Podcast 142: 4 Medicinal Mushrooms: Shiitake, Maitake, Reishi, Lion’s Mane

Yes, they are herbs too! Medicinal mushrooms are an important part of our herbal practice, but it looks like we haven’t profiled them on the podcast before today – so it’s time to correct that lapse. In this episode we’ll look at some of the key activities of four of our favorite fungi: shiitake (Lentinula edodes), maitake (Grifola frondosa), reishi (Ganoderma lucidum), and lion’s mane (Hericium erinaceus).

Essentially all medicinal mushrooms share some features of interest to the herbalist. Famously, they can modulate immune responses – boosting immune surveillance and efficiency, while reducing excessive inflammatory or autoimmune expressions. Some mushrooms can also have adaptogenic activity, improving our endurance, resilience, and fluidity of response to stressors. And some mushrooms (more than you might expect, actually) can even help regenerate damaged or diseased nerve tissue, and protect the nervous system. Sounds pretty good, right? Listen in for the full story.

Mentioned in this episode:

After learning all these powers our fungal friends are endowed with, it won’t surprise you to learn that these medicinal mushrooms make a key appearance in our Immune Health course. That course is a deep dive into the immune system, and outlines all our best holistic strategies to boost immune responsiveness, and to corral unhelpful inflammation too. This self-paced online video course includes access to twice-weekly live Q&A sessions so you can connect with us directly!

As always, please subscribe, rate, & review our podcast wherever you listen, so others can find it more easily. Thank you!!

Our theme music is “Wings” by Nicolai Heidlas.

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Episode Transcript

Katja (00:00:02):
Hi, I’m Katja.

Ryn (00:00:02):
And I’m Ryn.

Katja (00:00:02):
And we’re here in the Commonwealth Center for Holistic Herbalism in Boston, Massachusetts.

Ryn (00:00:22):
And on the internet everywhere, thanks to the power of the podcast. Yeah. All right. Well, today we’re going to talk about mushrooms.

Katja (00:00:32):
Yes. Like, and now for something completely different.

Ryn (00:00:34):
Yeah. And now for some medicinal mushrooms. This is a topic that we’ve had requested a couple of times, and today’s the day.

Katja (00:00:43):
This is also a topic near and dear to my own heart. Especially if you ascribe to the old wives tale of the best way to a person’s heart is through their stomach. Because I love to eat mushrooms.

Ryn (00:00:58):
You do love to eat them. That is the truth.

Katja (00:00:58):
There’s a little journey there, but…

Ryn (00:01:01):
Yeah. We’re all here now in the mushroom kingdom. But before we start, we want to remind you that we are not doctors. We are herbalists and holistic health educators.

Katja (00:01:13):
The ideas we discuss in this podcast do not constitute medical advice. No state or federal authority licenses herbalists in the United States. So, these discussions are for educational purposes only. Everybody’s body is different. So, the things that we’re talking about may or may not apply directly to you. But we hope that they’ll give you some good information to think about and some ideas to research further.

Ryn (00:01:35):
And we want to remind you that good health is your right and your own personal responsibility. And that means that the final decision, when considering any course of therapy, whether discussed on the internet or prescribed by a physician, is always yours. Yours. Yes. So let’s talk about medicinal mushrooms. So, you know, as herbalists we talk about herbs. And sometimes we’ll say, well, you know, herbs are plants that make you healthy. But in fact it’s not true, because herbs is much bigger than that even in the Western tradition, I say. Because, you know, certainly in Chinese medicine, herbs sometimes includes powdered insects and various other kinds of animal items.

Katja (00:02:20):
We don’t really have that tradition in Western herbalism. But mushrooms are not plants

Ryn (00:02:29):
Mushrooms are not plants. They’re in a whole other kingdom. You know, they are a different kind of life. And mushrooms in some ways have similarities to plants. They have similarities to animals. And that’s true in kind of the way that they grow and the way they present themselves, but even on on the level of chemistry. Some of the things that that mushrooms produce, for instance, you don’t see any plants make them, but you do see animals do that. I’m thinking here of vitamin D. Vitamin D, yeah, mushrooms can make that. That’s pretty cool.

Katja (00:03:01):
That’s pretty cool.

Ryn (00:03:02):
It is cool.

Katja (00:03:03):
Okay. Wait, I have to actually revise my statement that Western tradition doesn’t have any animal medicines, because actually chicken soup. So we’ll go with that. Or like bone broth in general, maybe you prefer, you know, beef bone shank or fish head soup or whatever. But I guess we would include broth as part of our medicinal tradition.

Ryn (00:03:33):
For sure.

Katja (00:03:33):
And, okay. So, all right. I correct my previous statement. However, it is not as common as it is in many other traditions.

Immunomodulation

Ryn (00:03:43):
Yeah. Especially in modern herbalism. So medicinal mushrooms are fascinating. They’re exciting. A couple of their particular medicinal activities have garnered a lot of interests over time. And the big one is usually around the way that medicinal mushrooms can interface with our immune system. Most of the medicinal mushrooms that we look into have what you call an immunomodulatory effect. And it’s worth taking a moment to just talk about immunomodulation and what that means. What that could look like and how that might happen. So just as a little…

Katja (00:04:19):
And also maybe just as a sort of definition, the word modulate. I like that word so much better than stimulate, because stimulate implies only one direction, like up, up, up. And that’s not actually accurate. There are some plants that are stimulants. I’m thinking about coffee, for example.

Ryn (00:04:44):
Rhodiola.

Katja (00:04:45):
Yeah.

Ryn (00:04:46):
Cayenne, for that matter.

Katja (00:04:47):
Right. But a lot of the plants that we have sort of historically referred to as stimulants, immune stimulants in particular, are actually not. They are immune modulators, or even if they do have stimulant actions, they also have modulating actions. And so modulation is more of a bring to a right place. Something that is too high might come down. Something that is under functioning might come up. So, I like that kind of phrasing a little better, because it reflects the complexity of the action more accurately.

Ryn (00:05:30):
Yeah. And I think what gets people to want to call these agents immunostimulant or immune stimulating herbs or whatever in so many contexts, is that the places where they’re encountering those herbs, or the reasons that they have for taking them are I got sick or I want to not get sick. I want to protect myself. And that’s where most of people’s encounter with medicinal mushrooms is taking place.

Katja (00:06:00):
Right, and so, like, logically they’re thinking I want to stimulate my immune system so that I don’t get sick or so that I can fight off the sickness. But even that desire is actually not quite entirely true, because what we want to always do as modulate our immune system to fight off, or support our immune system to fight off. Because if we just stimulate everything in the immune system, then we would have runaway inflammation, and…

Ryn (00:06:26):
Yeah, exactly. So, immunomodulators can increase immune activity where it’s deficient or when it’s deficient. They can reduce it where it’s excessive. So overall, like you said, it’s balancing aspects of immune function to improve efficiency. Make sure that you’re attacking agents are actually attacking threats rather than your own body, your own tissue, you know?

Katja (00:06:51):
Yeah. Only attack the things that are supposed to be attacked.

Ryn (00:06:54):
Yeah. We got to reduce collateral damage, basically. Yeah. That’s what’s going on.

Katja (00:07:00):
And like negative self talk. You know, like how emotionally negative self-talk is like auto-immune action.

Ryn (00:07:09):
Destructive internal communication

Katja (00:07:09):
You know, it’s like, you’re destroying yourself. Right. So, medicinal mushrooms, they quell negative self action.

