Mushrooms have been used to support health and vitality for hundreds, and in some cases thousands of years. In fact, some of humankind’s oldest remedies have been mushrooms. Not only have they been highly prized for their health benefits some have been associated with longevity* and immortality* and referred to as “food of the gods”, as the Romans did, or the “elixir of life” as they did in ancient China. One of the oldest examples of the use of mushroom dates back over 5,000 years to the Alpes on the border of Italy and Austria where a mummified body was uncovered carrying 2 species of mushrooms, one likely used as tinder to start fires while the other is thought to have been used medicinally, probably for treating parasites.* But it is in the last ~75 years where a large body of research has been performed, exploring, and often confirming many traditional uses along with discovering new actions for these mushrooms. For example, hundreds of mushrooms alone have been found to support immune function.* Honoring this long history of use and incorporating the scientific research over the last several decades into our lineup of mushroom supplements has been Mushroom Wisdom’s mission over the last 30 years. (Note – keep in mind that the part used for all these centuries was the fruiting body)
So, before we delve into the specifics of where we get our mushrooms and how we grow them we should begin at the very beginning: “What’s a mushroom?”. The reason for this will become clear as we explore how Mushroom Wisdom produces the finest mushroom supplements. Websters defines a mushroom as the “enlarged complex aboveground fleshy fruiting body of a fungus”. They are also commonly referred to as macro-fungi (large fungi). This above ground portion of the fungi is called the fruiting body and is the reproductive part. The below ground portion is referred to as the mycelium, the spiderweb-like “roots,” so to speak, of the mushroom. Interestingly, the FDA has also stated that for labeling purposes, a mushroom is the fruiting body whereas the “mushroom mycelium has an identity different from mushrooms”. The basic point here is that mushrooms and mycelium are two different things, like apples and oranges, or more like the apple fruit and the roots of an apple tree. The significance of the history and the definition will become as we get into some of the reasons why Mushroom Wisdom sources and grows their mushrooms.
Where Do We Grow Our Mushrooms?
While mushrooms have been used and consumed for thousands of years, it is only in the last approximate thousand years that humans have been able to cultivate mushrooms. The person responsible for first cultivating mushrooms is Wu Sangong, who lived in Longyan Village in Qingyuan County from 1130 to 1208. He is credited with inventing the Chop Flower Method for growing mushrooms, in this case, the delicious Shiitake. So highly thought of is Wu Sangong for his invention that he is now considered something of a god and has temples built to him in Qingyuan County. The fact that he is held in such high esteem gives you an idea as to how important mushroom growing is to this region.
Qingyuan County lies in the coastal Zhejiang Province. Zhejiang is the center for tea growing in China while Qingyuan is the center for mushroom cultivation and hunting. Mushrooms are the center of life and the economy and the culture in Qingyuan, so much so that it is referred to as “Mushroom City”. They have a commitment to the growing of mushrooms which is unlike anywhere else in the world. On top of this they have been growing mushrooms here longer than anybody. Many current growers are part of a long tradition of mushroom hunters and growers that dates back for many, many generations, giving them a special understanding of how best to cultivate mushrooms.
People of this region have been known as “forest people”, with their own dialect, one used only by the mushroom hunters. They have for centuries lived primarily by growing and picking mushrooms. To this day it is the largest part of the local economy. And they have done this honoring, cherishing, and protecting the mountains and forests that are the source for the mushrooms. Living in harmony and balance with the local environment. They have ballads, operas, songs (most notably the “Mushroom Song” which tells of twenty trees you can grow mushrooms on), temples, and festivals all focused on and around mushrooms. There is even mushroom kung fu. So not only do mushroom drive the local economy, but they are also the cultural center as well. In a day where the trend is to grow mushrooms indoors in an industrial fashion, the knowledge, commitment, and experience of Qingyuan growers is at the heart of why Mushroom Wisdom chooses to source their mushrooms there.
This region is also ideal for growing mushrooms. This area is shielded by mountains and is made up of ~90% forest with an average elevation of 1000 meters. It is biologically diverse, rich in a number of medicinal plants. The weather is warm and humid with a mild winter and not too hot summer, with a significant temperature drop from day to night. All of this makes for ideal conditions for growing amazing mushrooms.
Recognizing the importance of mushrooms to the region, economy, culture, and environment, the Chinese government has designated the Qingyuan Mushroom Culture System, with much of the area being designated as parks, in particular, feng shui parks. The largest mushroom market and trading center is here, and it is supported by a mushroom research center. There truly is no better place committed to growing mushrooms and, no better place to grow mushrooms. This is where we grow our mushrooms.
