An Introduction to Medicinal Mushrooms
In the world of natural wellness, medicinal mushrooms stand out as powerful allies. They are unmatched in their ability to build immunity and adaptability within the body and are among some of the world’s most prized tonic herbs.
In Taoist herbalism, these mushrooms have been used for centuries, revered for their harmonising effects on the body's Qi (vital energy). They are believed to balance Yin and Yang, supporting physical health and emotional and spiritual well-being. Among the most celebrated adaptogenic mushrooms are reishi, chaga, lion's mane, and cordyceps, each offering unique healing properties.
These adaptogenic mushrooms, bridging ancient wisdom and modern science, are not merely supplements; they are gateways to a more balanced, holistic approach to health. Whether you are seeking mental clarity, immune and digestive support, or an ally that will improve your mental, physical, and emotional response to the stressors of everyday life, this ancient medicine offers a natural path to achieving optimal health and longevity.
When you first arrive in the world of medicinal mushrooms, consider the following factors:
- Where the mushrooms are sourced from
- The quality and purity of the mushrooms
- Are they wood or grain-grown?
- Is it the fruiting body or the mycelium?
- What form do they come in?
- How do I take them?
So let us answer your burning questions!
Sourcing (Organic vs. Di Dao)
Organic certification is something that will immediately tick many boxes for consumers, and of course, ensuring that anything you ingest is grown without the intervention of synthetic pesticides and fertilisers is a very important consideration when choosing your medicinal mushroom supplements!
This is where the nuance of the organic industry comes into play. Some factors worth considering are:
Certification Costs: Organic certification can be expensive, and this cost is often passed on to consumers. Moreover, the certification process can be prohibitive for small, independent farmers who may be practising organic farming but lack the resources to obtain certification.
Quality Variances: While organic certification ensures the absence of synthetic chemicals, it doesn't always guarantee the highest nutrient density or medicinal properties. The quality can vary depending on factors like soil quality, region, and farming practices.
Broader Environmental Impact: Organic farming is generally better for the environment than conventional farming. However, it's important to consider other ecological aspects, such as water usage, land use efficiency, and the carbon footprint associated with transportation.
So what is the alternative?
A traditional farming method referred to as Dì Dào.
Dì Dào is the concept of growing herbs in their spiritual and native homeland; The preferred environment, atmospheric energy, pressure, and altitude required to grow and thrive. This often results in a product that is more potent and aligned with the traditional uses of the mushrooms. Herbs that are Dì Dào (地道) are grown in environments completely free of pesticides, whether wild-sourced or cultivated.
Support for Small Farmers: Dì Dào often involves working with small-scale farmers who have been cultivating in these regions for generations. This supports local communities and preserves traditional agricultural practices.
Beyond Certification: While Dì Dào does not come with a formal certification like organic farming, it represents a holistic approach to cultivation. It considers factors like the interconnectedness of the ecosystem, the preservation of the land, and the spiritual aspects of farming, which go beyond what is typically covered by organic certification.
Quality & Purity
When buying a medicinal mushroom supplement, it is important to consider the purity of the product. This includes whether the product is tested for heavy metals, pesticides, and microbial contamination. Every ingredient must meet stringent quality standards set by the regulatory authority for therapeutic goods (FDA in the USA and TGA in Australia).
Another consideration is fingerprint chromatography; this ensures each herb is correctly identified as the species that is being sold.
Any brand selling a high-quality, medicinal mushroom supplement will be transparent about their testing practices on their website. If you require any further clarity, you can contact them and request a ‘Certificate of Analysis’ (CoA).
Wood vs. Grain Grown Mushrooms
The quality and potency of medicinal mushrooms can depend on a variety of factors, including the medium in which they are grown. If you are new to the world of medicinal mushrooms, you will likely come across a much debated topic, what is better, wood or grain grown mushrooms?
