The Fruiting Body
Within the world of supplements, and especially mushroom supplements, there is often a lack of transparency around where the mushrooms that you are consuming come from, and even whether or not they are actually mushrooms as we commonly understand them.
Fungi are a complex organism and most of the mushrooms we work with in natural medicine are known as basidiomycetes. These are most of your classic toad-stool and conk mushrooms, pretty much anything you'd easily acknowledge as a mushroom walking through the forest.
What we see of the mushroom is the organisms reproductive system, what is referred to as the fruiting body. Underneath the soil, or between the bark and the pith of the tree they are growing on is a large network of mycelium. This mycelium is foundational to the mushroom that it fruits. Like the tree is to the apple.
In the forest eco-system vast networks of mycelium are woven through the forest floor, and are often overlooked until they strive to reproduce. This is where the mushroom fruit body comes into the picture, and is likely each and every one of our first experience with the mushrooms: the fruiting body.
It is this part of the mushroom that has been used for Millennia in various different cultures and various different systems of natural medicine around the world. Mycelium that grows sub-terrestrially is only one cell wall thick and would be very difficult to harvest, process, and consume in any meaningful amount.
Quality Over Quantity
Yet humans have ushered these organisms out of the forest and into the lab. Most mushroom companies in the supplement industry today grow this mycelium on grain and grind up that substrate into a fine powder and sell it as a mushroom extract.
While there is clear benefit to the mycelium, there is no convincing evidence that the mycelium can be effectively separated or differentiated from the grain it is grown on to where it is not adulterated. What ends up happening is that you get the alpha-linked polysaccharides from the starches in the grain along with the beta-linked polysaccharides from the mushroom. And there is no way to separate them or test them separately.
Furthermore the mycelium is lacking in a lot of the secondary metabolites that are concentrated in the fruiting bodies of the mushrooms. These present themselves as the volatile compounds that lend to the unique flavor profiles and health benefits that the mushrooms have to offer.
There is no standardized language around this within mushroom supplements so it's really difficult to tell what you are getting. Mycelium on grain products will often be labeled as: full spectrum; fruit, pins, and mycelium; other ingredients brown rice or millet.
All of this is to say that they are usually insufficient in quality or dose to effectively support ones health in to the full potential of the mushroom. Not to mention that the grains and the sugars they contain can be aggravating to certain constitutions and disease.
Supporting Sustainable Mycelium Networks
So people are moving more and more towards using and working with mushroom fruiting bodies. Some of the biggest companies on the market are doing it. Customers are seeking them out. But this brings us to our next issue which is sourcing. Unlike your clothes, there is no standard or requirement to stamp "Made in China" on your herbal supplements.
There is a lot that can be said about products sourced from China, and I am by no means against it as we live in a global economy, but in terms of medicine, I want to see the utmost integrity, quality and whole system sustainability when it comes to the 'medicines' we put in our body.
In terms of mushrooms, the biggest excuse that I have heard is that "it would be way too expensive to source mushrooms from North America." It is true that China has industrialized mushroom cultivation that is far and beyond what we have available in the United States. They also have been using them as medicine for a long time, but something just doesn't sit right with me about shipping tons of mushrooms across the Pacific Ocean to save on cost.
To me it also means that cost is generally being paid in another way. Generally a sacrifice in the livelihood and well-being of the people who are farming and manufacturing these mushroom products.
It also feels like a turning point in the United States as many people find themselves turning towards cultivating relationships with these medicines through mushroom hunting, cultivation, and deepening into that connection with the natural earth.
And it is true. To get mushrooms from North America can be 2-3x (or even more) expensive, especially when it comes to the blossoming industry of Cordyceps. But to me it is worth it. We aren't looking to scrape the bottom of the barrel to get by. We aren't taking any short-cuts to get where we are going. We believe that health is more than the supplements that you put in your body, it is the lifestyle and culture that surrounds it.
It nourishes us, and in my mind makes better medicine, to support the people and families in our local economies. To have a story behind the mushrooms that we work with, and to cultivate relationships here at home with the people who are growing them and harvesting them.
We are proud to say that all of our raw mushrooms come from North America, and primarily the Pacific North West. Everything besides what grows here naturally or can be cultivated here. We work closely with Mushroom farms from the Bay area in California up to Bellingham to secure the best mushrooms to put into our extracts.
So next time you are looking into mushrooms, think about where they are coming from and the transparency the company has about their sourcing. There are often reasons that some products are cheaper than others and you or someone else will likely be paying for it in some way along the line.
Support whole sustainable systems and transparency in supplements and natural medicine.