“Can’t stop thinking about people that first ate mushrooms they found,” writes Twitter user @goulcher in a popular meme that’s been circulating. “[They] just had to go through trial and error of like, this one tastes like beef, this one killed Brian immediately and this one makes you see god for a week.” Funny, right? But it’s true! And now that we know more about mushrooms, we can add beauty benefits (like more even skin tone and increased hydration), stress management, and improved focus to the list. This wellness trend isn’t going away any time soon (it’s been going strong for 2000 years already!), and it’s helpful to understand different mushrooms’ benefits, rich cultural histories, and best method for use before you jump onboard. Below, a glossary of 22 mushrooms you may have heard about or seen before (and a few you never want to).
The Beauty Shrooms
Ingested or applied topically, these mushrooms support glowing skin
Chaga: A potent adaptogen, chaga is also filled with antioxidants and betulinic acid, an anti-inflammatory wound healer that makes it good for those with inflammatory conditions like eczema and dermatitis. You can find it in Traditional Chinese and Russian Medicines.
Coprinus: These mushrooms have lots of reported benefits, from antioxidant to anti-inflammatory to antiandrogenic (which means it can help block an excess of male hormones possibly contributing to acne). Coprinus is most often found in supplements.
Cordyceps: When a caterpillar doesn’t become a butterfly, it becomes a… cordyceps mushroom, which is technically a parasite. However, now most cordyceps mushrooms were cultivated on rice. Cordyceps is a strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, and can also help boost your body’s production of collagen and elastin. While you can cook and eat them, they’re most often found in beauty supplements.
Coriolus: Also called turkey tail for its triangular shape and multicolored pattern, these mushrooms have a score of well-documented benefits including antioxidant activity and immunity support. They also display some antitumor functions and are often suggested to cancer patients alongside Western treatments. Skin can benefit from its antioxidant effects too, and topically, coriolus can help lighten dark marks.
Tremella: It looks sort of like a loofah and works similarly to hyaluronic acid—tremella, also called snow mushroom and silver ear, is a powerful humectant and has a small particle size to penetrate the skin. It's also a strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. Tremella is a staple of both Traditional Chinese Medicine and Chinese cooking. According to legend, one of China’s four great beauties, a concubine of the Tang Dynasty named Yang Guifei, credited it with her youthful beauty.
The Shrooms That Just Want You To Do Your Best
Taken as supplements, these shrooms have proven wellness benefits
Lion’s Mane: These mushrooms look like shaggy sheepskin ottomans, which is where they get their name. They’re used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to support brain function and nerve regeneration (which is why they’re classified as nootropics in the Western world).
Oyster: Most common in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean cooking, these smooth, white mushrooms have a mild taste and a longer than average shelf life. They're antioxidants and also have relatively high percentages of beta glucan, a prebiotic and natural cholesterol lowerer.
Reishi: Its use was first documented in Traditional Chinese Medicine’s oldest text, the Huangdi Neijing, which dates from over 2,000 years ago. In Chinese it’s called lingzhi, which translates to “mushroom of immortality,” and recent clinical trials have found reishi beneficial for managing things like stress (it’s an adaptogen) and allergies (it inhibits the release of histamine, the compound responsible for bad allergic reactions). Reishi is very bitter, so it’s best in a powder or tincture.
The Edible Powerhouses
Cook now, enjoy the wellness benefits later
Chanterelle: Small, pretty, and delicious, chanterelles are a seasonal treat. They’ve also been shown to have antioxidant and antibacterial effects, though research is limited.
Maitake: Also known as hen of the woods (and not to be confused with chicken of the woods), maitake mushrooms are large, brown, and almost leafy looking. They’re commonly grown in North America, China and Japan, and have been used in Traditional Chinese and Japanese Medicine to support a healthy immune system. Maitake mushrooms are high in antioxidants and adaptogenic. Plus, they’re rich in flavor—you can cook with ‘em!
Shiitake: These little brown mushrooms are native to East Asia and feature in lots of East Asian dishes—they’re inexpensive to buy and easy to cook, too. Ingested, shiitake mushrooms have immune-boosting anti-viral qualities thanks to an active compound called LEM. They’re also full of antioxidants and other nutrients like selenium, vitamin D, and complex B vitamins, and have been shown to improve vitality in the elderly and prevent active people from burning out. Used topically, shiitake’s naturally high levels of melanin-inhibiting kojic acid can help brighten dark marks.
The "Proceed With Caution" Shrooms
May lead to a case of the giggles and pretty cool visuals
Psilocybe cubensis: Magic mushrooms are illegal. But if you’ve ever had a psychedelic experience 'em, it was most likely these. They’re the most commonly cultivated because they’re easy to grow indoors, and are bred for potency.
Psilocybe tampanensis: Due to a weird legal loophole in Amsterdam, you can buy these in coffee shops. They're known as magic truffles.
The Ones That Taste Good (But Don't Do Much Else)
Put 'em in soup! On a burger bun! In a pasta dish!
Chicken of the woods: Called as such because most people say it tastes like chicken, and makes a great meat substitute in vegetarian cooking. They’re usually found through foraging.
Cremini: The little brown-capped mushrooms you often see at the grocery store or on pizza. They’re low in calories but also low in nutrients, and have a mild, neither here-nor-there flavor.
Enoki: The teeny, skinny mushrooms you’ll often find in Asian cuisine. They have a super mild, almost sweet flavor and, when cooked, a texture and girth similar to a noodle. Enokis are a great source of B vitamins.
Morel: These seasonal mushrooms (you’ll only really find them in the spring, between April and May) kind of look like shroomy raisins. If you do find them, sautee in butter—the butter's not great for you, but antioxidant and vitamin D-rich morels are.
Porcini: Small, brown mushrooms with thick white stalks that can be sold fresh (to be used in risotto or sauteed alone) or dried (for soups and stocks). Their deep, nutty flavor makes them a chef-favorite, and they’re only available for a short window in the fall, so they tend to be on the pricey side. If you do manage to find them, they’re high in protein and vitamins C and A.
Portobello: These guys are native to Italy, and their large, round caps are dense and spongy. They’re often used as a meat substitute—you can cook them exactly how you would steak or chicken, and eat them on a bun like a burger.
Truffle: Rare, delicious, and expensive. Truffles have a really distinct taste that’s often described as chocolatey, earthy, nutty, woody, garlicky… it’s tricky to place, but you know it when you taste it. They grow in the wild and dogs are trained to find them (but before that became the norm, truffle foragers used pigs).
The Ones Never To Mess With
The least fun guys of the bunch
Fly Agaric: Close your eyes and picture a mushroom. Is it red with white spots, like the loveable Mario character Toad? That is this. While cute to look at, they’re filled with neurotoxins and quite poisonous.
Death cap: Don’t eat these white-stemmed, green-capped shrooms. Don’t even look at them. Known as the most poisonous mushroom in North America (though also found throughout Europe, Asia, and North Africa), if you do eat one, the death rate is 50-percent.
Photo via ITG