Immune-Modulating Medicinal Mushroom Broth (winter survival recipe!)
- Published on: 08 December, 2018
- Last update: 03 November, 2020
Hey friends! Today I’m coming at you with my long-awaited recipe for immune-modulating broth that is so much more than just a simple food. This stuff is true medicine, packed with so many different phytochemicals that help with everything from mediating the allergic response all the way to turning on genes (such as P53) that encourage the natural death (apoptosis) of cancer cells. Drinking a cup of this broth each day builds deep immunity and resiliency, exactly the way our ancestors used to do it! You can also find creative ways to incorporate this broth into your daily meals, such as using it as a base for soups or stews instead of store-bought chicken or veggie stock. Another thing I like to do is sub in this broth as a replacement for the water I use to cook rice, quinoa, or other grains/side dishes.
Of course, if soup and meal prep isn’t your thing, I do have my Immune Shroom mushroom supplement available in my shop, which is quite literally the pill form of this recipe. I made Immune Shroom years ago for the very same reason I made this broth – to help people who are dealing with chronic or recurring infections that force them to miss out on their lives every cold and flu season! We have a ton of teachers and nurses who use Immune Shroom as their daily protection against catching every bug that goes around. I always like to throw this option out there because I obviously created it and am passionate about it – but I also know how powerful it is has been (see: reviews) for those who are always getting sick or can’t miss work/events/etc.
Why Mushrooms Work
Medicinal mushrooms, such as turkey tail, maitake, shiitake, reishi, and chaga, are some of the most powerful foods on the planet. They contain both beta glucans that modulate the immune response and triterpenes that are anti-viral and anti-inflammatory. One thing you’ll hear me say over and over again in this post is the phrase “immune-modulating” rather than the usual “immune-boosting” term used to describe other medicinal tools such as elderberry or echinacea. This right here is what makes mushrooms so special.
You see, there’s a huge difference between “immune-boosting” (properly known as immune-STIMULATING) herbs and immune-modulating herbs and foods. As an herbalist, I’m taught in school that it’s important to know exactly which herbs stimulate because these say to the body, “press that immune response button right now!”
Examples of these stimulators include boneset, echinacea, wild indigo, and even elderberry syrup. This isn’t a bad thing by any means… we absolutely need these herbs, especially when we’re in the acute phase of exposure to a bug. That’s why it’s so wonderful to take elderberry syrup at frequent intervals the first 24-72 hours of a cold or respiratory virus. Elderberry tells the immune system, “let’s get to work, we need all of our best soldiers front and center on high alert.” (In fact, in one placebo-controlled, double-blind study conducted by Israeli virologist Dr. Madeleine Mumcuoglu, 93.3% of the people taking an elderberry preparation reported significant improvement in influenza symptoms within 2 days of starting it, compared with the 6 days it took for the placebo group to see improvement!)
On the other side of the coin, you don’t want your immune response on high alert all the time (hello inflammation and allergies). And for those with autoimmune disease, where the immune system is already dysregulated and overreacting (even to your own tissue), it gets even trickier. Stimulating your immune response further is not always ideal, although my teacher says the risk is generally low especially if you’re only using these herbs when you have something coming on. Those with autoimmune issues can still take elderberry or echinacea at the beginning of a cold or flu…. you just have to keep an eye out for any flares and follow dosage guidelines so that you don’t overdo it.
This is where medicinal mushrooms come in. Mushrooms work in a completely different way, which is why you can take something like Immune Shroom every day for prevention rather than only implementing it when symptoms begin. Note that it can be used this way as well, with an increased “therapeutic dosage” of 2 capsules two to three times per day as soon as your throat has that classic tickle, but my point is that you have more options when it comes to mushrooms. Because they ‘modulate’ rather than ‘stimulate,’ they often fall into the class of “adaptogenic” herbs and either bring down an overactive immune response to baseline or rev up an under-functioning immune system depending on exactly what your body needs.
My point is, mushrooms are an extremely intelligent form of plant life and have this way of knowing exactly what the body needs. They’re generally safe for those with autoimmune disease (since they can bring down an overactive response) and in fact can be extremely helpful for those who are allergic to everything under the sun. When we first learned about mushrooms, my teacher talked about something called “post-infection syndrome” which is what happens when the body has cleared an infection but does not seem to register that it’s safe and the threat is gone. This can lead to debilitating allergies, immune system imbalance (i.e. autoimmunity) and everything from inflammation to skin rashes and more. The solution for those with post-infection syndrome? Calming the body to make it feel safe again… and mushrooms, of course!
