From Lion’s Mane to Turkey Tail: The Health Benefits of Functional Mushrooms

Words: Robyn Samuels

Functional mushrooms is one of the most popular buzz terms to enter the wellness chat, but have actually been used in traditional medicine for centuries. For the most part, they are still misunderstood by Western society, but many are starting to wake up to their benefits. Over 2000 types of edible mushrooms exist and scientists have barely scratched the surface – only time will tell how many are functional mushrooms.

These fantastic fungi have an endless range of health benefits, from helping balance internal stress levels by acting as adaptogens to boosting athletic and sexual performance – that’s right, some mushrooms have aphrodisiac properties. From Lion’s Mane to Turkey Tail, we dig up the microbial dirt on the benefits of functional mushrooms.

What are functional mushrooms?

Functional mushrooms refer to different species of mushrooms utilised for their potential health benefits. Functional mushrooms, also called ‘medicinal mushrooms’, are often thought of as superfoods. Many functional mushrooms are believed to boost immunity, reduce stress and fatigue, and improve cognition.

Types of Functional Mushrooms

Although functional mushrooms offer a wealth of benefits, they are not a replacement for medication, but rather act as supplements. Here are six types of functional mushrooms:


Caterpillars are truly bizarre and wonderful creatures – except the hairy ones, of course – one moment, they could metamorphose into butterflies and, the next, they could cultivate mushrooms… Cordyceps are a genus of parasitic fungi that grow on small animals or insects, typically Ophiocordyceps sinensis or ‘caterpillar fungus’.

The fungus and the caterpillar have a symbiotic relationship, otherwise called ‘parasitic mutualism’ – which sounds slightly toxic if you ask us. The fungus infects the host insect and essentially takes over its body, killing the insect in the process. The fungus then sprouts from the remains of the caterpillar, using it as a food source; this produces fruiting bodies containing fungal spores.

Cordyceps mushrooms are still being discovered by many, but they have been used for medicinal purposes in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries. These functional mushrooms typically grow in high-altitude regions or meadows of the Himalayas, and are found primarily in Nepal, Bhutan and Tibet. Cordyceps mushrooms have been known to improve physical endurance and respiratory function, meaning those workout sessions could possibly be less strenuous.

Cordyceps also has the potential to improve cardiovascular health and boost the immune system by supporting the body’s defences against certain illnesses and diseases. Traditionally, Cordyceps mushrooms are considered to be natural aphrodisiacs, as they may enhance libido and improve sexual function.

Cordyceps mushrooms offer incredible health benefits, but their effectiveness varies from person to person; more scientific research is needed to determine their full potential.

PrimeSelf has a range of botanical capsules, including functional mushrooms like Chaga, Cordyceps, Reishi and Lion’s Mane.


The ‘mushroom of immortality’ or Reishi mushroom is popular for modulating immune responses. This exotic-looking mushroom has been naturalised throughout the world, including Cape Town. While you might be tempted to pluck something bearing a similar appearance, it’s best leave it to the trained mushroom foragers.

‘Reishi’ is the common name for Ganoderma lucidum – they are a medicinal mushroom native to Asia. Similar to Lion’s Mane, these functional mushrooms grow on hardwoods, mainly oak and maple trees, located in moist and humid environments. Reishi mushrooms have a tough, woody texture, and typically grow in clusters.

Benefits of Reishi mushrooms include increasing immune support; they also have anti-inflammatory and adaptogenic properties. People with anxiety, insomnia or those who struggle to sleep might benefit from incorporating this functional mushroom into their diet for improved quality of sleep and managing stress levels.

GOODMINDTM sells functional mushroom capsules containing a blend of three types of functional mushrooms: Reishi, Lion’s Mane and Cordyceps. You can even purchase a cup of coffee with a GOODMINDTM Functional Mushroom Sachet at vida e caffè.

Lion’s Mane

Lion’s Mane or Hericium erinaceus, is one of the most popular types of functional mushrooms, possibly, due to its name and unique appearance. Lion’s Mane resembles a lion’s mane, hence the name, but this functional mushroom also has other interesting nicknames, including ‘monkey head mushroom’ and ‘bearded tooth mushroom’. Lion’s Mane is usually white/cream-coloured and has long, shaggy threads that dangle from the cap of the mushroom. In fact, its thread-like texture has made this fungus increasingly popular amongst vegans as a meat alternative for various dishes.

Lion’s Mane contains many essential nutrients, including antioxidants, fibre and protein. It also contains beta-glucan – a soluble dietary fibre known for its potential to lower cholesterol levels and improve inflammation, blood sugar levels and cardiovascular health.

Like many functional mushrooms, Lion’s Mane is traditionally used in Chinese medicine, and is typically used to treat digestive issues and skin disorders. Furthermore, Lion’s Mane has powerful health benefits, such as the ability to promote nerve growth and regeneration – potentially making it a considerable treatment for Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and other issues relating to the nervous system. This nutrient-dense and diverse functional mushroom, reportedly, helps improve cognition, while reducing certain symptoms associated with anxiety and depression.

Lion’s Mane is native to North America, Europe and Asia. They grow on the bark of hardwoods, namely oak, beech and maple trees.

