, because its side effects—most of which involve stomach discomfort—are not well studied, experts recommend that pregnant and nursing women avoid using this mushroom.
There are no known drug interactions, but people with bleeding conditions or that recently had surgery will need to be careful. Lion’s Mane can slow blood clotting. Also, the mushroom may be able to lower blood sugar levels, which can be a problem for people with diabetes.
Maitake: Because Maitake has been used in food preparation and medicine for so many years, it has been more studied than some of the other mushrooms mentioned in this article. It is presumed safe for the majority of people. However, pregnant and nursing women are recommended to stay away from it to be safe.
It doesn’t have many known side effects, but it can lower blood sugar and blood pressure levels. So, people with diabetes and low blood pressure or who have just had surgery should be careful when using Maitake mushrooms.
Finally, Maitake can interact negatively with blood pressure medications like glimepiride (Amaryl), glyburide (Diabeta, etc.), insulin, pioglitazone (Actos), rosiglitazone (Avandia), chlorpropamide (Diabinese), glipizide (Glucotrol), and tolbutamide (Orinase).
Cordyceps: For most people cordyceps are safe, but if you have an auto-immune disease like multiple sclerosis, lupus, or rheumatoid arthritis, a bleeding disorder, or have had recently had surgery, cordyceps may not be a good choice for you. There are no known side-effects, but pregnant or breastfeeding women should abstain form use for safety’s sake.
Cordyceps are known to interact with drugs that decrease the immune system, such as azathioprine (Imuran), basiliximab (Simulect), cyclosporine (Neoral, etc.), daclizumab (Zenapav), muromonab-CD3 (OKT3, etc.), mycophenolate (CellCept), tacrolimus (FK506, etc.), sirolimus (Rapamune), prednisone (Deltasone, etc.), and corticosteroids (gluscocoticoids). Cordyceps also can interact with prednisolone and make it less effective.