Mushrooms Are Finally Having a Moment

The wellness world is embracing the fungus among us
Illustration: IStock

No, you’re not seeing things. Mushrooms are everywhere. From granola and meat-free jerky to the vast array of “functional” beverages like coffee, tea, and sparkling water, the wellness world is in the midst of a fungi frenzy. 

This undoubtedly comes as no surprise to traditional practitioners, who have been using mushrooms for their purported health and healing properties for centuries. As a 2011 Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine report on the uses of cordyceps points out, “Mushrooms have been used as food, medicine, poison, and in spiritual mushroom practices in religious rituals across the world since at least 5000 B.C.”

Dr. Melissa Sundermann, who practices at IHA, in Hamburg, shared her insight on the benefits of a fungi-forward diet: “The fiber content is what we look at for nurturing our gut microbiome, which is probably the pulse of our entire existence; 70 percent of our immune system and 90 percent of our serotonins reside there. A healthier gut microbiome reduces inflammation everywhere, from diabetes, heart disease, dementia, weight, and stability.”

Those living in colder regions — like Michigan — may be especially intrigued by another health benefit. “I find that [in the winter] most of my patients are vitamin D deficient, and that’s because it’s really difficult to get it in our diet.” Sundermann explains that, just like humans, mushrooms produce vitamin D when they are exposed to ultraviolet light. “Maitakes are one of the most powerful producers of vitamin D,” Sundermann says. 

She cautions that shoppers should check labels to ensure the mushrooms for sale have been exposed to UV light. 

The resurgence of interest in — and in some places, the decriminalization of — hallucinogenic mushrooms has played a role in calling this new level of attention to the health benefits of edible mushrooms. But this coincides with another lifestyle trend: People are moving away from meat. According to a 2020 survey from Gallup, nearly one in four (23 percent of) Americans reported eating less meat than they had previously. This is good news for mushrooms, whose hearty texture and umami-rich flavor make them a viable alternative.

Carly Feldmeier, a holistic nutritionist in St. Joseph, explains why she’s partial to the shiitake. “It is my favorite edible mushroom because it’s a potent antiviral medicine that we can do simple extractions with at home, like throwing them in a broth or chopping them up and sauteing them. I think they’re really underrated.”

While most of those surveyed in the Gallup poll attributed their diet change to health concerns, some said they did it for environmental reasons. Kelsey Taylor, owner of Magic Moon Mushrooms in Redford and self-described “mycophile,” has been producing mushroom supplements for about three years. She says she first started learning about mushrooms while studying regenerative farming techniques. “You can’t know anything about soil without learning about fungal networks and mycelial connections.” 

The United States Department of Agriculture breaks down the science on just that: Fungi “convert hard-to-digest organic material into forms that other organisms can use. Fungal hyphae physically bind soil particles together, creating stable aggregates that help increase water infiltration and soil water holding capacity.”

Chris Swinson, CFO (as in chief fungal officer) of Mycophile’s Garden, in Grand Rapids, is one of an increasing number of people specializing in creating mushroom-based products. Swinson spends a lot of time at farmers markets, where he is witnessing the sea change firsthand. “We’re seeing fewer people who leer at the mushrooms and just walk by.”

When it comes to fungi, Sundermann is excited about the possibilities. “Cordyceps are used for oxidative stress, recovery, and energy,” she says. “Shiitakes help with lowering blood pressure and cholesterol. Reishi can be used to help with sleep and anxiety. … It’s fascinating the benefits that mushrooms provide and the vast array of species that are edible out there.”

This story is from the 2022 edition of Health Guide. Read more stories here