[00:00] Introduction/Kimera Koffee
[01:51] Athletic Grains
[04:30] Jeff Chilton
[07:45] What Is It That Jeff Does
[11:54] How Jeff Would Use Medicinal Mushrooms
[16:51] Using Hot Water and Alcohol Extractions
[21:24] Harvesting Mushrooms
[26:39] Collecting Reishi Spores
[28:58] Testing The Efficacy Of The Mushroom.
[38:32] How To Tell How The Mushroom Was Grown
[43:08] Gluten In Mushrooms Grown On Grain
[46:59] Should Some People Not Consume Mushrooms
[50:05] Psychedelic Mushrooms
[56:28] Good Mushroom To Start Out With For Sports Performance
[1:02:54] End of Podcast
Ben: In today's episode of The Ben Greenfield Fitness Show, we're going to be talking about mushrooms. But before we talk about mushrooms, I want to tell you about something else. Coffee. And not just any coffee, Kimera Koffee, which is high-altitude premium coffee infused with nootropics. So they get this stuff deep in the heart of the Dominican Republic. And once they harvest it, they take their beans, they wet process them, which means they’re processed for premium conservation, they pass this cherry pulp, which is where the coffee comes from through these biodigesters that are 200 cubic meters large, and they're infused with healthy bacteria. These tanks eliminate the waste to create methane that's used to power the facility. So the entire coffee plantation and coffee-making process prevent soil erosion, maintains perfect pH balance, maintains soil nutrition, and basically they're taking care of the environment. As you may have heard before on the Ben Greenfield Fitness Show, they then take this fantastic delicious coffee and they throw every single compound in it that they can to make your brain fire even faster. Alpha-GPC, taurine, l-thenanine, and DMAE. So you can get your hands on this potent stuff over a KimeraKoffee.com, KIMERAKOFFEE.com. If you are lucky enough to be listening to this podcast when it comes out in or around Black Friday, then when you use the code BEN10, you'll get a 20% discount. Not a 10% discount, a 20% discount. That's good until November 30th. November 30th.
This podcast is also brought to you by Athletic Greens. You can check out Athletic Greens over at AthleticGreens.com/Ben. And when you go there, you get 50% off of this cocktail. Now when I say cocktail, I'm not talking about alcohol. This is a superfood cocktail. They've got the antioxidant equivalent shoved into this stuff of 12 servings of fruits and vegetables in every single tiny packet, which means you're basically consuming a salad plus much, much more every single time you pop open one of these nutrient dense packets. They've got more than 70 whole food ingredients, they've got probiotics enzymes, co-factors, you name it. Everything you need for digestion and for nutrient absorption is already in the packet. You can throw it in your bag, you could travel with it, put it in a smoothie, up to you. So AthleticGreens.com/Ben is where you can get that stuff. And now let's jump into today's episode about lies and mushrooms.
In this episode of The Ben Greenfield Fitness Show:
“For the first time ever in the last five years, that cordyceps now has been brought into cultivation, so we're now cultivating these cordyceps' fruiting bodies. In China, they're being cultivated organically certified…” “Triterpenoids primarily occur in reishi and chaga. So these two fungi definitely need the alcohol to secure all of those triterpenoids from them.” “That chaga actually draws that betulin out and turns it into what's called that betulinic acid.”
He’s an expert in human performance and nutrition, voted America’s top personal trainer and one of the globe’s most influential people in health and fitness. His show provides you with everything you need to optimize physical and mental performance. He is Ben Greenfield. “Power, speed, mobility, balance – whatever it is for you that’s the natural movement, get out there! When you look at all the studies done… studies that have shown the greatest efficacy…” All the information you need in one place, right here, right now, on the Ben Greenfield Fitness podcast.
Ben: Hey, folks. It's Ben Greenfield, and last year I had a friend, my friend's name is Skye Chilton, and he visited my house. And one night while he was over, he sat down at my kitchen table and he spread out this big array of colorful mushrooms that he happened to have with him because he travels with mushrooms, I guess. And one of those was cordyceps, which is actually a mushroom I've talked about before on the show. It's pretty well-known for its athletic performance enhancing capabilities, I recently tweeted a study about how chronic loading with cordyceps on a daily basis can help with the activation of lung tissue and VO2Max. Anyways, he told me to taste it.
So he handed me this standard commercial cordyceps extract, and it was tasteless, and it was flavorless, and it kind of had this bland brownish color, and I really didn't care for it. And then he took out this different cordyceps, and it was obviously different blend. It was kind of rich, it had a reddish brown color. And when I tasted, it had this kind of powerful, potent, almost medicinal taste, and I felt it almost immediately, like kind of a surge of energy right after I tasted it.
So the difference between these two different mushroom extracts was pretty noticeable, and palatable, and quite significant. So it got me wondering about what makes one mushroom extract different from another, and whether medicinal mushrooms have different benefits depending on how they're grown, what stage they're harvested in, how they're sourced, how you actually use mushrooms. So it turns out that Skye's dad, Jeff, has actually written an entire book on this. It's called “The Mushroom Cultivator”. And Skye gave me this book as well. The subtitle is “A Practical Guide to Growing Mushrooms at Home”. And I read it, and it really is probably the most comprehensive guide on mushrooms, particularly medicinal mushrooms, that I've ever read.
So Jeff, in the 1980's, actually operated a commercial mushroom spawn laboratory. And then in 1989, he started one of the first medicinal mushroom businesses in North America. And now he's got this company called Nammex, and they sell organic mushroom extracts to nutritional supplement businesses in the US, and Canada, and around the world. And Jeff is here on the call with me to talk about, of all things, you guessed it, mushrooms. So, Jeff, welcome to the show.
Jeff: Hey, Ben. Great to be here. Thank you very much for having me on the show.
Ben: Yeah. It's a pleasure. And a few weeks ago, I had this guy who was a Chinese herbal formulator on the show, and one of the first things I asked him was kind of what he does because I was trying to wrap my head around what an herbal formulator does. I'm curious. In your case, being a guy who used to operate a mushroom spawn laboratory, which sounds like something out of a science fiction novel, and now creates these mushroom extracts, what is it that you're actually doing on a daily basis? I imagine it goes above and beyond like walking around the forest with a mesh bag, chopping mushrooms off of trees.