These incredible fungi are either sold fresh or dried, and are also consumed as supplements – either in capsule or powdered form, making it easy to add to smoothies, teas, and more.

Moksha Mushrooms sell Lion’s Mane supplements. You can purchase them on


Similar to Cordyceps, Chaga mushrooms are a type of parasitic fungus that grows on (birch) trees. Chaga mushrooms have a unique appearance, given by their blackened exterior and bark-like texture, which resembles burnt wood or charcoal; the interior is bright orange/brown in colour. These functional mushrooms thrive in cold climates – allowing them to produce many phytonutrients, while facilitating the growth of woody fruiting bodies – whereas warmer climates inhibit their growth and lead to immature mushrooms. Chaga mushrooms or Inonotus obliquus, are thus predominantly found in northern regions, such as Russia, Northern Europe and Canada.

From treating digestive problems to skin diseases and even cancer, the health benefits of Chaga mushrooms are vast.

Chaga mushrooms have been used for aeons in traditional medicine in Asia and Northern Europe – mostly for their dermatological benefits, as they improve the appearance of the skin. Chaga mushrooms are one of the richest sources of antioxidants, including melanin, which give this functional mushroom its darkened appearance. These antioxidants help protect cells from damage caused by free radicals. They are also a natural source of betulinic acid, a natural compound containing anti-cancer properties.

Alternatively, capsules containing powdered Chaga mushroom, as well as liquid tinctures, are sold. While it may not look attractive, this functional mushroom is favoured for its rich, earthy taste.

Chaga mushrooms are consumed in powdered form as a coffee alternative; whole mushrooms are also used to make tea.

Other benefits include being an immune booster and anti-inflammatory, making it a good supplement for treating arthritis. Furthermore, it can improve heart health by reducing high cholesterol levels and hypertension, while being useful treatment for pain and stress management, and regulating sleep due to the melanin content.

Both Chaga mushroom powder and tincture can be purchased from Harmonic Mycology. They also sell Lion’s Mane, Reishi, Cordyceps and Turkey Tail.

Turkey Tail Mushroom

Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor) is also used in Chinese and Japanese medicine. This miraculous mushroom gets its name from its appearance, as it resembles a turkey’s tail; they have a unique pattern with varying colours of light brown, orange and charcoal hues, which appear in the shape of a curved fan. One of the greatest things about Turkey Tail mushrooms is that they are available year-round; though native to North America, they can be cultivated almost anywhere in the world. These medicinal mushrooms thrive in dry areas and are normally found growing on the sides of hardwood trees.

Turkey Tail has numerous health benefits, mainly because they are rich in polysaccharides (complex carbohydrates). Some benefits include promoting gut health by producing beneficial gut bacteria, and improving cardiovascular health – but this functional mushroom is better known for its immunity and cell response benefits.

Turkey Tail helps build immune support by stimulating the production of white blood cells, making it useful in treating infections.

Like many functional mushrooms, Turkey Tail mushrooms are high in antioxidants. It’s also reported to have anti-cancer properties, meaning they help stave off the growth of tumours, as well as reduce the adverse side effects of chemotherapy and radiation, as reported by certain patients – more scientific research is needed to substantiate these claims. Additionally, Turkey Tail is believed to help improve liver function and reduce inflammation, as it contains flavonoids and phenolic compounds (antioxidants)​​. Turkey Tail has a wealth of benefits, making it a useful supplement for improving overall health and wellness.

The Harvest Table sells Turkey Tail Booster containing powdered Turkey Tail mushroom.


Maitake mushrooms or Grifola frondosa, are prized for their incredible healing properties, and have been used for thousands of years in traditional Chinese and Japanese medicine. In fact, the name maitake translates to ‘dancing’ in Japanese – named after the dance that enthused foragers performed when stumbling upon this mushroom in the wild. With their unique flavour and numerous health benefits, maitake mushrooms are becoming increasingly popular in Western society.

These mushrooms grow in clusters, much like cauliflower. Maitake mushrooms also have the ability to grow rather large and are known for their unique appearance, having frilly caps that grow from the stem of the mushroom.

Similar to Lion’s Mane mushrooms, Maitake contains beta-glucans, making them effective in boosting immune system health; they are also believed to have natural killer cells and macrophages, which might help ward off infections and cancers. Maitake mushrooms are rich in potassium, magnesium and calcium.

Besides having incredible health benefits, maitake mushrooms have an earthy aroma and lend a rich, nutty and umami flavour when incorporated into savoury dishes.

These medicinal mushrooms can be difficult to find in certain corners of the world, but are usually available in specialty stores, and often sold dried, fresh, or even canned. Maitake is a delicious meat substitute, thanks to its incredible flavour, texture and nutritional value.

Interested in cultivating mushrooms? You can easily purchase a mushroom growing kit from MyShrooms and grow your own mushrooms at home.

NOTE: There are hundreds of mushroom varieties, both edible and poisonous, many of which look very similar. It is advised to only forage for edible wild mushrooms under the guidance of someone who is properly trained.

Check out our mushroom guide for more info and recipes.

One comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>