Want to improve your health and enjoy some delicious food? Then pile on the mushrooms. Not only are they so desirable that people will hunt for hours to find rare ones and spend hundreds on a single ounce, ancient Chinese medicine has also been using them for thousands of years to prevent and cure numerous diseases. What’s more, they’re rich in umami—the uniquely savory fifth taste—without the sodium or MSG. And with around 14,000 varieties, mushroom flavors and benefits range from delicate to pungent, flu fighting to asthma reducing. So if you haven’t already, fight off winter colds by adding one, or all, of these mighty fungi to your plate.
Button and Portobello: Don’t dismiss these common mushrooms; the button and portobello varieties enhance your immune system’s natural killer-cell activity to prevent the flu and provide a healthy dose of antioxidants and B vitamins. Plus, they’re inexpensive and easy to cook. Try out some seriously good Portobello Burgers or make simple Marinated Mushrooms for your next meal.
Chanterelles: Prized by chefs worldwide, these golden goodies offer a delicate flavor perfect in dishes like Squash With Wild Rice and Chanterelle Stuffing and Spicy Chanterelle Tofu Scramble. And if you’re interested in mushroom hunting, try looking at the base of oak, Douglas fir, and western hemlock trees, where chanterelles grow in a symbiotic relationship with the trees.
Reishi: One of the most commonly used mushrooms in Chinese herbal medicine, the reishi is available in syrup, tea, soup, and pill form. Especially beneficial for lung and liver health, this healing mushroom can also be used as a mood and spirit booster—perfect for dark, wintery days.
Morels: Their rich flavor make morels a prized food in French cuisine and a perfect meat substitute in savory dishes such as Wild and Walnutty Mushroom “Sausage” Pizza. Just remember to cook these honeycomb-like caps thoroughly, since some have low levels of toxins that cause gastrointestinal problems when eaten raw.
Truffles: The ultimate delicacy, rare truffles sell for thousands of dollars per ounce. Luckily for us non-millionaires out there, delicious Oregon truffles can be bought for around $20 a pop. Get your five-star chef on and awe all your foodie friends with Black Truffle Bowtie Pasta Salad or Onion Soup Gratineéd with Cream-Truffle Mashed Potatoes.
Maitake: Known as the King of Mushrooms, this medicinal species does it all—fights tumors, restores the immune system, increases production of proteins responsible for fighting infection, promotes healthy digestion… the list goes on! Reap the benefits and add maitake mushrooms to a hearty dish such as Creamy Pumpkin-Mushroom Casserole.
Shiitake: An all-time favorite mushroom in Asian cuisine, try warming your belly up with some Congee or Mushroom Miso Soup. Shiitake extract also contains lentinan, a powerful immune boosting compound, which has also been shown to delay the progress of viruses by increasing antibody levels.
Oyster: These babies are the most aggressive species, growing in giant clusters with their caps at up to twelve inches in diameter. Studies have also revealed that they lower unhealthy cholesterol and have anti-cancer properties. Eat them in a delicious soup or sauté such as Vegan Clam-less Chowder or Oyster Mushroom Stir Fry.