The more I get to know them, the more there is to know. They pop up anywhere they want and truly have a life of their own–one which we are only beginning to fully understand. Think about the mycelium–the tiny, intricate threads that weave together to form a reproductive network. Mycelium are fine white threads that behave in ways similar to the neurons of our brain, allowing the mushroom to grow into a living, web-like system that adapts to its environment. The spore of the mushroom is like the seed. It drops from a mature mushroom, then germinates, then meets another compatible spore where the mycelium originates from, and a new mushroom then forms, develops, and drops its spores to complete the cycle. The mycelium is responsible for absorbing nutrients from the surrounding area which aid in the breakdown of material–which some studies have shown includes the breakdown of toxic material such as pesticides. Not only do they play a major role in our health but there may be the potential for environmental use as well. Paul Stamets, the mushroom guru, describes mycelium as the “the neurological network of nature” that behaves like an “emotional membrane.”
While I am certainly not a mycologist (someone who studies mushrooms), I know the mushroom world is rich, just like the plant world. There are thousands of species. Many offer food or medicine, and some are highly toxic. It is endless and somewhat mind-blowing. Today, scientists are still uncovering the long history of using medicinal mushrooms in our medicine cabinets.
For thousands of years, herbalists have used a few mushrooms we know and love. Descending from the traditions of Chinese herbalism, these mushrooms are often more food like but play an important role in our tool kit.
Reishi is one of our favorite adaptogens and has great widespread use in supporting a balanced immune response. As a gentle tonic, herbalists rely on this mushroom as a catalyst in sustaining healthy energy levels and it has been used for thousands of years in Chinese herbalism to support one’s vitality or the ever flowing life force: Qi. In China, reishi is known as ling zhi. The word zhi means “mushroom” and ling is translated as “spirit.”
This mushroom grows from the stumps of decaying trees, most commonly hemlocks. Reishi is a polypore shelf mushroom, meaning that the fruiting body forms spores on the underside, leaving the top hard and a glossy reddish brown when it is mature.
It adds a wonderful bitter flavor, with a slight hint of woodsiness.
If you are lucky enough to find reishi, you will want to cut it into strips right away. Once reishi dries it becomes very hard and is almost impossible to process! Like all mushrooms, if moisture is too high during drying they will mold and spoil.
Maitake is very similar in its affinity to the immune system but is widely used as a food and supertonic. It is a soft mushroom that you can often find fresh and is brewed into soup stocks, grilled or sautéed into meals and has an appetizing flavor that is both fungal, slightly salty but rather delicate and feathery. Its name refers to “Hen of the Woods” because it grows in large clusters that look a bit like the tail feathers of a hen. Because it is such a widely sought after superfood, we felt that it pairs nicely with reishi to make a super-packed formula for our Immune Tonic.
meaning we extract it first in water, as to preserve all the polysaccharides* that only come out in water, and then we tincture to get the constituents like triterpenes that water can’t pull out. This method gives you more of a well-balanced formula and makes it all that more powerful.
Mushroom powders are also a great way to use these allies, they are easy to find on the market, and add perks to beverages, desserts, and soups!
Cheers to good health and to those magnificent strands of mycelium!
*Polysaccharides are essentially a carbohydrate in a simple chain and they have long been studied for their immune modulating quality.
Important notes: bear in mind that it is EXTREMELY crucial to make sure if you are wild harvesting anything (mushrooms and plants) to have 100% ID. Ask a skilled herbalist, botanist or mycologist if you are unsure.
It is also important to mention that we should use many medicinal mushrooms such as Chaga–which is wild harvested, and not able to be propagated–in moderation. Because they are growing in popularity, we are seeing these mushrooms disappear at fast rates. It would be a terrible thing for such powerful medicine to become at risk when there are some truly great alternatives out there that we can substitute.
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