Jeff: Oh yeah. And I have done a lot of that. Believe me, that's something that I started doing way back in the 60's. But in 1973, I went to work on a commercial mushroom farm here in Washington State. It was actually the only mushroom farm here. I went to work there at '73, I was there for 10 years. And on this farm, we grew over 2 million pounds of mushrooms every year, and I just loved every bit of it, and I was just soaking up how to do this. And after a few years, I became the production manager of this farm. And the coolest thing about growing mushrooms is that it's a crop that is inside in rooms. And so, what we were doing there is we were putting in four crops every week. Now think about that for a second because if you can see four crops a week times 50 weeks, you're seeing 200 crops of something a year. Think of how many farmers, how many crops they see in a lifetime. I'm seeing 200 crops of mushrooms every year. So over the course of the 10 years that I worked there, I saw thousands of mushroom crops.
Ben: What's a crop, exactly? It that like a different style of mushrooms or is it just like a new growth?
Doc: Well, no. What I mean by a crop is actually, let's say you plant your seed in the spring and you harvest it in the fall, so that's a crop of wheat, or tomatoes, or whatever. So essentially, let's just call it a batch of mushrooms. One crop that we're putting in, we're putting four of these in every week. So I have a very, very deep knowledge of how mushrooms grow, how to produce the spawn, which is the seed to grow these mushrooms. So that 10 years, my intimacy with mushrooms was like, “Hey, I lived with mushrooms.” And then at the end of that 10 years, in 1983, was when I wrote the book, “The Mushroom Cultivator”. And at that time, a lot of people were interested in wild mushrooms, and going out there and finding them. But for the first time, there was a comprehensive book that actually had taught people how to grow mushrooms at home in either small rooms, or we had in the book how to build a grow room, how to make spawn, how do you get a mushroom culture. So that book was pretty seminal.
And then during this period, I also realized that there's this other side of mushrooms besides being a good food. There's this other side of mushrooms, they've been used for thousands of years as a medicine in traditional Chinese medicine. And so with that knowledge, I realized that, “Okay, I could be a mushroom farmer so to speak.” But problem with being any kind of a farmer is getting that crop to market before it goes over. Whereas with medicinal mushrooms, I could produce and manufacture medicinal mushrooms and it would be a dry product that could sit on the shelf. And to me, that was very attractive. Plus I was now involved in mushrooms, not just as food, but as a medicine. And the tradition of that is very long, and something that I embraced fully, and just started to learn more and more about that.
Ben: Yeah. And that's what I want to actually talk a little bit about today. I mean I'm as big a fan of like a nice portobello mushroom, grilled, and served like a burger as the next guy, but I want to ask you about medicinal mushrooms particularly. Well first of all, let me ask you this, just from like a practical standpoint. When it comes to using mushrooms, because we've mentioned things like chaga on the show before, Reishi, cordyceps like I was talking about before. For you, on any given day, being a guy who's kind of like in the mushroom industry, what would a day look like for you in which you're using medicinal mushrooms to achieve, whatever, immunity, or cognitive performance, or whatever it is you're going after?
Jeff: Well, first of all, I enjoy mushrooms as food. So I'll eat mushrooms at least two or three times a week, and the mushroom that I really love and I highly recommend to all your listeners is shiitake. I mean, I like the agaricus, which is the button mushroom that you see out there, and that was what primarily we were growing on the mushroom farm that I worked at. But shiitake's got just this amazing flavor. It is such a wonderful mushroom. And the cool thing about mushrooms is you can put 'em in anything. You can throw 'em into stir fries, you can put 'em in with your eggs, you can use them in so many different ways, and they're a really good food. So that's the first part of it.
Ben: And shiitake is also, you find that not just as a food-based mushroom, but also I see that marketed in a lot of these detoxification mushroom extracts. Is that one that would be considered like a liver detox? Is that how that's working?
Jeff: Well I wouldn't call shiitake a liver detox. That would be more something where I would say Reishi is more along those lines. But shiitake is a medicinal mushroom, absolutely. In fact, shiitake is a mushroom where they've actually developed a drug from one of the beta-glucans in shiitake. So in Japan, they have a registered drug that is manufactured from shiitake mushrooms. So we're talking about definitely absolutely a medicinal mushroom in shiitake as well. But the one that I use regularly medicinally is I use Reishi, and the way I use it and what I really like to do is I put Reishi in my coffee in the morning.
Ben: Really? That's so funny because I, every single morning, have been putting mushroom extracts into my coffees. And I vary. So I put about a teaspoon, sometimes I use cordyceps, sometimes I use Reishi, sometimes I use shiitake. Which one did you say you're putting in your coffee in the morning?
Jeff: I put in Reishi, and let me tell you something about that too. Because I see a lot of products out there that are, what they call themselves Reishi coffees. And, okay, that's fine. But one of the things to remember about Reishi is Reishi is bitter. So if you have a Reishi product, be sure and taste it and make sure that there's a strong bitter flavor there. And for me, I just drink my coffee black. So bitter is, it's not the bitter that I dislike. I like the flavor of just…
Ben: I'm right there with you.
Jeff: So Ben, when you add a little bit of this bitter Reishi in there, it gives it another bitter aspect that I find very pleasant. And so that's the way I use it. And I put maybe a quarter to half a teaspoon in my coffee in the morning in my first cup, and it's just like, “Man, that's great.” And to me, that's how I use it.
Ben: Can you damage the mushroom extract if the coffee is too hot? For example, if you were to boil coffee over the stove top or reheat a cup of coffee and the mushroom extract was still in there, do you need to be careful with the heat to which these are exposed?
Jeff: No. Absolutely not. Because the compounds in there are very stable with heat. In fact, all of our extracts are actually made with heat. They're hot water extracted. In the case of Reishi, it's hot water and alcohol that we use to extract them. So heat does not damage the polysaccharides. In fact, heat's very good because the way mushrooms are made is that these important compounds in there and in the cell walls, and those cell walls have to be broken down to a certain degree. There's a compound in mushrooms called chitin, and it's a structural compound, it occurs in about 5 to 8% of it but it helps that mushroom, so-to-speak, stand up. So it's structural part of the cell wall of the mushroom. So heat helps to break down that chitin and make that mushroom more bioavailable. So we can get at those beta-glucans better by actually doing a hot water extraction or hot water, alcohol extraction.
