Green juice, bone broth, and now…mushrooms? Fungi (Spoiler alert: Not the hallucinogenic kind) are hitting Whole Foods and Moon Juice shelves in a drinkable tea form, which has been praised as “nature’s best kept secret” to help boost immunity, improve memory and even promote more restful sleep.
“Human beings share approximately 40% of our DNA with mushrooms,” says Tero Isokauppila, President and Cofounder of mushroom tea producer, Four Sigma. “Because of this DNA similarity…we are very prone to fungal diseases. The flip side to the coin is that there are a small group of mushrooms that contain very beneficial health compounds,” Isokauppila explains to LivingHealthy.
Pharmaceutical companies have long reaped the benefits of mushrooms when producing popular, lifesaving drugs—Penicillin, for example, is derived from fungi. Isokauppila also points out that at the beginning of the 21st century, “fungi were involved in the industrial processing of more than 10 of the 20 of the most profitable products used in human medicine,” including drugs for high cholesterol, antibiotics and immunosuppressants.
Here’s how mushroom tea is made: After targeting the healing and therapeutic properties of different mushroom types (see Sources below), Four Sigma dries them into powder form, blended with ingredients like stevia sweetener, rose hip and star anise and then neatly packaged into brightly colored bags, ready to be opened and mixed with hot or cold water—or even added to baked goods.
Though the finished product may look just like a cup of coffee, it tastes nothing like your average cup of joe; more like something your natural herbalist would concoct for you—earthy, musky and very much like mushrooms—in other words, it may not be for everyone.
According to Isokauppila, each mushroom varietal has specific benefits. Chaga, the “black gold” mushroom that grows on birch tress, is one of the highest sources of antioxidants in nature and is best sipped “in the morning to give bullet-proof immunity for the whole day,” he says. Isokauppila recommends Reishi (known as “the queen of mushrooms” because of its body-and-mind-balancing ingredients) in “the evening to wind down and help induce a deeper sleep.” Lion’s Mane is an “all-natural brain booster with no side effects. It has been shown to improve memory, boost creativity and help with concentration by activating the nervous system and brain,” says Isokauppila, who suggests drinking it “when working, studying or writing to boost concentration.” Finally, Cordyceps helps you maintain constant energy levels by activating your blood cells’ energy production (instead of acting as a stimulant like a caffeine)—Isokauppila recommends sipping Cordyceps “in the afternoon to boost energy levels” or before a workout.
“It is really rare to find whole foods that have been widely researched, but mushrooms are an exception,” Isokauppila tells LivingHealthy. “Using mushrooms in the whole foods form is nothing new; it is something that indigenous cultures have been using for thousands of years and it’s a part of our ancient survival wisdom.”
Despite each varietals’ benefits and the studies that back up the health advantages of mushrooms, some are still skeptical whether the health benefits carry over into the tea. “The question is, does drinking the tea translate into any [health benefits]?” Larry Kaskel, MD, Medical Director of Northwestern Wellness Center tells LivingHealthy. “There are no large clinical trials addressing this issue and until that happens I am going to tell my patients to drink water—it’s delicious and there is lots of research proving its benefits.”
That said, mushroom tea is still the hot new health drink. And if pre-packaged mushrooms are too conventional for you, take a cue from Insurgent star Shailene Woodley and go the extra mile by foraging your own mushrooms and brewing them in a crockpot.