Medicinal Mushrooms Glossary

Last Updated on April 19, 2022

Medicinal Mushroom Terms

If you are new to the world of medicinal mushrooms, you will come across many jargons.  “Shroomisms”, as they are known in the mushroom community, are terminologies used frequently to describe different parts and processes of edible superfood mushrooms.  

Fruiting bodies, mycelium, spores; all these words may confuse you. But don’t you worry, we have got you covered!

This lexicon glossary will explain mycological terminologies to fully understand the fascinating world of mushrooms. Here are some of the important mushroom-related words:

Adaptive immune response

The acquired or adaptive immune response is a subtype of the body’s immune system. It is developed to respond to foreign substances like microbes or vaccination. The adaptive immune response is highly specialized and only reacts against a particular pathogen that induced it. This second line of immune defense takes some time to develop but provides long-lasting protection.


Adaptogens are natural, herbal substances that help the body “adapt” to stress, fatigue, and anxiety thereby restoring overall wellbeing. They help the body adjust to physical, biological, or chemical stress by returning it to a balanced state of homeostasis.


It is a medium used to cultivate mushrooms. Agar media is created by combining nutrients, water, and agar-agar, a gelatin-like substance made out of red algae. It can be used to store cultures of mushrooms for long term-use and prevent them from being contaminated.


Antibodies are proteins produced by the immune system of the body, against harmful substances like antigens. These Y-shaped proteins molecules (also called immunoglobulins) bind like lock and key to the antigens present in the invaders. Once the antibodies bind to the target antigens, they signal the activation of the immune response. It then triggers a cascade of reactions that eventually vanquish the invaders such as bacteria, viruses, fungus, or parasites.


These are molecules that are capable of stimulating the body’s immune system to produce antibodies. Chemicals, toxins, viruses, bacteria, and other substances that come from outside the body are some examples of antigens.


Also known as a steam sterilizer, an autoclave is a pressure-cooker-like apparatus that utilizes steam under high pressure to kill harmful virus, bacteria, and spores. It is an environmentally-friendly method that sterilizes without the use of any reagents.


Beta-glucan is a water-soluble dietary fiber found in bacteria, plants, and certain foods like mushrooms. They are made up of a string of glucose molecules joined together, and have been linked with numerous potential health benefits.

Bioactive compound

Bioactive compounds are chemical substances present in small quantities in foods and plants that have a biological effect on the organism consuming them. For instance, caffeine is the bioactive compound of coffee. Medicinal mushrooms have many bioactive compounds like polyphenols, triterpenes, proteins, and amino acids.


It is the rate and degree at which the active constituent of a substance (drugs or mushroom) is absorbed into the body. It measures how much the substance can reach the target area of the body through the bloodstream.


Bioavailable is the capability of the substance to be absorbed and utilized by the body. For example, if a mushroom powder taken by the mouth can be absorbed into the blood and used by the body it is said to be orally bioavailable.

Biological Efficiency

It is a simple way to calculate the effectiveness of a combination of mushroom strain and substrate when growing mushrooms. For instance, when 1 lb. of fresh mushroom is harvested from 1 lb. of the dry substrate, it is said to have 100% biological efficiency.

Block (fruiting)

Fruiting blocks combine hardwood sawdust supplemented with a nitrogen source (wheat bran, coffee grounds, or soy husks). Mushroom spawns are added to the combination which is then placed in sealed grow bags for cultivation.


Biological Response Modifiers or BRMs are substances that are capable of modifying the immune response. They can either suppress or enhance the immune system. BRMs have been utilized in the treatment of cancer by enhancing the body’s natural defense mechanism against tumor cells.


The mushroom cap is the topmost part of the mushroom. Also known as pileus, the cap gives the mushrooms its umbrella-like shape. It can be spherical, conical, or flat, even ranging in texture and colors.


The mushroom casing is the final, topmost layer of soil on the mushroom bed. It is composed of moist organic or inorganic material along with biological components. Casing gives mushrooms a natural environment for growth. Peat moss, garden soil, coco coir, and sphagnum moss are some of the commonly used casing substances.


