In light of the recent global events, most people on the planet have bought out all the elderberry to go along with their toilet paper supply. Meanwhile some folks are supporting their immune systems with a species you may not have considered adding to your cabinet - our friendly fungi! There are over 120,000 species of described fungi, many of which have been used as medicine for thousands of years.1 All of the researched medicinal mushrooms show promising benefit to the immune system, and some have a specific affinity for the respiratory system.1,7 The global pandemic has brought to light a plethora of both false and true claims, but luckily for the fungi, there is plenty of research and historical evidence to support their immune bolstering effects.
Feral Fungi is a small family-owned business located outside of Portland, Oregon who makes high quality spagyric tinctures with sustainable ingredients. Spagyric remedies were first written about by the famous Swiss physician Paracelsus and are grounded in both ancient alchemical principles and the study of humanity’s relationship with nature.2 The Spagyric process involves separation, purification, and cohobation, or recombination, of the plant material.2 Feral Fungi uses a soxhlet extractor which yields a more effective extract, and captures volatiles that would be driven off in a standard heating process. Myco-Breathe is Feral Fungi’s Spagyric Formula created to strengthen the respiratory system, a proprietary blend of Cordyceps, Reishi, Usnea, Artist Conk, Chaga and purified mineral salts. The fungi used in this formula demonstrate compelling evidence in a plethora of health benefits, especially in promoting healthy respiratory function and supporting an innate immune response.
Cordyceps is an ascomycetes fungus that grows in the larvae of caterpillars and a variety of other insects.6 After developing a symbiotic relationship with its host for an extended period of time, the fruiting body emerges from the parasitized larvae. Some Cordyceps species will actually guide their insect host to travel to an optimal place for the fungi to release its spores.6 Chinese and Tibetan medicinal texts documented Cordyceps over 5,000 years ago as an energy enhancer, kidney nourisher and lung tonic.7,8,9 Rumor has it that herders in the Himalayan mountains first discovered Cordyceps when they saw the animals who consumed it had greatly increased strength.7
Cordyceps militaris is the variety used in Feral Fungi’s formulas, and the research has confirmed that this and other similar varieties such as C. sinensis can be nourishing for the lungs both in vitro (in a test tube) and in vivo (in animals or humans).7,8 Polysaccharides are the main chemical compounds that have been linked to immune support.9 A meta-analysis demonstrated that Cordyceps supported healthy lung function, exercise endurance, and quality of life among other measures in 1,238 participants, with no reported side effects.10 Cordyceps spp. has been shown to support normal immune cell levels and to be nourishing to the cilia in the lungs.5
Usnea spp. commonly known as Old Man’s Beard is a grayish-green lichen that grows like leafless mini-shrubs anchored on bark or branches.11 Lichens are symbiotic organisms of fungi and algae, the mechanisms for which evolutionary biologists still have many unanswered questions. They have discovered that the algae secretes sugars that the fungal cells absorb and transform into nutrition, while the fungi absorb water from the air and provide shade for the light sensitive algae underneath.12
longissimi is the species in Myco-Breathe and that which indigenous communities in the Venezuela Andes have been using for immune support since ancient times.13 Recent research has credited U. longissimi with the ability to stave off biofilm formation in a test tube.14 Usnic acid is the major active constituent found to have potent medicinal properties.15,16,17 Historically varieties of Usnea have been used to support the respiratory and urinary tracts, touted to have both mucolytic and vulnerary actions.12
Reishi is known as Ling Zhi in Chinese medicine which considers this basidiomycete highly valuable for replenishing Qi and promoting longevity.18,19 It was first written about over 2400 years ago in Shen Nong’s Materia Medica, which claims it improves eyesight, nourishes the liver, strengthens the body and relieves altitude sickness.18 Research has identified over 400 bioactive compounds in G. Lucidum which vary in activity depending on the stage of growth during which it is harvested.19 Ganoderic acid is the most popular for its immune supportive effects and has been found to be a potent antioxidant that promotes healthy skin.20 Immune supporter, lung rejuvenator, liver nourishing, trophorestorative nervine, and free radical scavenger are a few of the many titles it has earned by both ancient texts and modern studies.18,19
What is a trophorestorative nervine? Trophorestorative herbs are nutrient dense and promote restoration of organs, and a nervine helps tonify and calm an overactive nervous system.21 During times of high stress, plants that fall into this category are especially beneficial to keep one’s nervous and immune systems in check. Chronic stress is known to contribute to increased inflammation and lower immune function.22 A randomized controlled trial on 48 women found that the group taking G. Lucidum had significantly improved well-being, motivation and energy levels, and lower stress overall.23 Incorporating plant medicine that both optimizes the immune system function and helps balance the stress response is key to keep the bugs at bay and increase the body’s resilience.
