Mushrooms 101: Guide to Adaptogenic Mushrooms

Adaptogenic mushrooms have many benefits that can be used daily for holistic well-being. These potent functional mushrooms have captured the attention of health enthusiasts, researchers, and practitioners alike. Their growing popularity stems from the versatile health-promoting properties they offer. Explore this guide on how these natural fungi can play an important role in enhancing your health and wellness.

What Are Adaptogenic Mushrooms?

Adaptogenic mushrooms are a category of fungi known for their potential to help the body resist various stressors. These stressors can be physical, chemical, or biological. These mushrooms contain compounds that may support and balance the body’s physiological functions, especially under stressful conditions.

Mushrooms Adaptogenic Benefits:
  • Chronic Stress Management
  • Boosting Immune System
  • Cognitive Enhancement
  • Improved Athletic Performance
  • Digestive Health Maintenance
  • Promoting General Wellness

     Lion's Mane mushroom

    Adaptogenic vs. Medicinal Mushrooms - What's the Difference?

    The world of mushrooms is rich and varied with health benefits. Yet, it's crucial not to lump all under the "adaptogenic" banner. While there's some overlap, adaptogenic mushroom are a distinct subset within the broader medicinal mushroom category(1).

    Medicinal mushrooms are revered for their therapeutic prowess like boosting immune responses or curbing inflammation(2). But what characterizes a mushroom as "adaptogenic"? Three criteria stand out:

    • They're safe to consume and non-toxic when taken in usual amounts.
    • They actively aid the human body in navigating stress.
    • They play an important role in maintaining bodily homeostasis.

    Simply put, a mushroom could possess medicinal attributes without necessarily being adaptogenic. If a mushroom doesn't specifically offer stressor support, it isn't considered an adaptogenic mushroom.


    Extraction Methods for Adaptogenic Mushrooms: Water and Alcohol

    Adaptogenic mushrooms contain many beneficial compounds. Each with unique properties and health benefits. The extraction of these compounds is crucial to making them bioavailable for human consumption. This process  involves two methods based on the principles of solubility: water and alcohol extraction. Each method targets specific types of compounds, maximizing the usage of the mushrooms' therapeutic properties.

    Water-Soluble Extraction
    • Key Compounds: Polysaccharides, including beta-glucans, are large, complex sugar molecules. These hydrophilic compounds are extracted using water.
    • Process: Hot water extraction involves breaking down the tough mushroom cell walls. This releases immune-boosting and gut-health-promoting compounds.
    • Temperature and Time Considerations: The efficiency of water extraction depends on the temperature and duration. Prolonged simmering at lower temperatures is used to preserve these delicate compounds.
    Alcohol-Soluble Extraction
    • Key Compounds: Triterpenes, including ganoderic acids, are hydrophobic and have a higher affinity for alcohol.
    • Process: Alcohol extraction dissolves these compounds, particularly those deeply embedded in the cell walls, which water cannot access.
    • Cold vs. Warm Alcohol Extraction: This method can vary from using cold to warm alcohol, based on the specific compound targeted. Some compounds are extracted more effectively at room temperature, while others require the alcohol to be heated.
    Combined Extraction Methods
    • Dual Process: Dual extraction method is employed for maximum efficacy. This starts with hot water extraction for water-soluble compounds, followed by alcohol extraction for the remaining compounds.
    • Advantage: This comprehensive approach ensures that a broad spectrum of active ingredients are collected.
    Breaking Down Mushroom Cell Walls
    • Composition: The cell walls of mushrooms are made of chitin, a robust compound.
    • Importance of Extraction: Both water and alcohol extraction processes help break down these walls, enhancing the bioavailability of beneficial compounds.


    Water-Soluble Compounds in Adaptogenic Mushrooms

    1.Polysaccharides (including beta-glucans):
    • Immune System Modulation
    • Anticancer Potential Gut Health
    2. Polysaccharide-K (PSK) and Polysaccharide-peptide (PSP):
    • Cancer Treatment Adjunct
    • Immunomodulatory Effects
    Alcohol-Soluble Compounds in Adaptogenic Mushrooms

    1. Triterpenes (including ganoderic acids):
    • Liver Protection and Detoxification
    • Anti-inflammatory and Antihistamine Effects
    • Antihypertensive and Cholesterol-Lowering

    Erinacines and Hericenones:  
    • Neurogenesis and Cognitive Health
    • Mental Health

    •  Anti-Aging Properties
    • Cancer-Fighting Potential

    Phenolic Compounds and Flavonoids:
    • Antioxidant Properties
    • Cardiovascular Health
    Betulinic Acid:
    • Anticancer and Antiviral Activities



    Most Popular Adaptogenic Mushrooms:

    Reishi mushrooms

    Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum)

    Common Name: Mushroom of Immortality

    Background: Adaptogenic Reishi has been used in traditional medicine, particularly in East Asian countries, for centuries. Its reputation as the "mushroom of immortality"  comes from the health benefits attributed to it(3).

