Meet the mushrooms! The Mushroom Profiles will be a series of posts where we will highlight different mushroom varieties that we cultivate in our farm. In this initial feature, we will be presenting two of our favorite mushrooms: the Lion's Mane and Reishi mushrooms. So, without further ado...
Lion's Mane is the common name for Hericium erinaceus, one of several white and fleshy mushrooms in the genus Hericium. It can be found in the forests of Europe, Asia, and North America, growing on hardwood trees in the late summer or fall.
The Lion's Mane mushroom can stand on its own as a gourmet mushroom, but it's probably best known and most used as a brain supplement. We'll explain why in a bit, but it's important to keep in mind that in many parts of the world this isn't exactly news. For centuries in some Asian cultures, it has been used as both a food and a medicine, and its benefits extend to several different organ systems like the nervous, digestive, cardiovascular, and respiratory systems.
Lion's mane looks a bit like a cauliflower, and it feels like a plump sponge. Some people describe the flavor as something similar to crab or lobster once cooked, which is true enough, but we also feel that the lion's mane taste is in many ways like a blank canvas since it absorbs and retains lots of flavor from whatever other ingredients it's cooked with. The meaty texture is what really makes it truly special, and because of this it's an excellent substitute for meat in vegan and vegetarian dishes.
There are many ways to prepare Lion's Mane mushrooms in the kitchen, but the easiest and most common method is to cut them up or pull them apart and sauté them in a pan with oil or butter, and season them to taste. If you're feeling more adventurous, there are tons of cool recipe ideas online. Some really creative things we've seen from our customers include vegetarian "crab" cakes (replacing the crab with lion's mane), vegan carnitas (replacing the pork with lion's mane), vegan menudo (replacing the beef belly pancita), and our own personal favorite: Lion's Mane burgers and steaks.
When consumed regularly, it reportedly supports cognitive functions like concentration, memory, and clarity. It's also good for gut health and for chronic inflammation, and it helps to improve mood and reduce feelings of anxiety and depression. So, you may be asking, what's actually going on behind the scenes?
Like most other plants and fungi, Lion's Mane mushrooms produce a set of organic compounds called terpenes. Terpenes and terpenoids are the largest group of secondary metabolites (meaning they are not directly related to growth or reproduction) found in natural organisms. These naturally occurring organic compounds are the reason why certain plants and mushrooms smell and taste the way they do, and so they comprise an area of extensive research.
Lion’s Mane mushrooms also contain a high concentration of a beneficial compound known as Beta glucans. These are a group of organic polysaccharide sugars or fibers which can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Beta glucan has shown significant antimicrobial (stops the growth of microorganisms), anticancer, anti-diabetic, and anti-hypercholesterolemic (controls cholesterol levels) properties in countless clinical trials.
Back to the terpenes: the terpenoid groups that are unique to Lion’s Mane are called hericenones and erinacenes. These have been extensively studied and are reported to boost nerve growth factor (NGF) and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), among other processes involved in regulating the growth and health of the nervous system. In other words, they help stimulate the growth of neurons in the brain and in some cases could also repair damaged nerves. Why is this important?
The nervous system includes not only the central nervous system (the brain & spinal cord) but also the peripheral nervous system (the sensory organs and the entire network of nerves that extends throughout your body). The nervous system is in charge of sensory processing & perception, communication between the brain & the body, and the cognition within our minds. Galen, one of the most respected and accomplished medical researchers from antiquity and the personal physician to several Roman emperors (including Marcus Aurelius), once said "Look to the nervous system as the key to maximum health". Once we come to understand the role and the purpose of the nervous system, this no longer feels like an overstatement.
Reishi, or lingzhi, is the common name for mushrooms in the Ganoderma genus. These are a type of polypore fungus colloquially called shelf mushrooms because they grow like shelves on dying trees. Reishi can be found in China, Europe, and also in North America, although scientists have speculated whether these were introduced by humans and acclimatized over time. The taxonomy for the genus Ganoderma has remained a bit confusing, and similar species such as ganoderma lingzhi, ganoderma lucidum, ganoderma sessile, ganoderma tsugae, ganoderma multipileum, and a number of other ganoderma species can sometimes be conflated with one another.
Reishi mushrooms are polypores, meaning they have pores or tubes on the underside instead of gills. They can grow out in conks from a short stipe, or like bonsai tree-looking antlers, and are usually a dark brown to red color with a bit of orange, yellow, and white near the new growth around the edges. Reishi has a very distinct aroma; it's rich and delicious, tart but earthy, like a sweet piney forest. As we learned before, this is probably due to the aromatic terpenoid compounds that it is packed with, more on this later.