Many different substrates can be used to grow mushrooms, including grain, wood, sawdust, straw, and compost. Each substrate has its unique advantages and disadvantages, and the choice of substrate can significantly impact the quality and potency of the mushrooms produced.
Medicinal mushroom products that are grown on grain may have a different nutrient composition compared to those found in nature, therefore any variability in growing conditions, substrate quality and extraction methods can have a significant impact on the bioactive compounds found within the supplement. This can be perceived in both a positive and negative light.
It is argued that the dense network of fine filaments called hyphae within mycelium enhances its bioavailability of nutrients and bioactive compounds as it interacts with its environment, absorbing and metabolising nutrients and compounds from its surroundings. Whilst this is true, most mycelium-based supplements are grown on grain-based substrates, leaving the mycelium only starch to interact with. Myceliated grain often contains up to 60-70% grain, reducing the percentage of active compounds within the final product. This in turn can lead to a far inferior supplement.
Wood-grown mushrooms tend to have more diverse and complex nutrient profiles compared to grain-grown ones. Wood substrates offer a wider range of nutrients and compounds for the mushrooms to absorb during their growth. Wood substrates can contain unique compounds and phytochemicals that can enhance the medicinal properties of mushrooms. These compounds are absorbed by the mushrooms as they grow, potentially leading to higher levels of bioactive substances.
Wood substrates are also often considered more sustainable and environmentally friendly for large-scale cultivation compared to grain substrates. They can be sourced from wood waste or sustainably managed forests.
We go deeper into this topic and explain the nitty-gritty details in our blog ‘Wood vs. Grain Grown Medicinal Mushrooms’.
Fruiting Body or Mycelium?
Another commonly asked question is, what is better, fruiting body or mycelium.
There are so many brands offering medicinal mushroom powders, extracts and capsules that it can be hard to differentiate and decide what is best for you. The thing is, not all of these mushroom-based products exist along the same playing field.
A quick lesson in mushroom anatomy. A medicinal mushroom is simply just one plant part of a fungal organism, referred to as a basidiomycete. Basidiomycetes have three distinct parts that develop throughout their lifecycle: spore, mycelium, and mushroom.
The mycelium is the actual living network of the fungus, the portion of the herb that in nature moves through the ground and the wood to help the mushroom spread. The mycelium is woven into whatever substrate (the plant material) it has chosen to feed on and from there can produce the fruiting body - the part that most of us would recognise as the mushroom proper: the bit that sticks out of the tree or pops out of the ground.
The fruiting body of most mushrooms contains most of the medicinal compounds, including (depending on the species) beta-glucans, betulinic acid, triterpenoids, and more. Research shows these compounds are present at a much higher level than those found in the mycelium. Another key benefit of fruiting body-based supplements is that they have a long history of traditional use, therefore there is a wealth of anecdotal evidence supporting the effectiveness of fruiting body-based supplements.
As we mentioned earlier, most mycelium-based supplements are grown on grain-based substrates, leaving the mycelium only starch to interact with. Myceliated grain often contains up to 60-70% grain, reducing the percentage of active compounds within the final product.
Other things to consider when choosing a medicinal mushroom supplement is the taste and colour.
Taste - Your medicinal mushroom should taste like medicinal mushrooms! This usually means they will be bitter, due to the bitter-tasting active compound called triterpenes.
Colour - Mushroom extracts exhibit a range of colours depending on the particular mushroom, whereas myceliated grain offers a more consistent appearance. This is attributed to the uniform colour of the mycelium itself and the grain it thrives upon. Typically, myceliated grains are lighter in colour, looking more like the grain it was grown upon. For example, reishi mushroom is a deep reddish brown colour, therefore the dried extract should also be a deep hue. If it’s not, then it has been grown on grain.
If you want to dive deeper into this topic, we cover it all in our blog ‘Fruiting Body vs. Mycelium’.
Form & Preparation
Most medicinal mushroom supplements will come in one of three forms; powder, capsules and liquid extract. This comes down to personal preference, but it is also important to consider the extraction process, which informs the potency of the end product.
