Finally, the power of wild mushrooms has reached the mainstream. Let me start by saying, with an admitted tinge of anti-consumerist bitterness, that “superfood” is a meaningless marketing term used to promote anything healthy nowadays, and is a silly descriptor invented in the executive boardrooms of ad agencies with no true definition.
But if there ever was such a thing as a true superfood, wild mushrooms would fit the bill.
Now that mainstream awareness of the healing and nutritive power of wild mushrooms has reached tea drinkers, smoothie shops, hipster hangouts, and organic food stores across the nation, it’s time to start learning to identify wild mushrooms in your area so you can stop paying those insane premiums at the stores that carry them.
Some of these mushrooms, whole or powdered and offered in bulk at health food stores, can run up to $40 per pound, or even more. Yet they literally grow in the woods, available for free for anyone clever (and lucky) enough to be able to find and identify them.
In fact, some of the most powerful and nutritious mushrooms in the world are also some of the easiest to identify, and all the wild mushrooms on this list are tremendously popular in every trendy “superfood” mushroom powders, teas, smoothies, and other products now being offered at places like Whole Foods for health-conscious eaters.
This article will show you how to find, identify, harvest, and use some of these ultra-powerful and easy to identify fungi in your very own smoothies at home. Most of these typically fruit during fall, but spring, summer, and even winter discoveries are possible for some of these as well. These medicinal mushrooms have no poisonous lookalikes and are treasured all across the world for their diverse range of truly miraculous healing powers.
Note that for many medicinal wild mushrooms, the health effects are cumulative. That means that for the full benefits, you should enjoy a little bit of your medicinal mushroom each day as part of your routine, so that the healing compounds can build up and work their magic on your body over time.
With that, here is the list of five of the best medicinal wild mushrooms for smoothies and other uses that are easiest to identify.
Chaga (Inonotus obliquus)
Growing up and spotting a black chunk of chaga growing on a tree, I always assumed it was some kind of tree tumor. Little did I know, I was walking past one of the most medicinal living beings in the world: the chaga mushroom.
They make look like “tree cancer,” but these powerful healing allies actually have documented anti-tumor effects when consumed by humans. But the chaga benefits don’t stop there. They’re also anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial, and contain one of the highest concentrations of antioxidants of any natural substance on the planet.
Chaga powder for smoothies runs pretty expensive for just five ounces. But if you find a mature chaga mushroom in the wild, you can often harvest a pound or more of it at once. Chaga also has special importance as a survivalist’s supplement, because it’s easy to find in winter. In fact, after a snowfall, the black chaga chunks stick out even more conspicuously from trees as snow collects on top of them. As a cold-weather medicinal mushroom, chaga has historically been an important folk medicine in regions like Russia.
Identifying chaga is easy. They look very similar to tree burls, which are woody outgrowths often harvested (sometimes illegally) to make bowls and other crafts. Look for birch trees, as these are almost always the type that host chaga.
Chaga is a black growth that bursts out from inside the tree, rather than a burl, which grows out as a continuation directly from the trunk. The inside of chaga is a distinct orangey-golden color. You can find it year-round, as it takes years to grow.
Chaga takes years to grow to harvestable size, so special considerations are required to ensure it is done sustainably. To harvest chaga without damaging the fungus or the tree, only take specimens from living trees. Also, never harvest all that you find. Always leave some behind – don’t harvest more than half of the specimen.
This means only harvesting if the chaga is large, so you don’t take too much. And as is the case with all fungi, always harvest chaga with a sense of reverence for the being. This is especially relevant for chaga, as a large specimen can be easily ten or fifteen years old, so it’s a big deal that you are removing it for your own use. Don’t feel bad, but respect the organism!
These harvesting rules mean that you need the proper tools, or else you’ll end up ripping the entire chunk out of the tree. Use a hatchet to remove pieces methodically, ensuring you don’t tear the entire chaga out, or slice off more than half of it by being sloppy.
