If there is one natural food that the term “life-enhancing” should be attached to—mushrooms would certainly be a top candidate. They are low in calories, packed with nutrients, and excellent sources of B vitamins and minerals including selenium, copper, potassium, phosphorous, zinc and manganese.

Mushrooms also contain the powerful antioxidant L-ergothioneine.

Among the mushroom types selected for use in our health supplements, Shiitake, maitake, oyster and king oyster mushrooms contain the highest amount of L-ergothioneine. But criminis, portabellas and white button mushrooms are also excellent sources.

Unknown to most people, mushrooms contain more protein than most vegetables, and their meaty texture can make them a good substitute in dishes calling for meats.

Shiitakes have been cultivated in China and Japan for 2,000 years. The shiitake mushroom has a rich, buttery, meaty flavor. When shopping for fresh shiitakes, look for dark brown caps that curve under and are nearly round. The gills should be tightly formed and moist. The only washing usually necessary is a gentle wipe with a damp cloth or a paper towel. Remove the stems where they meet the cap. The stems are too fibrous to eat on their own, but they can make an excellent addition to stockpots.

Shiitakes are in fact quite good raw, if you don’t mind their chewiness.

Another healthful mushroom is the reishi (ganoderma lucidum). Although very bitter and too woody to eat, the reishi is one of the most-widely used herbal remedies in traditional Chinese medicine. It has been used since the second century BC, though for a long time it was the exclusive prize of Chinese royalty.

Happily, in the 1970s it was successfully cultivated and has since become widely used. It has proven itself to be exceptional for battling allergies or bronchitis, and can help reduce problems related to hypertension.

Reishi also scavenges free radicals to retard aging and promote general healthiness on a systemic, cellular level. It is known to protect the liver and help instill calmness. And attention has been paid to reishi’s high concentration of polysaccharides—which are linked to cancer remission, hypoglycemic treatment and strengthening of the immune system.