A dual-extract is a method of processing a herb/mushroom to make it more bioavailable to the human or animal consuming it. Both water and alcohol are used to acquire the herb's full medicinal profile with a dual extract. Water (also known as the universal solvent) extracts the water-soluble components of the herb (makes sense!). Alcohol is a more selective solvent; it extracts fat-soluble compounds and other compounds like the bitter constituents of the plant, alkaloids essential oils, etc.
This is what you should generally look out for when choosing a medicinal mushroom supplement!
Side note: this can however vary depending on specific herbs/mushrooms and whether their active constituents require only one form of extraction. For example, primary studies using the aqueous (water) extract of Lion’s Mane have shown it to support brain health and be beneficial in the regeneration of nerve tissue. Water extraction is also the traditional method of extraction used in ancient Taoist herbalism.
Dosage & How To Use The Mushrooms!
There are a few general things to consider when first journeying into the world of medicinal mushrooms.
Start slow and work your way up until you find, what we like to call your ‘sweet spot’. This allows you to develop an understanding and acknowledgment of how the herbs are unfolding their medicinal magic for you.
Of course, it’s always best to refer to the recommended dosage range. Keep in mind, that dosage is very personal too. Some people require larger doses - larger bodies, stronger constitutions - while others need smaller doses - smaller bodies, more sensitive constitutions. If you have a more complex health condition then we also recommend working with a practitioner who can provide guidance and support.
Longevity in the practice cultivates longevity in the body, and as long as you are taking the herbs/mushrooms they will be working their magic for you!
Listen to your body
It’s easy to get so symptom-focused that you don’t see the subtle changes that are unfolding. Try keeping track of how you are feeling (this can be jotting down a few words in your notes app or daily journaling) and then every few weeks reflecting on how you are feeling physically, mentally and emotionally. Rating your energy, sleep, stress levels and emotions out of 10 is a simple way to do this.
Each experience is very subjective as we all have unique body systems, so there is no cut-and-dry answer to when you will see results. When you experience results will depend on your level of internal awareness, constitutional sensitivity, and current health condition.
How to choose the mushroom for you
As a starting place, use our Medicinal Mushroom Cheat Sheet to get you started!
Lion's Mane - Focus, memory, cognition, nerve and digestive health, a healthy stress response, immunity, energy and vitality.
Chaga - Digestion, candida, immunity, antioxidant defences, blood sugar regulation, energy and vitality.
Reishi - Sleep, stress and emotional health, allergies, hormonal health, immunity, energy and vitality.
Tremella - Skin hydration, radiance and elasticity, Lung and digestive health, antioxidant defences.
Cordyceps - Physical endurance and performance, energy, Lung & Kidney health and immunity.
If you feel that you need a little extra help choosing the mushroom for you, give our wonderful Customer Service team a call on 1300 769 500 or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org, they are always up for a chat!
Are medicinal mushrooms safe to take while pregnant or breastfeeding?
Reishi mushroom has the most empirical use during pregnancy, through the lens of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Therefore we feel confident recommending this mushroom. In regards to breastfeeding, generally, all medicinal mushrooms are regarded as safe. We always recommend working with a practitioner if you would like further information and support that is relative to your own needs.
Can I take medicinal mushrooms if I am taking prescription medications?
For anyone taking prescription medication, we recommend consulting with your prescribing doctor or practitioner before ingesting tonic herbs or mushrooms. There is the possibility that our products will be contraindicated or even harmful, and we are unable to be across all the available pharmaceuticals and their potential interactions. Please also consider your unique biochemistry and sensitivity before adding herbs to a pharmaceutical regime.
Can I combine/mix my mushrooms?
Medicinal mushrooms work in synergy with one another and were traditionally formulated to carry a certain intention and energy within the body. In this regard, they are well suited to be taken in combinations aligned to your intention and needs.
We have only scratched the surface, so if you want to learn more then check out some more articles below!