The 21st century has seen us turning back to nature to find ways to support our health. It may or may not surprise you that some “new” trends are actually very, very old. This is the case when it comes to mushrooms and their use as complementary lifestyle enhancements.
With several functional ‘shrooms to choose from, how do the different mushrooms compare? Here, we’re going to do a quick comparison of two of our favourite fungi: Turkey Tail and Lion’s Mane.
The Turkey Tail mushroom is a bracket fungi that grows in woodlands and resembles the tail of a wild turkey. It’s part of the Trametes versicolor family (sometimes called the Coriolus versicolor), and has been widely studied for its beneficial properties.
The first major usage of Turkey Tail mushroom appears in around 200 BC, in the Chinese Materia Medica of the Han Dynasty. It is known in traditional Chinese medicine as Tun Zhi, and appears in the Shen Nong Ben Cao - a classic text written in 200 AD which discusses the use of mushrooms for their healing potential.
A later 15th-century document, the Ben Cao Gang Mu, specifies that Coriolus versicolor should be drunk as a tea in order to benefit the Shen (spirit) and the Chi (vital energy). It was also drunk to help strengthen bones and tendons. In Japan, Turkey Tail mushroom is also historically celebrated for its potential as an antitumor mechanism, as well as helping pulmonary disease.
Through its use in traditional Chinese medicine, the Turkey Tail mushroom is used to help boost the immune system and improve the body’s ability to fight infections. It’s known to help both underactive and overactive immune functions. However, since the 60s, extracts have also been used in China and Japan alongside conventional medicine as an aid for treating a wide range of cancers.
Turkey Tail mushrooms contain B-glucans polysaccharide krestin (PSK) and polysaccharide peptide (PSP), which polysaccharides that help the function of the small intestine. As an adaptogenic herb, they can help to ease the stress factors that can deplete our body’s natural immunities, and help to stimulate energy levels. PSP in particular has been shown to help regulate gut bacteria, promoting the good stuff and helping weed out the bad.
Figure 1. Turkey Tail was once drunk as a tea to benefit your spirit, but now we know that it can help treat cancers along with conventional medicine. Photo by Bildagentur Zoonar GmbH. (Shutterstock).
The Lion’s Mane mushroom is a vast, shaggy mushroom that, unsurprisingly, resembles a lion’s mane.
Also known as “hou you gu,” or “yamabushitake,” this mushroom has been used in Asian countries like China, India, Japan, and Korea for both medicinal purposes and everyday cooking.
The mushroom itself can be enjoyed in a huge variety of ways – from raw inclusion in a salad to being dried or steeped in teas. Often Lion’s Mane mushroom can be found in health supplements as a powder.
Throughout history, Lion's Mane mushrooms have been used for centuries thanks to their antibacterial properties. In traditional Chinese medicine, it was often incorporated into a tonic for overall health, and to enjoy a longer life. Meanwhile, Buddhist monks often used Lion’s Mane mushroom powder made into tea, which helped them to increase their meditative focus and enhance their brain power.
In more recent history, Lion's Mane has been researched to examine whether or not it can help improve cognitive health, and the studies are promising. Lion's Mane stimulates nerve growth factor (NGF). This helps to maintain the neurons in the brain responsible for memory, learning, and recollection. The reason that Lion's Mane mushroom works so effectively is thanks to the two kinds of compounds that it produces: erinacines and hericenones. Both of these compounds enjoy anti-bacterial properties and help to stimulate NGF.
Lion's Mane is believed to be particularly beneficial for people looking to give their brain power a little boost. It can help prevent “brain fog,” which is particularly useful if you’re in the throes of studying or suffering from concentration issues. Lion's Mane is also generally very effective for supporting our immune systems, as well as helping to support our digestive health.
As with many other mushrooms, Lion’s Mane is also rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds, as well as containing a vast amount of polysaccharides, all of which help to strengthen and boost our immune systems.
Figure 2. The practically-magical lion’s mane mushroom stimulates Nerve Growth Factor in the brain, helping to protect our neurons from decay. Photo by Foxyliam. (Shutterstock).
While these two mushrooms are very visually distinct from each other, they come from a similar history of being used in traditional Chinese medicine. To this day, both the Turkey Tail and the Lion’s Mane are still used and appreciated for their medicinal properties. Adding one or both to a balanced diet can be a great way to enhance your health!
Have you tried incorporating Turkey Tail or Lion’s Mane in your diet? Let us know your experiences in the comments!