Discover the world of Medicinal Mushrooms...
What exactly are Medicinal Mushrooms, and how can they benefit me?
Medicinal Mushrooms have been used for thousands of years for medicinal and ceremonial purposes and have even been referred to as panaceas - a cure-all for many ailments. The revered herbal text ‘Shen Nong Ben Cao’ also known as “The Divine Farmer’s Materia Medica'' was written between 200 – 250CE. The text mentions an array of mushrooms and their therapeutic uses.
The health-enhancing effects of mushrooms are beginning to gain notoriety with modern research highlighting their uses for immune enhancement, cardiovascular benefits, anti-tumour, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and many more medicinal effects.
Mushrooms are a fungi, and unlike plants, they do not contain chlorophyll and therefore cannot produce their own food from sunlight. Mushrooms instead are known as osmotrophic, which means they obtain their nutrition from decaying organic matter to sustain their growth. This can be in the form of decaying organic matter, such as leaves and logs, or for some strains of mushrooms such as Cordyceps, the substrate of choice is an insect host.
Mushrooms are therefore an essential part of Nature’s wood-wide-web, which represents the natural intelligence of a soil-based ecosystem.
For Humans, mushrooms contain a blend of molecules and chemical constituents that are revered for their ability to regulate metabolic processes, enhance vitality, and optimise health. The molecules responsible for these effects are polysaccharides, phenols, terpenoids, steroids, nucleotides, and glycoprotein derivatives.
The most beneficial constituents present in mushrooms...
The chemical constituents found within mushrooms varies between strains and is dependent on the growing method and extraction process used. A well-known constituent in mushrooms are beta-glucans - a type of biologically active polysaccharide. Beta-glucans are essentially a type of fibre that has been shown to exhibit immunomodulatory, anti-tumour and anti-inflammatory effects. Beta-glucans avoid catabolism in our upper gastrointestinal tract and reach the large intestine undigested, acting as a beneficial food source for the gut microbiota.
Mushrooms also contain a structural polysaccharide known as Chitin. The cell wall of mushrooms is composed of Chitin, and this same prebiotic is found in the exoskeleton of many insects, including Crickets! Its main purpose is to ensure the fungi grow strong and are able to push through plants and other organic matter to create the mushroom cap that we’re all familiar with, which is actually the ‘fruit’ that spreads the spores.
In order to unlock the power of mushrooms, the constituents must be extracted to ensure the nutrients are at their highest level of bioavailability for us Humans. Continue reading this article below to discover the differences in extraction techniques...
Mycelium vs Fruiting Body: What is the difference between them?
The mycelium is essentially the vegetative living root system of the mushroom that is a mass of fine mycelial threads. Think of it like the root of a plant but for fungi!
The fruiting body is composed of the elements that make up the visible mushroom body that we’re all familiar with, such as the stalk, cap, volva, gills, and ring. These parts collectively form the reproductive body of the fungi that can produce spores to continue the mushroom life cycle.
The life cycle of Mushrooms contains three phases: spore, mycelium, and fruiting body (commonly known as a mushroom). When a mushroom fruiting body matures, it releases spores which, in the right environment, will germinate and continue the life cycle process of developing into a mycelium and subsequently forming more mushroom fruiting bodies.
However, it is important to distinguish between the mycelium and the fruiting body, as the mycelium is not technically a mushroom. These are two separate components that contain different nutritional profiles.
The mushroom products available on the market are derived from the fruiting body and/or the mycelium. Research indicates that mushroom extracts that have been derived from the fruiting body are the most efficacious. This is due to the nutrient-density of the fruiting body, and a higher level of the active constituents needed to exert a biological effect upon extraction and consumption. It is important to note that mushroom extracts that are derived from the mycelium are often composed of less beta-glucans, and can therefore be less nutrient-dense. It is for this reason that it is important to assess whether you are purchasing extracts made from the mycelium and/or the whole fruiting body.
Growing and Sourcing Medicinal Mushrooms:
The increasing demand for medicinal mushrooms for therapeutic purposes and widespread consumption has led to the development of alternative production methods to enhance their propagation and increase accessibility to certain mushroom strains. The cultivation process that is used to grow mushrooms can occur via multiple methods, including wild-sourcing, wild-crafted and lab-grown by using a substrate to cultivate mushrooms.
Wild-sourcing: Wild-sourcing refers to the acquisition of mushrooms from their natural habitat, which implies natural growing conditions based on the climate in the region where the mushrooms are located. It is important to respect the natural ecosystem when wild-sourcing, to ensure the mushrooms are not over-harvested.
