Fungal Nutrition for a Healthier You

Those of us who enjoy mushrooms love their fresh earthy taste. Prepared right, mushrooms can add so much flavor to our soups, salads, meat dishes, pasta dishes, and so many others. But did you know that mushrooms are not only good but also good for you? Mushrooms are a nutritional powerhouse that can help make for a healthier you. (Source: UCLA Health –

Mushrooms can lower your cancer risk. A review of 17 cancer studies from 1966 to 202 shows that consuming as little as 18 grams of mushrooms each day can reduce your cancer risk by up to 45%. Mushrooms contain large quantities of ergothioneine, an antioxidant and amino acid that slows or prevents cellular damage.

Mushrooms are low in sodium. A single cup of white button mushrooms contains only 5 milligrams of sodium. And since mushrooms are also very flavorful, using them in prepared meals means that less salt is needed. A study from the Culinary Institute of America and UC Davis showed that replacing half of the meat in a ground beef dish with mushrooms can lower sodium intake by 25% while still maintaining flavor.

Eating mushrooms can help lower cholesterol. Mushrooms contain compounds that inhibit cholesterol production and absorption and lower cholesterol levels in the blood.

Mushrooms can protect brain health. A study in Singapore showed that participants who consumed more than two cups per week of mushrooms had a 50% lower risk of developing mild cognitive impairment (MCI).

Mushrooms are an excellent source of Vitamin D. Most people get their Vitamin D from supplements or sunshine, but mushrooms are a natural source of this essential nutrient. Certain mushrooms, when exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation, can increase their concentration of Vitamin D. White button, portabella, and cremini mushrooms provide the largest amount of Vitamin D after being exposed to the sun. To get the maximum benefit, slice three mushrooms (or one portabella), expose them to sunlight for fifteen minutes, than enjoy. You can also get the same benefit from a cup of maitake (hen of the woods) mushrooms without the sun exposure.

Mushrooms can promote gut health. Mushroom polysaccharides can stimulate the growth of healthy gut bacteria. They are unaffected by stomach acid and can pass through all the way to the colon to encourage the growth of beneficial bacteria there.

Mushrooms can play a role in supporting a healthy immune system. Mushrooms contain certain macronutrients that help promote a healthy immune system.

  • Selenium, a crucial mineral the body needs to make antioxidant enzymes to prevent cell damage. Cremini and portabella contain the highest amounts of selenium.
  • Vitamin D, which assists with cell growth, increases immune function, and reduces inflammation. Maitake mushrooms are an excellent source of this nutrient.
  • Vitamin B6, which plays a role in red blood cell, protein, and DNA formation. Shitake mushrooms are the best source of Vitamin B6.

So pile on the mushrooms. Your body will thank you!


The Mushrooms You Set Will Depend On What You Can Get

Previously, I wrote about mushrooms and how some species can be particular on what media they will grow. So whether or not you can attempt to grow a particular mushroom species will depend on what is available to you that you can turn into a mushroom growth media.

Do you know an arborist who can acquire freshly cut logs for you? Then you can use those logs to grow shiitake mushrooms. But if you want to grow maitake (a.k.a. hen-of-the-woods) mushrooms, then those logs will have to be oak.

Are you able to get your hands on sterilized sawdust? Or maybe that same arborist can provide you with sawdust that you can sterilize yourself? Then you might be able to grow morels – although morels can be tricky to grow, as they require a flooding, a freezing, and a sclerotia stage, which is necessary to form the compact mycelium.

Is there a bakery in your town that would be willing to let you haul away their food waste? Then you can grow oyster or shiitake mushrooms

Do you have access to wood chips or other hardwood debris? Then you can grow king stropharia mushrooms. In fact, as long as you keep feeding that wood debris, those mushrooms will continue to grow year after year.

In my August 1st blog post, I said that it doesn’t matter what you’ve been given, it’s what you do with it. With mushrooms, however, it’s just the opposite. To be sure, you can grow mushrooms on just about anything. But if you want to grow a specific species of mushroom, whether or not you can grow it will depend on whether or not you can acquire the right kind of growing media. So choose your media and choose your mushrooms.

How Do I Know Which Mushrooms to Grow?

So you’ve decided to grow your own mushrooms. Congratulations! Mushroom growing is a wonderful hobby, and like gardening, there is a certain feeling of pride that comes with producing your own fungal treasures.

But now comes an important question – where do I begin? Just like when you were a beginning gardener, you should start with something easy. Once you’ve mastered coaxing a decent yield out of the substrate of an easy-to-grow species, then you can move onto something more challenging. But which species are easiest to grow? And what other factors are there to consider?

Some species require a great deal of maintenance, and thus should be avoided by the beginner. Maitake or hen of the woods, for example, requires a cold shock, 10-20oF (5.6-11oC), followed by a period of initiation under high carbon dioxide and humidity, and then followed by a high dose of oxygen. It can be tricky to create all of those conditions, not to mention the expense required to procure all the right equipment to make it all happen. So maitake mushrooms should probably be avoided by the beginning grower. On the other hand, oyster mushrooms are very easy to grow – indeed you can purchase specialized kits that require you to put in no more effort than slitting the side of a box and keeping it moist for a week or so, resulting in a quick yield of some tasty mushrooms.

Here are some other factors to consider.

Ease of identification – how easily you can tell your cultivated mushrooms apart from “weed” fungi. This is more of a factor with mushrooms grown outdoors on wood chips.

Substrate specificity – what kind of medium is required to grow a particular mushroom. Oyster mushrooms, for example, will grow on a wide variety of substrates — wheat straw, coffee grounds, hardwood conifers, agriculture waste, etc., all things that are fairly easy to obtain. Your local bakery would probably more than happy to give you all of their food waste that you can handle, and your oyster mushrooms will be perfectly happy growing on it. Maitake, on the other hand, will grow only on oak logs or oak wood chips. To be sure, you can get wood chips from a nursery, but they probably won’t be oak.

Temperature range and sensitivity – Just as you would not attempt to grow a plant from USDA Hardiness Zone 10 (average annual low 40oF-30oF) in Zone 6 (average annual low 0oF-minus 10oF), you would want to make sure that the mushroom species you wish to grow can survive the climate in your area. So if you live in the Chicago area, with that Zone 6 average annual low, then a hairy panus mushroom, which grows at tropical temperatures of 86-100+oF, would not be a good species to start with. Instead, try a shiitake or an oyster.

Time to maturation and yield – Some mushroom species are slow to produce, while others will fruit quickly. If you’re the impatient type, then you probably don’t want to start with truffles (10 years) or even king stropharia (4-6 months). Oysters take only about 10 days to produce.

Infrastructure – If you choose to start from scratch instead of growing from a kit, your choice of what to grow will be limited by the amount of physical space you have and substrates available to you. If logs and tree debris are all that you can get, then you will be limited to shiitake and whatever else grows on logs. If you can obtain wood chips from your local arborist, then you can grow king stropharia. If you can spare an extra room, such as a bathroom or closet, then you can have an indoor growing operation, using those extra rooms for colonization and fruiting.

So start with easy to grow species right for your climate on whatever substrate you can easily obtain, and will have improved the odds that you will get a bountiful harvest of delicious and nutritious mushrooms.