We’ve been using mushrooms — one way or another —- since the beginning of time. Whether for use in a quick snack, as a part of our meals, or for medicinal purposes, these nutrient-packed buddies have been serving more purposes than one.
But what’s even better than mushrooms? Nootropic mushrooms!
Very simply, mushroom nootropics are varieties with benefits beyond their nutritive value. These have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-cancer properties — and have shown positive scientific evidence of improving one’s health.
This article is your comprehensive guide to nootropic mushrooms, including their types as well as usage. So, let’s get started.
What are Nootropics?
Nootropics (also called ‘smart drugs’) are substances that claim to enhance cognitive function — and improve brain health. Some people refer to them as memory-enhancing substances or cognitive enhancers. This is because they can improve mental functioning (including thinking, mood, attention, creativity, clarity, etc.).
Nootropics include prescription substances as well as nonprescription substances. Our topic under the limelight today is a specific type of nootropics, that is, nootropic mushrooms. These are mushrooms that offer benefits extended beyond their nutritional value. Eastern herbal and holistic practices have been using these for centuries, while the West has also adopted them as supplements.
Best Mushroom Nootropics
Edible mushrooms have other 2000 varieties, and only a handful of non-psychedelic types are famous for their nootropic effect. And while these have been used medicinally over the years, it’s important to note that scientific research has just begun emerging. Early experimental studies show their potential in terms of positive effects on the human brain, though.
Let’s dive into the top 6 nootropic mushrooms so you’re well-versed with the basics before you begin consuming them.
Chaga (Inonotus obliquus)
Chaga is a parasitic fungus grown on birch trees (mostly in cooler climates). It has a distinct appearance — looking somewhat like a burnt piece of charcoal. Chaga differs from most mushroom types, as it is woody and herbal, and cannot be eaten as it is. Instead, it should be dried and ground beforehand.
Benefits: Chaga has antioxidant properties; it can help fight oxidation and lower blood pressure. It has contents of beta-D-glucans, which can help lower blood sugar levels. Plus, it supports digestive and liver health, and its adaptogenic properties mean it can help adapt to stress. Chaga is also believed to help with aging.
Uses: Chaga is typically used as a tea, supplements, or in powdered form (in beverages).
Side Effects and Cautions: Chaga is generally considered a safe mushroom to consume. However, people with certain allergies, sensitivities, and health problems should exercise caution before consuming the mushroom. For example, it could pose a risk for diabetic people, as chaga interferes with blood sugar levels (and can interact with medications they take).
Lion’s Mane (Hericium erinaceus)
Lion’s mane grows in conifer trees in Northern climates. The unique ‘shaggy’ appearance of this mushroom looks similar to a lion’s mane — exactly where its name comes from. Its benefits for memory and focus (as proven by animal studies) earn it the name ‘mind mushroom’.
Benefits: Lion’s mane enhances cognitive function by stimulating the production of NGF (nerve growth factor), improving the body’s ability to produce new neurons. It also kills infectious bacteria, helps fight cancer, and lowers blood lipid levels. Lion’s mane may also help manage diabetes and mild depression.
Uses: Lion’s mane can be consumed raw, cooked, or dried — or in supplement form.
Side Effects and Cautions: Several animal studies show that Lion’s mane is very safe to use (even at high doses). But people with mushroom allergies should avoid it.
Cordyceps (Cordyceps sinensis)
This ‘zombie mushroom’ is one of the world’s most interesting fungi. It is parasitic and infects insects — causing them to either climb towards the highest leaf or burrow beneath the ground. Here, the insect dies, and Cordyceps consumes it. It has been famous in Chinese medicine for centuries.
Benefits: Cordyceps can enhance your physical performance (and improve stamina) by improving the way your body uses oxygen. It has anti-aging and anti-tumor effects, and can help manage type 2 diabetes. Plus, Cordyceps has possible benefits for your heart health.
Uses: Cordyceps is mostly used as a traditional medicine, and sometimes as a supplement for athletes’ performance.
Side Effects and Cautions: While there are no studies about the safety of this mushroom in humans, its prolonged use in Chinese medicine suggests it's non-toxic. People with health conditions should consult a professional before use.
Maitake (Grifola frondosa)
Maitake is the ‘hen of the woods’ — perhaps because it looks like a group of overlapping brown caps. It has commonly been used to treat cancer (many different forms of it!), and taking it daily can have many benefits for your immune system.
Benefits: Maitake is a significant antidepressant. When paired with ashwagandha, it can decrease cortisol production (the stress response), as shown by animal studies. The mushroom can also help fight diabetes and cancer.