Artist Conk (Ganoderma applanatum) is a cousin of the famous Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum). While it may not have enjoyed as much spotlight yet, it is also known to have numerous healing properties. There is real art behind the name – the underside of the fruiting body browns when etched into and stands out against the rest of its white body thus making a lovely canvas. Medicinally, G. applanatum has demonstrated powerful antioxidant and immune supportive properties in vitro.24-28 Bitter triterpenoids are the main constituents that have been deemed effective for supporting normal immune function.27,28 Historically herbalists have used G. applanatum to dry up mucus from the lungs and sinuses and to calm an upset stomach.29 Additionally, it can inspire a deep, meditative state, and act as an antidote to ingesting excess caffeine.29
Inonotus obliquus, commonly known as Chaga, is a parasitic fungus that grows on birch trees.30 In Chinese Medicine it is called Hua Jie Kong Jun and is used to build Qi, tonify the kidneys, liver, and spleen, and restore the blood.31 Russian and Scandinavian scientists have conducted the most research on I. obliquus, where this fungus has been used as medicine for thousands of years.31,32 Siberian Chaga was popularized when a Nobel prize winning Russian novelist Alexandr Solzenitsyn in his 1968 novel, The Cancer Ward, noted its many health benefits.32 Twelfth century texts claim a Russian Tzar named Vladimir Monomah was treated with I. obliquus to maintain his vitality. Immune balancing properties have been measured in I. obliquus in vitro.33 Chaga has been given historically to promote heart, digestive, kidney, immune and skin health and to encourage longevity.31 Traditional healers in Europe and Asia have used it for soothing symptoms of the common cold and to increase respiratory strength.33
There are two crucial problems today that consumers must look out for when mushroom supplement hunting: quality assurance and sustainability. Best practices ensure that the primary and secondary metabolites (i.e. biologically active compounds) remain intact throughout the process of growth, harvest, and preparation into tincture. Mycelium cultivation is complex and when done irresponsibly, the medicinal components are diminished in the final product and in some cases excess levels of heavy metals. Many commercial extraction methods result in products of questionable efficacy and many of the medicinal mushrooms have been overharvested.
Feral Fungi has pure, sustainable, high quality methods of processing their ingredients, which you can read more about on their website! They work closely with mushroom cultivators and wild harvesters who exhibit extraordinary standards in their cultivation and harvesting techniques. Their proprietary process brings together beautiful formulae that you can feel uplifting your essence the minute they touch your tongue.
Exciting up and coming research on mushrooms is underway to confirm what the traditional healers have been using around the world for eons. Polysaccharides have demonstrated the ability to help support the innate immune system and normal cytokine levels both in vitro and in vivo.34 Beta-d-glucans are well-studied polysaccharides in a variety of medicinal mushrooms credited with the ability to support healthy immune function.34
As mentioned earlier in this article, there are countless benefits beyond what we have highlighted here. My advice after personally experiencing over a decade of work in the supplement industry is to do your own research before you buy. Read the fine print and look up the quality assurance measures the company is using. Better yet, find a local company that is using ethically sound methods while delivering a high quality medicine that will surely liven up your life.
