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The benefits of mushrooms

Mushrooms may not seem the obvious choice for supporting our wellbeing but numerous clinical studies have proved mushrooms can benefit multiple systems in our bodies.

Dr. Vivien Rolfe PhD, Pukka’s Head of Herbal Research, explains why they are a great go-to natural remedy support to keep you in good health.

1. Support your natural response

Mushrooms are high in beta-glucan polysaccharides – natural substances that have been found to support long-term immune building, though their nourishing and strengthening effects. Certain types of mushrooms such as reishi, shiitake and maitake are especially rich in the most powerful beta-glucans. All have a long history of traditional use in Asia for both short-term and longer term support. Reishi (‘the mushroom of immortality’), shiitake (‘the elixir of life’), maitake (‘the king of the mushrooms’) and are all popular mushrooms in oriental cooking indicating their long-term safety. So, a daily serving of these could be beneficial at times when we need extra support.

2. Rich source of vitamin D

Mushrooms contain a pre-cursor to vitamin D, which is converted to an active form (a form that is useable by the human body) following UV radiation (1). Vitamin D contributes to normal functioning of the immune system, so try popping your mushrooms on a sunny windowsill or on a table in the garden for a couple of hours in the midday sun for a great plant-based source of vitamin D. (Note that this requires stronger UV rays, so will only be effective between April and October.) Alternatively, look out for “vitamin D enhanced” mushrooms in your local supermarket, which have been pre-exposed to UV light.

3. Increase energy and help you cope with stress

Certain mushrooms are traditionally used in many parts of Asia on a daily basis as a mood tonic or ‘adaptogen’. Adaptogens are natural substances that help the body adapt to stress and protect against some of its negative effects, such as fatigue and poor sleep (2) resulting in more energy too. Maitake and reishi are among the mushrooms said to have adaptogenic qualities.

4. Look after your natural glow

Studies have found that mushrooms such as shiitake and reishi (3) are rich in antioxidants, such as polyphenols. They are also a good source of the minerals copper and zinc, used by our body to make its own powerful antioxidants. Together, this means that mushrooms may have anti-aging and protective activity for our skin, as well as other cells around the body.

Mushrooms at home - Make your own immune supporting soup


  • Handful of shiitake mushrooms

  • 250g organic pearl barley (or quinoa)

  • 2 chopped beetroot

  • 4 chopped carrots

  • 4 potatoes

  • 2 chopped leeks

  • 3 chopped onions

  • 4 cloves chopped garlic

  • 2 heads chopped kale

  • mound of chopped spinach

  • 1 large stick ginger

  • Additional fresh herbs such as rosemary, thyme and turmeric


Simmer the Shiitake mushrooms in 3 pints of water for half an hour. Then to the mushroom water, add the rest of the ingredients and simmer for 45 minutes.


1. Cardwell, G. Bornman, J. James, A. et al. (2018). A Review of Mushrooms as a Potential Source of Dietary Vitamin D, Nutrients, 10 (10), pp. 1498. doi:10.3390/nu10101498.

2. Liao, L. Y., He, Y. F., Li, L., Meng, H., Dong, Y. M., Yi, F., & Xiao, P. G. (2018). A preliminary review of studies on adaptogens: comparison of their bioactivity in TCM with that of ginseng-like herbs used worldwide. Chinese medicine, 13, 57. doi:10.1186/s13020-018-0214-9

3. Jeng-Leun Mau, Hsiu-Ching Lin, and, and Chin-Chu Chen. Antioxidant Properties of Several Medicinal Mushrooms Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 2002, 50 (21), 6072-6077.

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Author: Dr Vivien Rolfe

Head of Herbal Research

Viv is a gut physiologist and has recently achieved a Foundation in Herbal Medicine. She leads Pukka’s research programme to explore how herbs can benefit our health and be used to widen healthcare choices. This includes research into herbs for Women’s health and as alternatives to antibiotics. She establishes global research partnerships and enthuses the next generation of scientists through Pukka’s Scholarship Scheme. She is a champion of diversity in science and open access to knowledge.



Years of experience:

30+ years in the wellbeing industry and academia


Degree in Physiology University of Sheffield, PhD University of Sheffield, Foundation in Herbalism Heartwood, MBA Entrepreneurship (on-going) Edinburgh Napier University, Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.

Professional Registrations:

Membership of Nutrition Society, Physiological Society, Society for Chemical Industry, and other herbal and botanical groups.

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