The power of functional mushrooms

What’s the fuss with functional mushrooms? We learn more about these powerful fungi and how they can support our health and wellbeing.

You might’ve heard of them, but maybe you haven’t – because functional mushrooms aren’t anything ordinary.

I didn’t quite know what to expect with functional mushrooms. How do you consume them? What do they taste like? As it turns out though, it’s really easy to add the power food to your daily routine (and it isn’t at all like eating a regular mushroom!). Today you can enjoy the impressive health benefits of functional mushrooms in capsule form, in your morning coffee, a cup of hot chocolate, or even added to your dessert!

What are functional mushrooms?

So, what exactly does it mean for a mushroom to be ‘functional’?

Generally rich in antioxidants, functional mushrooms – including Lion’s Mane, Tremella, Turkey Tail, Reishi, Chaga, Shiitake and Maitake – are used to support immune function, healthy sleep, brain focus, stamina, healthy ageing, and more.

“Functional mushrooms have been renowned for their health benefits in the eastern world for hundreds of years – and it seems that our western world is finally catching on,” says Rebecca Baylis, registered naturopath and medical herbalist at HealthPost.

They were even being used for health benefits in ancient Egypt!

“Egyptian hieroglyphics depict mushrooms as the plant of immortality, with mushrooms being referred to as ‘sons of the gods’ and being transported to Earth on lightning bolts by the god Set,” shares Dave Wylie, founder of Flow State. “As a result, mushrooms were exclusively consumed by nobility and pharaohs. The Aztecs also possessed sacred mushrooms, which they called ‘the flesh of the gods’ and ingested as part of religious ceremonies.”

Misty Day Plant Potions’ Rachel Dawson adds: “People assume that functional mushrooms are some new and trendy ingredient that has just popped up in the last few years, but they have actually been used traditionally in Asia and Europe for centuries. In fact, one functional mushroom, Reishi, is mentioned in the Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing which is an Ancient Chinese herbal bible thought to have been written in about 200CE but developed from oral traditions from the previous 2,000-3,000 years.

“Reishi was considered so esteemed it is represented as the link between heaven and earth and depictions of them are all over ancient Chinese art and in places like the Forbidden City.”

In more recent years, with the amplified awareness of the important role our microbiome plays, mushrooms such as this have made a return – bringing with them an array of health benefits to the microbiome and our immune wellness.

“Each mushroom yields different compounds, but there are similarities – like beta glucans (healthy immune support) and polysaccharides (prebiotic bowel support) within many of them,” explains Baylis. “When we affectionately call them ‘shrooms’, we’re not meaning their ‘magic mushroom’ psilocybin-containing cousins – but functional mushrooms are no less interesting!”

The benefits of functional mushrooms

“There is no other herb which can provide the multitude of benefits that functional mushrooms can,” says Dawson. “All mushrooms contain compounds called beta glucans which support heathy gut microbes and digestive function alongside helping to train immune cells to be tolerant when needed and to identify and remember intruders when required.”

Here’s a look at the different health and wellbeing concerns that can benefit from functional mushrooms.

“They are the kind of herb you can’t ignore. These are the herbs you take before you get sick, so you don’t get sick and you reach your potential,” says Mason Taylor from SuperFeast. “That’s what the functional mushrooms are.”

Mental focus

Known as the brain mushroom, Lion’s Mane is renowned for its cognitive-enhancing abilities – supporting memory, focus, clarity and overall brain health. A recent study by researchers from the University of Queensland and scientists in South Korea, published in the Journal of Neurochemistry, even suggests that compounds in Lion’s Mane mushrooms may boost brain cell growth and improve memory. 

Immune boosting

At this time of year, it’s a good idea to do what we can to increase our immunity against the season’s ills and chills. Full of fibre, minerals including copper and selenium, B vitamins, and many of the essential amino acids required by the body to create protein, Shiitake supports a strong immune response – the mushroom supports a balanced cytokine response so that our immune system is responding the way it should to an immune threat.

The Reishi mushroom is also known for its immunity-boosting effects; its beta glucans (complex sugars) are believed to stimulate the immune system, decreasing the potential for infection.

“They are the kind of herb you can’t ignore. These are the herbs you take before you get sick, so you don’t get sick and you reach your potential,” says Mason Taylor from SuperFeast. “That’s what the functional mushrooms are.”


Reishi mushrooms are also adaptogenic stress-soothers that secrete cortisol – a hormone that helps the body respond to stress.

