Our world is full of confusing mass marketing about which supplements or health food formulas we should buy to support our best health.
Should we choose certified organic? Non-GMO? Conventional? Locally grown? Made in Australia?
The choices available to us are infinite. It can be confusing and overwhelming when all we want is to feel happy, healthy and energised and not feel like we’re being taken advantage of.
Sadly, within the supplement and health industry, a key objective is to be successful and profitable, sometimes at the expense of the consumer. It’s shocking how many companies and manufacturers will cut corners just to add additional margins onto their products and reap higher profits.
Many companies lack transparency about the quality and origins of their products and ingredients and so, it's important to know which brands and companies you can trust.
Medicinal mushroom supplements are no different.
In many cases, it’s not the complete fault of the companies, since the manufacturers or suppliers may also falsify documentation and neglect to inform the company, their customer (we have first-hand experience of this). This makes the journey of concept to final product for any business that much more difficult and expensive to execute.
Many brands will turn a blind eye and do what they have to do to bring a product to market. At the end of the day, it’s still business.
Popular and well-known companies will apply principles of cutting products and introducing poor quality ingredients to hoodwink customers into believing they’re getting what they’re paying for.
Brands will often hide behind a “proprietary blend” which is essentially an armour that legally allows them to not reveal what’s inside their product out of “fear of being copied”. They won't tell you the ratio amounts, active ingredients nor any binders and fillers that they add in to keep the product shelf stable.
But no one talks about this.
No one’s letting us know that just like the processed and packaged foods we buy, there are miscellaneous ingredients that do not need to be labelled. And we’re ingesting them without thinking twice because supplements are good for us, right?
We think we’re doing the right thing, assisting our bodies, optimising our wellness, yet we are uneducated about the potential lack of active ingredients and high-quality products that we’re seeking in the first place.
Many books have been written about this topic. The lies, cheating and scandals of these industries run deep. Sadly, the mushroom industry is the same and the truth is…
Not all medicinal mushroom products are created equal.
Keep reading to learn everything you need to know before buying any medicinal mushroom product, mushroom latte or mushroom supplements.
Table of Contents
What You Need to Know Before Buying Any Medicinal Mushroom Supplement
There’s a lot of deception happening in the medicinal mushroom powders and supplements space today. One side is saying this, one side is saying that. It’s all very confusing.
Medicinal mushrooms (and indeed, adaptogens in general) such as Lion's Mane mushroom, Reishi, Chaga and Cordyceps are often sensationalised and projected as panaceas and miracle workers, making us, the consumers, susceptible to inferior products that have been cut with poor quality ingredients and overpriced to maximise profits.
However, when consumed as a tea, or mushroom latte, these medicinal mushrooms can offer powerful health benefits.
The purpose of this article is to educate you with what to look for and avoid when buying medicinal mushroom products.
Unfortunately, the current lack of information and education can make us susceptible to biting on the appealing apple of poor quality medicinal mushroom powder following the release of a story or report of their benefits.
There are a number of things to be aware of when you’re choosing a quality superfood medicinal mushroom product.
What follows here will help you navigate all the sneaky misinformation in the medicinal mushroom industry and will allow you to find the most suitable mushroom product for you.
Are Your Mushroom Products Even 100% Mushrooms?
Commercially, mushroom products are produced in two ways: grown and harvested as mushroom fruiting bodies or alternatively grown as mycelium over a sterilised grain base, or what is known as mycelium on grain (MOG).
These two distinctions are very important. So what do they mean?
The simplest way to explain the lifecycle of a mushroom is to understand three stages of a fungal organism:
- Mycelium - The mycelium is similar to the root structure of a tree. Thread-like mycelium is a large network that amasses nutrients and when the environmental conditions are right, the fruiting body is produced from the mycelium.
- Fruit Body (Mushroom) - The fruiting body of fungi is the stage when a mushroom has completed its growth cycle and has “popped up” out of the ground or a tree or log etc. It’s what we all recognise as the appearance of a mushroom, such as the mushrooms that we buy from the store.
- Spores - The mushroom fruiting body produces and releases microscopic spores (seeds) which begin the reproduction phase. Eventually, those spores will germinate into "hyphae" and connect together to form a new mycelium network and the whole lifecycle starts again.
