Most of us know that mushrooms taste great in a stir-fry or a warming bowl of soup, but did you know that some varieties of fungi are also known as healing mushrooms and functional foods? Native to Asia but common in North American grocery stores, enokitake are one such mushroom that provides a host of health benefits.
Best known for strengthening the body’s natural immune response, enokitake mushrooms contain potent antioxidants. They also promote liver and heart health and a normal response to inflammation.
More than just a healthy and nutritious food choice, mushrooms like enokitake can make your meals delicious and your body and mind strong! Read on to learn more.
What Are Enokitake Mushrooms?
If you enjoy Asian cuisine or just like different mushrooms, you may have eaten enokitake before. You’ll often find them served in hot pot soups or with noodles, salads, and other dishes.
Quite beautiful, enokitake grow in bouquets of long thin, white stems with little caps on top. They’re fairly common in your average produce department. Their flavor ranges from delicate to earthy, complex, and woody.
Enoki is the name of the Chinese hackberry tree on which these mushrooms grow in the wild, and “take” means mushroom in Japanese, which explains why some people call them enoki and others enokitake.
Native to China, Korea, and Japan, enokitake mushrooms (Flammulina velutipes) look quite different in the wild. Due to sunlight exposure, the wild mushrooms have deeper hues, from light or dark brown to earthy red, and with larger caps. The cultivated varieties are delicate white and are also called lily mushrooms, golden needle mushrooms, winter mushrooms, or futu mushrooms.
Long used in Eastern traditions, some other medicinal mushrooms include birch polypore, Chaga, Lion’s mane, and Cordyceps. But let’s take a closer look at the health benefits of the mighty enokitake.
7 Health Benefits of Enokitake
Like many mushrooms, enokitake contain an impressive nutritional profile of health-giving vitamins and minerals. Enokitake are especially rich in zinc, copper, potassium, magnesium, folate, and selenium. They’re also high in fiber and low in calories.
Besides their nutrition, enokitake offer many health-giving benefits such as acting as a powerful antioxidant, promoting a healthy immune system, and even improving mood. Below are the seven top benefits of enokitake.
1. Boosts the Immune System
One of the most impressive health benefits of enokitake is how they enhance immune responses in the body. The immune system acts as a gatekeeper against disease and infection. It’s also a sensory system that relays information to the brain. When you get sick or have flare-ups of inflammation, or other incursions against your immune system repeatedly, your stress hormone levels rise.
Enokitake enhances how your immune system responds to incursions, having what are called “immunomodulatory” effects. Enokitake also stimulates the normal production of white blood cells, a key part of immune system health. They may also deter harmful organisms and abnormal cell growth and proliferation.[2, 4]
2. Scavenges Free Radicals
Polysaccharides in enokitake scavenge free radicals in your body, especially hydroxyl and superoxide anions. Free radicals act like rogue molecules that can go haywire, damaging cells and accelerating the aging process. Antioxidants counteract these free radicals like a healing balm.
This ability to counteract harmful free radicals means that enokitake and its polysaccharides have an antioxidant and anti-aging effect on cells.
3. Promotes Heart Health
Enokitake mushrooms can make your heart happy and healthy by promoting normal blood pressure, blood cholesterol levels, and more.
When your blood pressure is too high or too low, it can make you feel unwell — and can be associated with different illnesses. Enokitake helps promote normal blood pressure, especially when caused by a poor diet.
The dietary fiber, polysaccharides, and mycosterol in enokitake mushrooms promote normal levels of total cholesterol, as well as “bad” (LDL) cholesterol. Enokitake has particularly high fiber compared to others — an additional reason it can promote a healthy heart.
4. Protects the Liver
Cholesterol — good (HDL) and bad (LDL) forms — can accumulate in the blood, body, and liver. While you can get cholesterol from the food you eat, the liver also manufactures cholesterol. When too much accumulates in the liver, it can cause concerns, particularly fatty liver disease. When your body accumulates too much LDL (low-density lipoprotein) it can negatively affect your liver.
Enokitake extract and powder may promote normal liver levels of cholesterol and triacylglycerol (a triglyceride) — a common dietary fat. This supports liver health!
5. Promotes a Normal Response to Inflammation
Inflammation occurs when your immune system isn’t functioning at its prime. Although inflammation is a natural response, over time, it can become very damaging to the body. The good news? Experts found that enokitake mushrooms helped promote a normal response to inflammation.
Adding enokitake to a plant-based diet (or any diet) — or taking it as a supplement — can reduce redness and swelling in the body, boosting overall good health. Enokitake contains healthy amounts of linoleic acid, a fatty acid precursor to molecules in the body’s inflammatory pathways. By supporting normal levels of tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-α) and nitric oxide (NO), enokitake supports healthy levels of inflammation, keeping it in check.