Ben: Okay. That's interesting. I was recently over in Finland and I found a giant chunk of chaga. Almost the size of a basketball growing on the side of the tree. And I took out a pocket knife, and cut off a big chunk of it, and actually brought it back with me. And last week I did a hot water extraction with it, and then I took all the leftover chunks of chaga that I had after the hot water extraction, I put those in alcohol. It's sitting in a little jar of vodka up in my pantry right now for the second part, the alcoholic extraction. But I'm curious if you can get into why, from a chemical standpoint, if you're using medicinal mushrooms, you can and should use the hot water and then also alcohol. Like what are the different compounds that you're getting by doing two different extractions?
Jeff: Well, primarily with the water extraction, that's where you're getting the beta-glucans. And the beta-glucans are the absolute key compound in every single medicinal mushroom. That's what we're looking to get from, that's what makes these mushrooms medicinal. And during the last 50 years, there has been a tremendous body of scientific research that has established beta-glucans as the active compounds in medicinal mushrooms. And the thing is that these are compounds in all mushrooms, but the beta-glucan itself can be different so that different mushrooms are more medicinal than others. I mean even though every mushroom would have beta-glucans, only specific ones are highly medicinal and that's due to the fact that there's a certain amount of branching on this beta-glucan. It's a really interesting molecule and compound. But the branching in the beta-glucan is what makes the difference between highly active shiitake and, let's say, some other, like a chanterelle that really doesn't have the same level of medicinal activity that the shiitake has.
Ben: Okay. So the hot water is basically extracting the beta-glucans?
Jeff: Absolutely. It's extracting the beta-glucans, and there's a number of different compounds that occur in smaller amounts. But the way I look at it is the beta-glucan, that occurs in amounts that can actually have an effect. The thing a lot of times is people will quote research saying, “Oh, there's this compound in there, that compound, and it does this and that in some kind of an in vitro, or in vivo test,” but there's not enough in there when somebody is taking 500 to say, 1,000 milligrams, or not enough to some of these obscure compounds to really do any good although people love to quote the research and say, “Oh, it's active against this. It's active against that.” Well, I think it's more important to stick with the compounds that occur in significant amounts and that you can take enough of that particular mushroom to actually have that be beneficial to you.
Ben: Okay. Got it now. Now then once you get the beta-glucans, you're getting a lot of like the immune supporting, and I know that there are some studies and you talk about these in your book, I believe, about the cancer fighting properties of beta-glucans. What do you get from the alcohol part of the extraction?
Jeff: Well here's the thing, there's certain mushrooms that have compounds in them that although those compounds will come out with a hot water extraction, that they won't come out completely. So then what happens is if you just do a water extraction, you'll be leaving a lot of these important compounds behind. A majority of those compounds are what are called triterpenoids. And triterpenoids primarily occur in Reishi and chaga. So these two fungi definitely need the alcohol to secure all of those triterpenoids from them. And so that's where the alcohol comes in. And one of the things is that you have an extract is made right of the bat with simply alcohol, let's say. Well you lose a lot of polysaccharides in that mushroom fiber. So a lot of extracts, if they need alcohol, they'll extract it first with water, and then they'll come back and extract it with the alcohol, and then combine them. And so that's what's really important for Reishi and for chaga, and those compounds are what make those two mushrooms so unique. And that's why for me, if I were to take any one mushroom, I would certainly be taking the Reishi, and the thing with the Reishi, it's got thousands of years of history behind it. And it's so cool because when I'm traveling to China, Reishi is in all sorts of Chinese art. It's a longevity symbol in China. And they have some really cool longevity symbols over there like, interestingly enough a peach and a deer with its antlers. But Reishi is one of their primary longevity symbols.
Ben: Interesting. So when you're actually using these different mushrooms, like whether it's cordyceps, or Reishi, or whatever, do you harvest them at different stages of growth to get different benefits or different effects from them?
Jeff: Well, not per se. But let me just tell you a little bit about how it works with these organisms. Because when we talk about a mushroom, for example, the mushroom is just one stage of this organism, and the organism's actually considered a basidiomycete, and a basidiomycete organism which is the mushroom, sort of all these different mushrooms, there are basidiomycetes, it starts out as a spore. Mushrooms don't have seeds, they have spores. So it starts out as a spore, the spore germinates and it germinates a very thin filament. And when multiple spores germinate, those filaments come together in a network, and that network of filaments from those spores is called mycelium. And mycelium is actually what you would call the vegetative body of this organism, and the mycelium is something, Ben, where we don't usually see it. Because we're out there walking around, this mycelium is actually in the ground, it's in a piece of wood, we don't notice it so much. What we notice is that…
Ben: Like how much? When you say it's in the ground, I mean are we talking about something like the movie Avatar where it's just like everywhere growing like a fiber network? Or is it more like moss where if you're walking in a forest, there's little patches here and there?
Jeff: Well, I would say, generally speaking, mycelium is kind of like almost everywhere because fungi are everywhere. But when you're walking in a forest, think about it as, “Okay, we've got tree roots everywhere too. So there are root systems of trees, there are bacterial colonies, there's mycelial colonies. And remember that in a forest, we'll have multiple species of mushroom in there, multiple species of this basidiomycete organism that will be growing. So there will be colonies of mycelium for a specific species. And those colonies are in different locations depending on the food source, because different mushrooms will decompose different types of organic matter. And especially here in the Pacific Northwest, we have a lot of wood. We have forests, it's damp. We have a lot of mushrooms popping up everywhere. So we've got multiple species, and they're all out there growing. And what happens is they will grow, this mycelium network will continue to grow until it runs out of food, until it goes, “Wow. This has been a great meal here on this chunk of wood, but now this wood it has reached a point where I've sucked all the nutrients out.”