Ryn (00:07:22):
Yeah. That’s for real. So, you know, if we look at the whole range of immunomodulating herbs and mushrooms and plants and other things that we might encounter. They don’t all work in the same way and we shouldn’t expect them to. Even just that description of what happens, it’s not like saying that this one type of cell gets more wiggly under the microscope or something like that. It’s a broad based observational, empirical kind of effect, you know. So, they can work in different ways, right? Some immunomodulators, and this includes some of our medicinal mushrooms, they can do the job by kind of setting off alarms or awakening some parts of your immune system. Triggering some surveillance mechanisms that you have internally without being an actual threat. So one example there from medicinal mushrooms, they contain these compounds called immunomodulating polysaccharides. We’ll talk more about those in a moment. But one of the things that they can do in the body is they can trigger these kind of surveillance mechanisms that we have called toll like receptors. And when we encounter a pathogen, say it’s a bacteria, one of the ways we noticed that that’s gotten into the body is these toll like receptors. They detect the kind of shell or the kind of fuzzy, you know, coating that’s on the outside of the bacteria. And they say, hey, that’s foreign. That’s not from inside here. It doesn’t look like any of our friendly microbes either. So we better do something about it, right?

Katja (00:08:54):
It’s like the bandana that microbe is wearing is the wrong color.

Ryn (00:09:00):
Oh, no. Yeah. So, we have these, you know, they’re part of our surveillance mechanism. And these constituents from our medicinal mushrooms, and a few other kinds of herbs too, you know – like astragalus, for instance does this – they can set off those wake up, those alarm kind of functions in the body. But they’re not then presenting a threat. They’re not actively, you know, attacking your tissue or taking your resources or anything like that. So they can awaken the immune system and kind of get it to pay attention to things that might’ve been sneaking by. You know?

Katja (00:09:34):
I want it to be troll like receptors.

Ryn (00:09:36):
I know. Wouldn’t that be great?

Katja (00:09:36):
I always want that, which would be fine. Like awaken the troll so that he’ll bash the virus. I think there’s a complete logical pathway for renaming these receptors. Yeah. Okay. Now that we’ve got that clear.

Ryn (00:09:52):
We’ll write some letters. Some immunomodulators work a little bit differently. And in that case, they may be specifically helping out with a particular kind of white blood cell that we’ve got. We go into this in much more detail in our course on immune health. So if you really want to deep dive on what a T regulatory cell is all about, then that’s the place for it

Katja (00:10:13):
In a way that I promise is not scary or hard to understand.

Ryn (00:10:18):
Yeah. But, you know, the T regulatory cells, they’re important for us. They basically put a check on the amount of the kind of inflammatory, fiery, active immune response that we can generate. Deficiencies in the function of the T reg cells is not uncommon in autoimmune diseases, right? And again, it’s that place where your immune system is too fired up and it’s pointing in the wrong direction.

Katja (00:10:41):
So in other words, these are the cells that prevent runaway inflammation. And if we’re not keeping them healthy, then your inflammation levels are not healthy. And always remembering that inflammation is really important. We actually can’t heal ourselves without inflammation. We can’t fight off illness without inflammation. We require inflammation to be healthy, but it’s gotta be Goldilocks, right? Like if inflammation is way out of control, or even if it’s a little out of control, like, you know, I mean, Goldilocks is a range. It’s not like exactly one point. But still, if we’re outside of that range, then we’re not healthy. So these T regulatory cells, they’re really important. And keeping them healthy is really important. And that is one of the things these mushrooms can do.

Underlying Deficiencies & Mushroom Multitasking

Ryn (00:11:33):
Yeah. Yeah. Another way to look at immunomodulators that I think is really important, and takes us, you know, broader than mushrooms. Broader than herbs or even things that you eat into a broader space is one way to arrive at an immunomodulatory effect is to correct for underlying deficiencies. And some of those are nutritional deficiencies, and some of them are what I would call a kind of exposure, mediated deficiency. There I’m thinking about things like your exposure to variations in temperature, your exposure to sunlight, your exposure to the bitter flavor. You can get those from lots of different sources and your body is sort of agnostic about where they come from. Okay. Sunlight, there’s only one sun.

Katja (00:12:22):
There’s really only one place to get that.

Ryn (00:12:22):
There’s only one sun. I mean, okay. Humans made some sun-like bulbs and everything. It’s not the same. I don’t know…

Katja (00:12:30):
Okay. I mean, okay. As a person who did live in St. Petersburg for quite some time. When you live in a place where the sun doesn’t come up for months, then yes.

Ryn (00:12:42):
A sunlamp.

Katja (00:12:42):
A sunlamp actually is better than nothing. But it is not as good as the sun. Yeah. Choose the sun.

Ryn (00:12:50):
Right. But like these things, the reason that I think about them as immunomodulatory is that when we’re deficient in them, whether it’s a nutrient like vitamin D or it’s an exposure like sunlight or bitter flavors or temperature fluctuations, if we don’t have those, then that can induce a lot of different kinds of simultaneous dysfunction in our system. And that doesn’t mean that it makes us break down entirely. Lots of people go through their whole lives without any bitter. And they get by, you know. They do what they can.

Katja (00:13:20):
I mean, they don’t die from it.

Ryn (00:13:23):
No. But they’d be healthier in a lot of different ways, from the immune system to the digestive system, to just a general level of inflammation in your body all the way around, if they had bitter, if they had sunlight, you know?

Katja (00:13:37):
What it really comes down to – if they had cold sometimes or warm sometimes, you know, like what it really comes down to is that human bodies cannot be healthy without diversity. I just said that. I just want to be really clear, that I said all the parts of that. Like, we cannot be healthy without diversity. We cannot be healthy without diversity.

Ryn (00:14:01):
It’s that as above, so below, right? It’s like your gut flora needs to be diverse and complex to have a good, healthy constitution. Your tastes palate, you know, that goes into all your different foods needs to have diversity in it.

Katja (00:14:14):
And your experiences need to have diversity. And your community needs to have diversity. And this is what makes us healthy. Yes. Now that we’ve got that out of the way.

Ryn (00:14:25):
Yeah, so of those, mushrooms, it’s like our topic today, but they can provide many of those things. They can provide vitamin D, like we said before, right? Especially if you have your mushrooms and you lay them in the sunshine, then they produce more vitamin D as they dry.

Katja (00:14:39):
Yeah. I want to be clear that…

Ryn (00:14:42):
It’s not perfect.

Katja (00:14:43):
Yeah. It is vitamin D and that is important. It is a diversified revenue stream of vitamin D.

Ryn (00:14:52):
Exactly.

Katja (00:14:52):
It’s like, you can’t depend on a mushroom, even if you put it in the sun, to provide you with all of your vitamin D that you require. But it can be an important part of this complete vitamin D protocol. Yeah. But I do just want to be clear that especially if you live in northern latitudes, but also especially if you live in southern latitudes, because it’s hot and people don’t go outside. So even like in the north, even if you go outside, you can only make vitamin D during certain parts of the summer, because the sun isn’t high enough in the winter. But if you live in the south and you could make vitamin D much longer, but you don’t go outside because it’s so darn hot that it’s not, you know, very good to do that. So I want to be clear that supplementation may still be required. It might not, it might not provide all of the vitamin D. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t awesome. I’ll take some whereever I can get it.

Ryn (00:15:48):
Right, right. Yeah. You basically have to eat like an Eskimo if you want to get your vitamin D from food or Inuit, let’s say.

Katja (00:15:55):
Right. Any of the far north native people, their style of diet was directly compensatory for the fact that they weren’t getting access to sun. And even when they did, it was often very cold, so most of their skin was covered. Yeah.

Ryn (00:16:16):
So anyway, there’s some of that in your mushrooms. There’s certainly some good proteins in mushrooms, you know. And if you actually eat them, then that can help. That can be one of those nutrient deficiencies that can lead to, you know, reduced function across the board. Some of the medicinal mushrooms are bitter, right? Like reishi, one of them that we’re going to highlight in just a moment. That’s a quite bitter mushroom.