Most of the scientific research in relation to the purported health benefits of medicinal mushrooms have been conducted using the fruit bodies. Therefore, the more superior mushroom products on the market use the mushroom fruiting body.
When searching for a quality mushroom product, we want to be consuming the active fruiting body of the mushroom.
The product label may state “mushroom,” however, you must confirm if it’s made using the fruit body or mycelium. Always review the mushroom Supplement Facts or Nutrition Facts panel.
For example, if the mushroom product is Reishi, does its claim Reishi mushroom? Reishi mycelium?
Reishi mushroom fruiting body?
Or it may list its Latin name–Ganoderma lucidum–without specifying whether it is the fruit body or mycelium at all.
Honest companies will reveal if the product is mycelium-based.
It is a requirement that all herbal based products must reveal which “plant part” is used and whether any other unrelated materials are present. You may also see in the “Other Ingredients” that there is grain or myceliated grain present. This is a key indicator that you are getting a mushroom mycelium (MOG) based product.
Why do companies sell mycelium on grain (MOG)?
MOG cultivation is achieved by growing the fungal mycelium on a sterilised grain substrate, usually oats or brown rice.
The problem with this method is that a lot of residual grain (starch) remains in the final product and isn’t filtered out in the process. What you’re actually getting, in the end, is a mushroom powder high in grain starch (alpha-glucans) and low in many of the bioactive compounds such as beta-glucans.
Growing mushroom mycelium on grain was created as a cheap alternative for manufacturer’s and is very fast to produce. Unfortunately, the results and benefits are not nearly the same. With mycelium on grain mushrooms, you are essentially getting a lot of ground rice with low potency mycelium.
Most USA grown mushroom products on the market are mycelium grown on grain.
Mushroom fruiting bodies, on the other hand, are cultivated on wood substrates, the preferred food source for a wild mushroom, not grains. Wood substrates are the optimal food source for mushrooms (basidiomycetes)–the same as what they consume in nature–and contain the right nutrition and metabolites equivalent to produce a healthy and strong mushroom rich in the right components to support human health.
Using a wood substrate (oak log, for example) for growing mushroom fruiting bodies is a much more natural growing method and closely resembles the wild environment in which a mushroom naturally grows in.
This is known as "semi-wild" or "wild-cultivation” and a principle of Di Tao. The mushroom is allowed to grow naturally with little human interference, living symbiotically with nature and having to fend for itself to survive against the harsh weather, climate, plants, insects and other microorganisms.
By eating the right foods and coming out on top as the dominant organism in the log, all these factors produce a super mushroom with increased adaptogenic qualities. The difference this makes in the final efficacy of the mushroom is amazing.
When searching for a mushroom product, look for 100% pure medicinal mushrooms with no added grains, fillers, starch or mycelium.
Look for these words and if you see your mushrooms have been cultured on organic oats or grains, mixed in with mycelium biomass – that means your mushrooms have been man-made in a lab and loaded with useless fillers.
Is Your Product a Mushroom Powder or Mushroom Extract?
Straight mushroom powders (1:1) are actually more superior to MOG (mycelium grown on grain) products, however, they are far less potent than a concentrated extract of mushroom fruiting bodies.
Ideally, for our best health, we want a mushroom extract product made from fruiting bodies that are grown on wood substrates and have been hot water or dual extracted (hot water/alcohol).
Mushroom fruiting body extracts offer a more potent and higher quality product than mycelium on grain products.
Concentrated fruiting body extracts contain more bioactive levels of beta-glucans and a wider array of nutritional components compared to the mycelium.
Try Medicinal Mushroom Extract Australia.
For thousands of years, throughout Asia, mushrooms have been boiled and cooked to breakdown the indigestible layer of chitin within the mushroom cell walls to access the valuable nutrition inside mushrooms. Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners have been utilising this method for centuries.
Mushrooms in any form should always be cooked so the body can readily absorb the great diversity of nutritious compounds–beta-glucans (polysaccharides), triterpenoids, sterols, prebiotics, antioxidants, amino acids, polyphenols, proteins, peptides, flavonoids, digestive enzymes and more.