And at that point, somebody else jumps in and takes, it could be another fungus or it could actually be bacteria. In fact this is a microbial network with all sorts of organisms that are in on this feast. Because what they're doing is they're breaking down all this organic matter for us, which then feeds the continuation of all these plants, trees, what have you. So that mycelium network is important. And actually in China, they will take that mycelium, and what we can do with that is we can actually take a mushroom, or we can grab a piece of that mycelium, we can bring it into the lab, we can grow it out on a petri dish, and then from that mycelial culture that we make, we can then generate spawn, which is kind of like the seed to grow mushrooms, and then we can grow mushrooms from that chunk of mycelium that we have grabbed out there. Either from a tissue culture from the mushroom or from some mycelium that maybe we've gotten cleaned up a little bit from the forest. And the way to think about that mycelium, Ben, is really that's the body of this fungal organism, and the mushroom is what we call the fruiting body. It's almost like you think of a plant that has roots, and then it puts up the actual plant, but the roots are down there, it puts up the plant, and the plant produces tomatoes, or a vegetable, or something like that.
Ben: Okay. So the root would be the mycelium.
Ben: And then the actual tree with like the leaves, and the stalks, and everything would be the, would that be considered the spore?
Jeff: No. What then comes up would be the mushroom. Then the mushroom…
Ben: Okay. Okay. I was under the impression like the fruit would be the mushroom. But what about like the sticks and everything leading up to fruit?
Jeff: The fruit is, you could call the mushroom the fruit. Because that’s the fruiting body, and a function of that mushroom other than to provide us with some nice tasty food, is to produce spores. So the mushroom comes up, it produces spores, the spores drop, off they go on the wind, and then the whole cycle starts all over again.
Ben: Okay. So the spores are just basically like seeds.
Jeff: That's exactly right. And the cool thing was is that Skye and I went to China last year, and I don't know if he showed you the slide show that we put together, but we went to a number of Reishi farms over there. And one of the things they're doing now is they're collecting Reishi spores.
Jeff: They're collecting Reishi spores, and a single mushroom will produce billions of spores.
Ben: How do you collect them?
Jeff: Well what they did is that when the mushroom got up and was mature, they put a paper shroud around it with a plastic bag underneath it, and the spores dropped straight down rather than being open and flying off into the air, the mushrooms drop straight down into that bag. And I'm telling you, from one mushroom, they were collecting as much as a pound of spores. And spores…
Ben: Interesting. So what do you do with the spore?
Jeff: Well in China, what's happened over the last 15 years is that they've done studies where they have demonstrated that there's some actual medicinal value to the spores. In fact, they have products over there called cracked spores. And spores, Ben, spores have this tough coating around them that when we eat a spore from a mushroom, it just goes right through us. We can't digest, we can't break it down. It goes right through us. So what they've done is they've cracked the shell of the spore, and they do it with some kind of sonic waves, they crack the shell, and then they claim that it's medicinal, and they've done a number of research studies that show it has triterpenes, that show it has beta-glucans. Personally, I'm not sure whether I'm ready to accept that yet. But you know what happens sometimes. Business gets involved and they put out these products.
Ben: Somebody wants to sell some spores.
Jeff: Exactly. And the funny thing is now those spores are, those again [0:28:11] ______ or Reishi spores are worth more than the mushroom.
Ben: So that kind of leads me to something I want to ask you about, like when you're talking about whether or not something works. Like I mentioned the guy, this guy's name was Roger Drummer. I had him on and we were talking about herbal extracts.
Jeff: I know Roger.
Ben: Oh, you know Roger? Okay, cool. That's interesting. Small world. Well Roger was talking about like muscle testing, and kinesio testing, and looking at like areas of heat patches in the body to see how a certain organ system was being affected by extracts. So he was looking at more like the body effects. With something like medicinal mushrooms, what is your preferred method of testing for or identifying the efficacy of the mushroom?
Jeff: Well here's the thing is as you know, there are so many different products out there. When somebody walks into a store and tries to figure it out, you see like 15 different Reishi products, or all of these different mushroom products, and you're like, “What brand? What is what?” And for me, that's always been something that's been very important in terms of how do I identify the active compounds in the products that I'm selling to where I can tell my customers that like, “Look, here we've got the active compounds. Are they going to tell you how much of those compounds we've got in here?” So what I do is I have a tests that I can do. And I just recently published a white paper, and in this white paper, using three different tests, I was able to find, for one, the content of beta-glucans, what is the percentage of beta-glucans in these products, is there starch in these products. We've been testing triterpenes now for 20 years, so I've got 20 years worth of triterpene testing that we've done using a high performance liquid chromatography. And then we have another test for ergosterol, which is the primary sterol in mushrooms. All mushrooms have it. It's just like we have cholesterol, mushrooms have ergosterol. Ergosterol is really cool because ergosterol in mushrooms, when you expose mushrooms to a UV light, that ergosterol turns into vitamin D, which is…
Ben: Yeah. I've heard about that, that you can basically take mushrooms, and you can put them under the sun, and get vitamin D in them, and then eat the mushrooms and have vitamin D the same way as you would by eating liver, or taking a vitamin D supplement, or something like that.
Jeff: That's absolutely right. But here's the thing that came out of the research that I just recently did, and the thing about this, I can sit here and I can talk about all this different research out there that was done by other people, the tests, whether they were in vivo, where they're using animals, rats, or in test tubes. There's a ton of that kind of research out there. I read it all the time, you do too, but what I'm talking about is we did the actual testing. I contracted with laboratories to test 95 different products for beta-glucans, and we're talking about dried mushrooms as a kind of a control, talking about my mushroom extraction, we're talking about products out there that we bought in the marketplace that are basically mycelium grown on grain. And this is a really interesting phenomena because there's lots of products out there right now that are this mycelium on grain. And the grain, at the end of the process, is not separated from the mycelium. So you end up with grain-mycelium mixture. And what we found was that primarily these mycelium on grain products were mostly starch from the grains. So there was a lot of residual grain in there and very low in beta-glucans. And this was the exact opposite of what a mushroom is. A mushroom is high in beta-glucan and mushrooms have next to no starch in them. So it was very easy to look at these two products and go, “Well, there's something really wrong here with these mycelium on grain products,” because there's so much starch in them. And the starch ended up, it was coming from all the residual grain in the products.