It just so happened that days after learning this, my friend Janny (who writes the best blog here) messaged me about her daughter Sawyer who had just recovered from a cold but suddenly had a brand new issue to tackle: every single thing she ate was giving her hives! This is exactly what my teacher was talking about; the body doesn’t realize that the threat is over and is now reacting to everything that goes down the hatch. I told her to whip up a mushroom broth with some reishi, maitake, or any other shrooms she could find and voila. Two days later I got the cutest video from her daughter who said that although the mushrooms were a little yucky, she is no longer itching and is back to being the happy, healthy, adorable kiddo she is! I also had her give Sawyer some “nervine” herbs like chamomile, which calm the nervous system and help regulate the HPA axis; this in turn plays an indirect role in calming and regulating the immune system. Janny wrote an entire post about this experience on her blog, titled Why My Daughter Needed Mushrooms Instead of an EpiPen.
Now that you understand more about how mushrooms work, I’ll tell you why you should drink or cook with this broth all throughout winter: since it brings up an under-functioning immune response slowly over time, it builds deep, long-lasting resilience by retraining and feeding the immune system. This broth is perfect for anyone who chronically gets sick in the fall/winter (or those who have inflammation and allergy issues that they’d like to work on naturally through food and herbs).
Where I Buy My Mushrooms
I am not affiliated with any mushroom companies, so this is not an ad. I simply did my usual digging and found what I feel is a clean, trusted source with very fair prices considering what you get. (Did you know that 1 pound of fresh mushrooms usually equals about 1oz/~30g when dried?! They shrivel up so much in the drying process so you’re getting a lot more than you think!)
Mushroom Species & Benefits for Immunity, Cancer, and More
In the effort of keeping this semi-short and an easy read, I’m going to quickly rattle off the benefits of each of the mushrooms I purchased for my winter broth stockpile. You can choose to start with just one variety that resonates with you, or pick up a few like I did so that you can add several different species/properties to your broth at a time.
- Reishi – Bitter & warming; Nourishes Jing (vital essence relating to adrenals), Qi (energy/metabolism) and Shen (the psyche). Indicated for disturbed Shen, chronic stress, insomnia, anxiety and nervous exhaustion. Modulates the immune and allergic response, used for both deficiency and excess conditions. Highest plant source of melatonin which contributes to reishi’s ability to turn back on the P53 cancer gene*
- Lion’s Mane – Nootropic known to boost brain function and memory. Stimulates synthesis of nerve growth factor (NGF). Regulates the immune system and blood sugar. Supports gut health and the gastric mucus barrier.
- Shiitake – Highly antiviral, making it an excellent mushroom for those with chronic viral issues such as herpes, EBV, etc. Fights cancer cells and infectious disease. Supportive to heart health and proper cholesterol levels.
- Maitake – Maitake has exhibited blood sugar lowering and insulin-lowering effects in multiple studies; it may also protect pancreatic islet cells, which produce insulin. Helps lower body-wide inflammation (including gut inflammation) and stimulates natural killer (NK) cells.
- Turkey Tail – Possesses strong antiviral, antimicrobial and antitumor properties, which are attributed to its two main polysaccharides: polysaccharide-K (PSK) and polysaccharide-P (PSP). PSK has been shown to significantly extend survival at five years or beyond in cancers of the stomach, colon/rectum, esophagus and lung in Japanese trials since 1970.
*In my class on therapeutic foods and herbs for cancer taught by Dr. Jody Noe, we learned that cancer cells actually turn down/turn off a gene called “P53” gene in order to turn off apoptosis (programmed cell death). They become immortal because nothing is programmed to kill them and this is exactly how cancer grows. Reishi helps turn P53 back on so that the immune system can see and destroy cancer cells once again! Other foods, herbs and supplements that help turn P53 back on include:
- Turmeric (must be high curcumin percentage)
- Melatonin (20mg peak cancer dose, melatonin is naturally found in reishi
- Garlic (load up your food)
- Skullcap (tea or tincture)
- Resveratrol (supplement OR grapes, blueberries, cranberries, red wine, dark chocolate)
- Omega 3s
- Black Seed
- Vitamin D + Vitamin C
- Selenium + Zinc
- Sulforaphane (from broccoli/broccoli sprouts)
- Ginger (contains 6-Gingerol)
- Phenethyl isothiocyanate (from cruciferous vegetables)
- Proanthocyanidins (from berries, beans and wine)
- Carotenoids (from peas, cabbage, tomato, orange, carrots, pumpkin and spinach)
- Terpenoids (from citrus, cherries, grapes)
To make this an even more immune-modulating/anti-cancer broth, add these foods (like garlic, ginger and turmeric) to your slow cooker!
Additional Broth Ingredients
Broths and soups are the perfect vehicle for adding medicinal roots, herbs, and of course mushrooms… and making them is an easy habit to adapt in our modern lives. I pretty much added “everything but the kitchen sink” to my soup for maximum flavor and phytochemical content.
The other key ingredients in this healing soup besides the mushrooms are:
- Calendula Flowers (the dried orange flowers in the photo above) – This year in school I learned that calendula flowers have been added to soup for centuries in different cultures across Europe as a “convalescence” food, meaning they help hasten recovery from illness and rebuild strength. This makes perfect sense, as calendula flowers help to move lingering infection out of the lymphatic system. The good news is, they are equally helpful for preventing infection in the first place, acting as a gentle immune tonic that builds up the heat of the body and clears stagnation. Calendula is also wonderful for soothing the gut (and all mucous membranes for that matter) which makes it an underutilized herb for leaky gut! I just love adding calendula to whatever I’m brewing whether it’s soup or tea because I tend towards having a sluggish lymphatic system and this is one of the gentlest, most effective lymphagogues known to man.
- Astragalus Root (the chopped beige pieces in the paper bag) – If you have a weakened immune system or feel like you catch every cold, add a few slices of astragalus root to your soups and teas. Astragalus is a supreme nourishing tonic that strengthens immune function when one is depleted or weakened, and is traditionally considered a Spleen Qi (digestive) and Lung Qi tonic. It is indicated for weakness of the lungs and shortness of breath, and also helps empaths who “let too much in” from external sources. It helps to keep chronic infections latent once you’ve recovered, and helps prevent future infection from coming up and freaking the immune system out once again. My teacher Richard says that nourishing lung remedy tonics like astragalus and schisandra berry are also useful for excessive sweating; if one is sweating too much or at random in the absence of exertion, he says “the membrane is too porous and we must ‘firm things up.'” This relates back to the empath use where it’s helpful for firming up one’s emotional boundaries.
In all honesty, the most important ingredient guideline when making this broth is that you should be using about 15 grams of astragalus and 30 grams of dried mushrooms. I use this kitchen scale from Amazon to measure. Remember, 30 grams aka ~1 ounce of dried mushrooms is equivalent to an entire pound of fresh ones. This way you’re ensuring a potent, medicinal end product with the correct ratio of immune-modulating herbs! Everything else you add is for flavor and up to you/what you have on hand (my recipe changes every time).
- Enough water, chicken or vegetable broth to fill the crock pot and act as the liquid base of your broth (I used chicken broth for maximum flavor but water is 100% fine)
- 30g dried mushrooms of your choice (I used a mix of reishi, lion’s mane and turkey tail)
- 15g dried astragalus root
- Handful of calendula flowers
- 2-3 bay leaves
- Handful of fresh ginger slices
- 2-3 sprigs of thyme
- 3-4 chopped garlic cloves
- 1/2 to 1 cup chopped celery
- 1 onion, roughly chopped
- 1 bunch of cilantro
- Borsari seasoned salt (1 tsp per quart of liquid so this will depend on the size of your crock pot)
- optional: add organic chicken bones or grass fed beef bones to make this a bone broth rich in gut-healing collagen
- Add all dry ingredients besides the cilantro and thyme to your crock pot. (I learned this the hard way!)
- Season with salt and pepper or Borsari seasoned salt which really gives this broth an amazing flavor. The golden rule is 1 tsp per quart of liquid (about 3.5 tsp for me)
- Add the water/broth, cover and let cook on low overnight or about 6-8 hours.
- Turn off the heat, add the cilantro and thyme, and let your broth cool while those flavors marry for about an hour.
- Strain through a fine-mesh strainer set over a large heatproof storage container (such as a glass pyrex tupperware) then discard the contents of the strainer.
- Refrigerate for up to 5 days or freeze for up to 1 month.
If you’re keeping it in the fridge, you can reheat a cup at a time on the stove to consume as a warming, healing beverage at any point of the day. I like to drink mine in the morning to start my day or in the evening as a soothing nightcap. Like I said, you can also use this broth in your cooking whether you’re making soup, stew, chili, rice, quinoa, etc! Nick even boils his broccoli in this broth and drinks the liquid afterwards.
I hope you absolutely love this recipe and concept, and that it nourishes you through these cold winter months. Please let me know if you have any questions and I’d love to answer in the comments.