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An intro to adaptogenic mushrooms

Rebecca Firkser
March 20, 2018

If, like me, you follow people on social media who pack their morning latte full of things like cordyceps, lion’s mane, reishi, and chaga, you might be wondering what the hell is going on. Are these ingredients sweeteners? Flavorings? None of the above; they’re mushrooms. Used in brews like mushroom tea or mushroom coffee, these mushrooms are part of a larger sect of plants known as adaptogens, which are natural substances used in herbal medicine that are believed to help balance the body.

Adaptogenic mushrooms are typically sold in powdered form that can be mixed with hot water or another warm drink. They can also be blended into smoothies or used in baked goods.

Though adaptogenic mushrooms are caffeine-free, they can still be extremely potent when first introduced into the body—sort of like taking a lot of caffeine. One journalist at Refinery29 purposefully tested the psychoactive effects of reishi mushrooms, claiming the a quadruple dose of the powder actually got her high. While she did take much more than advised on the reishi powder’s package, one herbalist she consulted believed that this happened because she wanted the mushrooms to be psychoactive.

“With plant medicine, setting an intention to move the adaptogenic chemistry is crucial,” Adriana Ayales, the founder of Anima Mundi Apothecary said to Refinery29. “That’s why a lot of people dismiss plants as ‘ineffective,’ because they don’t set an intention but expect them to work like pharmaceuticals.”

Four Sigmatic, a company that produces powdered mushroom elixirs and coffees, recommends starting out with one packet of their adaptogens daily—that’s 500-1500mg of organic powdered mushrooms—just to see how each one makes you feel. As with any supplements, it's best to only take the recommended dosage of adaptogenic mushrooms in the manner directed on the package. If you're buying anything in bulk, as is possible in many health food stores or on certain wesbites, it's best to consult a health professional for dosage.

While adaptogenic mushrooms have proved beneficial in some studies, which can seem very exciting, it’s important to note that for the most part, adaptogenic research is small-scale and inconclusive. Although it’s unlikely that taking adaptogenic mushrooms will harm you, you also can’t expect them to cure all that ails you. So go ahead and order that cordycep-lion’s mane matcha instead of a cortado for a change, but don’t use the adaptogens in place of prescribed medication. As always, it’s best to consult a health professional before using any new supplements, especially if you have pre-existing health complications.

Here’s a little intro to four common adaptogenic mushrooms:

Cordyceps

Proponents of adaptogens find that cordyceps (a genus of ascomycete fungi) are a powerful hormone-balancer, helping to combat fatigue and improve stamina.

Lion’s Mane

Believed to improve memory and mood, lion’s mane (Hericium erinaceus) has been found in studies to combat brain fog as well as anxiety.

Reishi

Reishi (the lingzhi mushroom) has been found in studies to soothe allergy symptoms and potentially lower blood sugar levels in diabetics.

Chaga

According to herbalists, chaga (Inonotus obliquus) has been found to be immunizing and anti-inflammatory. One study even found it to have surprisingly potent antiviral properties.

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