Then when we tested these products for ergosterol, and ergosterol again, being the key sterol in mushrooms, and interestingly enough, ergosterol testing is used by the grain industry to test for fungal contamination. And they've been doing that for 50 years. So when you're a big grain producer, you want to make sure there's not this fungus in there that, I mean there are some fungi that produce aflatoxins. You don't want that in your grain. So they've been testing grain for 50 years for ergosterol just to see the amount of fungal contamination. We did the same with our mushrooms, with the extracts, and with these mycelium on grain products, and what we found was these mycelium on grain products have very low ergosterol content. I mean sometimes 1/100 of the amount that is in a mushroom.
Ben: And that's because they're grown on grain?
Jeff: Well, yes. And what it is is…
Ben: Instead of being grown on what?
Jeff: Well the thing about it is, for example in China, they will grow mycelium, but they will grow it in a tank of liquid. It's called fermentation technology, it's liquid culture. So at the end of that process, after they have grown the mycelium, they separate the mycelium out and they have pure mycelium. But what's happening with these mycelium on grain products is they grow the mycelium on the grain, but then they don't separate it from the grain. So the grain is still part of that product. And so think about it in terms of like you're growing a plant, and that plant's sitting on the ground, and you harvest the plant, but you take all the dirt and everything with it, and sell that as part of your product.
Jeff: So the more of that grain that was in it, what it showed us essentially was that the grain was very dominant in that product, and there was much more of that grain in there then there was actual fungal matter. And here's the problem, the problem is that if you go into the marketplace, these products that are mycelium on grain are actually called mushrooms.
Ben: Interesting. And you're supposed to grow them on what, if you're not growing them on grain?
Jeff: Well, for example, just as an example that you can relate to right now, you went out there and you harvested that chaga off that tree, right? Okay. Chaga, it grows naturally on a tree. Reishi grows naturally on wood. So a lot of these mushrooms grow naturally on wood. If I want to cultivate a Reishi mushroom, I will inoculate a log, a cut log, and this is how they do it, they take a log and they cut it into pieces that are about a foot long and maybe six inches in diameter, they inoculate it, the mycelium runs out, colonizes that log, then they put it in the ground, cover it with earth, and the next thing you know, this mushroom comes right up. It's growing off that wood like it would in its natural environment. And here's the thing, and this is the most interesting part about it, Ben, because in order for that mushroom to produce these triterpenes, these secondary compounds, these secondary metabolites it has to have precursors from the wood.
Ben: Really? Like from the actual bark?
Jeff: Well here's what's interesting is in that birch tree, there are compounds called betulin. And that chaga actually draws that betulin out and turns it into what's called betulinic acid. And that's one of the compounds in there, that's one of the triterpenes. And then there's another one, which is in my opinion more important, called inotodiol. You can't have inotodiol unless you've got the precursors. So when we test mycelium on grain, for example, this grain is an unnatural substrate. It doesn't have precursors. The wood has all the precursors. So when we test Reishi, when we test chaga, there are no triterpenes in there. Reishi can have 4 to 12% triterpenes, but in this Reishi mycelium on grain, there are no triterpenes. We get, in our HPLC chromatograms where you're supposed to have peaks there that demonstrate we've got these triterpenes, there are no peaks.
Jeff: And so I guess what I'm saying is what we've discovered and what we've found, and I could probably tell you this without testing, is that this mycelium, sure, it will produce beta-glucans, and you can get beta-glucans from mycelium, but if the mycelium you're taking has got all of this grain substrate in there, you're not getting hardly any beta-glucans. Most of the testing showed the beta-glucans on average of somewhere around 5%, when the mushroom from that mycelium, whatever the species was, would be anywhere from 30 to 50% beta-glucan. But when this mycelium was just growing on grain, it was somewhere around 5% on average of beta-glucan. In fact, some of these products, like some of the cordyceps products were as low as 1% beta-glucan and as high as 60% [0:37:52] ______.
Ben: So in the supplement industry, there are things that you can read on the bottle label? Like NSF Certified for Sport, or Certified Good Manufacturing Practices Facility, like the CGMP label? You can see certain things that tell you that a supplement, like a capsule-based supplement for example, is good, or is bad, or has in it what it claims have in it. For mushroom extracts, like if I were to buy a pouch or packet of mushroom extracts, they seem to get more popular, like say from Whole Foods. Is there something I can look for that will tell me whether it was grown on grain versus whether it was grown on more like a natural thing like a tree?
Jeff: Well this is a really interesting point because it's very, very difficult to know. But I'll give you one main indicator where it's a complete giveaway. If that mushroom product was manufactured, if they say “made in the USA”, you can be absolutely certain that that is mycelium on grain. And I'll tell you why. It's just simple economics. If I, as a mushroom grower, if I grow shiitake mushrooms and I take it to the market, fresh shiitake in the US last year, the grower got $3.50 a pound for fresh shiitake. He's doing okay. He's selling it out there, he's selling it to the supermarket, and then they're charging twice that or something. Okay, $3.50 a pound is what is getting. If you dry that out, a mushroom is 90% water. So you dry it out, $3.50 times 10, now you've got to get $35 for that pound of dried mushrooms. And at that price, nobody is going to purchase that and sell it as a supplement because they can't make money doing it. And that's the basic problem. And that's why, for example, all of the mushrooms that I sell are grown in China. And the thing about it is I realized that that…
Ben: That's funny. That was one of the same things Roger said when I interviewed him. Like most of the herbs that he sells are from China.
Jeff: Well, yes. And here's the key, the key is you can bash China all you want, but there are some things you can't get anywhere else. And so what I did was I went there and I travelled there all through the 90's, in 1997 I organized the first mushroom certification workshop for organic production. I brought OCIA from the US over to conduct this workshop. We had 24 mushroom growers there, and three or four years later we had organic mushrooms being grown in China. And today, the growers and the farms that I work with are all organically certified, and I'm not talking about Chinese certifiers. I'm talking about certifiers from Europe, European high-quality, well-known European certifiers are over there.
