The Best Nootropic Mushrooms

Last Updated on January 4, 2024 by Lindsay Delk, RDN

Nootropics are known for their ability to improve cognitive function, and nootropic mushrooms are no exception. Scientists are starting to study functional mushrooms to determine how they may enhance mental abilities, such as focus and memory.

Some adaptogenic mushrooms can even help your body adapt and respond to stress. From lion’s mane to turkey tail, there are several nootropic mushrooms that potentially offer health benefits with few side effects.

This post was written by Lindsay Delk, RDN. It is for informational purposes and is not intended to replace medical advice or instructions given by your healthcare provider. 

This post may contain affiliate links. If you purchase through these links, I will earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Whole mushroom, dried mushroom, and mushroom supplements on a table

What Are Nootropics?

Nootropics are substances that can improve cognitive function and mental performance, especially focus, memory, learning ability, and mood. They are sometimes called “smart drugs.”

While the evidence is not yet conclusive on the benefits of all nootropics for everyone, many people have good results from using them.

Nootropic products range from simple herbal teas to more complex supplements containing multiple active ingredients. And as the subject of this article, even a food can be a nootropic.

What Are Nootropic Mushrooms/Adaptogenic Mushrooms?

Nootropic mushrooms and adaptogenic mushrooms are types of functional mushrooms. This means they have health benefits beyond their nutritional content.

Nootropic mushrooms can aid in cognitive performance, focus, mental clarity, and memory. Adaptogenic mushrooms help your body adapt to and cope with stress.

Nootropic and adaptogenic mushrooms are becoming increasingly popular. People are looking for ways to boost their brain and mood without using prescription drugs or other supplements.

These mushrooms can be used fresh, dried, powdered, or as a supplement. Many people enjoy adding the mushroom nootropic to their coffee or tea.

The Top 6 Nootropic Mushrooms and their Benefits

1. Lion’s Mane (Hericium erinaceus)

Lion’s mane is an edible mushroom that you can find in fresh, dried, or supplement form. People in Asian countries have used lion’s mane as medicine for centuries. Buddhist monks used lion’s mane to increase their focus during meditation.

Research suggests that lion’s mane may protect and promote the growth of brain cells. And preliminary studies suggest that lion’s mane may help ease symptoms of depression and anxiety. An animal study and a study with 30 women showed that lion’s mane had antidepressant and anti-anxiety effects.

One way lion’s mane works is by decreasing inflammation in your body. By reducing chronic inflammation levels, it can lower your risk of developing depression. And these anti-inflammatory properties can also help alleviate existing depression symptoms.

Lion's mane nootropic mushrooms growing on a tree with leaves around it

2. Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum)

Traditional Chinese medicine has used reishi mushrooms for centuries to increase energy and mental clarity.

Reishi mushrooms contain several compounds that provide health benefits. A few studies have shown that reishi mushrooms may boost your immune system, but more research is still needed. And their polysaccharides and glycopeptide compounds provide antioxidant, anti-tumor, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial properties.

A mouse study found that reishi supplements reduced brain inflammation and protected against nerve damage in a stressed situation. It showed potential for enhancing memory and fighting some cognitive losses.

Fresh reishi mushrooms are hard to find, but you can find them in dried form or as a supplement in some stores or online.

Be aware that the Merck Manual raises safety concerns for long-term use of reishi mushroom supplements, so check with your healthcare professional.

Reishi mushroom next to a cup of reishi tea

3. Turkey Tail (Coriolus versicolor or Trametes versicolor)

As with several of these nootropic mushrooms, the active ingredients in turkey tail mushrooms are polysaccharides. Polysaccharides act as antioxidants in the body and reduce inflammation in the brain. This supports a healthy environment for neuron growth and development.

Oxidative stress is a major cause of cell damage, which in turn can lead to neurological diseases. The polysaccharides that help stimulate your immune system may help protect cells from oxidative stress and reduce the risk of these conditions.

Close-up of turkey tail mushroom growing on a tree

4. Cordyceps (Cordyceps militaris/sinensis)

Cordyceps mushroom shows promise as a safe and helpful supplement for brain and cognitive health. Because it has strong anti-inflammatory effects, it may provide protection for brain cells. Cordyceps may protect the hippocampus of the brain and help it to work better in people with neuroinflammatory diseases and some types of dementia.

One study also found that the active ingredients in cordyceps may have antidepressant effects.

Cordyceps in 2 wooden containers on a table

5. Chaga (Inonotus obliquus)

Chaga mushroom is one of the most powerful antioxidants. The antioxidants in chaga can protect cells from damaging oxidative stress. Oxidative stress may be a factor in the development of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s.

Chaga shows potential in the prevention and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. And a study on mice showed the positive impact of chaga on higher brain functions, such as learning and memory.

Chaga mushrooms on a dish, ground chaga in a spoon, and chaga tea being poured from a kettle to a cup

6. Maitake (Grifola frondosa)

Maitake mushrooms are also known as hen of the woods mushrooms. They contain high concentrations of polysaccharides and antioxidants. These make them an effective natural remedy for many conditions.

Research shows that maitake is a safe and healthy supplement for brain and cognitive health. Maitake is also a good source of beta-glucan. Beta-glucan has anti-inflammatory and immune boosting properties that may ease depression symptoms. And maitake has shown antidepressant effects in mice.

Large pieces of maitake mushrooms on a wooden cutting board

Safety of Nootropic Mushrooms

Mushroom nootropics generally appear safe for most people. But there aren’t large, controlled studies showing consistent effectiveness and safety. So it’s important to talk to your doctor before taking any supplements.

Use special caution if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. And look for a third-party certification on products to ensure optimal quality and safety.

The potential health benefits of nootropic mushrooms are promising, but much more research is needed. Much of the available research is small animal or laboratory studies, so we can’t be sure if they will affect people in the same way.

Bottom Line

Nootropic mushrooms and adaptogenic mushrooms are popular for naturally improving brain function, boosting mood, reducing inflammation, and protecting cells from oxidative stress. We need more research to assess their long-term effectiveness and safety. But these functional mushrooms may be a helpful addition to your daily health routine.

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