Raw mushrooms are woody and fibrous and it is generally very difficult for the body to digest. When a mushroom is extracted by water or alcohol, the constituents are released from the fibre (cell-walls) that locks them in and is dissolved into the liquid medium. The result is a highly assimilable “tea” or paste that is much easier to consume because the material has been “reduced” to a much smaller volume, and yet the potency is higher.
Consuming raw mushrooms without this extraction means the body must perform its own set of digestive “extraction” processes to assimilate the compounds bound to the tough indigestible chitin. This causes added stress to our GI tract and therefore, is not a very effective nor efficient method for absorbing the health-promoting compounds in medicinal mushrooms. The body ends up using more energy than it gains.
However, there are some great benefits in working with raw mushrooms.
Many people still prefer to cook raw herbs instead of concentrated extracts and we encourage you to try brewing, decocting or tincturing the raw mushrooms for yourself, just as our ancestors did for thousands of years.
Interacting with the tonics in this way–touching, feeling, and smelling–the mushrooms is a wonderful experience that will provide a greater understanding and forge a deeper relationship with you and these powerful superfoods.
However, most of us are extremely busy and don’t have the time to engage with the mushrooms in this way. Many prefer extracts for their convenience and ease of use while travelling and working on-the-go.
If you’re looking for more convenience, fast results and better bang for your buck, we recommend concentrated mushroom extracts.
Mushroom powder extracts are 100% water soluble which means they can be simply added to hot or cold water, smoothies or juices, coffee or tea and many other recipes.
Mushroom Product Blends
There are also many superfood blends on the market that contain mushroom extracts (check out our medicinal mushroom lattes). These can be a delicious and easy way to include mushrooms in your diet. You may find them to be more convenient for you and your kids! Many cafes and coffee shops are now offering medicinal mushroom lattes too!
One caveat though: keep in mind that any blend should contain a sizeable amount or medicinal dose of the actual mushroom in the formula.
You want to reap positive benefits and notice changes happening over time. A good minimum dose is 750 mg of the mushroom extract per serving. Anything less is probably not worth your money.
Try gut healthy mushroom latte like our Beetroot Latte Mix with Chaga or a delicious Turmeric Latte mix with Cordyceps.
Where Are Mushrooms Grown?
Mushrooms are mostly produced for two reasons: whole mushrooms for culinary use and mushroom extracts for use in health supplements.
Did you know that China is the leading grower of mushrooms worldwide accounting for over 85% of the world’s supply in 2013? (1)
This stat includes mushrooms for food and supplement use. Today, it’s likely to be much higher than 85% since the popularity of mushrooms has been rapidly increasing over the past six years.
Does this make you feel uneasy?
Most of us will cringe, turn up our head or run when we hear “Made in China” or Sourced from China.” There’s a long-held belief that anything grown or produced in China is worth avoiding.
Let’s face it, China gets a really bad wrap.
In most cases, these concerns make some sense. There's no denying the extensive air pollution, industrial chemicals, and polluted waterways in and around the major cities that affect many of the foods and consumer goods that are sourced from China.
China may have a bad reputation for producing overly toxic and poor quality products BUT (that’s a big BUT…), this really is a blanket statement. And it’s about time everyone knew that.
There are many legitimate and integral companies that are producing the best and most medicinally potent mushrooms in the world.
After all, China has been cultivating mushrooms for centuries, starting with early Shiitake cultivation in the 13th century. China has been growing and harvesting mushrooms for longer than anyone else, and the truth is, they do it better than anyone else. Chinese mushrooms are considerably more potent, higher in bioactive compounds and when sourced in the right Di Tao regions, are very clean and safe.
In contrast to low potency USA lab-grown mushroom products, which use different growing methods (primarily myceliated grain and not mushroom fruiting bodies), these products are inferior to Chinese cultivation techniques.
It’s simply not economically viable to grow mushrooms as supplements in other countries with the same level of quality, efficacy and potency.
Can I Trust Chinese Grown Mushrooms?
Every company selling medicinal mushroom extracts is required to run very strict and rigorous analyses of their product. This includes testing for heavy metals, aflatoxins, radiation, ethylene oxide (ETO), pesticide residues, microbiological (yeast, mould, E.coli, Salmonella, and Staphylococcus aureus) and more.