So the point is, for me, it's like you can either work with them, or you can go, “Okay, we can't get actual mushroom extraction. Now we have to have this.” I mean people producing this mycelium on grain, I tell you, this is not a good, it's not mushroom, for one. All the research is primarily done on mushroom and or pure mycelium, very little research on mycelium on grain. And if it's mostly grain in the final product, well that's what you're getting. You're getting grain powder. So I chose to go over there and work with them to get a clean product, and this is something where every product that I bring in I have to test for heavy metals, we have the test for pesticides. I can't sell it unless it's passed all of these tests. So you can either work with them, and here's what's interesting. China produces 85% of the world's mushrooms. 85%.
Ben: And you can get them in China, not grown on grain like this?
Jeff: Well, again, growing them on grain, they're not growing mushrooms on grain. They're just growing mycelium on a grain.
Ben: Okay. So you buy the mycelium, then you get it, and you grow it?
Jeff: Well basically, over there essentially, people grow out the mycelium and that's called mushroom spawn. That's mushroom seed. That's what, actually mycelium on grain is originally, and it was developed in the US in the 1930s is mushroom spawn. It's essentially something that was developed to use as seed to grow mushrooms. But what they've done here because they've realized, companies have realized they can't produce mushrooms inexpensively enough to sell as supplements. They've just taken that mushroom seed, and once it's completely colonized with this mycelium, they just harvest it, grind it to a powder and then sell it. And unfortunately when they do that, they're still calling it mushroom. It's nothing of the sort.
Ben: Interesting. Okay. So when you are consuming a mushroom has grain in it, does that also mean that it has things like gluten in it?
Jeff: Well, you know what? Most of these companies that are selling these mycelium on grain products are using gluten-free grains. Some of the companies use rice, some of them use oats, but they mostly use gluten-free grains when they grow this. And my take on it is that this is not really a medicinal mushroom product. I don't really consider these products medicinal anyway because our testing has demonstrated that there's very little of the medicinal compounds in there. And one of the easy ways to do, to test that, Ben, which your listeners can do at home is grain is starch, mushrooms have minimal amounts of starch in them.
If you just go to the pharmacy and get a little bottle of iodine, and then you bring it home, and you take one of these mycelium on grain products, and this is a way you can test to see whether what you've got is one of those products, even though it says mushrooms, is take one of those capsules, take two capsules, and empty out into a bit of water, and then put a few drops of iodine in there. If it is mycelium on grain, it will be very high in starch, and that iodine reacts with starch, and it will turn black.
Ben: Really? Whereas normally would it just stay like a red color?
Jeff: If you had an actual mushroom product that was from mushroom and you did the same thing, put it in the water, whatever color that particular product was would, like I just did this last night and we had a Reishi extract 'cause I was showing it to friends, and the Reishi extract was kind of brown, and then you drop the iodine in there, it doesn't change color. You don't see any color change. If it's a white sort of power, which some of them are, maybe it would turn a little bit the color of the iodine. But if there's starch in there, it turns black, black, black. And it's interesting 'cause last night we took actually a box of starch and we put that in some water, then we took a product that I knew was absolutely, even though it said mushroom complex on it, I knew it was mycelium on grain. We put that in there, the starch turned black immediately, we dropped the iodine into this motion complex, it turned black immediate. Then we did some of the Reishi extract, it didn't change color at all. This is a great test. This demonstrates it.
Ben: Yeah. That's kind of cool. I didn't know about that.
Jeff: Well the other test that I encourage people to do is what I call the Reishi challenge, which is Reishi is bitter. So if you have a Reishi product, just empty it out and taste it. I've tasted these Reishi products that they claim to be Reishi, but they're actually mycelium on grain. They're sweet. They're absolutely sweet and that's because of the grain. A Reishi, you should be able to take it out of your capsule or out of whatever it is, taste it, and, man, it's bitter. It's got a great bitter flavor to it. Reishi's bitter. Take the Reishi challenge. I tell you, if you've got mushroom products that you're using out there, you think they're great, do that starch test, do the Reishi challenge if it's a Reishi product. You'll learn something right away, whether you've got a high quality product or you're looking at a lot of grain in that product.
Ben: Interesting. So are there some people that shouldn't eat mushrooms? Like are there certain conditions or certain issues? And the reason I ask this is, for example, I know that mushrooms as a food are very fermentable. They're up there with like onions, and garlic, and stuff like that. So people who have like small intestine bacterial overgrowth, or SIBO, who don't do well with eating a lot of fermented foods, mushrooms are on the list of things to avoid. They're considered like FODMAP-type of food. Are there other things to think about when it comes to mushrooms as far as some people just having, mushrooms being contraindicated for some people to actually consume?
Jeff: Well, you know what? That's interesting because as a wild mushroom hunter what we've learned over the years, and any mushroom club, for example, will tell you this: there's a certain percentage of people that are just simply allergic to mushrooms. And like most of us have, there's some foods that don't react well with a lot of us, and so some people will eat a particular mushroom that we find just fine and they'll get a gastrointestinal upset, or they'll have some type of allergic reaction to it. I know people that, I mean morels, I don't know you've eaten morels. I love morels. They're just…
Ben: They're one of the few mushrooms I can harvest for and find around here.
Jeff: Exactly. On your side of the mountains, there's lots of morels and it's a fabulous mushroom. Really tasty. And, man, when you find it, sometimes it's big and meaty. But there are people that, like sometimes within 5 to 10% the population that will eat a morel and man, it'll just give them an allergic reaction, or they'll have a stomach upset or something. So, yeah. There are people out there that need to be careful. And what I tell anybody with just about anything, and this goes for even new foods that people are eating, and especially if they're like with a friend and their friend finds mushrooms and goes, “Man, let's go and try these mushrooms,” and comes home, and he cooks up a huge pan full of mushrooms, and they sit there and they consume this, don't do it. If you're eating a mushroom for the first time, if you're taking a mushroom supplement for the first time, start out with just a little bit. See if it agrees with you and then move into it a little more.
Now if you're taking a mushroom supplement and you're talking about 500 to 1,000 milligrams, that's a little bit different than eating like a, let's just say 50 to 100 grams of fresh mushrooms or something like that. But still, I think people need to be careful, move into anything new slowly because everybody has different reactions to foods and or supplements. So I definitely counsel food, to our people to go slowly. The funny thing about mushroom clubs, Ben, is that the, I mean I think it's funny, at the end every season, like the Vancouver Micrological Society has what they call a survivor's banquet. And everybody brings a mushroom dish.