Chitin is an important polysaccharide found in the mushroom cell wall that makes it so meaty. These insoluble fibers support normal digestive functioning and nutrient absorption.  Due to its high nitrogen content, chitin can also remove toxins from the body. The tough nature of chitin makes it difficult for the human body to break it down. The mushroom fruiting bodies need to be extracted to pull the compounds out and reap their benefits.


The part of the fungal life cycle where mycelium is growing but mushrooms are not visible is called colonization.


Contamination is anything, apart from white mycelium, growing on the substrate. Contaminants could be an airborne substance or an undesired mold like Trichoderma. It could also be a result of incomplete sterilization of the substrate itself.


Culture is a pure strain of mushroom that is stored and grown on agar. The mushroom strain is selected based on its notable and desirable traits. A mushroom culture can be taken from tissue or fungal spores.


Cytokines are small proteins secreted by cells of the immune system. These proteins affect the growth and activity of blood cells and other cells of the immune system. Cytokines can either promote or suppress inflammatory responses in the body.

Cytokine storm

It is an aggressive inflammatory response that releases large amounts of cytokines in a short time. Although cytokines play an important role in normal immune responses, too much, too soon can be harmful as they promote inflammation and overstimulation of the immune cells.


Ergosterol is a steroid that is found in the cell membrane of living fungi. It helps to maintain the integrity of the cell, similar to the function of cholesterol in human cells. Ergosterol is a precursor of Vitamin D that produces vitamin D2 on exposure to sunlight. This makes edible mushrooms an excellent source of vitamin D.


A mushroom extract is made by soaking the raw fungal parts in hot water or alcohol. The extract concentrates the compounds and may be in a powder or liquid form.

A dual extract is a two-step process constituting an extraction with alcohol or hot water followed by a second extraction with other methods. The liquid obtained from both the steps is combined to form an ultimate dual-extract.


Mushroom foray is an expedition for gathering mushrooms. It is essentially a field trip led by experienced mycologists to collect wild, edible mushrooms. The purpose of the foray can also be to look at the beauty and diversity of mushrooms and collect them for scientific studies.


A fruiting body is the umbrella-shaped fleshy part of the mushroom.  The fruit body, comprising of cap and stalk, grows above the ground or on the surface of a host. It produces and distributes spores for the reproduction of mushrooms.


Mushroom fruiting is the process of the development of fungal mycelium into fruit bodies. Changes in light intensity and temperature can initiate fruiting which will make and release fungal spores.

Functional food

Foods that give a positive effect on health beyond simple nutrition are called functional food. They help reduce the risk of diseases and promote optimal health. 

Functional mushroom

These are types of mushrooms that have health benefits in addition to their nutritional composition. Reishi, Chaga, Lion’s mane, Cordyceps, Turkey tail, Maitake, Shiitake, and Tremella are some functional mushrooms.


Grain to grain transfer or G2G is the process of transferring small portions of colonized grains from a bag or jar to another bag or jar with fresh grain. The jars propagated via G2G transfers colonize 100% in 10-14 days, under optimal conditions.

Ganoderic acid

Ganoderic acid is the active ingredient in Reishi (or Ganoderma lucidum) mushroom. It is a triterpenoid found in the fruiting body of Reishi mushroom that has many health benefits like protection of the liver and cancer-fighting abilities.


Gills, also called lamellae, are thin paper-like structures that hang from the underside of the mushroom cap. The gills are layered side by side, like blades or plates, and are responsible for the production and dispersion of billions of spores.


Gypsum is a common mineral supplement in mushroom casing mixtures and substrates. It is a dihydrate of calcium sulfate, providing mushrooms with both the minerals essential for good fruit body formation.


Mushroom hyphae are long, branching, thread-like, microscopic filaments that grow and interconnect to form the web-like mycelium. They absorb nutrients from the ground and transport them to other fungal parts.