Katja (00:16:35):
I’m drinking it right here. Yes. It is very bitter. But you know, you don’t have to have bitter. Like shiitake and maitake, oyster mushrooms. Those are all quite – oh, and lion’s mane – they’re quite mild in flavor.

Ryn (00:16:52):
And just bringing that umami kind of thing.

Katja (00:16:54):
Yeah. Just super delicious.

Ryn (00:16:57):
So, you know, the medicinal mushrooms, they are some very famous immunomodulatory herbs. The ones we’re going to talk about today, shiitake, maitake, reishi, lion’s mane. Also others that we’re not going to dig in as deep today, but you know, your turkey tail, your oyster mushrooms, chaga of course is quite famous for this kind of activity. So this is something that seems to be relatively consistent across the mushrooms that we work with as food slash medicines.

Katja (00:17:26):
To make a note around chaga, we’re not going to talk about chaga just because it’s at risk. It takes up to and even maybe over, depending on the habitat, 40 years for a chaga to fully develop into its reproductive capacity. And with so much habitat destruction, even if we weren’t harvesting chaga mushrooms like they are the new trendy thing, because they’re the new trendy thing, we’d already be at risk of losing chaga mushrooms. So we want to look for alternatives 100% of the time.

Ryn (00:18:05):
Yeah. And, you know, honestly, that was part of what I wanted to talk about today. We’re going to see a couple different directions of this kind of movement where, you know, some herb, some mushrooms are really famous for one particular activity. Like lion’s mane is a neuro restorative or a neurogenerative plant. And you know, others are more famous for the immune activity or as adaptogens or whatever else. But what we really see when we look at this a little more closely is that most mushrooms are doing all of those things.

Katja (00:18:38):
Right. It’s just that all the stuff that they’re like, oh, chaga does this. It does that. Yeah, we studied it there. And sometimes people are making claims that don’t actually have stuff to back it up. But it’s just because we happen to study it in that one location. And then when you look across other locations, you’re like, oh, wait, this one can do that too. And this is really similar to the quorum sensing inhibition activity that was originally found in Baikal skullcap. And it was just phenomenally novel. And they were like, holy cow. So quorum sensing inhibition means that a bacteria cannot form a biofilm. They can’t glom together to protect themselves from our immune system because quorum sensing inhibition breaks up those like safety nets that they’ve put around themselves. And it was, you know, for a long time, it was like, well, everybody’s got to get Baikal skullcap because that’s the plant that can break it up. And then the more plants they study, the more they find out, oh, many, many, many plants can actually do this job. Which makes total sense because the human immune system works best on a one-to-one basis, right? It wants a fair fight. It wants an immune responder to fight with one pathogen. And our bodies developed in relationship with our environment. And so we didn’t have to develop a system that could fight multiple invaders simultaneously, because we had plants that were able to help us break that up. And they were a regular part of our lives. So our bodies were like, great, I’ve got this tool coming from here. And I’ve got this tool that I made myself. And together I can fight lots of things with it. So we’re finding that same thing in the mushroom world. That the things that we think one particular mushroom is famous for, it turns out most of the mushrooms can also do that job. Yeah.

Shiitake & Maitake

Ryn (00:20:45):
Yeah. All right. Well, let’s actually just start talking about shiitake here. And we’re going to talk about shiitake and maitake together. Now they do have some differences between them. Yes. But like in terms of food and the taste and the flavor and all those basic, you know, energetic qualities of the mushroom. In terms of their activity in the body, the herbal actions that they generate for us, they’re all basically the same. I know it’s like, I hesitate to even say it out loud, but they are basically the same.

Katja (00:21:17):
They have a very similar profile of activities. And I think that what we’re going to find by the end of this is that many, many mushrooms have similar profiles of activities, but that the research on shiitake and maitake has been done very closely in parallel. I will make one little note though, about a difference, before we dig too deep in, which is with regard to purchasing, shiitake and maitake mushrooms, you’re not always able to get these fresh where you live. And so both of these can be purchased dry. But when you purchase dried shiitake, they have a very strong flavor. And when you purchase dried maitake, they have a much milder flavor. So if you are a person who maybe mushrooms are not your favorite thing in the world, but you’re trying to build them into your life, and you are going to purchase dried mushrooms, then you might want to start with dried maitake. Just because flavor-wise – like, action-wise really, really similar down the line – but flavor wise, maitake is milder. It might be easier.

Ryn (00:22:27):
Yeah. when you’re fortunate, you can find these in a grocery store.

Katja (00:22:32):
Better, yeah. You can get them fresh.

Ryn (00:22:33):
Yeah. And there, you know, it’s not really too hard. If you’re like, I don’t know how to choose the right mushroom. What do I look for? Look for the one that looks most appealing to you. Just like totally superficial, like, oh, I I’m reaching for that one. That must be the best one. It’s obvious, right? It’s kind of like, I mean, they bruise. They’ll have soft spots or like mushy spots if there’s a problem.

Katja (00:22:54):
Like dark brown mushy spots.

Ryn (00:22:56):
You know, you don’t want that.

Katja (00:22:57):
Or they’ll look wilty and not plump, or even get their edges all dried out. Or maybe a little bit discolored or yellowed. Just like any other fruit or vegetable, those are signs of this has been hanging out in refrigeration for too long.

Ryn (00:23:17):
Yeah. Trust your instincts, you know, they’ll tell you. So, what can we say about these plants? Well, there’s been a ton of study about these. A lot of it has occurred in Japan and in China, a couple of other countries on that side of the world. But it’s really extensively been investigated, both shiitake and maitake have been. So, among the things that they’ve found, if we look at that immunomodulatory idea, these are really standout examples of immunomodulatory herbs. Shiitake and maitake have both been found to promote the production, not just of immune responder cells, but also of the bone marrow where their first-generation happens. Immune cells, they have a long and complex path to their final career inside the human body. A lot of times there’s these progenitor immune cells that start out in the bone marrow. And they kind of like peek their head out, and look around in the bloodstream and get a sense of who they are in the world. And kind of migrate their way to different spots in your body where they go to school and start to decide what kind of immune cell am I going to be? Am I going to attack things? Am I going to engulf things? Am I going to sound the alarm when something weird is going on? They have all these different kinds of jobs.

Katja (00:24:38):
I just love how our bodies, our communities, just like, you know, you can just think of yourselves as individual people in a community. And you can think of your immune cells and they’re born in the bone marrow community. And then they go out into the world and they decide what they’re going to make of themselves. And I love that you can just do that over and over again. There are so many parallels between the larger body of the planet and the inner body of our own individual bodies. Yes, I think that’s beautiful.

Ryn (00:25:12):
Yeah. And I think this capacity that the shiitake and the maitake, and as we’ll see other medicinal mushrooms, have to enhance that generation of the progeniter immune cells. I think that is one of the key reasons why these herbs can affect our immune system in a really broad way and in a balancing way, a modulatory way. When we look at research on immune activating or immune stimulating herbs or plants, you know, maybe look at something like cat’s claw where there’s like a specific, I forget the name of the number, but there’s like a specific type of immune responder cell, like CD 57.

Katja (00:25:50):
CD 57.

Ryn (00:25:50):
Yeah. A particular type of cell that that herb specifically activates. And that’s interesting to us for certain kinds of pathogen that do seem to be particularly attacked by that specific type of immune cell. So that’s like a little more of a like, we need it in this instance, right? This is the case where we’re going to look at that one. But the story with the immunomodulatory mushrooms here is different and much broader in scope. And I think that looking at that capacity to enhance progenitor immune cells is one way that we could start to explain that.

