What Are Functional Mushrooms? Do They Live Up to the Hype?

What Are Functional Mushrooms? Do They Live Up to the Hype?

Functional mushrooms are quickly rising in popularity in the Western world’s health and wellness industry. In fact, a market study done in 2021 has predicted the popularity of functional mushrooms to increase almost 10% in the next 9 years!  You’ve probably heard the unforgettable names of these mushrooms floating around the internet – chaga, lions mane, cordyceps, reishi, turkey tail (try saying that five times fast!). So what’s the buzz around these fungi? And how are they different from the mushrooms we toss into a stir fry or enjoy in a pasta? 

The delicious (and nutritious) benefits: 

With the million species of fungi inhabiting the wild, functional mushrooms are the edible ones that are not just tasty, but also have higher nutritional value. The term “functional” emphasizes the variety of nutritional benefits they provide to body and mind. 

Also known as “adaptogenic mushrooms”, they help our body adapt to and manage the physiological and psychological stress that it goes through every day. Psychological stress will typically trigger physiological stress. For example: that important presentation you have to give that you haven’t prepared well for? (All hypothetical of course…) You may experience sweaty hands and tense muscles when the time comes. This is a short-lived kind of stress called “acute stress”, which we commonly experience from time to time. 

“Chronic stress”, on the other hand, is the kind of stress that builds up over weeks or months and can be a detriment to our health. Whether you’re unhappy at your job or dealing with a life-changing circumstance, allowing these stressors to persist in your life causes your body to continuously react in “fight-or-flight” mode. Your body produces the hormone cortisol in response to stress.  Long term, high levels of cortisol in response to stress can be harmful to your body, making your more prone to a variety of health issues, such as anxiety, depression, heart disease and digestive problems. 


Integrating functional mushrooms into your daily diet will assist your body in fighting off these negative stress responses. Its adaptogenic properties will help your body lowers the levels of cortisol, reducing the effects of stress in your life. This is done by the work of adaptogens (sounds like adaptogenic, right?) that are found in functional mushrooms that work hard against the stress that enters our life. The adaptogens produce an “anti-fatigue” effect that pushes our brain to fight against the mental blocks of stress and fatigue that we may face. I guess you can say, “a mushroom a day keeps the stress away!” 


A little history lesson 

Despite its growing popularity in the West, the fascination and appreciation for functional mushrooms have been around for centuries. The ancient Romans viewed them as “food of the gods”, similar to how the Mayans viewed our beloved cacao. 

Additionally, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) saw functional mushrooms as an essential ingredient for healing remedies, managing a variety of diseases for thousands of years.

The Western world is embracing the love of functional mushrooms by incorporating these desirable fungi into products that can provide the versatile, nutritional benefits that they hold. At Daybreak Cacao, we curated a specific blend of mushrooms that are especially good for mornings. This morning mushroom blend contains health-boosting compounds that are perfect for making the most of your day– starting at daybreak! 

Our all-star “mushroom” cast: 

  • Chaga: First found in the beautiful terrains of Siberia, Chaga is known in Chinese culture as the “mushroom for immortality.” Although it may not make us immortal like our favorite superhero character, Chaga contains anti-inflammatory and immunity boost properties that can help us live a healthier life.  Chaga helps create powerful cytokines in our body, which aid in regulating our immune system. As a result, they reduce our chances of falling victim to cold or flu season. 
  • Lions mane: Lions mane not only helps relieve stress and anxiety, but it also contains compounds that  help neurological conditions.  If you think that’s too good to be a true, a study done in Japan found that women going through menopause who took a lions mane supplement experienced less symptoms of anxiety and depression. Lions mane may also reduce the risks of neurological disorders, such as Alzheimer's disease and instead improve cognition! This majestic mushroom is your brain’s best friend.
  • Cordyceps: On your mark…get set…go! Cordyceps is known to enhance high-intensity exercises and delay fatigue which in turn improves workouts and athletic performance. Cordyceps helps increase production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is one of the essential compounds needed to give us energy. Additionally, this creates a long-lasting effect of energy, preventing a mid-day crash! That boost of energy from a little bit of cordyceps will take you right to the finish line, whether that be on a race course or the end of your list of errands – the fungi is with you all the way.  
  • Reishi: Reishi is one of the more commonly known mushrooms on the wellness market – and for good reasons. It’s another immune-boosting mushroom that enhance our white blood cells, which may protect us from illnesses and disease. With an increase of white blood cell activity in our bodies, our immune system is better equipped to fight off infections. Reishi also helps increase the number of specific white blood cells called ‘lymphocytes’, which help make antibodies that will further protect your body from diseases. Blended along with chaga makes it a powerhouse combo!  Reishi is especially good at reducing high cortisol levels.  
  • Turkey tail: The turkey tail mushroom is listed as both medicinal and spiritual in ancient Chinese medicine history. Those who drank it in its tea form were promised renewed spiritual energy and better physical strength. Today, turkey tail is especially known for it’s aid in our gut health. Named for its resemblance to the colorful turkey tail, this fungi contains prebiotic properties that help regulate our gut health. Prebiotics are a great source of fiber for the microorganisms in our gut that support our digestive system. Our gut is pretty grateful for these non-feathery fungi!  

  • How can I include functional mushrooms into my daily life?

    Since functional mushrooms are not typically found fresh in grocery stores, an alternative and accessible way to include them in your diet is through their powder form. And don’t worry, dry-scooping is not what we have in mind as a way to get these mushrooms into our body. Here are our favorite ways to implement functional mushrooms into our diet:

    • Cook it up: Functional mushrooms can be a great addition to foods such as soups, entrees and even brownies! They are easy to add into any recipe – whether it be a yummy reishi pasta sauce or a lions mane crab cake, they are easy and adaptable to your daily meals. Functional mushrooms often have an “earthy” taste, which is why mixing them into your favorite recipes is an easy way to get the max benefits in a tasty way!
    • Mix them into a drink: With just a few sips, you can reap all the nutritional benefits that functional mushrooms have to offer. If you want to enjoy all of the best morning mushrooms at once (because why settle on just one?!), check out our morning drink! Our Cacao & Mushroom Morning Mix is a great option that not only contains these fine fungi, but also cacao and the four other superfoods that will help you feel like you’re on top of the world.

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