Ben: Yeah. ‘Cause they're so easy to harvest, you mean?
Jeff: Well, and the survivors banquet meaning, “Okay, how many people made it through the season without getting sick or tired.”
Jeff: It's just…
Ben: People who are eating mushrooms. Interesting. So another question I have for you is in some circles that I've been hanging out in, people are very interested in self-discovery, and they're using things like ayahuasca, for example, or taking like THC and doing float tanks. And then some people are doing like psilocybin, or hallucinogenic mushrooms. What's your take on that? And I'm also curious if you know anything about whether that's the terpenes, or the beta-glucans, or the sterols, or what it is that makes it a psychedelic mushroom psychedelic?
Jeff: Well I mean it's been known for a long time with psylocibe mushrooms that the active compound in there is psilocybin.
Ben: Does psilocybin fall into one of those categories you talked about? Like is it a terpene? Or is that just a molecule?
Jeff: No, no. It's an alkaloid of some sort. It's a very special compound. And you know what? I think it's wonderful that it's coming back. Because I'm a child of the 60's and 70's, and there was a lot of experimentation going on. In fact, one of the things that we did back then was we were out hunting for wild psilocybin mushrooms. They actually grow over here in the Seattle area, and in fact some of them grew right on the University of Washington campus. And one of the things was, ultimately when my book came out, people could actually learn to grow these things. And here's the thing that I want your listeners to know and that is back then, a lot of times people were taking tablets, or capsules of something, and really didn't know what it was that they were taking. They had no way of knowing. One of the wonderful things about psilocybin mushrooms is that now a lot of people are growing them, just like how people grow pot. A lot of people are growing them. So when you are taking mushrooms, you can look at it and you go, “Yeah. I can see that this is actually a mushroom.” And to me, that's one of the most important things if a person wants to experiment with that. And I think it's…
Ben: What do you mean you can tell it's a mushroom?
Jeff: Well I mean you can look at it and you can see, “Okay, there's a cap there. There's a stem.” Because normally when, they're sold, they’re sold as an actual mushroom. So you can look at it and it's not too hard to go out on the internet and find out what they should look like. You know you're getting the real thing. And at that point you can say, “Okay, I've got these things here.” If you have a cheap little scale, you can weigh them out and say, “Okay.” So you know what you've got, you know how much you can take, and so it's something where you have much more control over it. The worst thing possible and what happened to a lot of people was they would take something, it was way too powerful, and the next thing you know, they think they're just going to go out for a nice stroll and enjoy nature, whatever, and it overwhelms them. And the next thing you know, they're having a bad experience. Today I think you're lucky. You're very lucky that today these things, whether it be ayahuasca, whether it be psilocybin mushrooms, or whatever, there are groups, you know what you're taking generally.
Although I will say this, I'm not a big fan of people going off to South America to do something like ayahuasca. I personally think that people are better off staying closer to home. We've got things here, we've got lots of mushrooms here. People can use mushrooms, are just as good. Again though, it's kind of like a matter of finding people to do it with, being in a proper what we would call set and setting, meaning you've got a nice comfortable room or area to consume these in, somebody's taking care of you. You don't want to be the kicked back with that and have the phone ring or somebody at the door. You want it to be in a very comfortable environment, and then have a nice headspace when you start to do this. And I think it can be a very positive experience. And these days, psilocybe mushrooms and these types of plants are being used by psychiatrists, they're being used for addiction, they're being used in a lot of positive ways, and I think there's a lot of positive that can come out of it. And the other side of it here which is, I think really interesting and you and your listeners might be interested in, there's also a theme, let's say, of people that are taking these things in small doses, like small microdoses of mushrooms. Like maybe they're taking 250 milligrams, 500 milligrams a day just as a microdose and kind of just, in a sense it enhances your sense. It might make things…
Ben: You mean these psilocybin based mushrooms?
Ben: Very, very small doses?
Ben: Interesting. I didn't know that.
Jeff: Yeah. Microdosing. There's a kind of a movement out there, people that are experimenting with that, and I think that's very interesting. There are people out there that have postulated that back in prehistory, people were taking these things. And imagine if you're a hunter or something, and you're eating these, and your vision is more acute, or your hearing is more acute, which happens when you're on…
Ben: Interesting. Is there a place that people are buying these, or like same as these medicinal mushrooms, are there places you can go to get them like clean versions that you can rely on?
Jeff: You know what? I don't think we're at that point yet. We're sort of like in a brave new world here in terms of the government allowing these things. I mean, I've lived most of my life where a lot of these things were absolutely illegal and people go to jail for it . It's not like today where all of a sudden pot is legal in Washington State and Colorado and nobody's going to jail anymore. I mean I know people, I have friends that have been in jail for these kind of things. And I think right now psilocybin mushrooms is still illegal. So I'm not advocating that anybody break the law, but they are out there, and if you know the right people, I'm sure you can get a hold of them. But again, this is something where it's a personal choice and people have to be ready to, and in the right frame of mind to move in that direction.
Ben: That's interesting. Okay, I have one more question for you. If someone hadn't used mushrooms before and wanted to start putting them in their coffee or using a little bit in tea, or a smoothie, or whatever, is there one specific mushroom? Like I started with a cordyceps 'cause I was an athlete and wanted to use it for enhancing sports performance before I started to dig into Reishi, and shiitake, and all these other ones that I kind of cycle through. What mushroom would you recommend if somebody's never kind of used mushrooms before? What would you recommend is like a good starting point, or a good starting mushroom?
Jeff: Personally, I think the best one out there is Reishi. And the reason I say that is because not only do you have a high content of the beta-glucans, but you also have these triterpenes. So you've got something that is really going to help balance you. Reishi is, and most of these mushrooms are considered adaptogens, they're something that will help harmonize you, so Roger Drummer might have talked about adaptogens because that's something I'm sure he's well…
Ben: Yeah. He did. Quite a bit.
