Trailblazers in the wellness industry are always looking for the next big superfood, so it was only a matter of time before someone looked to the past.
“Functional mushrooms” have been a staple in global traditional medical practices for millennia (albeit not under that name). For instance, several traditional Chinese medical practitioners prescribed mushrooms as a panacea for several ailments, from stress to physical discomfort.
Now, these mushrooms are catching on here in the west – in a big way. Business Wire forecasts that the functional mushroom market will hit $34.3 billion by 2024 (a sizeable uptick over five years).
This begs the questions: What are functional mushrooms, and why are they suddenly surging in popularity? Let’s take a closer look.
What Are Functional Mushrooms?
When experts talk about functional mushrooms, they don’t mean the little round caps you find diced in your omelette. Nor do they mean illegal mushrooms. By definition, functional mushrooms are fungi known for their medicinal and/or wellness benefits.
Each species of functional mushrooms is unique. Some may help you fend off the common cold, while others might soothe your stress responses. Together, these mushrooms are lumped under the umbrella, “functional mushrooms.”
Popular Functional Mushrooms
There are roughly 14,000 species of mushrooms that scientists have discovered and described, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Some experts place the potential number of mushroom species in the millions.
Of these many species, only a select few are considered functional mushrooms. The “big three” functional mushrooms, generally agreed to help promote health and wellness, are:
- Chaga mushrooms: Perhaps the most popular functional mushrooms, these fungi are known as immune system superstars. People often take Chaga to support their immune responses, but users have noted several other benefits too.
- Lion’s Mane mushrooms: Full of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties, these mushrooms are fantastic for all-around wellness. Still, most people associate lion’s mane mushrooms with their potential ability to support brain health and improve cognitive functions.
- Reishi mushrooms: People who want to relax at the end of a hard day often reach for reishi as their go-to functional mushroom. Reishi mushrooms are revered for their ability to help your body adapt to stress, which often earns them the classification “adaptogen mushroom.”
Once squarely the domain of esoteric Eastern medicinal practices, these mushrooms are now available online in easy-to-dose packets, but ensure that you buy from a trusted superfoods company.
Why Are Functional Mushrooms Gaining in Popularity?
Why are functional mushrooms so popular? That’s a relatively easy question to answer: Because they possess all the benefits listed in the bullet points above, and more.
A more nuanced question would be, “why now?” The recent surge in functional mushrooms’ popularity probably speaks to a general trend toward open-mindedness, especially among wellness experts and consumers. Whereas before, people might have been wary of trying new traditional medicines from abroad, nowadays, many consumers are guided by curiosity. They read about the studies and research conducted on traditional forms of medicine, and want to try it for themselves.
Of course, the rise of functional mushrooms might also be an off-shoot of the general boom in wellness products. Whatever the reason, these functional fungi seem like they’re here to stay.