Katja (00:26:25):
Right. It’s like metaphorically speaking – except it’s not actually a metaphor it’s actually accurate, like right dead on – is that these mushrooms are providing a healthy environment in which white blood cells are born, in which they are formed and created. And then these mushrooms are providing them with nourishment so that they can grow up and be strong. And so you can imagine these mushrooms are providing plenty of vegetables. Like if you think about it like actual children, and think about all the things that children need to be strong and healthy. That is like the corollary, right? And that is why that broad effect, because if you have a bunch of these cells that are given every single resource that they need so that they can be strong and ready to do their work, then they’re going to go out into your body and do their work really well. And if they are starved and they’re not getting the nutrients that they need, they may be created, but maybe not as many will be created. And the ones that are will go out into the body and they won’t be very good at doing their jobs. They won’t be very strong. So, you know, just like people need to receive all of the things, all of the nutrients, all of the love, all of the education, all of the support, so do all of your cells in order to do good work in your body.

Ryn (00:28:01):
Yeah. For real. So, you know, when folks have gone looking for like the effect or like the chemical that makes this kind of thing happen, in shiitake and in maitake there are some very famous constituents. We’re going to see these in other medicinal mushrooms as well. So the broad category is polysaccharides. That’s a type of a carbohydrate really. But these are specifically the immunomodulatory polysaccharides. And that’s a category based on activity, not on like, they all have the same type of structure, you know? It’s what we observe when they come into the body.

Katja (00:28:39):
Like a functional category.

Ryn (00:28:40):
Yeah. You may have heard the term beta glucans in context of medicinal mushrooms. Even if you just buy the supplement and read on the side, it probably says in there, shown to contain a high concentration of immunomodulatory beta glucans. And you’re like, that sounds cool.

Katja (00:28:57):
I don’t know what that is, but sounds great.

Ryn (00:28:59):
Yeah. So, you know, they are this kind of immunomodulatory agent. And these are responsible for some of those effects we mentioned previously. That toll like receptor activation, you know, that way of waking up the immune system. So in shiitake, lentinan is the name for one of those. And in maitake, grifolan. Those are only interesting if you know the Latin name of your mushroom, right? Shiitake is Lentinula and maitake is Grifola. So, it’s just basically saying, oh, these are found in those. Just write the name and put an N at the end and call it a day. Yeah.

Katja (00:29:37):
And to be clear, like these are just the ones that have been studied. When we study herbs – and in this case mushrooms – in the West, remember that we study them mostly for the purpose of creating pharmaceuticals. Because that’s who’s paying for the studies. That is who’s doing the studies. And so what they want to do is identify an isolatable chemical in that plant that can be extracted and turned into a pharmaceutical, which is neither good nor bad. I’m not putting any judgment on that. But the reason that they want to do it is because that is the only way they can make money. Because then they can patent that extraction process and make money selling that drug. So, when we see a study and it says, oh, the beta glucan grifolan in maitake mushrooms has these actions, that can be true. But I don’t want people to think, oh, that is the only thing in that mushroom that has those actions. It’s just that that is a thing that was able to be extracted by a method that would be patentable, and therefore that’s what was studied. There may be many other beta glucans and many other types of polysaccharides that are also doing similar work, but those ones just didn’t get studied, and maybe haven’t even been named. Like, there are so many constituents in plants and in mushrooms, we haven’t discovered because it isn’t profitable to have discovered them yet.

Ryn (00:31:17):
Right. And so often you look at it and you’re like, well, we use this one word, but actually that refers to like 30 different compounds that are slightly different from each other. And, you know, so you can really get into the weeds with that pretty far.I guess that’d be get into the mushroom patch with that. Okay, whatever.

Katja (00:31:35):
Get into the mycelium.

Ryn (00:31:37):
There we go. Yeah. So generally speaking, these immunomodulatory polysaccharides for mushrooms, they reduce inflammation. They, like we’ve been saying, they modulate immunity. Many of them are going to activate the macrophages. Those are the little Pac-Man cells in your body that go around and eat up invaders. That process is called phaygocytosis, and these also enhance that activity of those cells. So that’s all good stuff. Really fantastic. You know, physically speaking, what you get from this is a couple of different things, right? On the one hand, yes. If you’re prone to illness, if you’re the person who catches every cold that goes around the school or the office, then it’d be very helpful for you to get these mushrooms into your life on a regular, consistent and ongoing basis. These are not agents that you take once and you’re done. These are things that you need to get in all of these medicinal mushrooms. Like these are not fast acting, turn everything around in a day, kind of agents. You take them over a period of time. You allow those effects to build up in system with some time.

Katja (00:32:40):
You know how, not every body is different. But maybe you look in the mirror and your hair is kind of limp, or maybe it’s kind of dry or, or whatever. Or maybe it’s hard for your hair to grow. And so you say, wow, my hair is not really very healthy. What should I do to help my hair be more healthy? Or maybe you’re one of those people who has fingernails that aren’t very strong and they sort of peel really easily, or they break. You just can’t grow your fingernails, because they break so easily. And you say, huh, my fingernails are not healthy. I wonder what I should do to make my fingernails more healthy. And those are things that we can see. So, it’s easy for us to identify, oh, huh. This part of me is not very healthy. We can’t see our bone marrow. And it’s very hard for us to say, maybe my bone marrow is not super strong. Maybe my bone marrow is not super healthy. Wonder what I should do to strengthen my bone marrow. But when we see a pattern of like constantly getting sick, not really able to fight things off, having sickness that lingers for a really long time, then one of the things that we can observe there is, oh, I wonder if maybe my bone marrow isn’t super strong. Because if my bone marrow were very strong, I would be producing strong immune cells who are able to fight. And there are many other factors involved, but I wonder if this might be one factor. I can’t see it like I can see my hair. But the nice thing is that, you know, mushrooms are a very safe way, especially maitake and shiitake, they’re a very safe way that you can say, well, just in case this problem is because my bone marrow isn’t very strong, isn’t very healthy. This is one thing I can do to enhance that.

Ryn (00:34:38):
Yeah. I’m glad that you mentioned the safety question here. Because these two in particular, shiitake and maitake, are extremely safe. These are not herbs that put you at risk for drug interaction. And it’s worth saying even if the person is taking immune suppressive drugs, then we don’t see shiitake or maitake in particular as being contra-indicated just prima fascia, just on the face of it there. We might need to know a little bit more about the case and what’s going on to be perfectly certain. But in a lot of cases, that is a combination that that is not going to cause problems or create a lot of risk for somebody.

Katja (00:35:20):
And the nice thing is that these mushrooms are common enough that they’re sold in grocery stores.

Ryn (00:35:26):
Yeah. I was going to say that I think that’s another way to differentiate between these and an immune stimulant, like echinacea, where you definitely don’t want to give that to somebody taking immune suppressive drugs, because you’re going to down the action of the drug. So, these are really valuable because of that much broader safety profile that they have. So, and yeah, you buy it in the store.

Katja (00:35:48):
You can buy it in the store. I really like working with herbs that are food when somebody is taking a lot of pharmaceuticals. Because we can’t really expect doctors to know if it is safe to take a certain herb with a certain drug, because they don’t really know anything about herbs. That’s not their toolset. We shouldn’t expect them to know that. But it’s reasonable for a doctor to know whether or not you can eat a mushroom, right? Like there are some drugs where the doctor will tell you, make sure not to have grapefruit with this drug. Or you know, certain blood thinners where they say you should not actually eat a spinach salad every day while you’re taking this blood thinner. And so, when we’re working with, especially when someone is taking a lot of pharmaceuticals and we’re a little nervous, like, oh, I don’t know which herbs are safe or not. When we’re working with food, these mushrooms are tremendously medicinal, but they’re also food. It’s really easy to go to a doctor and say, is it okay for me to eat shiitake mushrooms. And we can’t guarantee that the doctor will know everything about shiitake mushrooms, but we can guarantee that they probably are at least familiar with what that is. So, it’s easier to get advice around the safety there.