Chaga is so powerful, you only need a very small amount to reap its benefits. If you’re making tea, you can keep steeping the same chaga chunk until the water starts coming out clear, resulting in many brews from just one piece. For smoothies, dehydrate your chaga in the oven or a dehydrator. Then grind it into a powder and add just a small amount to your smoothie. This mushroom is almost indescribably powerful, so a small bit goes a long way. That means you can reap the health benefits of chaga from a single harvest for a shockingly long time.
Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum)
The beautiful wild reishi is known to lower cholesterol and is anti-inflammatory. They are also used as a supplement to assist cancer treatment, supercharge the immune system, improve sleep, and improve conditions with as vast a range as cardiovascular disease and liver problems to viral infections and HIV.
With a very unique appearance, reishi are incredibly easy to identify. Look for them primarily in autumn. Dense and woody, reishi grow in semicircular or fan-shaped fruits emerging from dead or dying logs—usually oak or hemlock. Stems will be very short if they are visible at all.
Reishi tops have a reddish orange color, often with a large band of red near the base and a band of lighter red to orange coloration near the edge of the cap. Caps can be small or very large, up to almost a foot in some cases, and appear glossy and lacquered. Oftentimes, waves or ridges appear that follow the shape of the cap in a semicircle.
The scent of reishi is woody, and they have a brown spore print. That means if you think you see them growing on top of one another, oftentimes specimens will have a brownish dusting on top of them from the reishi growing directly above.
Young reishi are harder to identify because they don’t have the distinctive coloration yet. However, mushrooms grow very fast, so specimens too young to identify will begin showing the classical reishi appearance in just a couple of days, if not sooner.
Harvesting reishi is easy—just make sure there are enough specimens on the log that you are leaving some behind. Cut the reishi from the log at the base, and then slice it up into thin strips and dehydrate it as soon as you get home. These are fragile once they are removed, and will spoil quickly if not dried as soon as possible. Once dehydrated, grind it into a powder and store in an airtight container.
Like chaga, reishi is very powerful, so not much is needed to employ its medicinal effects. Use the powder in smoothies. You can even make a paste from it to apply directly to cuts, lacerations, and other wounds before dressing them. As is the case with all medicinal mushrooms, you can also steep small bits of dried reishi in hot water for a powerfully invigorating tea that can recharge all your body’s systems.
Maitake/Hen of the Woods (Grifola frondosa)
Maitake, or “hen of the woods,” is an easy to ID mushroom that grows in distinctive clumpy brownish-tan folds at the bases of trees, making it look somewhat like a hen plopped under a tree. These fellas can get huge—in some cases, upwards of fifty pounds—so when you find one, you get a medicinal mother lode. Popular in Asian folk medicine, even larger varieties are said to grow in Japan.
These mushrooms are loaded with immune-boosting polysaccharides and vitamin D. They’re packed with antioxidants.
Look for wavy, curved brown to tan to whitish/cream-colored (never red or orange) caps growing in large clumps at the bases of trees during autumn, and if it’s cool enough, sometimes during springtime. Upon closer inspection, you’ll see the “clump” is made up of many wavy, thin mushroom caps growing on top of one another. Bottoms of the caps have tiny tubes, or pores, rather than gills. If the specimen has gills, it is not a maitake!
Maitake typically fruit at the bases of oaks. When you find one, you can be pretty sure it will appear in the same spot the following year.
Cut the maitake near the base, leaving the bottom section attached. After harvesting, you may have to cut it up and remove sticks and other debris, as they tend to absorb all kinds of twigs and leaves as they grow.
Maitake can be cooked and eaten, but since this article is about medicinal smoothies, well, you can dry them and use the powder in smoothies as well. Beyond that, they make an earthy-tasting tea when steeped in some hot water. Use them quickly, and focus on the softer caps rather than the tough, woody stems and cores.
Maitake are very popular in China as well as Japan, and what do you know – regions of Japan have some of the longest life expectancies in the world! Coincidence? I think not.
