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The health benefits of mushrooms are vast and when you consider you can easily grow them at home, it gets even more exciting. Ever since I found healing from stomach acid and ulcers by changing the food I ate (after being on the max dose of prescription medications) I’ve continued down the rabbit hole of using our food and herbs as medicine. Won’t you join me?!
The conversation on mushroom continues with Mary Ellen from Field & Forest on the show. Mary Ellen Kozak founded Field and Forest Products in 1983 with her future spouse and business partner, Joe Krawczyk. She has combined her profession in mycology with her academic background in agronomy, integrating a longtime passion for plant-based food systems with fungi. Previously we talked about How to Grow Mushrooms at Home while the focus here is on the benefits to be found from consuming and using mushrooms.
Listen in below to the full podcast, Episode #269 6 Health Benefits of Mushrooms You Need to Know, of the Pioneering Today Podcast, where we don’t just inspire you, but give you the clear steps to create the homegrown garden, pantry, kitchen, and life you want for your family and homestead.
Melissa: Mushrooms can be powerhouses and some have really cool health benefits. Could you talk to that a bit?
Mary Ellen: Keep in mind I’m not a medical person.
There’s been such an explosion in tinctures, powders and pills…things like that. One thing that is really great when you do grow your own mushrooms is that you can make your own tinctures quite easily. We have instructions on making mushroom tincture on our blog. The nice thing about making mushroom tinctures yourself is that you’re actually using the fruiting body, so you’re actually using the mushroom which is pretty powerful.
A lot of times, tinctures and things are made with just the powdered dried mycelium. When you grow your own mushrooms, of course, you usually have a lot of extra fruiting bodies that you can use to tincture yourself. It’s pretty easily done. It takes time and a lot of extra glass jars.
But as far as the actual medicinal values, this country really just started to look at the medicinal values and looking at scientific studies. We have to kind of rely on what people have done over the generations and other countries. Japan and China are ones that have really researched Reishi and Lion’s Mane.
It’s pretty safe to say that the reason why people are so interested in Lion’s Mane right now is that it appears to help with our memory. So I think people are really interested in Lion’s Mane for that reason alone. I know that there’s been some work using it to look at dementia and also Alzheimer’s. I think that the Eastern cultures look to Lion’s Mane to help with digestive disorders.
Reishi is known as the mushroom on longevity for a long, long time. It’s been revered for many, many, many generations. It is one that you can grow yourself. It’s a very bitter mushroom.
Reishi can help boost the immune system. [Source]
We use it for teas. We like to steep it with a lot of cinnamon sticks and cloves just to get rid of some of that mushroomy bitterness. It’s something that you can use over and over again. You can freeze either the conch or antler forms of Reishi. Just freeze it into chunks and then let it brew again. You’ll get maybe five or six brews out of it. It lasts a long time. You just have to be willing to do the brewing instead of stirring the powder into your coffee or whatever.
Another mushroom that has been pretty well looked at is Shiitake. There’s some good research out of the United States that shows that Shiitake can reduce blood cholesterol levels.
Those three, along with Turkey Tail, Maitake, and Chicken of the Woods are immunomodulators…they help boost your immune system. The Olive Oysterling is one that helps with the syndrome where you gain a little bit of weight, have high blood sugar levels, and high cholesterol. So that one looks like it’s really powerful…in mice anyway. So we have a lot to learn about medicinal mushrooms, but I can tell you from my point of view where I do actually take a lot of tinctures and drink a lot of Reishi tea, that I feel pretty good.
The one thing that is starting to be looked at a little more carefully now is an amino acid called ergothioneine which only fungi, for the most part, can produce. It looks like even grasslands, for example where cattle are grazed there’s some association with fungi. There’s a possibility that we could transfer ergothioneine, which helps with inflammation, into some of our other food sources.
Right now we’re working on a study with the Wine Cap where we’re looking at growing companion plants, in this particular case oats and tomatoes, into these beds that these beds of wine cap are grown. Then test to see if that has changed the ergothioneine level in the tomato fruits or oat seeds. That’s an ongoing study that we’re only the first year into.