Ryn (00:37:08):
Yeah. And look, I mean these two in particular, a number of other medicinal mushrooms, have been extensively studied in drug combination contexts, especially around chemotherapy for people who are dealing with cancer. I mean, as far as I understand it, this is the standard of care in Japan and in large parts of China and a number of other countries. That if you’re going to undergo chemo, they’re also going to give you medicinal mushroom extracts, or, you know, at least advice to get them into your diet consistently, because they have proof and over and over again seeing that this improves outcomes. That it improves the efficacy of the chemo. That it reduces the side effects that you experience while you’re going through it. You know, have the course be shorter and more effective. And, you know, I mean, it’s just all the way around really, really beneficial there. That, and then also with cancer more broadly, these and the other medicinal mushrooms can help to prevent recurrence of cancer after you’ve fought it off at the very least. You know, so that’s all fantastic. And again, all this is really circling around their like immune element here. But you’ve also seen research or proof around shiitake and maitake helping with blood parameters. Like when people have high blood pressure, like when people have elevated cholesterol or bad cholesterol going on, you see improvement there. And that’s not actually separate. That’s part of the same suite of effects. And the connection is through inflammation, right? Remember inflammation is a process. It is an activity of your immune system. So when we think about immunity, when we think about inflammatory health problems, those aren’t actually two separate worlds, right? It’s not like you’ve got your immune herbs over here and your anti-inflammatory herbs over there. Those are in the same world. All right. You know, when we’re taking shiitake and maitake, we prefer to just eat them. We prefer put them into the broth, into soup, into even just if you’re sauteeing things on the stove for awhile. These ones, they’re not woody. They’re relatively tender. And nthey break down to a easily chewed consistency pretty quick when you cook them like that.

Katja (00:39:24):
I do like to put them in very first, because the longer that you cook them, the more you will be able to get out of them. Mushrooms are not super easy to digest. And cooking, we can think about it as pre digestion. Like it’s breaking stuff down ahead of time so that you get a headstart when you eat it. And so the longer that you can cook them, obviously like broth is the best. That’s the most ideal way to consume a mushroom. But we put mushrooms in our dinner all the time. And I just put them in at the very, very beginning, while I’m still getting out all the rest of the ingredients for the dinner. First, I chop up the mushrooms and put them in the pan and let them get going on low. Maybe I’ll put just a smidge of broth if I have some leftover, a little bit of water, a little bit of ghee.

Ryn (00:40:17):
Add something so they don’t stick and burn.

Katja (00:40:17):
Yeah, exactly. And just let them hang out there and cook for the longest amount of time of any portion of the dinner. And then I go and get out the whatever else is going to be in the dinner. And I chop up the carrots and I do all the, you know, whatever. And that allows them to just cook a little bit longer. It makes them a little bit easier to digest.

Ryn (00:40:37):
Yeah. And if you’ve got fresh maitake or shiitake that’s going to be easy. If they’re dried, I don’t know.

Katja (00:40:43):
If they’re dried, they really have to go into broth. You could put them in broth for a long time and then put them into something, but they would not be as appealing as fresh.

Ryn (00:40:57):
And as we’ve been saying, we really do like to actually consume the mushroom material. That’s going to give you the best possible chance of getting everything possible out of them, right? If you make a decoction, that’s not bad. It’s not useless or worthless or anything like that at all. But when you actually eat the mushroom, well, everything’s gone in. So, now it’s up to your digestion to take it apart and make it into components you can absorb and all of that. But that is the best way. And especially if you’re thinking about these as basic nutrition, as providing mineral content and providing protein and so on, yeah, you’ve got to eat them to get that, to get that really. But, you know, you could also choose to make a strong decoction. I would say put in the water, put in the mushrooms, boil it for a good long time. Even like maybe let it reduce down to half as much liquid, and then add more water and keep it boiling. And then let it reduce again so that you don’t have to drink a gallon all at once. Cook it down good and concentrated and take it that way. That’s a strong medicine.

Katja (00:42:06):
Cook it down slowly. You can cook something down in 25 or 30 minutes if you just put it at a rolling boil. The key here is to do it over the course of a whole day. Because it is the length of time in cooking that we’re really going for.

Ryn (00:42:21):
Yeah. Nice. Awesome. Okay.

Reishi

Katja (00:42:26):
Yeah. Speaking of the length of time cooking, that is really key for reishi. Reishi is a super woody foamy…like it’s…

Ryn (00:42:36):
This is not one like maitake that you can just bite into, or that you would just like, you know, saute a bit and then it’s chewable. Reishi, it doesn’t matter how long you cook it. You’re not going to eat this.

Katja (00:42:48):
It’s like balsa wood. It’s like, it’s like woody styrofoam.

Ryn (00:42:53):
That’s very good, woody styrofoam. Yeah. That’s what it is.

Katja (00:42:55):
And so no matter how long you boil it, it’s never going to be something that’s super appealing to actually chew up. But the longer that you simmer it, longer and slower that you simmer it, the more that you will get from it. So, what will we get from it?

Ryn (00:43:12):
What will we get? Well, there is a bunch of immunomodulatory effects coming out of reishi, a bunch of anti-tumor effects. I can talk in a moment about some particular studies around reishi and the immune system and cancer and things like that. But that’s been really extensively studied. Reishi is another one that has some notable benefits around the blood and the circulatory system. It’s really nice as an agent to reduce high blood pressure, particularly where that’s coming from tension, from hypertension. And there you have the blood vessels, right? It’s like a tube, but there’s muscle wrapped all around it. And when that muscle gets tense, well, it squeezes the tube. And now it’s smaller, and now the pressure goes up, right? So there is a relaxant quality to reishi that extends out to those blood vessels. Reishi is a fantastic herb for your liver, and you know that because it’s bitter.

Katja (00:44:11):
It’s super bitter.

Ryn (00:44:13):
It’s bitter like crazy. But that’s going to have some liver stimulation and help with digestion, help with absorption of fats and other kinds of nutrients. So that’s really fantastic as well. Reishi is connected to the blood in traditional Chinese medicine, and it’s considered to be a blood builder. Now the concept blood in that system is a little broader than just this red fluid that moves through our body. But it is connected with things like energy generation and the ability to have stamina and to have that kind of muscular force. One very direct connection to the blood that we see with reishi is that it helps to improve oxygenation of the blood, which is really what carries that energy to the individual cells, right? And a great place to see that is to travel to high altitude. And then you’ll feel what it’s like when you have poorly oxygenated blood.

Katja (00:45:04):
Oh my goodness. Yes. I just don’t tolerate altitude well at all, which is kind of a bummer because when I was a kid I always wanted to like, you know, I was fascinated by Mount Everest. Like that is not for me. I do not tolerate altitude well. And whenever we’ve had cause to be at altitude, several times because we sometimes go out west to teach at different herb conferences. And these particular ones in my mind, they are held at locations that are at high altitudes. And boy do I ever get sick. But reishi makes that not happen. It’s amazing. And so that ties in with the respiratory aspects of reishi, and especially, even as we’re thinking about COVID. In all aspects of COVID, like while you’re actually sick, but also for a long haul COVID, or just for the recovery phase when it’s just so hard to breathe and you feel like no matter how much you breathe, you still aren’t actually getting any air in, it feels just like altitude sickness. And so that lack of oxygenation is something that reishi can be very helpful with. Yeah. I feel real strongly about that part of reishi. I feel strongly about many aspects of reishi. Reishi is a plant, well, it’s a mushroom, that I work with every day. I really love reishi in my life. But I think especially because I have such strong altitude sickness presentation and reishi like wipes it out completely, that for me it’s one of those plants that I’m like, whoa, that’s power, you know?