The Reishi mushroom probably has an even longer history as a medicinal mushroom than Lion's Mane. In traditional asian medicine, it was used to treat many different ailments, and it earned the nickname the mushroom of immortality. It can be enjoyed simply in a tea, or it can be made more concentrated and bioavailable in dual extract form. Due to its tough leathery texture and its flagrantly bitter taste, it's not a top choice mushroom for cooking, and historically it has mostly been used for its medicinal benefits.
Very recently however, novel applications for this mushroom (and mycelium) are being developed, particularly in fashion, art, beauty products, textiles, and packaging materials. Reishi mycelium is quite resilient and flexible, so it can be molded and combined with other materials to make things like leather, furniture, or bricks. Pretty soon you might start finding some Reishi-based products in some surprising places!
On the medicinal side, Reishi is known for modulating and balancing the cells of our immune system. It actively fights viruses, bacteria, and even tumors. It also contains anti-aging properties, such as keeping our skin healthy, fighting inflammation, detoxifying heavy metals, and blocking the damage from free radical toxins. On top of that, it helps manage stress levels, supports calmer moods, and promotes an overall sense of well-being - so, one can understand why this mushroom has developed a reputation for being a panacea. Again you might ask, what's going on here? How can a mushroom do all that?
The research suggests that some of the terpenoids in the Reishi, especially the terpenoids known as Ganoderic acids, are what make it such an effective treatment for so many different things. These are thought to have anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antimicrobial, and anti-tumor properties, and an interesting thing about them is that they are not water-soluble. They must be extracted from the Reishi mushroom through an extra step, which is why an alcohol dual extraction method is so important in order to extract, concentrate, and make them more bioavailable.
We hope you've enjoyed reading about these two marvelous mushrooms. They hold a special place in our hearts because they were the first two mushroom species that we cultivated at our farm as One Up Mushroom Products, and the first two tinctures in our product line. We've been using them regularly for years and are thoroughly convinced of their healing and therapeutic potential. For more information on the scientific literature behind these mushrooms and their benefits, please visit our Resources page, where we link to a lot of reviews and clinical studies on this subject matter.
Welcome to our first One Up blog post!
This is where you will find all sorts of content and information, whether you're trying to learn more about the fungi kingdom or you just want to keep up with One Up news. We'll be posting original articles where we talk about the work we're doing or maybe we're just musing about mushrooms. Links to scientific publications and medical journals about the health benefits of mushrooms can be found on our Resources page. Here, we'll also have interviews with chefs, artists, mycologists, and all kinds of interesting people. Plus, a series of Mushroom Profiles where we put the focus on different mushroom varieties to talk about their features. Perhaps a short story, maybe even a long story. Either way, we’re happy you're here...
Perhaps you're here as a curious novice, an intrepid seeker, or maybe just as an innocent bystander. Regardless of which, something has brought us together here... so let us talk about mushrooms. In this post, you will find a little bit of background info to get us familiar with the fungi kingdom, plus a bit of mushroom history, and we'll explain what we mean when we differentiate between gourmet, medicinal, and psychedelic mushrooms.
The fungi kingdom is made of mushrooms, yeasts, molds, and all kinds of gooey stuff. At one time considered to be plants, it wasn't until 1969 that they were placed in their own kingdom, and it turns out that genetically they are more closely related to animals than plants, in fact, humans share nearly 50% of their DNA with mushrooms. Fungi were some of the first complex organisms to evolve on land. In much earlier chapters of evolution, fungi diverged from plants an estimated 1.5 billion years ago, and then split from animals a few million years later.
One of the main differences between a plant and a fungus is that plants get their energy from the sun and water. Organisms that can do this are known as autotrophs because they are essentially able to produce their own food. Fungi, on the other hand, are not capable of photosynthesis and so they get their energy by decomposing organic matter. Organisms that do this are known as heterotrophs, and animals are also in this category, but the way animals and fungi actually eat their food is very different. Animals are able to physically ingest their food because they have stomachs in their bodies and a digestive system. Fungi lack stomachs, so they must digest their food externally by releasing enzymes (and other secondary metabolites, more on this later) that help break down matter and absorb nutrients.
This is how fungi play a fundamental role in nature, acting as nature's recyclers as they break down matter and then redistribute minerals and nutrients back into the ground to be reused as the raw materials for another cycle of death and rebirth. If fungi didn't do this, the planet would be overflowing with rotten trees, and decaying organic matter. To quote the great Paul Stamets, "fungi are the interface organisms between life and death".
Today many things are possible thanks to the fungi kingdom. We can make penicillin and other antibiotics by growing and treating certain molds. Yeast is used to aid the process of fermentation in making beer, bread, and certain cheeses. Researchers are currently experimenting with a number of diverse fungi species to solve some of the biggest crises we face today, whether they are environmental, medical, or existential. Meanwhile, historians, anthropologists, and ethnobotanists worldwide have argued that some of the most visionary art, music, and literature throughout history would not exist without the influence of magic mushrooms.
