From wellness influencers to medical experts, everyone seems to be talking about mushrooms these days. Traditionally relegated to the dinner plate, an afterthought next to other vegetables, these humble fungi are experiencing what Vox refers to as a “mushroom renaissance.” 

These are not the button mushrooms you remember growing up. Instead, they are “functional mushrooms” used in Eastern and North American medicinal practices for centuries that have recently caught the attention of wellbeing experts in the West.  

Functional mushrooms have skyrocketed in popularity thanks largely to their plurality; mushrooms come in all shapes, sizes and chemical compositions. Some have proved adept at promoting healthy immune systems, while others show promising anti-ageing properties. It is almost disingenuous to lump the entirety of the mycelium kingdom into a single, neat category called "mushrooms." 

This article explores how mushrooms conquered the wellness industry by highlighting a few popular types of functional mushrooms. 

Adaptogens: Nature’s Stress Relievers

The term “adaptogen” refers to natural substances (typically herbs or mushrooms) thought to promote stress regulation and stress relief. Several studies into the efficacy of adaptogens have turned up promising results, indicating that some (but not all) of these plant therapies can indeed help people combat stress.
Among the most promising adaptogens studied recently are reishi mushrooms. Studies show that reishi mushrooms can be effective at promoting a healthy stress response and calming frayed nerves. It’s no surprise, then, that reishi mushrooms are one of the main drivers behind the wellness industry’s embrace of functional mushrooms. Some companies even offer reishi in powdered form that you can stir into coffee or tea.  

Functional Mushrooms: Fungi for Focus

Another popular product credited with stoking the excitement around functional mushrooms is the Lion’s Mane mushroom. These wispy fungi, so named for their passing resemblance to a big cat’s mane of hair, have been shown to promote focus and increase cognitive performance in some studies. 

Lion’s Mane mushrooms first became popular with athletes as a means for warding off fatigue and supporting physical endurance. After a few high-profile celebrities touted the benefits of lion’s mane mushrooms, the fungus took off in the popular imagination. 

The Chaga Boom: Supporting Your Immune System

Finally, there’s the king of functional mushrooms, the fungus responsible for driving the mushroom boom in the first place: Chaga mushrooms. 

Chaga mushrooms rose to prominence in the wellness industry a few years ago, enjoying steadily mounting word-of-mouth. It also helped that in the intervening years, several studies backed up initial claims about Chaga’s efficacy and benefits. In particular, researchers have studied Chaga’s anticancer effects, its immune-supporting potential and antioxidant profile. 

To understand how mushrooms conquered the wellness industry, you need to look at the confluence between historical significance, anecdotal benefits and research-backed advantages. The three mushrooms listed above (often referred to as the “big three” mushrooms in the wellness industry) each have long histories of use in other cultures, word-of-mouth buzz from influencers, and a seal of approval from some medical researchers. It was only a matter of time that they conquered the wellness industry.