    Key Benefits:

    • Adaptogenic Immunity Boost: Reishi stimulates the immune system with its beta-glucans content.
    • Stress Relief: Adaptogenic properties in it help the body manage stress.
    • Sleep Promotion: Studies show that Reishi can improve sleep quality and duration.

    How to Consume: Taken as tea, powder, or tincture.


    • Water-Soluble: Polysaccharides like beta-glucans, known for immune-boosting properties.
    • Alcohol-Soluble: Triterpenes like ganoderic acids, offering anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and liver-protective effects.


    Lion's Mane mushroom

    Lion's Mane (Hericium erinaceus)

    Common Name: Bearded Tooth Mushroom

    Background: This distinctive mushroom resembles a shaggy white mane. Not just unique in appearance but also in its many healing qualities(4).

    Key Benefits:

    • Brain Health: Lion's Mane contains compounds called hericenones and erinacines, which may support nerve growth.
    • Cognitive Boost: Studies have suggested improved cognitive function and reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression with regular consumption.
    • Overall HealthThese polysaccharides also contribute to general health and well-being. They promote better bodily functions and supporting overall vitality.

            How to Consume: Taken as powder, tea, or extract.


            • Water-Soluble: Polysaccharides, including beta-glucans, supporting immune function and overall health.
            • Alcohol-Soluble: Erinacines and hericenones, believed to stimulate nerve growth factor (NGF) and benefit brain health.


            Cordyceps mushrooms

            Cordyceps (Cordyceps militaris)

            Common Name: Scarlet Caterpillar Fungus

            Background: Cordyceps Militaris, a variant of the Cordyceps family, is known for its striking orange color. Cordyceps Militaris is widely cultivated in controlled laboratory environments. This method of cultivation makes it a more sustainable and accessible option.

            While Cordyceps militaris the majority of Cordyceps Militaris available in the market are lab-grown, ensuring consistent quality and availability. This lab cultivation has made it a popular choice in various health supplements and traditional medicine practices(5).

            Key Benefits:

            • Energy Enhancement: Cordyceps reportedly boost  Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) production, providing more energy for physical activities. ATP is a vital molecule that serves as the primary energy currency in cells, enabling various biological processes.
            • Improved Athletic Performance: Some athletes consume Cordyceps to improve oxygen uptake and endurance.

            How to Consume: Taken as powder, extract, or tea.


            • Water-Soluble: Polysaccharides, particularly beta-glucans, known for boosting immunity and endurance.
            • Alcohol-Soluble: Cordycepin, associated with anti-aging, anti-inflammatory, and cancer-fighting properties.


              Chaga mushroom

            Chaga (Inonotus obliquus)

            Common Name: Birch Mushroom

            Background: Chaga mostly grows on birch trees in cold climates. Its dark, rough exterior conceals a host of antioxidants and nutrients(6).

            Key Benefits:

            • Oxidative Stress Protection: Chaga's high antioxidant content can help counteract damage from free radicals.
            • Adaptogens Immune Support: Compounds in Chaga, like beta-glucans, bolster immune responses.
            • Skin Health: Because of its antioxidant properties, Chaga may also support skin health. This is by combatting harmful UV-induced oxidative stress.

            How to Consume: Taken as tea, extract, or powdered.


            • Water-Soluble: Polysaccharides, especially beta-glucans, for immune enhancement.
            • Alcohol-Soluble: Betulinic acid and other triterpenoids, studied for anti-inflammatory and anticancer properties.


              Turkey tail mushrooms

            Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor)

            Common Name: Yunzhi Mushroom

            Background: With its vibrant, multicolored bands reminiscent of a turkey's tail, this mushroom is a frequent sight in woodlands across the globe. A mainstay in traditional medicine for centuries, Turkey Tail is renowned for its medicinal properties(7).

            Key Benefits:

            • Immune Enhancement: Turkey Tail is rich in compounds like PSK and PSP, which have shown to help bolster the immune system.

            • Digestive Health: Recognized as a prebiotic, Turkey Tail supports the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut, promoting a balanced digestive system.

            How to Consume:  Taken as a powder, tea, or tincture.


            • Water-Soluble: Polysaccharide-K (PSK) and polysaccharide-peptide (PSP) with strong immunomodulating effects.
            • Alcohol-Soluble: Phenolic compounds and flavonoids, providing antioxidant benefits.


            Are Adaptogenic Mushrooms Legal?

             Adaptogenic mushrooms, known for their stress-reducing and health-boosting properties, are generally legal and safe in most countries. It's important to differentiate them from other types of mushrooms that have faced legal challenges or changes in status due to their psychoactive or potentially toxic properties.

            Adaptogenic vs. Psychoactive Mushrooms:

            It's crucial to recognize that adaptogenic mushrooms, which are used for their health benefits, do not induce psychoactive effects and are largely legal. They are distinct from psychoactive or hallucinogenic mushrooms, which affect mental states and have varied legal statuses globally.