Ryn (00:46:57):
Yeah. Pretty great. All right. Well, you know, reishi, before I get into a little more detail on the immune stuff, this is an herb that is also well known as an adaptogen. And I think that’s connected actually to that long oxygenation thing, to that blood building effect. You know, those lead to this feeling of having greater stamina, having more steady energy throughout the day. And then the other place that we can see the effects of an adaptogen is in the way that we respond to stress physically, physiologically, but also mentally and emotionally. And reishi does have this capacity to improve our stress response on a physical level, yes, on a endurance level, but also a mental and emotional level. You’ve had a number of experiences with reishi where you felt like it really made a big impact on like emotional balance, emotional regulation.

Katja (00:47:53):
Yeah. I read somewhere, an older herb book, about reishi helps to balance the rational and the emotional mind. And it was just one sentence just as a throwaway somewhere, like with nothing more written than that. And it was like, whoa, that’s intriguing. Tell me more. And there wasn’t any more. But as a person who often struggles to balance the rational and the emotional, I tend to get both of them very far out of balance, sometimes simultaneously, which is super uncomfortable, I thought, well, if nobody’s going to tell me any more about this, then I’m going to have to find out myself. And I think that’s a big part of why I don’t want to live without reishi. Because it turns out that it really does make being a person who has very strong emotions and also very strong, rational, like Mr. Spock kind of tendencies simultaneously, it makes a living in that kind of a head much more comfortable or much less uncomfortable, depending on which day it is.

Ryn (00:49:09):
Yeah. You know, on the phytochemical level or the myco-chemical level, what we’ve seen here in investigations of reishi, according to some authorities there are more than 200 different identified polysaccharides and 150 triterpenoids. That would include some that are called, triterpenoid saponins. And that’s a particular class of phyto or mico-chemical that is really famous as contributing to adaptogenic effects. You see similar kinds of chemistry in your ginseng and jiaogulan and other kinds of adaptogenic plants,

Katja (00:49:51):
You know, those constituents are ones that make jiaogulan sometimes a little hard for your stomach, that make it a little hard for you to metabolize that. And so you always mix in ginger or something like that with your jiaogulan. But with reishi it isn’t really necessary, because it has that profound bitter aspect that that is increasing the digestibility of the saponin content.

Ryn (00:50:20):
Yeah, absolutely. Right. Well, okay, so I had mentioned a moment ago, let’s talk some, just for a moment, just for the fun of it. Don’t get too hooked on this, but I find it entertaining sometimes to look at like very molecular science around these kinds of things. So here’s a couple of papers around reishi for immune effect. This was looking at impacts on tumors, right? So here’s a quote, the anti-tumor effect of Ganoderma, the Latin name, is mediated by immunological mechanisms, including promoting the function of mononuclear macrophages and natural killers. That’s a type of immune cell.

Katja (00:50:59):
Yeah. Even though it sounds a little like a horror movie.

Ryn (00:51:03):
Let’s get those natural killers going. Yeah. Promoting M1 type macrophage polarization versus M2 type. This is better for some reason, which we don’t need to worry about. Promoting maturation and differentiation of dendritic cells. It’s another kind of immune responder. Increasing antigen presentation. That’s one of the jobs they have. Activating lymphocytes, promoting production of cytokines. That’s like a chemical element that’s involved in the inflammatory action of the immune response. And I love this phrase, inhibiting tumor escape from immune surveillance.

Katja (00:51:37):
That’s the best part.

Ryn (00:51:38):
I like that one a lot. Yeah.

Katja (00:51:40):
Actually that is the best part for a lot of reasons. So, you know, a lot of times when we’re talking about digestive health and nutrition, we think about metabolic flexibility. It’s really good if you can easily switch from different types of fuel sources without a big crisis. If you have a super carbohydrate heavy diet, and then you don’t have any carbs available to you for a little while, you are pretty cranky, right? Because your body has habituated on only digesting carbohydrates. It’s super easy. And it’s just hard to break free from carbs. We get really addicted there. So, when we think about metabolic flexibility that is like, you know what? Whatever I find that’s food, that’s fine. I can digest that today. That’s pretty great. So I like to look at these scientific, like super, specific, scientific things in terms of like a critical thinking flexibility. Like I want to be able to simultaneously very easily move between looking at the very large picture and looking at it in terms that don’t require scientific words to explain. They may be could be explained by scientific words, but it’s not required. And very flexibly be able to also look at the specific scientific aspect. And so when I look at a phrase like inhibiting tumor escape from immune surveillance, boy, that was a tangent to get back to this phrase. That feels really important to me, because everybody is looking for the herb that will make their cancer go away. And the best way to work with herbs to make your cancer go away is to start working with herbs before you get cancer. Because at all times in your body, like cancer is not a thing that invades your body. It is a state that a cell can accidentally slip into. Like maybe it just got a little overenthusiastic. And that is what they mean by tumor escape from immune surveillance. So one individual cell can get too enthusiastic and be like, oops. I went rogue. I went cancerous, you know.

Ryn (00:54:01):
I turned to the dark side.

Katja (00:54:01):
Yeah, exactly. And your immune system is like, Oh no, no, we’re not going to have that. You know, like you, out of here. And maybe a handful of cells like gang up together and they’re like, hey, let’s do cancer together. And your immune system is like, you will not escape immune surveillance. I see you. We’re going to get you. And as long as your immune system is able to accurately identify the cells that have sort of slipped into the dark side and to get rid of them, then you do not become a person with diagnosable cancer. Even if in this moment, you have some cells that are slipping into that state, no problem. Your immune system is dealing with it. When your immune system is no longer able to actively and accurately provide that surveillance, then your tumors escape immune surveillance, and they are able to grow beyond the point where your immune system is able to deal with them. You can deal with them when it’s one. You can deal with them when it’s a handful. But if it’s a whole glob of them, if it is something measurable, it may be too large for your body’s built-in systems to deal with anymore. And at that point it might happen to be operated. It might have to be removed surgically, because it might just be too big for your body to deal with. But that key there about immune surveillance and this antitumor effect of, in this case reishi, the antitumor effect does not mean that if you have like a tumor and it’s measurable in centimeters, then don’t worry. Reishi is going to mean that you don’t have to have surgery or whatever the conventional therapy that is being recommended. And I think that’s also a big part of the reason why, when we were talking about the shiitake and the maitake, there’s a lot of data around preventing cancer recurrence. Because we are trying to improve that state of surveillance so that you can deal with those cells that fall over into the dark side one at a time, instead of them coming together as tumor.

Ryn (00:56:24):
Yeah. And for those of us who haven’t yet had cancer, this is a great way to keep it that way. Keep that good immune surveillance in activity.

Katja (00:56:33):
Right. So if you’re worried about cancer, if it runs in your family, go on out, get yourself some mushrooms. Do it now, before those tumors escape immune surveillance.

Ryn (00:56:45):
Yeah. And I mean, you know, it’s not to say that it can’t help at all when there is a tumor present, right?. And again, that could be in a combination activity. There have been studies of reishi directly against tumors, fully grown tumors and everything. And there, you know, you can see where it’s inducing what’s called apoptosis. That’s the kind of programmed like scheduled cell death that’s supposed to happen. Also preventing the growth of blood vessels into the tumor so it can’t feed itself anymore.

Katja (00:57:13):
That’s called angiogenesis.