Does this mean that some companies may falsify their results just to sell their product? Sure, that is of some concern but that’s where having the product tested and verified by third-party independent laboratories such as ACO (Australian Certified Organic) is very important. We will discuss this further below.
What is Di Tao?
Another important factor to consider is not only if your mushrooms are grown in China or not, but where in China. The location matters.
After all, we’d rather not consume mushrooms that are grown in the polluted cities. That’s why we source mushrooms from deep in the mountains of China, far from lowland industrial pollution.
And the best quality mushrooms come from their original growing source, or what is known as “Di Tao” locations.
The term “daodi medicinal material” refers to a concept that has been widely recognized in the Chinese medicinal industry for centuries. Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing, the “Divine Farmer" was the first to discuss the importance of production regions in the historical Divine Husbandman’s Classic of Materia Medica.
It was further emphasised in 695 AD in the Tang Dynasty Newly Revised Materia Medica (Xin Xiu Ben Cao) with the statement: “if medicinal material is not produced from its native environment, it will be the same in substance but will differ in effect”. (2)
Di Tao, or daodi, is challenging to define in English. It is a concept that associates authenticity and quality with specific regions and production practices. It was best defined by experts at the 390th Xiangshan Scientific Conference in Beijing in 2011:
“Medicinal material that is produced and assembled in specific geographic regions with designated natural conditions and ecological environment, with particular attention to cultivation technique, harvesting and processing. These factors lead to quality and clinical effects surpass those of same botanical origin produced from other regions, and thus is widely recognized and has long enjoyed a good reputation.” (3)
The key natural resources in the formation of producing Di Tao medicinal material include the geographic conditions (location/region/province) and the environmental conditions–soil, climate, humidity, light–which directly influence the secondary metabolites of the medicinal plant or mushroom.
Di Tao is a complex concept because it’s also related to clinical efficacy and the qualities of appearance and taste. Even the genetic differences of a plant or mushroom can be a factor.
China is vast in a territory with diversified landforms and mountain ranges, and hence diverse weather. This diversity of natural ecosystems provides abundant botanical and zoological germplasm resources. This is the internal factor of the formation of the daodi medicinal materials. (2)
In Chinese herbal medicine, about 500 medicinal materials are commonly found in trade, and approximately 200 of these have specific Di Tao forms.
Herbs with Di Tao specifications have high economic value and account for about 80% of the Chinese herbs in trade.
Some Examples of Di Tao Locations (Provinces) of Medicinal Material
Chaga Mushroom (Siberia, Russia)
Cordyceps mushroom (Tibetan high plains)
Lion’s Mane mushroom (Heilongjiang province, China)
Reishi Mushroom (Jilin province, China)
Panax Ginseng (Jilin province, China)
Pine Pollen (Yunnan province, China)
Rehmannia root (Henan province, China)
Schizandra Berry (Jilin province, China)
Turkey Tail mushroom (Heilongjiang province, China)
When is Di Tao Really Di Tao?
At Teelixir, all of our herbs are sustainably wild-harvested, or organically (“semi-wild”) cultivated, with respect to, and abiding by the fundamental concept of "Di Tao” sourcing in Chinese herbalism.
All of our herbal ingredients come directly from their original growing source, the pristine high mountain ranges, far from any cities or industrial pollution.
Di Tao is a very important metric when sourcing high-quality tonic herbs. It’s a must.
But again, 80% of Chinese herbs on the market are already Di Tao so it shouldn’t be the only metric to consider. Companies will tell you, Di Tao, it’s the be-all and end all but the truth is...
Although Di Tao medicinal material has long enjoyed a good reputation both in the medicinal industry and TCM clinical practise, it’s important to note, its superior quality has not yet been adequately elucidated by modern science and technology.
At present, adulterations in the market have seriously damaged the reputation of Di Tao medicinal material. Furthermore, lacking scientific guidance to its production has a negative influence on the preservation and sustainable utilization of daodi medicinal material. (2)
Threats to the continuation of this traditional system (Di Tao) of quality assessment were articulated by Leung and Cheng (2008) whereby they assert that the traditional daodi concept may need to be abandoned due to emerging factors including climate change, pollution (air, soil and water), unsustainable over-harvesting, and soil loss and degradation (development, erosion, sedimentation). (4, 5)
Put another way, how can all the great and wonderful things about Di Tao–medicinal herbs grown in a pristine environment with clean air, nutrient-rich soil etc. be verified?