- Hobbs C. Medicinal Mushrooms: An Exploration of Tradition, Healing, and Culture. Book Publishing Company. February 1995. https://books.google.com/books?id=1dXwCAAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false
- Iwanicki, M. Spagyrics: New Type of Medicine. Naturopathic Doctor News & Review, Autoimmune/Allergy Medicine. https://ndnr.com/autoimmuneallergy-medicine/spagyrics-new-type-of-medicine/. Published April 3, 2017.
- National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. COVID-2019. CDC Web Site. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/cases-updates/summary.html. Updated March 26, 2020.
- Zwickey H. SARS-CoV2 is not the Flu. Heather Zwickey PhD Web Site. https://www.heatherzwickey.com/articles/sarsv2-is-not-the-flu. Updated March 23, 2020.
- Buhner S. Herbal Treatment for Coronavirus Infection. Stephen Harold Buhner Web Site. https://www.stephenharrodbuhner.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/coronavirus.txt.pdf?fbclid=IwAR0agIt512xkQBev4l5IqkJnCi2xDNZPp48N1EbcbXGoLMTPqXUspF2Kdlc. Updated March 1, 2020.
- Shang Y, Feng P, Wang C. Fungi that infect insects: Altering host behavior and beyond. PLoS Pathog. 2015 Aug; 11(8): e1005037. Published online 2015 Aug 6. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1005037
- Panda AK, Swain KC. Traditional uses and medicinal potential of Cordyceps sinensis of Sikkim. J Ayurveda Integr Med. 2011 Jan-Mar; 2(1):9-13.
- Luo L, et al. Se-Enriched Cordyceps militaris Inhibits Cell Proliferation, Induces Cell Apoptosis, And Causes G2/M Phase Arrest In Human Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer Cells. Onco Targets Ther. 2019 Oct 23;12:8751-8763. doi: 10.2147/OTT.S217017. eCollection 2019.
- Opeyemi J, et al. The genus Cordyceps: An extensive review of its traditional uses, phytochemistry and pharmacology. Fitoterapia 129 (2018) 293–316 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fitote.2018.05.010.
- Xuhua Y, et al. Effectiveness and Safety of Oral Cordyceps sinensis on Stable COPD of GOLD Stages 2–3: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Hindawi Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2019 Apr 3;2019:4903671. doi: 10.1155/2019/4903671.
- Augustyn A, et al. Lichen: Symbiotic Organism. Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc. Published February 14, 2019.
- 12. Zugic A, et al. Evaluation of Anticancer and Antioxidant Activity of a Commercially Available CO2 Supercritical Extract of Old Man's Beard (Usnea barbata). PLoS One. 2016 Jan 8;11(1):e0146342. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0146342. eCollection 2016.
- Choudhary M, et al. Bioactive phenolic compounds from a medicinal lichen, Usnea longissimi. Phytochemistry 66 (2005) 2346–2350. doi:10.1016/j.phytochem.2005.06.023
- Prateeksha, et al. Endolichenic fungus, Aspergillus quandricinctus of Usnea longissima inhibits quorum sensing and biofilm formation of Pseudomonas aeruginosa PAO1. Microb Pathog. 2020 Mar;140:103933. doi: 10.1016/j.micpath.2019.103933. Epub 2019 Dec 17.
- Ro m J Physiol. 1993 Jan-Jun;30(1-2):101-7. Contributions to the complex study of some lichens-Usnea genus. Pharmacological studies on Usnea barbata and Usnea hirta species. Dobrescu D1, Tănăsescu M, Mezdrea A, Ivan C, Ordosch E, Neagoe F, Rizeanu A, Trifu L, Enescu V. Author information
- Campanella L, et al. Molecular characterization and action of usnic acid: a drug that inhibits proliferation of mouse polyomavirus in vitro and whose main target is RNA transcription. Biochem 2002;84(4):329-334.
