Why medicinal mushrooms are the wellness world’s latest obsession
My friend Jacqui is my wellness spirit guide. Actually, she’s pretty much my everything-in-life guide. Always ahead of the curve, you can pretty much guarantee that if Jac is into it, the world will follow… but probably two years later when she’s moved onto something else. And I’m always the first to jump on board. In fact, I’m pretty much driving the bandwagon of whatever she recommends. But, when over a year ago, she started raving about medicinal mushrooms I was not there for it. I mean I love mushrooms, but the vision I had of gnawing on a bit of dried porcini each morning was not my idea of a good time.
And then, predictably, a year and a half later, I am all about the mushrooms. With the lack of sleep from newborn life, feeling out of routine and healthy eating giving way to convenience I was feeling pretty burned out. And, though I’ve only been taking them for a month my gut is happier, my energy levels aren’t quite so depleted, and yes, of course I’m still sleep deprived but I’m not feeling my usual anxiety or stress because of it. And a glorious knock-on effect from my now happy gut? My skin is actually clear... and glowing! With a clarity that makes the world think I have one of those babies who sleep through the night.
If, like me you’re new to the medicinal mushroom world, don’t worry: there’s no trippy ‘shroom taking, or chomping down on bitter fungi to get your health fix. Modern day medicinal mushrooms come in a powdered extract form so you can just pop a bit into your morning drink of choice. These mushrooms and herbs grow in some of the harshest environments around the world - and have been able to thrive - so not only are they resilient, they’re incredibly potent. But I’m going to stop my explanation right there and let the expert do the talking. That expert is Mason Taylor, the passionate Tonic herbalist and founder of the Byron based medicinal mushroom brand, SuperFeast, who The Wayward sat down with to talk about the magic of mushrooms.
Tonic herbs, adaptogens, medicinal MUSHROOMS - what's the difference?
“Tonic herbs is the umbrella term for herbs that are classed as ‘superior’ in the Taoist system, meaning they can be used in the diet long-term to lighten the body and create longevity. Under that umbrella we have many types of herbs from the animal, plant, mineral and fungal kingdoms. The tree mushrooms we call medicinal mushrooms are those that fall under this categorisation in Tonic Herbalism and include reishi, poria, lion’s mane, maitake, shiitake, turkey tail, chaga, cordyceps and more”.
So, how are tonic herbs different to traditional supplements?
“These tonic herbs have been used in their whole forms for literally thousands and thousands of years. They’re included in the diet long term to prevent illness and keep vitality, core energy levels, immunity and brain health rocking. Supplements and pharmaceuticals differ in that they isolate and synthesize compounds to get an aggressive or myopic effect that even at recommended doses can cause contraindications.”
“they help the body adjust hormonal or immune markers rather that simply driving them up or down as most herbs do”
How does this all relate to Taoist principles?
“Tonic herbalism itself is a Taoist principle. Over 2000 years ago it was acknowledged in the first herbal materia medica (a Latin term for the history of collected knowledge about any substance used for healing) that there are some herbs that are safe and intelligent enough to include in the diet long term, to help keep the body healthy and allow for a long life to emerge. I work solely with these herbs (including reishi mushroom, eucommia bark, schizanda berry and chaga mushroom). The guidelines for these herbs to be included is that they accumulate in benefits over time, do not have a detrimental effect on the body with prolonged use, and are adaptogenic enough to be multi-directional in their effect on the body. Put simply, that means they help the body adjust hormonal or immune markers rather that simply driving them up or down as most herbs do.”
Ok, but what do these adaptogens actually do for (and to) your body?
“An adaptogen is a herb that helps the body to adapt and adjust to both internal and external stress by assisting our systems and organs to regain the intelligence and essence needed to do so. So, being a company that sells Taoist tonic herbs, we are basically an adaptogen herb company. When people begin including these in their diet at appropriate doses over time, we especially see an effect on the adrenals glands, nervous system and mental stress.”
Talk of the gut is increasingly popular these days. Do medicinal mushrooms help with gut health at all?
“From a tonic herb point of view we start with restoring the kidney/adrenal essence (called Jing in Taoism). This is because the kidneys hold the ‘pilot light’ for good digestion and spleen function. If you’re exhausted, this light will be out. So Jing herbs like he shou wu and eucommia bark are a wonderful place to start… then we bring in the mushies. Firstly, they all contain potent prebiotics that our native good bacteria thrive off, bringing a flurry of digestive function. Traditionally, mushrooms like reishi, lion’s mane and tremella have been used to dramatically reduce inflammation in the gut, heal sores and permeability, and increase systemic immunity so that our body can take down viral, bacterial and fungal infections that are lowering our overall gut health.”
Can you pick a favourite child amongst your mushrooms?
“It has to be reishi and chaga, both opened me up to this world, helped to build my own immune system so it could fight off fungal (candida) infection and feel my overall organ function was once again restored. In Taoism reishi is considered a Shen tonic, which means it helps to calm the mind, reduce anxiety and bring our consciousness further through so we can become better and happier people. They would use it in conjunction with meditation and to optimise their sleep. I have seen it do this for thousands of people over the years, and I feel it is the mushroom for our times, seeing as so many people are anxious, mentally stressed, deficient immunologically and searching to discover themselves on a deeper level.”
And finally, how do we take them?
“The best thing about herbal extract powders is you can include them in anything, but keep in mind the mushrooms taste more on the bitter side than regular mushrooms. I personally make a delish hot chocolate with my tonic herbs and mushies everyday, but lots of folks add them to their coffee to counter the negative, jittery side effects, or to teas, broths, soups, and every other dish you can imagine”.