What is Mushroom Tea? Chaga, Reishi, and More.
By The Whistling Kettle November 4th, 2021
There are some popular new faces in the world of tea. Recent health trends are raving about the benefits of mushroom tea, with buzzwords like chaga and reishi popping up everywhere. You might be left wondering: what is mushroom tea exactly?
First, a little background on mushrooms…
What Are Mushrooms?
Mushrooms are often referred to as vegetables, but are neither animal nor vegetable in scientific terms. Mushrooms are structures produced by some types of fungus, and are similar to fruit on a plant. These fungi digest nutrients underground in a root-like network of mycelium, then grow mushrooms above the ground to release spores into the air. While plants use sunlight to photosynthesize, fungi use secreted enzymes to externally digest nutrients in the soil.
Mushrooms are truly strange and fascinating. They have been used for centuries for both cooking and medicine across the world. Modern science is just starting to rediscover surprising facts about their many health benefits. You will notice that the size, appearance, and taste of mushrooms varies widely. Most mushrooms used for cooking or tea have a savory, earthy flavor.
What is Mushroom Tea?
Mushroom tea has exploded in popularity due to its acclaimed health benefits and novel flavors. Some mix it with chai or matcha lattes while others use packets of mushroom tea powder to mix in water on the go. Some prefer mushroom tea straight, plain and simple. There are endless options for enjoying mushroom tea in your daily routine. First, it’s important to know the main ways mushroom tea is brewed. There are three usual methods:
- Infusion: The simplest way to make mushroom tea is to infuse dried mushroom pieces in hot water, the same way you would prepare herbal tea. (Fresh mushrooms will make more of a broth than a tea, so save those for soup.)
- Decoction: To get the maximum amount of nutrients you can boil dried mushroom pieces on the stove and simmer for 15 minutes up to 2 hours. This process will deliver more potent health benefits.
- Mixture: Often labeled as a mushroom ‘elixir’, you can buy powdered mushrooms that are pre-extracted and can be mixed directly in water. Mushroom powder that has not been pre-extracted is typically too difficult for our digestive system to process. Powdered mushrooms make a thicker tea, with a texture closer to a latte. Mushroom powder can also be added to other teas and beverages.
Mushroom teas allow you to expand your mushroom consumption beyond the culinary realm and into your daily health routine. From cardiovascular health to better brain function to longevity, the uses for medicinal mushrooms are many. Some mushrooms, such as Lion’s Mane, can be either cooked as food or brewed as tea. Others like Chaga and Reishi are too difficult to digest whole and are only consumed as tea or extracts. There are primarily four popular mushroom teas and each have unique health benefits.
What is Reishi?
Reishi is a mushroom with a shiny, flat top that grows on trees and fallen logs. It comes in a variety of colors depending on where it is growing. Although rare in the wild, reishi mushrooms are now cultivated all over the world. Its Chinese name ‘lingzhi’ roughly translates to ‘mushroom of immortality’ or ‘divine mushroom’ and was once reserved for nobility. While modern health trends are just catching on, Chinese medicine has been celebrating the health benefits of reishi for over 2000 years.
Health Benefits of Reishi:
One of the earliest botanical texts from China medicine mentions the medicinal use of reishi mushroom in the Han dynasty (25-220 AD). Reishi was traditionally used to promote a longer lifespan, increased energy, and a stronger heart and brain. It is still has similar uses today with many beneficial properties including:
- Immune system support
- Blood sugar regulation
- Cholesterol regulation
Modern research is investigating whether reishi mushroom could improve cancer treatment with its anti-tumor effects. Reishi may also regulate the immune system, helping us to both fight pathogens and avoid allergies. To top it off, reishi helps balance blood sugar and cholesterol to prevent conditions like diabetes and heart disease and support overall health.
How to Make Reishi Tea:
Reishi tea is usually made from dried slices or chunks of the mushroom. To get the maximum amount of nutrients you can simmer the dried reishi pieces in hot water for 30 minutes up to 2 hours. But you may want to start with a 5-10 minute infusion of reishi in hot water for a gentler brew. Reishi is quite bitter in flavor so it is best sweetened with a dash of honey or maple syrup. You can also find reishi powder to mix into beverages, but check that it is made from the actual mushroom part of the fungus rather than the mycelium (the root-like structure beneath the mushroom).
What is Chaga?
All mushrooms are fungi but not every fungus is a mushroom. Chaga is one of those cases. While commonly referred to as a mushroom, Chaga is technically just a fungus. If you see it in the wild, it appears as a lumpy charcoal-colored growth on the side of birch trees. Inside, it is deep orange and packed with healthy nutrients. Chaga spores find their way into ‘wounds’ on birch trees, such as cut branches, and start growing inside the tree trunk. It takes around 20 years to create the large external growth recognized as a mature chaga.
Chaga is parasitic to the birch tree, slowly sapping its nutrients until the tree dies. It can take around 80 years for the tree to die and only then does the chaga release spores to find a new tree. Since the process is so slow and only affects wounded trees, chaga does not harm birch forests overall. In fact, some say chaga is at risk. Chaga only grows in the wild and cannot easily be farmed, so we recommend buying sustainably sourced products to prevent over-harvesting.