            Amanita Mushrooms: The Amanita mushroom family, especially Amanita muscaria (fly agaric), is an example. Not classified as an adaptogen, this mushroom has a complex history because of its psychoactive substances, ibotenic acid and muscimol. 

             Amanita muscaria is not regulated under the Controlled Substances Act at the federal level, making it legal to possess and sell. Some states may have specific regulations or classify it as a controlled substance. 

            Psilocybin Mushrooms (Magic Mushrooms):
            These mushrooms are notable for containing psilocybin, a psychoactive compound that can induce hallucinations and alter perception. They have been illegal in many countries due to concerns about their psychoactive effects and potential for abuse.


            Recent research has shown that psilocybin may have significant therapeutic benefits, particularly in mental health treatment. Studies suggest it could be effective in treating depression, anxiety, PTSD, and certain addiction disorders. As a result, some regions are re-evaluating their legal stance on psilocybin mushrooms. Being considered for controlled legalization or decriminalization for medicinal use under strict regulations(8).

            Panaeolus Species:
            Mushrooms such as Panaeolus subbalteatus and Panaeolus cinctulus also contain psychoactive substances. These species are often found in natural settings like meadows and lawns, leading to a more ambiguous legal status. Unlike the more widely recognized and used Psilocybe species, Panaeolus mushrooms are not as well-known. They are restricted similar to those for psilocybin-containing mushrooms.

            Are Adaptogenic Mushrooms Safe?

            Yes, people consider adaptogenic mushrooms safe when they source them responsibly and consume them in appropriate dosages. Consult with a healthcare professional before adding them to your routine. Especially if you're on medication or have underlying health issues(1).


             Cordyceps mushroom



            1. Panossian A. Understanding adaptogenic activity: specificity of the pharmacological action of adaptogens and other phytochemicals. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2017 Aug;1401(1):49-64. doi: 10.1111/nyas.13399. Epub 2017 Jun 22. PMID: 28640972.


            2. Chaturvedi VK, Agarwal S, Gupta KK, Ramteke PW, Singh MP. Medicinal mushroom: boon for therapeutic applications. 3 Biotech. 2018 Aug;8(8):334. doi: 10.1007/s13205-018-1358-0. Epub 2018 Jul 23. PMID: 30073119; PMCID: PMC6056353.


            3. Fijałkowska A, Jędrejko K, Sułkowska-Ziaja K, Ziaja M, Kała K, Muszyńska B. Edible Mushrooms as a Potential Component of Dietary Interventions for Major Depressive Disorder. Foods. 2022 May 20;11(10):1489. doi: 10.3390/foods11101489. PMID: 35627059; PMCID: PMC9141008.


            4. Friedman M. Chemistry, Nutrition, and Health-Promoting Properties of Hericium erinaceus (Lion's Mane) Mushroom Fruiting Bodies and Mycelia and Their Bioactive Compounds. J Agric Food Chem. 2015 Aug 19;63(32):7108-23. doi: 10.1021/acs.jafc.5b02914. Epub 2015 Aug 5. PMID: 26244378.


            5. Zhang M, Sun X, Miao Y, Li M, Huang L. Cordyceps cicadae and Cordyceps gunnii have closer species correlation with Cordyceps sinensis: from the perspective of metabonomic and MaxEnt models. Sci Rep. 2022 Nov 28;12(1):20469. doi: 10.1038/s41598-022-24309-z. PMID: 36443322; PMCID: PMC9705360.


            6. Szychowski KA, Skóra B, Pomianek T, Gmiński J. Inonotus obliquus - from folk medicine to clinical use. J Tradit Complement Med. 2020 Aug 22;11(4):293-302. doi: 10.1016/j.jtcme.2020.08.003. PMID: 34195023; PMCID: PMC8240111.


            7. Bains A, Chawla P. In vitro bioactivity, antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory efficacy of modified solvent evaporation assisted Trametes versicolor extract. 3 Biotech. 2020 Sep;10(9):404. doi: 10.1007/s13205-020-02397-w. Epub 2020 Aug 25. PMID: 32903990; PMCID: PMC7447717.


             8. Ibi D. [Contribution of serotonin 5-HT2A receptor to antidepressant effect of serotonergic psychedelics]. Nihon Yakurigaku Zasshi. 2023 May 1;158(3):229-232. Japanese. doi: 10.1254/fpj.22141. Epub 2023 Mar 29. PMID: 36990794.






            Kalah Garcias Bio Picture Writer: Kalah Garcia is dedicated to fostering whole-body wellness, actively working to enrich the lives of those she encounters. Her approach involves passionately writing articles on health and wellness, aiming to equip others with the knowledge and tools for improved well-being. Kalah's commitment is reflected in her eagerness to share insights and that make a meaningful difference in people's lives.

            Authors Link: LinkedIn

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