Ryn (00:57:16):
Right. And then even to reverse drug resistance on the part of the tumor. So, when we attack a tumor with conventional drugs and medications, sometimes the tumor figures it out and becomes resistant to it, just the way that bacteria can get resistant to the same old antibiotic. So here what they’re saying is basically we had a drug. We were attacking a tumor with it. It stopped working. We added reishi, and now the drug works again. So that’s a really powerful, positive, herb-drug interaction. Yeah. so, tumors are fascinating and they’re a really interesting test case for immune activity of our herbs and our mushrooms. But one thing I also wanted to swing over to was to look at a different expression of inflammation and immune response, and that’s allergy. So reishi, in particular amongst medicinal mushrooms, is really profoundly effective at reducing allergic sensitivity and allergic responsiveness.

Katja (00:58:18):
It’s that modulating action, right? Like part of allergies is, oops. There’s a little too much inflammation response to pollen, maybe it’s irritating. But maybe we don’t need quite as much response as we’re getting. And with that modulation to keep the inflammation in that Goldilocks place, then allergy season is much less miserable.

Ryn (00:58:42):
Yeah. Pretty great. In terms of how we take reishi, we do like to cook it into long decoctions in particular. That’s a really great way to access the medicine in this plant. You’ll see a lot of folks talk about making double extractions with reishi. And the reason that you would do that is if you wanted to have something like a tincture, right? Something that you can just carry around, a liquid remedy that you can just take by the dropper. When you do that, you can’t simply make a straight up tincture of the plant and get the full range of its effects. If you did want to do it, you need to do a high proof alcohol first of all, to tincture your mushroom here. And what you would generally do is make that tincture. And give that the time to macerate and everything. And then strain that out and take that liquid. And then you can take the marc, the pieces of mushroom that you had been soaking in the alcohol. And instead of throwing them out, you can cook them. You can make a decoction out of those. And then you combine that liquid and, you know, cook it down and make it good, strong, and concentrated. You can combine that liquid with the alcohol extract or the tincture that you made previously and combine the two of them. And now you’ve got that double extraction to work with.

Katja (01:00:04):
You can also do that process in reverse, which I think yields a better quality product. It is a little bit more complicated, because it’s going to take a month to get the alcohol after you have done the decoction. So, it’s something that you might want to have multiple batches going so that you can be adding the alcohol from the previous batch.

Ryn (01:00:26):
They could even overlap if you were taking this consistently.

Katja (01:00:29):
Right. But I do think that it does break down better if you do the decoction first and the alcohol part after, if you’re able to do that.

Ryn (01:00:40):
Yeah. But to be honest, we don’t really do this very often.

Katja (01:00:43):
Never. Almost never,

Ryn (01:00:45):
I’ve don’e it a couple of time. I wasn’t super blown away by that preparation. I have had some reishi extracts or tinctures that were really powerful and great. So it may be that I just haven’t figured out the trick at home yet. But when we’re at home, we’re at home. And we’ve got a stove and we’ve got heat and water and all the good things to just make a strong decoction.

Katja (01:01:05):
Yes. And if you toss a smidge of decaf coffee in with it, like the bitterness of reishi is very similar in flavor to the bitterness of coffee. And so if you make a really strong reishi decoction, which by the way you can just keep adding water to over the course of several days. And then you just add a smidge of decaf coffee to it. The result really tastes very coffee like. It’s a little bit different, but really similar. So similar that it is very easy to adapt to, very easy to like shift your palette in that direction. And that’s my favorite way to work with reishi every morning.

Lion’s Mane

Ryn (01:01:48):
Yeah. You can do that. You can also try chai spice flavors. Sometimes that goes fine together with a little coffee in there. When you’re making that kind of not coffee situation with the reishi and the decaf and everything, you can also put in other adaptogens that you like and that you want to have in your routine. So, that’s a very nice way to herbalist up your coffee habit, make it a lot better for you. All right. Cool. Well, let’s move on to our third highlight or our last mushroom here. And we’re going to talk about lion’s mane,

Katja (01:02:22):
Which is one of my favorites, because it looks like a hedgehog. And in case you haven’t noticed, I do have a thing for hedgehogs. I like them quite a bit.

Ryn (01:02:32):
There’s a couple of them…

Katja (01:02:32):
They’re all over.

Ryn (01:02:33):
…dancing around in the room here.

Katja (01:02:33):
I like hedgehogs. And yeah, this mushroom, it looks like a hedgehog. I don’t know why they named it lions mane. I do, actually, because lions are considered strong, powerful creatures. And hedgehogs are just like, whatever. They’re lowly and cute. But don’t underestimate the power of cute. Hedgehogs, ya’ll.

Ryn (01:02:59):
Yeah. So, lion’s mane, when when you look at the research on it, or you look at the hype about it, both cases, this particular mushroom has had a lot of focus around its capacity to regenerate and to rebuild and to protect nerve tissues in your body, including yes, your brain and your spinal column, but also peripheral nerves all around the system. So, lion’s mane has been really extensively studied for this. And one thing that has been shown over and over again is that it stimulates the activity of something in your body called nerve growth factor. And, you know, I was educated back in the eighties and nineties in like primary school. And at the time I can distinctly remember in biology class being taught that you can’t regrow a nerve once it’s damaged.

Katja (01:03:48):
Even in college for me. Okay, well, that was the nineties. In college biology that’s what we learned. And I can remember already being an herbalist, like already being established in my herbal career, when they said, oh, wait, some nerves can regrow. And it was like this huge discovery.

Ryn (01:04:13):
Yeah. And it was like provisional and like only this one and this particular circumstance. And like since then there’s been evidence of regeneration in damaged nerves all over the body, even in places where it was previously thought impossible. So, there we go. Science continues to evolve. We try to keep up. And sometimes really good news happens that way.

Katja (01:04:34):
Yeah. And maybe, you know, maybe you can’t regrow every single thing back the perfect way, but that’s true regardless, right? That’s part of being human. Not everything will be perfect. But hey, I will take whatever nerve regrowth stimulation I can get my hands on for sure.

Ryn (01:04:53):
Yeah. So this has been demonstrated in a couple of different contexts, including nerves that have like become diseased and they’re still there. They weren’t like physically damaged or whatever, but they’re breaking down. They’re losing healthy function. Think of a disease condition like multiple sclerosis, right? The nerves are damaged. Their myelin sheath is degraded. They’re not functioning well. So it’s been shown to protect and to regenerate nerves there. But also we give our thanks to some rats who proved for us that lion’s mane can increase neuro-regeneration after a crush injury.

Katja (01:05:35):
You know, enough crush injuries happen by mistake that we don’t need to create crush injuries in animals to study this stuff, but, okay.

Ryn (01:05:46):
Yeah. I only highlight this to say that it is true that there can both be physical trauma – the nerve got broken, it got squashed, it got sliced, it got whatever – or a kind of disease process break down. In both cases lion’s mane has been showing capacity to regenerate. There was a really nice summary paper from 2013 that I’ll include in the show notes for everyone. And it’s not just about lion’s mane, but about other medicinal mushrooms as well. I got really excited when I found this for a couple of reasons. One was because it gives a pretty good overlay and has a ton of references to other papers that show this capacity of lion’s mane and I think proved that really conclusively. But I was especially excited, because they were also looking for similar activity from other medicinal mushrooms, including reishi and including maitake, which we’ve discussed here today and a few others that we’re not talking about right now. But they noted that those two had neurite outgrowth and neuronal health benefits as well. And there was a study where they were looking at one particular measurable thing that you could trace, that you could look at, to measure the degree of this nerve regeneration activity. And to my surprise, it was basically the same with shiitake, I’m sorry, with lion’s mane, with reishi, with maitake, with cordyceps and a couple of others. So again, that speaks to me that we’ve been really focused, like, all right, we want to do some nerve regeneration. Got to get the lion’s mane. That’s the one that will do it. And in fact maybe the reishi can help out there. Maybe maitake can do it, cordyceps if you’re into that.