How We Grow Our Mushrooms
Just as important to where we grow our mushrooms is how we grow our mushrooms for a mushroom supplement can only be as good as the mushroom that goes into the product. This is why Mushroom Wisdom goes to great lengths and care in how we cultivate our mushrooms. In keeping with the natural approach of the region we grow in; our mushrooms are grown is such a way as to mirror how they grow in their natural habitats. Our efforts are focused on growing the mushrooms in as similar a way as they would grow in the wild. One of the ways we do this is by mirroring the forest canopy, the mushroom’s natural home, by cultivating the mushrooms in thatched huts. Another way is to cover the mushrooms part of the day and provide some direct sunlight for other parts of the day.
This is far away from the hot house, factory grown, sterile environments that have become the dominant method, a growing process that is built around speed and cost, not quality. Current techniques do not leave much room for nature, nor the art of growing mushrooms. Mushroom Wisdom has taken a different path, one that looks to nature as our guide, cultivating in tune with the natural world.
There are 3 mushrooms that we wildcraft, gathering these mushrooms in their natural habitat, Chaga, Coriolus, and Meshima. These are mushrooms that grow in abundance so there is a plentiful source available. This is especially important with Chaga since a key active constituent is derived from the Birch trees that it grows upon.
We do not wildcraft all our mushrooms for two reasons. The first is that some mushrooms are not plentiful in nature so gathering would not only be difficult but very expensive making the products virtually unaffordable. The second reason is that we don’t want to damage the environment by either overharvesting a scarce mushroom or, as with Cordyceps, damage the sensitive environment the in which they grow.
Why We Choose Fruiting Body
There are two parts of the fungi that are most widely utilized in mushroom supplements today, the mycelium, basically the roots, and the fruiting body, the above ground portion. Mushroom Wisdom chooses to use fruiting body for its Super line as well as its unique proprietary extracts, Maitake D-fraction®, SX-fraction®, and Lion’s Mane Amyloban®. There are a number of reasons for this. First, looking historically, it was always the fruiting body that has been used in traditional medicine. We feel if one is to apply traditional applications and energetics to a mushroom, then it is important to utilize the same part that tradition has dictated.
Second, it allows us to grow our mushrooms on their natural food source, which for most of the commonly used mushrooms, is wood. (Royal Agaricus grows in the soil). Since it is not feasible to separate the fine mycelium filaments from the substrate they are grown in, mycelium-based companies need to grow on an edible biomass, typically a grain, usually rice. At issue here is that rice, and grains, are not natural food sources for mushrooms; as mentioned, they grow on wood. A peer reviewed study was published that analyzed a number of mushroom products, some were fruiting bodies, while others were grown on grain mycelium. What these researchers found was that the grown-on-grain products were actually more grain than they were mushroom.
The third reason we choose to use fruiting body has to do with levels of the key active constituents. Studies have repeatedly shown that fruiting body contains higher levels of many of the important actives, especially the immune supporting beta-glucans.*
So for us, it’s an easy and clear choice to utilize the fruiting body over the mycelium grown on grain materials. By using the fruiting body it allows us to honor tradition while being supported by the preponderance of science all the while making it possible to offer purer, higher quality, active constituent-rich products.
It seems there is an exception to virtually every rule. Well, when it comes to cultivating our mushrooms there is an exception to the fruiting body rule – Cordyceps. This fungus grows out of the head of a caterpillar at very high altitudes in the Himalayan Mountains. As you can imagine, this would not make for an easy source, or affordable source, for a product. A good Cordyceps hunter can spend his whole day on his hands and knees searching for these little caterpillar fungi, only to find 3 or 4 for the day’s efforts. The good news is that research on fermented Cordyceps has found that the wild and the fermented contain not only similar constituent, but more importantly, yield similar results both in the lab and in the clinic. This allows us to produce an affordable Cordyceps without the exorbitant pricing of the wild and without contributing to the environmental damage that often accompanies its gathering while still offering it health supporting gifts.
Mushroom Wisdom’s growers have a long history and commitment to cultivating and gathering the mushrooms we put into our products, all in a manner that mirrors how they grow in their natural habitat, grown on their natural food source so that the products that contain mushroom (and not grain), and provide us with the health supporting benefits we are using them for. Yet we don’t stop there. Our products go through a number of tests to confirm identity, quality, purity, and safety. Testing is overseen by a PhD in Bio Resource Chemistry and employs state of the art testing, including HPLC, PCR, and FTIR. Testing is performed on every batch, both in-house and by an independent, qualified third-party testing facility.
To ensure our products are grown free of synthetic pesticides we also test for pesticide residue. And because mushrooms are naturally chelators (one of the reasons they are used to clean up toxic sites, a process called myco-remediation) we test our products for heavy metal residue as well. And finally, our products are manufactured in a cGMP facility.
From Beginning to End
Experience, expertise, environment, quality, purity, commitment, and using nature and science as our guides sums up our approach to how and why we grow our mushrooms where we do and how we do. We hope that providing you this information has helped you in the process. Our goal is to provide you with consistent, quality products that you can feel comfortable and confident using, and using with your family, that provide you with the amazing health supporting gifts* of our mushroom allies.