Wild-crafted: Wild-crafted mushrooms indicate that a substrate material, often a log, has been ‘seeded’ with the spores/mycelium to grow naturally based on local environmental conditions. This method allows for a defined amount of substrate to be infused with mycelium, while allowing natural forces to dictate the mushroom yield.
Mycelium on substrate: This method produces mushrooms by growing the mycelium on a substrate medium in controlled growing conditions, such as a mushROOM. Substrates that are commonly used are straw, sawdust, compost or grain. The exact substrate medium used will differ between mushroom strains, growing methods and access to locally available resources.
Mushroom Powders and Liquid Extracts: How does each process affect the medicinal mushroom potency?
Mushroom Powder and liquid extracts undergo unique production processes, which influence the potency of the consumable end-product. There are benefits to each process and it is important to understand the differences in processing the mushrooms in preparation for consumption.
Powdered mushroom extracts are produced from mushrooms that are harvested, dried, and then milled/ground into a fine powder. This powder can be used in tea, smoothies, snacks or baked goods. Interestingly, some producers choose to first create a liquid extract from the mushroom, which can then undergo evaporation and subsequently be returned to a powder in order to maximise the concentration of the constituents extracted.
Powdered extracts will contain a ratio such as 10:1 or 20:1. This refers to the amount of original mycelium/fruiting body mass that is used to make the extracted powder. So, a 20:1 extract means 20g of initial mycelium/fruiting body mass was utilised to extract 1g of therapeutic powder. As a rule of thumb, the more initial mass that is reduced into the powdered form, the more concentrated the extract will be upon consumption. Be sure to check this on the label when looking to buy mushroom powders!
Hot-water extraction: In a hot-water extract, hot water is used as the solvent to extract any water-soluble constituents from the mycelium/fruiting body. Only a small proportion of the active constituents within a medicinal mushroom can be extracted in this way, so it is not used very commonly at a commercial scale when creating medicinal mushroom tinctures. This process is simple and easy to do from home, yet has the downside of not extracting all possible constituents from the mushrooms.
Ethanol/alcohol extraction: An ethanol/alcoholic extract utilises a high-percentage ethanol or neutral alcohol as the solvent to extract the non-water-soluble constituents, such as triterpenoids which are fat-soluble. The alcohol percentage in the final tincture is reduced to ensure it is reasonable for human consumption. The dose of alcohol from an ethanol extraction is low, and necessary, in the process of maximising the constituents present in the resulting tincture. The common dosage of a mushroom tincture is only 1ml per serve, which means the alcohol content consumed is very minimal and easily processed by our body.
Dual Extracts: Dual extracts involve both a hot-water extract and an alcohol extraction to ensure a wider range of constituents are present in the resulting tincture. The alcohol extraction process is a vital inclusion as it is used to draw out the fat-soluble constituents to ensure the full-spectrum of constituents are obtained from the mycelium/fruiting body. Dual Extracts are beneficial since mushrooms contain both water- and fat-soluble constituents, so it ensures a higher spectrum of constituents are available from the extraction.
Spagyric Extraction: Spagyric extraction is another extraction method that works synergistically to maintain the natural, energetic and nutritional components of the subject material. Spagyric methods utilise hot water liquid extraction and alcoholic extraction to obtain the water-soluble and fat-soluble compounds. However, instead of disposing of the remaining fruiting body, it is calcinated into a crystallised form that is reincorporated back into the final product. This process is more labour intensive, yet allows for the most bioactive extract, whilst also incorporating the energetics of the mushroom itself. The resulting high-potency tincture allows for a full-spectrum extract to provide the greatest benefit to your body.
The extraction method chosen by the producer is dependent on the constituents present in the strain of mushroom undergoing extraction. HealthEarth’s range of products use a variety of extraction methods, so you can explore the differences between each extraction technique through your own personal experience.
Congratulations! - You’re now a mushroom wizard/witch! Reach out to us if you have any further questions about the power of mushrooms!
Want to learn about the different strains of Medicinal Mushrooms? Click here to explore a blog post outlining the background and benefits of each mushroom strain...
Emily Widdowson is a Naturopath and health content writer. Emily works with clients to enhance their self-empowerment, body literacy and optimise their overall health. Emily provides a nurturing and empathetic environment in combination with a blend of traditional herbal remedies and evidence-based research to help you achieve your health goals.
We're celebrating this article with a discount across all HealthEarth Products - Click here to access your favourite mushroom products!
Connect with Emily: