From their revered position as a part of Mazatec Indian rituals to a shaman-visiting treat for adventurous musicians (John Lennon) and writers (Jack Kerouac), the hallucinogenic ingredient in so-called “magic mushrooms” — psilocybin — has long been touted as an elixir of enlightenment.
The U.S. National Survey on Drug Use and Health estimates that around 8.5% of Americans have used psilocybin at some point in their life. And recently, it's being advocated as a remedy for depression in people with life-threatening cancer, and a substitute for SSRI antidepressants for anyone using such medications.
But if you want some mushroom magic without all the hoopla, you're in luck. Ordinary button, cremini, portabella, and shitake mushrooms can take you on a journey toward good health.
A review and meta-analysis of 17 cancer studies published in Advances in Nutrition reveals that folks who eat two-thirds of an ounce of mushrooms daily have a 45% lower risk of cancer compared to those who didn't eat any mushrooms at all.
The researchers think the benefit comes from a cell-protecting phytochemical called ergothioneine. Shiitake, oyster, maitake, and king oyster mushrooms have the highest levels of it, but all varieties of mushrooms offer some protection.
Many foods demand a precise cooking time for maximum flavor or texture, but not mushrooms. Their cell walls are made of heat-stable chitin, so whether you eat them raw or saute or roast them, they stay tender and tasty — and full of cancer fighting properties.