When it comes to adaptogens and mushrooms, there are lots of terms that get thrown around. Fruiting bodies! Beta-glucans! Extraction! Substrates! It’s a lot to digest, and a lot to learn in order to evaluate the safety and efficacy of medicinal mushroom products. We love that the Rasa family includes lots of folks (perhaps, er, yourself, since you’re reading this) who like to get as nerdy as us about the science and details behind plants and fungi. So if you’re curious about these concepts and why they are important to evaluate when choosing which medicinal mushrooms to consume, read on, dear friend. We’re about to break it all down for you.
Mushroom extraction: is it actually important?
First things first, let’s talk about extraction. Extraction is the process of drawing out the constituents from a plant or mushroom using a solvent like water or alcohol. When you brew Rasa in water or make a cup of herbal tea, you’re extracting. Look at you, so fancy!
So why is that relevant here? Extracting mushrooms not only leads to a more concentrated final product, it also allows your body to utilize the important properties of these powerful fungi. If you grind up a whole mushroom-like reishi (as, cough cough, many companies do) and toss it in a bag, you’re not accounting for... chitin (dun dun dun). Chitin is a pesky compound found in the cell walls of mushrooms. It is hard, indigestible, and effectively locks up all the beneficial compounds we want. Essentially you’d be consuming something medicinal that your body cannot access or utilize. Not so fun, right?
Extraction, on the other hand, in hot water and/or alcohol, unlocks mushrooms’ prized properties. That’s why when you open a bag of Magnificent Mushrooms, it’s ready to go—no need to boil it in water or steep it for an extended period of time. All of the mushrooms in our blend are extracted in water, but a few of them are also extracted in alcohol, too. This process is known as dual-extraction. Let’s dive into that!
What’s the deal with dual-extraction?
Dual-extraction is when the mushrooms are extracted in both water, which extracts polysaccharides such as beta-glucans (the immune-boosting compound), and in alcohol, which extracts things like triterpenoids, including adaptogenic triterpenoids (the stress-reducing compounds). Half of the mushrooms in Magnificent Mushrooms benefit from dual-extraction!
Many companies only extract their mushrooms in water, so while they are promoting the adaptogenic qualities of that mushroom, they may not be delivering much to you by way of its adaptogenic constituents. Bummer. That’s why we make sure to extract those that would benefit in alcohol, too, ensuring we get all the beneficial compounds (because #fomo).
Beta-glucans: what the heck are they?
Beta-glucans are polysaccharides, complex compounds that have profound immunomodulating (immune system regulation) properties. While all mushrooms have their individual chemistry—cordyceps has cordycepin, reishi has triterpenoids, etc.—beta-glucans are in all medicinal mushrooms and are what account for the majority of mushrooms' impact on our immune system. Beta-glucans can even stimulate production of immune cells like natural killer cells and macrophages!
News alert—there are also alpha-glucans, another form of polysaccharides. While we don’t mean to be polysaccharide snobs, alpha-glucans are largely starch and not-so-medicinal. So when mushroom companies report on having high levels of polysaccharides but don’t share their beta-glucan levels, it might not actually mean that product is doing you much good. If you’re looking for immune support, beta-glucans are where it’s at.
Fruiting body vs. mycelium
Okay, we have one more big topic to chat with you about—the age-old (err, couple decades old?) discussion on fruiting body mushrooms versus mycelium.
Fruiting bodies is another name for this part of the mushroom: 🍄. What we harvest, what we eat, what we think of as mushrooms—this is the fruiting body, the above-ground parts. Mycelium on the other hand is the invisible below-ground network of fungal threads that produce these fruiting bodies. Think of mycelium as roots, where the fruiting body is, well, the fruits. Not quite the terms we use for fungi, but perhaps helpful nonetheless?
For Magnificent Mushrooms, we use 100% fruiting bodies because they consistently demonstrate higher levels of beta-glucans and have been used for thousands of years (use of mycelium is a much more recent phenomenon). We are also able to avoid excess fillers and starches in our product by using fruiting bodies because mycelium are often grown on grain or other substrates that can make their way into products.
We’re mushroom fans here, so don’t get us wrong—mycelial networks are incredible! They connect fungi and plant matter across the globe and are essential for our ecosystem to thrive. We highly encourage you to read about them and learn from them as mycelial networks exist under every step we take. But for medicinal usages, they often are less potent. So no shade, mycelium, we’ll just let you do your thing underground.
In short: mushrooms are full of so mush goodness, if you know how to access it!
Well, there’s truly endless amounts of information we could share about medicinal mushrooms and fungi—there are whole textbooks out there! And documentaries (may we suggest Fantastic Fungi?)! And people who study fungi their whole lives! This barely scratches the surface (or should we say... fruiting body), but we hope you have a sense of some of the key concepts you need to know when evaluating medicinal mushroom products.
Still have burning questions? Leave them for us in the comments below!