- Sokolov D, et al. Anti-viral activity of (−)- and (+)-usnic acids and their derivatives against influenza virus A(H1N1)2009. Bioorganic and Medical Chemistry Letters. 2012:22(23). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bmcl.2012.09.084
- Yang, Y., Zhang, H., Zuo, J. et al.Advances in research on the active constituents and physiological effects of Ganoderma lucidum. biomed dermatol3, 6 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1186/s41702-019-0044-0
- Lu et al. Immunomodulatory properties of medicinal mushrooms: differential effects of water and ethanol extracts on NK cell-mediated cytotoxicity. Innate Immunity 2016, Vol. 22(7) 522–533.
- Guggenheim A, Wright K, Zwickey H. Immune modulation from five major mushrooms: Application to Integrative Oncology. Integrative Medicine. 2014:13(1).
- Niemeyer K, et al. Traditional knowledge of western herbal medicine and complex systems science. J Herb Med. 2013 Sep; 3(3): 112–119.doi: 10.1016/j.hermed.2013.03.001
- Miller MW, et al. Oxidative stress, inflammation, and neuroprogression in chronic PTSD. Harv Rev Psychiatry. 2018 Mar/Apr;26(2):57-69. doi: 10.1097/HRP.0000000000000167.
- Zhao H, et al. Spore Powder of Ganoderma lucidum Improves Cancer-Related Fatigue in Breast Cancer Patients Undergoing Endocrine Therapy: A Pilot Clinical Trial. Hindawi Publishing Corporation; Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2012. doi:10.1155/2012/809614
- Kopp J. All About the Artist’s Conk Mushroom. Birch Boys Web Site. https://birchboys.com/blogs/about-our-chaga/the-artist-conk-mushroom. Published August 3, 2019.
- One World Herbal Community Web Site. https://oneworldherbalcommunity.com/2017/04/11/artist-conk-the-ancient-reishi-part-3/. Published April 11, 2017.
- Hapuarachchi K, et al. Mycosphere Essays 20: Therapeutic potential of Ganoderma species: Insights into its use as traditional medicine. Mycosphere 8(10): 1653–1694 (2017). doi 10.5943/mycosphere/8/10/5.
- Nishitoba T, et al. Bitter triterpenoids from the fungus Ganoderma applanatum. Phytochemistry. 1989:28(1). https://doi.org/10.1016/0031-9422(89)85036-8
- Chairul S, et al. Lanostanoid triterpenes from Ganoderma applanatum. Phytochemistry. 1994:35(5). https://doi.org/10.1016/S0031-9422(00)94843-X
- Kloos S. Artist’s Conk. In: Pacific Northwest Medicinal Plants. Portland, OR: Timber Press; 2017:91-92.
- Gery A, et al. Chaga ( Inonotus obliquus), a Future Potential Medicinal Fungus in Oncology? A Chemical Study and a Comparison of the Cytotoxicity Against Human Lung Adenocarcinoma Cells (A549) and Human Bronchial Epithelial Cells (BEAS-2B). Integr Cancer Ther. 2018 Sep;17(3):832-843. doi: 10.1177/1534735418757912. Epub 2018 Feb 27.
- White Rabbit Institute of Healing Web Site. Chaga. https://www.whiterabbitinstituteofhealing.com/herbs/chaga/
- Chaga Grove Web Site. http://chagagrove.com/509383/history-of-chaga/.
- Glamoclija J, et al. Chemical characterization and biological activity of Chaga (Inonotus obliquus), a medicinal "mushroom". J Ethnopharmacol. 2015 Mar 13;162:323-32. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2014.12.069. Epub 2015 Jan 7.
- Meng X, Liang H, Luo L. Antitumor polysaccharides from mushrooms: a review on the structural characteristics, antitumor mechanisms and immunomodulating activities. Carbohydrate Research. (2016)30–41.
About the Author: Merci is a fifth-year medical student currently completing her Doctorate in Naturopathic Medicine, Master of Science in Global Health and Natural Childbirth Certificate from the National University of Natural Medicine. Her two children claim to have helped her write this article, which wouldn’t have been possible without the help of her partner. She enjoys gardening, dancing, teaching yoga and is looking forward to graduating later this year.