Jeff: Yeah. And that's what these mushrooms are considered adaptogens, and Reishi is the premier one. Now having said that, I also think that cordyceps is fantastic, let's just call it a mushroom. It's not a true mushroom, but it's called a mushroom, and I think there's something there that can in fact enhance athletic performance. I mean Reishi and cordyceps both, they have shown better oxygen utilization and cordyceps traditionally has been used for endurance. And if you're fatigued, cordyceps has been one of the primary herbs that they've used for people suffering from asthenia where they're fatigued and tired from an illness or something like that. Cordyceps is a really excellent one. And here's the cool thing about cordyceps, Ben, that you should know, and I think Skye brought you some cordyceps, which…
Ben: Yeah. He did.
Jeff: We're super excited about this. Cordyceps is, the traditional cordyceps is the caterpillar with the cordyceps growing out of it. And that's right now the most expensive herb in China. $20,000 a kilogram. Can you imagine?
Jeff: $20,000 a kilogram. But there is another species of cordyceps that has been used as long as this cordyceps sinensis, which is the caterpillar with the cordyceps on it, and that is cordyceps militaris, and that's what Skye brought you. For the first time ever in the last five years, that cordyceps now has been brought into cultivation. So we're now cultivating these cordyceps fruiting bodies in China. They're being cultivated, they're organically certified. No longer do people have to, well nobody's paying $20,000 or the price of getting a cordyceps or two. Most of this cordyceps was produced either pure mycelium from China with one called CS4, or people over here doing this whole mycelium on grain thing which I've talked about. But now, for the very first time, these cordyceps fruiting bodies, those beautiful orange, did check out the color of those things? Did you see the…
Ben: Yeah. That's the difference is the color. It's crazy.
Jeff: Wasn't that so amazing, the color of those things? Well that cordyceps militaris, now we're selling it, I think it is going to be absolutely fantastic. It is going to be the next thing when it comes to cordyceps. Because most cordyceps out there right now, the fact is most of it is not very good and I don't recommend any of the cordyceps products that are out there. Cordyceps militaris fruiting body is, there's going to be a lot of companies putting that out soon, a lot of interest in it, and it's going to be absolutely incredible.
Ben: Yeah. And like I mentioned in the intro, there's a pretty cool recent study done on cordyceps, specifically that you get the most benefit out of it with chronic cordyceps loading, like using it every day. And in this specific study, they looked at oxygen kinetics, [0:59:59] ______ power, and time to exhaustion, and they used cordyceps militaris, exactly what you're just talking about in this study. I'll link to in the show notes if people want to check it out.
And what I'll link to also in the show notes, if you want to go to Jeff's website, if you want to look at Jeff's, his extracts, or you can get 'em like on Amazon for example, they're called Real Mushrooms. I'll link to the study, et cetera. You can get all this over at bengreenfieldfitness.com/realmushrooms. That's bengreenfieldfitness.com/realmushrooms if you want to check out the show notes for this one, or if you have questions about mushrooms that you've discovered, questions about microdosing with psychedelics, or anything else that you want to bring to the discussion. That's a good place to do it. So Jeff, this has been fascinating. I love mushrooms and you're obviously a wealth of knowledge on mushrooms. Oh, and the other thing is, if you're listening, get Jeff's book, “The Mushroom Cultivator” if this stuff excites you and you want to find out more about like beta-glucans, and triturpenoids, and sterols, and a lot of the other cool components in mushrooms, the research behind them, what they can do, et cetera. So Jeff, thanks for coming on the show, man.
Jeff: Hey, it has been a pleasure. I mean it's been great. And I just want to say I love the fact that your generation, I mean my son's about your age, is so into health and fitness. I just love that because it just shows the changing dynamics in this country, and shows how that there are people concerned about that and are trying to be as healthy as possible in a society right now where, man, I tell you, you look out there, and you got to shake your head. So my hat's off to you, Ben. Keep it up. I think it's just fantastic what you're doing.
Ben: Hey, thanks man. I appreciate it. Alright, folks. This is a Ben Greenfield and Jeff Chilton signing out from bengreenfieldfitness.com. Have a healthy week.
Last year, my friend Skye Chilton visited my house. One night, he sat down at my kitchen table and spread out an array of colorful mushrooms, including cordyceps, a mushroom well-known for it's athletic performance enhancing capabilities (and one that I recently tweeted this study about).
“Taste this.” Skye said, as he handed me a standard, commercial cordyceps product. It was tasteless, flavorless and a bland brownish color. I didn't care for it.
Then he gave me another handful of cordyceps. This different blend was a rich, reddish-brown color, and had a powerful, potent, medicinal taste. Within just a couple minutes I felt a surge of energy.
The difference between these two mushroom extracts was noticeable, palatable, and significant.
So what makes one mushroom extract different from another?
Do medicinal mushrooms have different benefits depending on how they are grown, what stage they are harvested in, or where they are sourced?
How do you actually use mushrooms in your daily life?
In today's podcast, you'll get all these answers and more from Skye's father, Jeff Chilton, who wrote a book called “The Mushroom Cultivator: A Practical Guide to Growing Mushrooms at Home“, which Skye gave me after he left my house, and which I realized after I read it is the most comprehensive guide on medicinal mushrooms I've ever seen.
In the 1980's he operated a commercial mushroom spawn laboratory, and in 1989 he started one of the first medicinal mushroom businesses in North America. His company, Nammex, sells certified organic mushroom extracts to nutritional supplement businesses in the US, Canada and worldwide.
During our discussion, you'll discover:
-Why you should add mushroom extracts such as reishi, shitaake, cordyceps to a morning cup of coffee…
-The important difference between medicinal mushroom and the kind of mushrooms you eat as food…
-How to cut through the confusion of which mushroom extracts are actually quality and which are a complete waste of your money…
-Why some mushrooms just contain grain, with very little actual mushroom extract…
-An easy way you can use an iodine dropper test yourself at home to see if a mushroom contains a bunch of cheap starch…
-The medical condition that some people have which indicates they should avoid eating mushrooms…
-Whether psychedelic mushrooms are safe, or have any helpful utilization…
-And much more!
Resources from this episode:
–FourSigmaFoods mushroom extracts (the ones Ben uses)