“Reishi has a well-earned reputation for supporting a healthy immune system and good night’s sleep; studies show it supports liver cell health, too. A ‘Queen on a chess board’ is a great way to describe it,” says Dawson.

Skin support

Dubbed ‘the beauty mushroom’, Tremella supports healthy skin ageing and skin hydration – its antioxidant properties protect the skin from oxidation, leaving a youthful complexion, and with the ability for Tremella mushroom to hold up to 500 times its weight in water, it has an impressive performance in helping the skin retain moisture, similar to hyaluronic acid.

“Tremella supports skin hydration as well as positive ageing for a radiant and fresh-looking complexion. Considering that our bodies use food nutrients to keep our skin healthy, it makes sense to approach beauty from the inside out,” explains Baylis.

“Our capsuled products are our most popular products, which are super convenient at any time of the day,” adds Flow State’s Dave Wylie.

Good gut health

While most functional mushrooms are beneficial to gut health, Chaga is particularly popular in this area thanks to its high level of antioxidants, support of digestion and immune health, and ability to support healthy blood sugars and pancreas health.

Known as the ‘mushroom of immortality’, research also shows that Chaga mushrooms contain compounds that have been shown to help reduce inflammation in the body.

Adding functional mushrooms to your daily routine

“The beautiful thing about functional mushrooms is that they come in all forms, to suit your needs. Whether you’re on-the-go and want an easy-to-take capsule or you’d love to create a ritual by having your functional mushroom as a powder in your morning cuppa, there are plenty of ways to take these in your daily routine,” says Baylis.


“I’m a bit of a coffee fanatic, so my favourite way to get in my functional mushrooms is in my morning coffee,” shares Dawson, and many powdered forms of functional mushrooms are perfect for this – including Misty Day Plant Potions’ Shroom Squad and Mason’s Mushrooms from SuperFeast.

Wildwood’s Spiced Cacao has Reishi and Lion’s Mane, blended to deliver an indulgent, rich cacao flavour with a punch of spice.

Other hot brews

If you’re not a coffee drinker, the flavour profiles of many functional mushroom blends can be enjoyed as they are. “Our blends offer a delicious way to trade out that second or third cup that may no longer be serving you, for a blissful brew packed with the benefits of functional mushrooms,” says Joe Dakin from Wildwood.

“Functional mushroom extracts can be bitter – this is a good sign as it indicates the highly beneficial bio active compounds in the mushrooms, but can make them hard to integrate into your diet. Wildwood’s blends carefully balance this bitterness, with just enough sweetness to make all the flavours shine. Think delicious, spicy hot chocolate for grownups with the benefits of functional mushrooms.” Wildwood’s Spiced Cacao has Reishi and Lion’s Mane, blended to deliver an indulgent, rich cacao flavour with a punch of spice. Yum!


In Mason Taylor’s words, “we’re kind of spoilt for choice” when it comes to ways tointegrate functional mushrooms into our daily lives. So, he suggests we do what works best for us.

“Functional mushrooms, although they can be used in clinic and symptomology, they should fall into your lifestyle for long-term use because the longer you use them, the more results you get.

And in order for that to happen, they need to slot in with your rhythm and your habits. What’s the easiest way to get you actually taking them? If you’re already taking capsules and you’re religious with it, do that.”

“Our capsuled products are our most popular products, which are super convenient at any time of the day,” adds Flow State’s Dave Wylie.

Little-known facts about functional mushrooms

  1. “On a spiritual level, some believe that Chaga opens the ‘third eye’ to allow for better emotional and spiritual connections, while Reishi helps you to identity and break free of that which no longer serves you,” says Dawson.
  2. “Part of what makes up the structure of a mushroom is chitin. This is tough fibrous material that also makes up the exoskeleton of insects – this structure locks many of the bioactive compounds in the cell walls of mushroom. For this reason, it is important that extraction is performed properly and the mushrooms you choose have high levels of bio active compounds,” says Daikin.
  3. The oldest materia medica, called The Divine Farmer’s Materia Medica – the Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing – has a category of herbs called the ‘superior herbs’, with these herbs broken into four categories. One of those is fungi. “A huge proportion of those superior herbs are the mushrooms that we know of today like Reishi,” explains Taylor.

Save 10% off functional mushrooms with HealthPost – New Zealand’s largest range of high-quality wellness ‘shrooms.

Use promo code SHROOM at checkout to save 10%.

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