These are substances that modify the immune system to stimulate or suppress it. They help the body fight infection, cancer, and other diseases.

In vitro

In vitro is a process that is performed or a reaction that takes place outside the body, either in a test-tube, Petri dishes, culture dish, or any other artificial environment.

Innate immune response

The innate immune response is the body’s first line of defense against intruders. It is the shielding system that is present at birth that consists of physical, chemical, and cellular defense against viruses, bacteria, and other pathogens.


Mushroom inoculation is the process of bringing the mycelium or actively growing mushroom cultures in contact with the substrate, initiating its growth and development. Inoculation can be wet or dry, depending upon the nature of the material used (grain or nutrient-rich solution).

Laminar Flow

The uninterrupted flow of sterile air used for inoculation or mushroom culture is called laminar flow. A flow hood provides a straight and steady current of highly filtered clean air to prevent contamination.

Lucidenic acid

It is a triterpenoid isolated from Reishi mushroom which has anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-tumor activity.

Medicinal mushroom

Medicinal mushrooms are fungi that can be used for alleviation, prevention, or healing of diseases. The powders or extracts of these mushrooms also help in balancing a healthy diet. Medicinal mushrooms have been used by healers in traditional medicine. These mushrooms contain a high density of polysaccharides that provide numerous health benefits when consumed consistently.


It is an intermediate or end product of metabolism. When the body breaks down food, drugs, or chemicals it releases metabolites and energy required for growth, proliferation, and maintenance of health.


The microbiome is the combined genetic material of the community of microorganisms that inhabit a particular environment. It includes microbes (like viruses, fungi, and bacteria ) that are both beneficial and harmful. 


The micrometer, commonly known as a micron, is a unit of length that is equal to a millionth of a meter. The human eye can only see dust particles that are approximately 25 microns.


Mycelium is the underground part of the root system of mushrooms.  Like plant roots, the thin and thread-like mycelium spreads under the soil in search of nutrients. They form an essential part of the life support system of mushrooms. The complex network of mycelium also forms a communication system with other plants in the forest, to facilitate the exchange of nutrients.


Mycobiome is a term that refers to the fungal community in an organism and its collective genetic material.


It is the scientific study of fungus, which includes mushrooms and yeasts. This field of study incorporates the genetic, and biochemical properties of fungus as well as their use as food and medicine.                               


A mycorrhiza is a mutual, symbiotic relationship between the roots of plants and fungi. The plant roots are a hospitable site for fungi to anchor on and produce their hyphae. The plant gets their water and nutrients from the virtual fungal root system, whereas the fungus derives necessary carbohydrates from the plant.


A nucleoside is a structural subunit of nucleic acids. They are composed of a nitrogenous base and a five-carbon sugar. The addition of a phosphate group to nucleosides forms a nucleotide, the building block of RNA and DNA.


Nutraceutical is a food or part of the food that provides health and medical benefits. It can be even used for the prevention or treatment of diseases.


Pasteurization is a heat treatment process for sterilization. Packaged and non-packaged food and beverages are heated ( usually to less than 100 degrees Celsius) which kills the pathogens and extends their shelf life. In mushroom production, the compost is pasteurized to remove ammonia and kill pests.


Pinning is one of the six steps involved in mushroom production. Once the spores have been inoculated into the substrate, it germinates and expands into a mycelium. The mycelium then condenses to form a hyphal knot which eventually develops into a pin or primordia. The pin is a baby mushroom that continues to grow larger, ultimately forming the button mushroom.


A polysaccharide is a large complex glucose molecule made up of many smaller simple sugars (monosaccharides). Also known as glycans, polysaccharides are the most common form of natural carbohydrates.

Polysaccharide krestin (PSK)

Polysaccharide krestin (PSK) are polysaccharide-protein complexes isolated from mushrooms like Turkey tail. It has been used as a cancer chemotherapy agent for over 30 years in Asia.