Of all the fungi species out there (which are estimated in the millions), by far the most popular are the basidiomycete mushrooms. Through the ages mushrooms have occupied a special place in our imagination, at times revered and often feared. Some cultures have embraced them as food and medicine while others have kept a safer distance. And you can find references to mushrooms in some really interesting places throughout the history of civilizations: particularly in areas like mythology & folklore, shamanism & sorcery, and spirituality & religion.
To fully understand and appreciate this, we must think about the enigma it surely was for our ancestors, that a mushroom could offer nourishment, healing, transcendent experiences, or death. And for most of our history as a species, we simply didn't know which one it might be. So this has had a profound effect on our collective psyche and has created a mystical and notorious aura that can be hard to overcome.
Mushrooms first evolved on Earth an estimated 700 million years ago. For a while not much happened, plants were just beginning to grow and animals had not yet left the sea to live on land. For some time, around 450 million years ago, a fungal species known as Prototaxites emerged. These structures could grow up to 30 feet high, making them the biggest organisms on land at the time. Millions of years later, the planet went through two mass extinction events and the abundance of dead organic matter made quite a feast for the saprotrophic fungi (those that feed off decaying matter).
Mushrooms can be very diverse and complex in their morphologies. We tend to think of the mushroom as the whole organism, but in reality, the mushroom is just the fruiting body and the rest of the organism is located underground, invisible to us. The vast underground network of fungal roots is called mycelium, and these threads form dense networks that exchange nutrients and information throughout the forest. Most basidiomycete fungi will form mushrooms that have a cap and a stem, and depending on the type of mushroom, the underside of the cap will either have gills, tubes, or pores. The spores of the mushroom are equivalent to the seeds of a plant because they are able to form a new organism, although spores are much smaller and they can travel through the air for long distances.
When talking about mushrooms, we use a lot of terms that are not always obvious, and for the interested learner who is yet unversed and unfamiliar with these terms, it can get confusing pretty quickly. So, let's remember that this is just a basic overview, and these are just meant to be useful terms & definitions, and in no way does this represent the official scientific consensus on what categories we should be using and what names we should be calling them. So what exactly do we mean by gourmet, medicinal, and psychedelic mushrooms?
Gourmet mushrooms are those edible mushrooms that are especially prized for their culinary and nutritional applications. Chefs commonly use mushrooms for their unique range of textures and flavors. As far as superfoods go, these mushrooms also have some great game. They're full of vitamins and minerals so they support a healthy diet and help lower cholesterol - delicious and nutritious! You can get really creative when cooking these mushrooms; whether in a pasta, in a soup, an omelet, a burger or whatever, their complex earthy flavors will elevate any dish. Some gourmet mushrooms cannot be cultivated and must be foraged from the wild, so the availability can be scarce and the price can be eye-popping (for example; morels, chanterelles and of course truffles).
Medicinal mushrooms are those whose health benefits go above and beyond the standards of a nutritious food. Medicinal mushrooms may or may not be considered gourmet. For example, the Lion's Mane mushroom is both a gourmet and a medicinal mushroom, but the Reishi is only considered medicinal and not gourmet because of its unappealing texture & flavor. Medicinal mushrooms are often consumed in extract form, and thus sometimes could enter into a gray area where the line gets blurred between food and medicine.
Psychedelic mushrooms are those mushrooms which contain psychoactive compounds. Psilocybin is usually the most prevalent and studied psychoactive compound within these mushrooms, although they can contain combinations of up to a dozen or more additional psychoactive alkaloids - naturally occurring compounds known to have psychoactive effects. These mushrooms seem to operate on a higher plane of reality because their effects are in the realm of experience or consciousness - often creating deeply meaningful and life-changing mystical experiences for the person taking them. When used responsibly, these mushrooms have shown tremendous potential in dealing with mental health issues such as trauma, depression, PTSD, and addiction disorders.
And then of course, you also have the category of toxic mushrooms, which can deliver you to death in grueling agony, and considering the estimated number of mushrooms that we haven't even identified or fully studied yet, there’s a chance many species won’t fit neatly or discretely into the aforementioned categories.
So why are mushrooms having their moment? The fact is, the mushroom kingdom has long been an understudied and underappreciated sector of the natural world, and western science is barely making significant progress to understanding its many intricacies and nuances. As we are seeing, the fungi kingdom and mushrooms branch and myceliate into just about every science and industry imaginable - culinary arts and nutrition, pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, ecology and sustainable agriculture, industrial applications (like textiles and construction materials), and bioremediation (replacing plastic packaging or degrading pollution). Now more than ever, we need creative solutions that align with natural systems using an integral approach, and mushrooms have a way of reminding us of the interconnected, genre-defying, boundary-dissolving and functionally integrated nature of all things in life.