Katja (01:07:36):
Yeah. Especially that’s helpful because it is easier to find maitake than lion’s mane, especially if you want to eat it fresh.

Ryn (01:07:47):
Yeah. And this same paper…

Katja (01:07:48):
Like fresh but cooked.

New Speaker (01:07:48):
indicated that eating the mushrooms – they say fresh here, but they really mean that you’ve cooked it at least a little bit – that that may be the best option for how to take them. And that some forms of processing like grinding or drying or making into a capsule or whatever actually reduces this capacity to regenerate nerve tissue. So ideally we would all have like a, you know, a forest to wander into, and a grove of lion’s mane pluck from for tonight’s dinner. And that would be great. Until we achieve that utopia, it is fantastic if you have like a farmer’s market with a mushroom grower. Many of them…

Katja (01:08:27):
That’s becoming more common, yeah. Support your local mushroom farmers. Yeah.

Ryn (01:08:32):
Yeah. So, if you can get it from there or if your market is amazing enough to have some fresh lion’s mane mushrooms sometimes. If not, don’t worry. The extracts and the preparations and capsules and things, they do work. And we have some direct experience with that.

Katja (01:08:48):
Well, you know, I also though I do notice that when I am more stressed out, our meal shifts more and more towards the mushroom end of the spectrum.

Ryn (01:08:59):
Oh yeah. This week has had a

Katja (01:09:01):
a lot of mushrooms.

Ryn (01:09:01):
We had this bag of mushrooms like that big and it’s gone.

Katja (01:09:05):
Last night for dinner I was like, I really just want mushrooms. And I made a pan of almost all mushrooms and a very small amount of everything else.

Ryn (01:09:18):
A little bit of lamb, a little bit of roots.

Katja (01:09:18):
Yeah, and mostly just mushrooms. And that and some mashed potatoes and I was like, this is dinner. I don’t know.

Ryn (01:09:26):
It was great. It was super healthy. Yeah. But I mean, you know, so Katja doesn’t mind me saying this. You’ve had a diagnosis in your life for multiple sclerosis.

Katja (01:09:36):
Right. When I was 29, I was diagnosed with MS. But I was pregnant at the time and then I was nursing. So I never was medicated, because that wasn’t possible while I was pregnant and nursing. And during that time I figured out how to manage it without medication and have never yet needed to turn to medication, because the methods that I have developed to manage it are still sustaining me. And one of them is all of the mushrooms. And I will tell you, there have been times when our budget has been very, very tight, and I have never compromised on mushrooms. Like I have always had a separate budget item for mushrooms. Specifically maitake. That has been the one that I have, like, if I can’t do anything else, I will buy maitake mushrooms. Because also we were lucky in our area you can get fresh maitake mushrooms at the grocery store. And they’re costly. So when you go, you might see like sometimes you can get them for $6 a pound and sometimes it might be 11 or 12. But the thing is that a pound of mushrooms is actually a lot of mushrooms. So it looks really expensive. But then when you see what you get for that much money, you’re like, oh, okay, actually that’s not so bad. But it has been a huge part of keeping my body functioning.

Ryn (01:10:59):
Yeah. I was thinking of the last time that you got glutened, which was now several years ago. And it was a total accident. And it was one of those times where something we thought was safe, turned out not to be.

Katja (01:11:14):
And even I had only had a tiny little bite of it, and it was enough to, yeah.

Ryn (01:11:17):
But that was the last time that you lost some of your arm function, some of your nerve activity in the hands and arms. And I remember you trying lion’s mane. Like, I don’t know. I’ll give it a shot. Doing all the stuff you normally do, this is one of the first times that you had worked with it intensively. And it really did seem to turn it around a little bit.

Katja (01:11:34):
It really did. That had been the first time that I…I had discovered lion’s mane before that incident, but after I was mostly symptom-free. And so that was kind of the first opportunity to really see the impact that it had. And it was very, very impressive. But the flip side of that is maitake is what I relied on before I found lion’s mane. And that also has been very impressive. So, yeah. Even though I didn’t yet have the data, because this particular paper you’re referencing was 2013 and my diagnosis was in 2003, 2002, the end of 2002. So there was a long period of time there where I was working with maitake, because I was feeling the effects in my body. But not because I had actual hard science around nerve growth factor. Because I think at that point that’s really close to when we even were talking about nerve growth factor in sort of like citizen science. So those things were not yet established.

Ryn (01:12:46):
Yeah.

Katja (01:12:48):
Anyway, mushrooms, they they matter.

Ryn (01:12:51):
Yeah. So again, lion’s mane, we do like to, if you get it fresh just chop it up. Put it in food, and eat it. Elsewise, know there are good capsules. There are good supplement versions of it. We’re fond of the ones from Host Defense. They are quite expensive, but they are quite effective. So, that’s fair, I’d say.

Katja (01:13:12):
You know, if I have to have a portable mushroom extract, the one that I like best is from Herbal Revolution. And I just happened to have some on the table here, but.

Ryn (01:13:24):
That’s true.

Katja (01:13:25):
That’s Kathi Langelier in Maine, and she makes a really good mushroom extract. There are some other folks who also make a really good one. But this is the one that I typically turn to.

Ryn (01:13:36):
That’s so good.

Katja (01:13:36):
Yeah. It’s really good.

Ryn (01:13:37):
Herbal Revolution. Kathi, she just wrote a book with recipes.

Katja (01:13:41):
Yes. I’m very excited about it.

Ryn (01:13:42):
I don’t know if this one is in there, but let’s cross our fingers. But I think it’s going to be called Herbal Revolution.

Katja (01:13:49):
I saw the cover and I can’t remember.

Ryn (01:13:50):
I’ll dig it up. I’ll put it in the show notes, at least the announcement anyway. While we’re on the topic of books, here’s one I wanted to just kind of show to everybody. If you’re interested in medicinal mushrooms, then you should find out about Radical Mycology.

Katja (01:14:05):
It is the definitive tome of enormity. Yes.

Ryn (01:14:11):
So this is by Peter McCoy and a number of other contributors put in there as well. This book is bigger than Medicinal Applications of Mushrooms. I think Peter’s goal with this book was to open up all of our eyes to the beauty and wonder of the fungal kingdom that’s been here the whole time. So it’s a really fantastic book. And one of the things I like about it the most is that a lot of it is dedicated to making powerful, but inexpensive mushroom preparations at home. Like how to grow a Mason jar full of like potent mycelium on your kitchen counter.

Katja (01:14:49):
Right? Like you don’t need to have a clean room and the like booties that you put on your shoes and all kinds of stuff. He really is talking about how to make mushroom growing accessible to really to everybody at home.

Ryn (01:15:08):
Yeah. So, I think that’s pretty fantastic. And there is also a ton of great medicinal evidence and other stuff in here all about it. So yeah. Radical Mycology. Check that one out. Cool. Well, I think that’s about it for us for today. Anything else to add or…

Katja (01:15:26):
I love mushrooms and I want to eat them right now.

Ryn (01:15:30):
Yeah. It’s about lunchtime. We can do that. All right, everybody. So thanks for listening today. We’ll be back next week with some more Holistic Herbalism podcasts for you. Until then take care of yourselves. Take care of each other. Drink some tea.

Katja (01:15:43):
Drink some tea, eat some mushrooms. We’ll see you then.

Ryn (01:15:50):
All right. Bye.

Katja (01:15:50):
Bye-bye.

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