Polysaccharide peptide (PSP)

Polysaccharide peptide (PSP) is a polysaccharide-protein complex isolated from edible mushrooms like Turkey tail. It acts as a biological response modifier (BRM) and is currently being studied for its anti-tumor activity.


Mushroom pores appear as small holes on the underside of the cap. It is used for the dispersal of spores. Traits such as pore size and pattern can also be used for the identification of mushroom species.


Tiny, pinhead-shaped baby mushrooms are called primordium. It is typically less than 2 mm in diameter and is found on the surface of the substrate.


Sclerotium is the dark, resting body of a mushroom which is composed of mycelium. This compact structure serves as a food reserve.


Fungal senescence is the gradual loss of the growth potential of the mushroom resulting in death.


Shotgun Fruiting Chamber (SGFC) is a container that is used to prevent the drying of the fruiting bodies while also providing good air exchange. It has numerous small holes for ventilation that look like it has been blasted with a shotgun, hence the name. It is like a little greenhouse for mushrooms, that creates an ideal growing environment.


Mushroom spawn is a substrate that already has actively growing mushroom cultures or mycelium. The process of introducing mycelium into the substrate is called adding spawn.


Mushroom spores are unicellular reproductive cells produced in the gills. These microscopic structures are like mushroom seeds, containing all the genetic material required to grow a new mushroom. At the end of the growth cycle of a mushroom, they release spores that are dispersed by air, water, humans, or animals.


Starch is a complex carbohydrate and a chief storage form of energy in plants. It is the most common form of carbohydrate in the human diet 


It is a process that deactivates, kills, or removes all forms of living organisms present in the object. It can be achieved through the application of heat, irradiation, chemicals, or high pressure.


These are fat-like substances, classified as a subgroup of steroids. Sterols are present naturally in animal and plant-derived foods. The most well-known animal sterol is cholesterol.


A substrate is a material or surface on which the mushroom can survive, grow and obtain its nutrients. It can be composed of hardwood, with oat or wheat bran as nutritional boosters. Sometimes a log can act as a substrate. Simply put, a substrate is a soil where the mushrooms grow.


A symbiotic relationship denotes a mutually beneficial association between two dissimilar organisms.


It is the interaction between two biological substances that produce results greater than what each would achieve individually.


Teeth, also called spines, are long, thin structures underneath the mushroom cap that hang downwards. They produce and disperse spores. 


A mushroom tincture is a fungal extract soaked in alcohol (ethanol) that can be used as a medication. The ethanol pulls out the active ingredients in the mushroom and concentrates them as liquids. The concentration of tinctures can range from 25 to 90%.

Triterpenoids (Triterpenes)

Triterpenes are chemical compounds with three terpene units. The terms triterpenoids and triterpenes are often used interchangeably. Triterpenes have been known to be extremely versatile therapeutically, with benefits like anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and anti-cancer properties. 


A wedge is a triangular piece of agar that has mycelium growing on it. It is made by cutting the colonized agar plate and measures around 2×1 cm. If the wedge is placed into a fresh agar plate, the mycelium begins to grow and eventually colonizes it.


  • Dr. Sony Sherpa has a Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) from the Guangzhou Medical University and has been studying medicinal mushrooms for more than 7 years. Her knowledge of medicinal mushrooms is backed by a master's degree in Holistic Medicine and contributes to many health articles around the health benefits of medicinal mushrooms.

World Mushroom Society is a collective of fungi enthusiasts and health advocates, sharing information, research, studies, and identifying top producers of high quality medicinal mushroom supplements.


The information on this website is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. All information found here is not meant as a substitute for, or alternative to, information from your doctor for ongoing medical treatment you currently receive. If unsure, please consult with your doctor before using medicinal mushrooms. Any content related to cancer should not be considered as prescriptive medical advice and should not be a substitute for any cancer treatment, unless advised by your doctor first. The efficacy of these products has not been confirmed by TGA and FDA-approved research. If you are pregnant or on prescription drugs that thin the blood, consult with your medical professional before using medicinal mushrooms.
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