Uses: Maitake is often added to culinary dishes. It is also found in supplement form.
Side Effects and Cautions: Maitake is digestible as long as it’s not too old; if it is, cooking it can help with digestibility. Upset stomachs have rarely been reported but can be a risk factor with Maitake’s consumption. Also, people with diabetes and bleeding disorders (and those who have recently gone through surgery) should consult their doctor before using this mushroom.
Oyster (Pleurotus ostreatus)
Oyster mushrooms are jam-packed with minerals and vitamins. They have a shelf-like appearance. Flavorwise, they’re relatively mild. Further, there are around 40 types of oyster mushrooms.
Benefits: Oyster mushrooms are an amazing source of antioxidants — and offer several antiviral and antibacterial benefits. They also improve gut health (by decreasing the growth of pathogenic bacteria) and have a strong anti-inflammatory potential.
Uses: Oyster mushrooms are mostly used for culinary purposes to prepare different dishes (such as soups, pasta dishes, and stews).
Side Effects and Cautions: They’re generally considered safe, but if you have health conditions or are pregnant, it’s better to confirm with your doctor beforehand.
Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum)
Another mushroom nootropic is Reishi. It features a shiny cap, reddish-brown in color. Being one of the world’s oldest medicinals, it is sometimes called the ‘mushroom of immortality’. Originally, it was used in the treatment of cancer, but over the years, it has been researched as a great nootropic.
Benefits: Reishi boosts the immune system and has anti-cancer properties (it has been considered useful for prostate cancer as well). It is also considered a good supplement for heart health and blood sugar levels — and can potentially reduce fatigue.
Uses: Reishi is usually taken as a tea or in powdered form.
Side Effects and Cautions: Some side effects have been observed with the use of this mushroom (such as liver problems). However, it is not clear if it was actually Reishi that caused the problems in the affected people. If you have any concerns, speak to your doctor before starting its use.
How to Use Mushroom Nootropics
If you’re looking to add nootropic mushrooms to your diet, you should know which mushroom to select, the dosage, and more. Below are quick tips to help you get started.
- Purchase your mushroom nootropics from reputable companies — having a high-quality product helps you enjoy the best results.
- Choose the mushroom that aligns with your (health and cognitive) goals. For example, Cordyceps can help improve your performance, while Chaga is great for slowing down aging.
- If you’re new to nootropics, begin with a low dose; this helps monitor your body’s reaction and avoid any reactions.
- Choose the form in which you will take the nootropic mushrooms. If you’re opting for a powder, mix it with your beverages. Some mushrooms can be taken as tea, while edible varieties can be used as a part of your meals. Almost all mushroom nootropics can be found as supplements.
- Be consistent with your consumption in order to see results. Some users find taking breaks between their mushroom intake cycles helpful.
- If you have any disease/disorder, or are pregnant or breastfeeding, speak to your practitioner and confirm the mushroom type and dosage you will be taking.
Are mushrooms good nootropics?
Yes, mushrooms are good nootropics — and their use over the centuries has proven them to be so. They provide more benefits than their original nutritional value, and, with consistent use, can help you control many health problems.
What is the most powerful nootropic mushroom?
While each mushroom has its own benefits, Lion’s mane is considered one of the greatest. It can boost cognitive performance and increase memory, all while stimulating the growth of new brain cells (neurogenesis). That is major for a mushroom so small!
Do all mushrooms have nootropics?
No. Out of a total of 14,000 species of mushrooms, 2,000 are edible. Of these, 270 have medicinal value, and only under 10 are believed to have nootropic value.
Do nootropic mushrooms work?
Yes, nootropic mushrooms hold a myriad of benefits for the human body — which has been proven by their use over the years. While they may not exactly increase one’s IQ, they can help fight cognitive impairment. See below for their benefits.
Benefits of Nootropic Mushrooms
Nootropic mushrooms are valued for the extensive benefits they can offer to the human body. These include but are not limited to:
- Cognitive enhancement
- Nootropic mushrooms boost memory, increase clarity, and improve focus.
- Mood regulation
- They can reduce stress and help you sleep better.
- Brain health
- Mushroom nootropics, especially Lion’s mane, can promote the production of new neurons.
- Adaptogenic properties
- Mushrooms (especially Reishi) can help manage stress.
- Antioxidant properties
- They can combat oxidative stress (and related problems).
- Immune support
- They boost your immune system — and improve your holistic well-being.
If you’re consuming mushroom nootropics — stick to a healthy lifestyle to see the best results. This is because mushroom nootropics take a holistic approach to health, and your lifestyle should adapt. It may take a little effort, but you will soon feel like a new version of yourself.