Among an estimated 100,000 varieties of mushrooms, four stand out for their potent healing properties: maitake, shiitake, reishi, and the common white button. The first three have been used in Asia for 2,000 years to treat various ailments, and the last has antioxidant levels as high as the rest. Initial findings suggest that all four support heart health and fight cancer. Maitake, shiitake, and white button mushrooms are rich in dietary fibers, including cholesterol-lowering chitin, and immunity-boosting beta-glucan. Reishi, a natural antihistamine and anti-inflammatory, is also known for boosting immunity, and for enhancing mood, relieving altitude sickness, supporting liver function, and lessening asthma symptoms.
Choose It & Use It Reishis can go in soups and sauces but are best consumed as tea. (Grind 4 grams of dried mushrooms in a coffee grinder. Steep 30 minutes in 2 cups of boiling water. Strain through a coffee filter.) Maitakes can be steeped similarly, grilled, fried, or sautéed. Popular in veggies and pasta, shiitakes have many culinary uses. White buttons are even more versatile: add slices to sandwiches, or sauté them in oil to enhance entrées and sauces. White buttons and portobellos are easy to find at supermarkets, but fresh, exotic varieties can be hit-or-miss. Stock up on dried mushrooms, which, after a soak in hot water (30 minutes for pieces; 1 hour for whole mushrooms), can replace fresh in recipes. Added bonus: the soaking liquid can be used in place of broth in sauces or soups.