6. Boosts Your Mood!
As mentioned, enokitake mushrooms are rich in polysaccharides. Among their many benefits, they promote normal levels of the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine.[1, 2] Both of these compounds play an essential role in a positive mood. The polysaccharides in enokitake also support memory and learning.
As enokitake mushrooms also have a positive effect on the body’s immune system, they, in turn, help the body naturally relieve stress and anxiety.[1, 3] When you feel unwell or are unhealthy, it affects your overall mood and stress level, causing a negative feedback loop. Enokitake can help you turn it around!
7. Promotes Longevity
The polysaccharides in enokitake mushrooms promote longevity through better health and healthy aging. The impressive antioxidant compounds present in this functional food and healing mushroom have some anti-aging properties.
Enokitake’s antioxidant enzyme activities support the body’s ability to protect and repair itself, particularly your organs. Keeping your liver, kidneys, lungs, and other organs healthy will make a huge difference in your quality of life as you get older.
Best Ways to Take Enokitake
You can find enokitake mushrooms fresh or dried and reconstitute them before cooking, or you can find them in capsules, powders, or liquid extracts.
Turn to an Asian-inspired recipe to find the best ways to prepare and serve these delicious mushrooms. You can cook and eat these edible mushrooms in a variety of ways. They are delicious in miso soup, stews, or stir-fries.
Try the delicious stir-fry below for a taste of enokitake, with all their health benefits.
- Saucepan or wok
- 8 ounces enoki mushrooms
- 2 bunches of rainbow chard, chopped
- 2 small zucchinis, chopped
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1 large clove garlic, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon low-sodium coconut aminos
- ½ teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger
- Juice of ½ lime
- Prepare the thin, white mushrooms by trimming the ends and separating them into strands.
- Chop the chard leaves and stems into small pieces.
- Slice the zucchini and cut each slice in half.
- Heat the oil in a pan over medium-high heat.
- Saute garlic until fragrant, and the mushrooms and cook until they just begin to wilt.
- Add the coconut aminos and ginger and cook for a further 1 to 2 minutes to coat.
- Top with a squeeze of lime. Enjoy!
You can eat the vegetables as a side dish or add over brown rice or quinoa for a filling meal!
You can buy enokitake mushrooms as a supplement in capsules, powder, or liquid extracts. As powder, you’ll find them mixed with other healthy mushrooms like reishi, Chaga, shiitake, and Cordyceps. Always seek out the highest-quality plant-based supplements with quality controls in place. They may be combined with other healing herbs for immune support or other health benefits.
Global Healing’s Plant-Based Immune Boost is an advanced, Raw Herbal Extract™ formula with powerful ingredients, including enokitake, elderberry, Echinacea, pine bark, olive leaf extract, and birch polypore mushroom.
Points to Remember
Enokitake mushrooms (Flammulina velutipes) are native to China, Japan, and the Korean peninsula. These mushrooms have an amazing nutritional profile. They provide a great source of B vitamins, phosphorus, iron, selenium, and calcium, as well as high levels of linoleic acid (a fatty acid), polysaccharides, and other nutritional phytochemicals and antioxidants.
Beyond nutrition, enokitake strengthen and bolster your immune system, which helps to regulate mood while preventing stress and anxiety.[1, 3] These powerful little mushrooms are also very good for your overall heart health, promoting normal levels of cholesterol in the liver and bloodstream. They also promote normal blood pressure and a normal response to inflammation.[1, 5, 6, 7]
The enokitake mushroom really earns its title as a functional food. Its anti-aging antioxidants and ability to counteract free radicals make this fungus a longevity superfood!
- Tang C, et al. Golden needle mushroom: a culinary medicine with evidenced-based biological activities and health promoting properties. Front Pharmacol. 2016;7:474.
- Wu M, et al. Antioxidant and immunomodulatory activities of a polysaccharide from Flammulina velutipes. J Tradit Chin Med. 2014;34(6):733-740.
- Brebner K, et al. Synergistic effects of interleukin-1β, interleukin-6, and tumor necrosis factor-α: central monoamine, corticosterone, and behavioral variations. Neuropsychopharmacol. 2000;22:566-580.
- Dong YR, et al. Antimicrobial and antioxidant activities of Flammulina velutipes polysaccharides and polysaccharide-iron. Carbohydr Polym. 2017;161:26-32.
- Yuan F, et al. Characterization, antioxidant, anti-aging and organ protective effects of sulfated polysaccharides from Flammulina velutipes. Molecules. 2019;24(19):3517.
- Gunawardena D, et al. Anti-inflammatory effects of five commercially available mushroom species determined in lipopolysaccharide and interferon-γ activated murine macrophages. Food Chem. 2014;148:92-96.
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