If you made it here, chances are you’re well aware of the many medicinal benefits certain fungi species possess, from the powerful anti-carcinogenic compounds in Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor), to the anti-inflammatory and anti-HIV properties within Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum).
Yet there’s an important caveat we must make clear: to access these powerful medicinal compounds, you can’t simply eat the mushroom.
That’s where the alchemical methods of extraction come into play.
Breaking Down Barriers
Unlike plants, whose cell walls are composed of cellulose, mushroom cell walls are composed of chitin. Chitin is very strong. It’s what comprises the exoskeletons of arthropods such as crustaceans (e.g. crabs) and insects (e.g. ants). As a result, it’s very difficult to break through chitin, a job your teeth and stomach simply aren’t cut out to do.
Luckily, we have hot water extractions for such tasks. By heating the mushroom over an extended amount of time — akin to making tea — the chitin is broken open and the medicinal compounds are released into the water. This in turn makes them bioavailable to your body when you ingest the resultant liquid.
Water Soluble vs. Insoluble
You’ve probably noticed most medicinal mushroom — and herbal — tinctures are marketed as “double or dual-extracted.” That’s because while a hot water extraction can break open chitin, not all of the medicinal compounds are water soluble, i.e. able to be dissolved in water.
For most extractions, a high ethanol content solvent — think 190 proof or above — is utilized to nab these difficult to capture compounds. In essence, the mushroom fruit body is pulverized to increase surface area, submerged in a solvent, and agitated daily to extract as many of the non-water soluble compounds as possible.
Once this process is complete, the liquid from the hot water extraction and solvent extraction are combined to make a dual-extracted tincture. Typically, the final product contains an alcohol content by volume between 30 and 40 percent.
Too Big to Succeed
There are already a lot of different products in the medicinal mushroom supplement market. Looking to the future, we expect this trend to only increase. The debate between mycelium, mushrooms, or tinctures as the most bioavailable and potent medicine continues to rage.
But one thing we’re confident of is this: pulverized mushroom powder and mycelium powder — excluding Lion’s Mane — is not nearly as potent and bioavailable as tinctures that actively break open chitin. That’s because the main medicinal compounds, polysaccharides like beta-glucans, cannot pass through the intestine into the bloodstream on their own, nor can your body access them easily due to the chitin barrier. Early research points to Lions Mane (Hericium erinaceus) potentially being an exception as its active compounds are water-soluble.
At this point, it’s pretty clear-cut: if you want the most potent, bioavailable mushroom medicine, extractions and tinctures are the way to go. .
- Real Mushrooms, The Art of Extraction, www.realmushrooms.com/mushroom-extraction/
- Fungi Magazine, Medicinal Mycology by Robert Rodgers, Vol. 9:1, Spring 2016, p. 18-21
- Radical Mycology, Peter McCoy