Besides the source of origin, how do you know your mushrooms are richer in nutrients, cleaner and more potent and efficacious?
This is where the importance of independent testing and verification from third parties such certified organic come in, particularly in regards to medicinal mushrooms.
Why You Should Choose Certified Organic Mushrooms
There are many reasons why you should consider buying certified organic mushrooms.
Shockingly, mushrooms are not even considered on the EWG’s (Environmental Working Group) “Dirty Dozen” list, but here’s why they absolutely should be.
Fungi are the most valuable natural recyclers (and re-composers) on earth. They exist to help maintain a healthy ecosystem by breaking down dense organic material (dead trees, fallen leaves etc.) into a much finer organic matter into humus, minerals, and nutrients that feeds and nourishes other mushrooms, plants, animals, and insects.
Mushrooms do a terrific job of cleaning and recycling nature and putting it back to good use. But mushrooms also have the tendency to bioaccumulate everything and anything that might be in the environment. They absorb the good stuff and the bad stuff.
This means, in a polluted environment, mushrooms will absorb nasty toxins, chemicals, heavy metals, industrial pollution, toxic runoff from waterways, radioactivity and air pollution.
And we know mushrooms do a pretty fantastic job at cleaning up polluted areas. Mycologists have used fungi for decades to help clean up toxic waste sites and other chemical and heavy metal contaminated environments. This is known as mycoremediation.
"Mycoremediation is the use of fungi to degrade or remove toxins from the environment. Fungi are adept as molecular disassemblers, breaking down many recalcitrant, long-chained toxins into simpler, less toxic chemicals. Mycoremediation also holds promise for removing heavy metals from the land by channelling them to the fruit bodies for removal."
~ Paul Stamets
Would you eat these mushroom after they’ve cleaned a toxic environment?
Unfortunately, the world is becoming more and more toxic. Going organic is the future for a more healthy and sustainable world. Legendary mycologist Paul Stamets discusses in his book Mycelium Running:
“Often, a toxic waste site will have multiple contaminants, and if heavy metals are present, some mushrooms will concentrate them and become too toxic to eat. For this reason, mushroom consumers should know where their mushrooms come from–all the more incentive to support organic growers and selecting mushrooms from pollution-free environments.” (6)
In order to produce a healthy mushroom product, the mushrooms must be sourced from a clean environment.
Certified organic mushrooms guarantee the sources are grown and collected from pristine environments that aren’t loaded with nasty toxins, chemicals or heavy metals that we may be unknowingly consuming in the final product.
It also guarantees you’re consuming mushrooms that have been produced without the use of synthetics additives, pesticides, chemical fertilizers, dyes and not processed using industrial solvents or irradiation.
With certified organic certification, you’re able to trace all the ingredients back from exactly where they are sourced, adding an additional level of trust and assurance that what you’re consuming is free from any harmful toxins.
The Real Truth About Certified Organic
The difference between certified organic, organic, and conventional is significant.
Adding the label “organic” makes it an attractive lure for consumers, as we trust this notion, associating organic with no usage of pesticides, fungicides, herbicides or chemicals. However, without the third party certification (ACO in Australia or USDA Organic in America), the term “organic” is a wishy-washy, unregulated statement without the specific verified requirements of what certified organic actually means.
Products claiming to be “100% natural” or even “Organic” do not mean that they are certified organic. A product needs to be verified by an organic certification body such as the ACO in Australia or USDA Organic in the United States.
Organic certification requires an in-depth look into the methodologies of the farming to ensure foods and ingredients are free from such harmful chemicals and are regularly audited and upheld to a higher standard.