Health Benefits of Chaga:
Native to cold climates like Russia, Canada, North America and northern Japan, chaga has been used in folk medicine for generations. Modern uses include:
- Immune system support
- Nervous system support
Chaga is an adaptogen, which means it helps the body adapt to stress. It can tone the nervous system to keep us calm and level headed under pressure. Since modern life is plagued by chronic stress and anxiety, chaga is rising in popularity as a natural treatment. Chaga is also believed to benefit the immune system by increasing our white blood cell production so we can defend against pathogens. There is even research on chaga’s potential ability to aid in cancer treatment. Not to mention it is filled with the same healthy antioxidants in black tea, green tea, and other true teas - without the caffeine!
How to Make Chaga Tea:
Chaga is hard as wood and is much too difficult for our body to digest as a food. The best way to get the nutrients out of chaga is to extract it in hot water. Alternatively, you can buy powders that are ‘pre-extracted’ so the nutrients can be absorbed. For medicinal use, chaga mushroom is extracted in alcohol or boiled in hot water for 15 minutes up to several hours. As a daily health tonic, steeping chaga tea for 5-10 minutes in hot water is all you need. The flavor is deep and earthy, like the smell of autumn leaves. It pairs well with chai spices such as cinnamon, ginger, turmeric and cardamom.
What is Lion’s Mane?
One of the most striking mushrooms in appearance, lion’s mane looks like a cream-colored pom pom growing on trees. It has shaggy hair-like tendrils that inspired its namesake. While mainly popular in China and Japan, lion’s mane grows globally across northern Asia, Europe, and North America. It is cultivated as both a food and medicine, and when cooked can be used as a replacement for crab or lobster. But don’t worry! When brewed as a tea it won’t have a seafood taste at all, and will brew a mellow, smooth flavor.
Health Benefits of Lion’s Mane:
Lion’s mane has an abundance of benefits, especially for the brain and digestive system. It’s Japanese name, yamabushitake means ‘’mountain priest mushroom’ and it evidently has much wisdom to share. Uses include:
- Nervous system support
- Cognitive improvement
- Digestive system immunity
- Blood sugar regulation
- Cholesterol regulation
Studies have investigated its ability to strengthen brain cells and heal damaged nerves, which may protect against neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia. In the digestive tract, lion’s mane is believed to boost the immunity of the mucosal lining in the intestines against harmful bacteria. It may nurture beneficial gut bacteria and prevent stomach ulcers. If that weren’t enough, growing research is finding that lion’s mane may reduce anxiety and depression by healing the brain’s hippocampus region where emotions and memories are processed. Sprinkle in potential anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, blood sugar and cholesterol regulating properties and you have the ideal cure-all mushroom.
How to make Lion’s Mane tea:
You can use either dried pieces of lion’s mane for tea or buy it in pre-extracted, powdered form. Like most mushroom teas, the longer you leave it in hot water, the more nutrients will be extracted in the tea. For a concentrated tea, add dried lion’s mane to boiling water in a pot on the stove and simmer for 15 minutes up to 2 hours. For a milder tea, infuse in hot water for 5-10 minutes. The taste is mild and smooth. If using powder, simply mix the powder into hot water and enjoy.
What is Cordyceps?
Possibly the strangest fungus in our list, cordyceps actually feeds on certain kinds of caterpillars. It starts growing in caterpillars while they are burrowed underground and consumes most of the caterpillar, leaving only a mummified shell. As it matures, cordyceps grows out of the dead caterpillar and into a spindly mushroom shape. It is technically just a fungus, but often referred to as a mushroom. Cordyceps is native to the alpine meadows of the Himalayan mountains in areas around 3800 m above sea level. Different cordyceps varieties can also grow on other bugs in rainforests and other parts of the world.
Health Benefits of Cordyceps:
Legend has it that goat, yak, and sheep herders noticed their livestock getting stronger and hardier when they grazed on cordyceps. The herders started consuming the mushrooms themselves and became convinced of their beneficial effects. Cordyceps is well documented in Chinese and Tibetan traditional medicine, and has now begun to captivate the rest of the world. Potential benefits include:
- Increased energy levels
- Increased stamina/endurance
- Better athletic performance
- Heart health
- Immune system support
Cordyceps an impressive fungus that has been primarily used to improve athletic performance. Especially for prolonged exercise, cordyceps may help increase energy levels and endurance. In 1993, runners from China broke world records at the Olympics and claimed cordyceps had been an essential training supplement. Cordyceps is also believed to help regulate the immune system, preventing abnormalities like cancer and other diseases. It supports heart function and energy metabolism to keep you feeling fit during physical activities.
How to Make Cordyceps Tea:
Look for the dried ‘fruiting bodies’ of cordyceps that will look like thin, yellow-orange tendrils. Add a small amount to boiling water and simmer for 15-45 minutes to get all the healthy nutrients. For a lighter brew, simply steep the cordyceps in hot water for 5-10. There are many pre-extracted cordyceps powders available that you can mix into water as the easiest option. It has a savory, nutty flavor that some liken to cocoa powder.
Mushroom Tea Explained
To answer ‘what is mushroom tea?’ concisely, mushroom tea is a cup of tasty wellbeing. You can liven up your tea routine with new additions of reishi, chaga, lion’s mane and cordyceps. With complex flavors and across-the-board health benefits, medicinal mushrooms are a trend worth exploring. Once you feel the boost in vitality, you’ll be craving more.