Lion’s Mane (Hericium erinaceus)
The shaggy, drooping “hairs” of lion’s mane make it look somewhat like a cartoonish rendition of the bleached, overgrown locks of a dopey teenager. It’s easy to imagine a pimpled face might be hiding beneath the hanging, elongated clumps, but alas…when you stumble upon a patch of these, you haven’t discovered the latest youth forest hangout for beer chugging and games of truth or dare. You’ve discovered an extremely easy to identify and highly medicinal fungus.
Studies show lion’s mane has neuro-stimulative qualities, boosting brain cell production and potentially helping stave off dementia. It is also said to help relieve anxiety and depression, is anti-tumor, beneficial for the heart and for blood sugar levels, and is anti-inflammatory. This is another one used for centuries in China for its healing properties.
Identifying Lion’s Mane
Lion’s mane is about as “foolproof” as identifying mushrooms can get (though considering humanity’s endless capacity for foolishness of all kinds, take note that misidentification of any mushroom is always possible, and potentially very damaging).
This mushroom looks like a clump of long whitish spines, hanging down like fleshy cream-colored pompoms from dead or damaged hardwood trees. Find them in spring or fall.
Harvesting Lion’s Mane
To harvest lion’s mane, cut it from the base, leaving a small amount for it to re-spawn next year. These are delicate, so handle carefully, and note that you may have to pick out forest debris that has become encapsulated in the fruiting body.
Using Lion’s Mane
If you already have all the medicine you can handle, sauté lion’s mane and enjoy its unique, seafood-like flavor. But for medicinal uses, you can dry and powder it and add it to smoothies, teas, or even gel caps as a pill-style supplement.
Oyster Mushroom (Pleurotus Ostreatusi)
Oyster mushroom is a prized edible and medicinal that is an easy to ID, and has varieties that grow even during the summertime when other mushrooms don’t typically fruit. It is used throughout Asia in both cooking and holistic medicine.
Oyster mushroom benefits include lowering “bad” cholesterol levels as well as having antibacterial effects, boosting the immune system, and slowing tumor growth.
Identifying Oyster Mushrooms
Look for oyster-shaped whitish-tan to brown caps growing in overlapping clusters from tree trunks. Oyster mushrooms usually grow on deciduous hardwoods like The underside of each mushroom is lined with gills that continue from the cap directly to the very short, stubby stem (if a stem appears at all).
Cap edges can become wavy, and tend to be thicker, meatier, and smoother in younger specimens. Oysters, especially younger ones, have an anise or almond-like scent.
Harvesting Oyster Mushrooms
Cut clumps of oyster mushrooms at the base, leaving a bit behind to spawn more specimens next year.
Using Oyster Mushrooms
You can enjoy medicinal qualities of oyster mushrooms by cooking them into dishes right away, as you would store-bought mushrooms, but for smoothies and other uses where you want to preserve them, dehydrate them right away.
Then grind them up and use the powder in smoothies, teas, or even as a medicinal and flavorful seasoning sprinkled on top of other dishes. To me, oysters are one of the tastiest wild mushrooms around, and they grow plentifully and are easy to learn to identify.
With wild mushroom smoothies finally becoming a trendy health food, it’s time to take your wellness adventures to the next level by skipping the extravagantly-priced mushrooms at the health food store, and start learning to find them yourself.
However, even at these prices at the store, you’re still getting what you pay for—to find these mushrooms you must trek through forests, have the know-how to identify and gather them, and be in just the right place at just the right time. In addition to that, their extravagant healing powers naturally fetch extravagant retail prices.
But being so easy to identify by yourself, wouldn’t you rather learn to find them and use them for free? All mother nature charges is time, the depletion of calories in your body while you search, and the demand that you have enough knowledge and wisdom to be able to find and use them safely.
Doing so isn’t just fun, healthy, and rewarding, but adds an unbelievably powerful source of wilderness medicine to your knowledge base in an off-grid, homesteading, or SHTF scenario. And regardless of their cost at the store, or what sort of fancy health food smoothies you make with them, that’s something that is truly priceless.
Author Bio: Eric is a nature-loving writer, experience junkie, and former Boy Scout who never forgot that time-honored Scout Motto: Be prepared. Aside from camping and survival, he loves writing about travel, history, and anything he finds strange and unique!
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