Numerous studies have looked into the comparison between conventional and organic foods and the findings favour organic, yet the evidence is conflicting, depending on who funds the research, with numerous meta-analyses stating that further research is still required to dive deeper into the comparison. (7,8,9)
Despite this though, there are solid conclusions between the two, the first key is that organic foods yield higher nutrients and higher antioxidant properties. Studies have shown that there are 18-69% higher concentrations of antioxidants in organic produce. (7,8,9)
The second is eating organic significantly lowers your exposure to toxins and heavy metals, since you’re not ingesting chemicals and pesticides that disrupt your body's homeostasis and function. A study showed that consuming organic produce reduced your exposure to pesticides by 30%. (7, 9)
There’s also evidence to support that conventional crops have higher levels of cadmium – a toxic heavy metal that is carcinogenic in high amounts and damages the kidneys and demineralises bones. (9)
Certified organic foods also ensures no GMO’s (Genetically Modified Organisms) are used, in which we, humans, cut and splice DNA from another species and put it into another, to either increase its yield, decrease its ripening time, make it sweeter, make it bigger, the list goes on (just look at a conventional apple vs an organic apple).
In the world of products and foods, “bigger is better”, and again, it’s a business, so the more food we can produce, the bigger, shinier and prettier it looks – the faster it sells – despite the lack of nutrients or beneficiaries to the ground that produced it.
But if the bugs don’t want it, why would we? If they’re dying from consuming it, why are we eating it?
With the rise of nutrient deficiencies across the developed world also, it's something to think about. A lot of us are deficient in iron, iodine, zinc and magnesium – because our food is.
Organic farming practices are devised to;
- Enhance soil and water quality
- Reduce pollution
- Promote a self-sustaining cycle of resources on a farm (10)
- Verified traceability from farm to table
Organic fruits and vegetables have to fend for themselves just like the wildcrafted medicinal mushrooms, in doing so create a theory that this is what enables them to produce more antioxidants, be more adaptable as they have to protect themselves (8).
Conventional farming practices allow;
- Synthetic fertilizers to add nutrients to the soil
- Sewage sludge as fertilizer
- Synthetic pesticides for pest control
- Irradiation to preserve food or to eliminate disease or pests
- Genetic engineering to improve disease or pest resistance or to improve crop yields
- Antibiotics or growth hormones for livestock (10)
Purchasing a certified organic mushroom product means that every step of the way from farming and collection to when you consume the product is strictly managed and regularly audited by a non-bias involved third party. The best part is that you don’t have to trust us what the brand says because you know it’s clean and the best it can be.
Organic certification provides a level of guaranteed safety for you, the consumer, without bias input from the supplier or brand.
Teelixir was the first to offer medicinal mushrooms Australia.
Mushroom Buyers Checklist
When choosing to buy a medicinal mushroom product, it’s important to know:
Is your medicinal mushroom powder...
- 100% Mushrooms. Produced using the mushroom fruiting body or mycelium grown on grain?
- Certified organic to guarantee cleanliness and higher nutrient content and potency?
- Di Tao sourced or grown in the original areas?
- Independently tested for heavy metals? And if so, can you easily find the results for yourself?
- Verified levels of beta-glucans
Mushroom Buyers Guide
References and Studies:
ZZ Zhao, P Guo, E Brand. The formation of daodi medicinal materials. Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 2012, 140 (3):476-481
Pan, F., 2011. Daodi medicinal material is the essence of Chinese medicine—a review of the 390th session of Xiangshan Science Conference. Science Times, February 28, 2011. Beijing, China.
J. A. Brinckmanna., 2014. Geographical Indications for Medicinal Plants: Globalization, Climate Change, Quality and Market Implications for Geo-Authentic Botanicals. Modern Research on Chinese Material Medica. DOI: 10.15806/j.issn.2311-8571.2014.0020
Stamets, P., 2008. Mycelium Running: How Mushroom Can Help Save The World.
Organic Foods are Safer and Healthier than Conventional… True or False? https://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2012/09/17/organic-vs-conventional-food.aspx
Barański, M., Rempelos, L., Iversen, P. O., Leifert, C., 2017. Effects of organic food consumption on human health; the jury is still out! Food Nutr Res. 2017; 61(1): 1287333. Published online 2017 Mar 6. doi: 10.1080/16546628.2017.1287333
Organic Foods: Are They Safer? More Nutritious? https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/organic-food/art-20043880
ZZ Zhao, HB Chen. Chinese Medicinal Identification: An Illustrated Approach. Taos: Paradigm Publications. 2014
10 Questions to Ask About Your Mushroom Product. https://www.nammex.com/10-questions-to-ask-about-your-mushroom-supplement/