I’m game to try pretty much anything in the name of better health. No workout, fit-tech product, or vegan taco is too weird for me.
Except for mushrooms. I’ve never been a fan of the fungi, although I know that they’re great for you. But when I noticed that mushroom coffees and tonics were popping up on the menus of all of my favorite LA health spots (and in Gwenyth Paltrow’s daily morning smoothie) I knew it was time to embrace shrooms fully.
Medicinal mushrooms—not the hallucinogenic kind—have been used for centuries by Eastern medicine healers in Russia, China, and India to heal various ailments. Typically ingested in tea or powder form, wellness institutions like Lifehouse Tonics and Moon Juice now mix various powdered mushroom formulas into tonics and juices. While there are too many different varieties to list here, there are a few different types of mushrooms that have been scientifically proven to help with athletic performance, mental acuity, focus, and mood.
The benefits of mushrooms
You might already be familiar with cordyceps, thanks to its rise to fame in the nineties. In 1993, the Chinese Women’s Track and Field Olympic team smashed records left and right; those who followed the sport were suspicious—the marked improvement was unprecedented. “Mushrooms,” shrugged the team’s coach, who claimed that regularly drinking cordyceps team was the key to their success.
Although the team’s historic gains in speed is still a little shady, cordyceps’ positive effect on athletic ability has proved legitimate. The National Institute of Health has published more than a thousand studies on the health benefits of cordyceps, which has been linked to everything from antibacterial powers to antioxidant-level cellular protection.
Popular mushroom varieties
But cordyceps isn’t the only fungi that’s a little magical. Here are some other popular shrooms that you might find on the menu at your favorite juice bar:
- Maitake is known for its ability to detoxify the body and energize the immune system
- Turkey Tail mushroom has strong antiviral, antimicrobial, and antitumor properties
- Chaga supports immunity
- Lion’s Mane is considered a natural brain-booster, for improved mental clarity
- Cordyceps boosts energy and athletic performance
- Reishi has anti-anxiety and relaxing properties to control energy levels and also supports digestion.
Many mushrooms are also adaptogenic, meaning they equalize the body’s hormonal levels and stabilize energy levels. Fraser Thompson, co-founder of the incredible tonic bar Lifehouse Tonics that specializes in smoothies and drinks that harness the power of mushrooms and herbs, explained it to me this way: “Mushrooms give you energy without the jitters. They get you focused without feeling spacey. They make you calm, but alert. Basically, they help you function on a higher level.”
For those of you who are still skeptical, know that these mushroom powders are virtually tasteless—no need to worry about it messing with the flavor of your smoothie. After trying mushroom coffee, Moon Juice’s power dust, and Lifehouse Tonics’ Shroom Shake, I definitely felt more focused and was able to power through my work quickly and efficiently.
Was it the mushrooms, or just willpower? The jury’s still out. But with all the scientific evidence backing up this health trend, I’m going to keep sipping mushroom smoothies … just in case.