There’s a possibility that fungi can really help us out. I mean, inflammation is a really big deal we’re finding and fungi might be able to help us out just through our diet. So that’s a very exciting thing that’s happening right now.
Melissa: That is very fascinating. If it shows that it changes the oats, then one step further, what if the cattle consumed the oats that were grown with the mushrooms on the pasture, would it also pass to the cattle, which then when you consume their beef, would it then affect you? I’m really stretching here.
Mary Ellen: No, that’s really good thinking. In fact, we were looking at a National Science Foundation Grant in collaboration with some other researchers and that thought was a big interest, especially in the western states. Like, can we possibly improve value to our beef by grazing them on oats that have somehow have some fungal, whether it’s mycorrhizal or some sort of fungal connection. That grant unfortunately get funded in the extremely grant cycle.
Melissa: Now my mind is going a million miles thinking about the back pasture that has dappled shade wondering how I could incorporate this.
Mary Ellen: With Wine Caps when you grow it on wood chips or straw beds they like to grow on the edge of the bed. They really like to have soil interaction so it’s very hard to grow them indoors because they have a strong connection to the microbial community at the soil level. So when you see your first mushrooms, they’re right at the edge of that wood chip mulch or straw area and you just wonder what the connection is between those mushrooms. Is there any talking from the mycelium mushroom and the grass? That’s an area of study of how this big mycelium network communicates with trees because there is this actual physical relationship. If you’ve seen the movie Avatar that’s a pretty big description of how this works.
There’s just so much out there to learn. I’ve always been really interested in the food end of things. Fortunately, with mushrooms, there’s a huge other world outside of the food end but the food end is pretty rich as well.
Melissa: How do you choose what to grow? I’m assuming by area condition that’s available but are there any other types of criteria or though process that you use to decide what to start with for beginners on their journey of growing mushrooms?
Mary Ellen: We get this question all the time. There’s become such a variety that you can grow that you have to make the decision about where to start. Look at what you have:
Substrate – that’s important
Preference – what do you like? Which mushroom do you find tasty?
For me, I think Shiitake is one of the best mushrooms around. I love Wine Cap because it’s beautiful. It has this red cap button with this crispy stem. You can pickle it or braise it. There’s so many things that you can do with it. You can also can it.
Melissa: You’ve answered part of this question. What are the best ways to harvest, store and preserve mushrooms?
Mary Ellen: That kind of relates to your other question of which one do I choose? Part of it is that you know you’re going to have a really big crop. What are you going to do with all of them?
My favorite way of putting up mushrooms is to make a mushroom butter, specifically from Shiitake mushrooms. This can be frozen.
The other favorite method of mine is to saute the mushroom. They maintain their fresh flavor when sauteed. When you dry a mushroom they have a different flavor and the texture completely changes. They’re great for stocks and things like that but when you saute them in half cup or one cup increments you can pull them out of the freezer. They’re very much like a fresh mushroom.
You can add chopped red peppers, onions or garlic or mix it in with a pesto. The main thing is that you’re cooking them. You’re sealing in that flavor with some fat or oil. I use a combination of olive oil and butter usually and saute them that put them into little containers to freeze. Then I pull them out to make Shiitake soup or Wine Cap omelets. That would be the most preferred way to put them by. Canned mushrooms tend to be, for me, a little bit slimy.
For me, the third method is pickling because we love pickles. One of my favorite ways is to dry saute the mushrooms with salt. They exude the liquid which then evaporates. Then you add a bring and pickle them. They’re slightly sweet, which I must admit, I love. The important thing to do is to use a mushroom that is crisp, such as Wine Cap or Nameko, Shiitake is a bit rubbery. I also like using Oyster mushrooms for their appearance. I’ll usually do a mix of Wine Cap, Nameko, and Oyster mushrooms. Another great mushroom for pickling is a Black Trumpet. They’re a very crisp mushroom.
For a list of tested approved canning recipes (including pickled mushrooms) in alphabetical order visit 129+ Best Canning Recipes to Put Up This Year
The last is drying mushrooms. They can be very nutritious, especially if you sun dry them. They’re exposed to sunlight to boost vitamin D content. So drying is really great but you have to love the flavor of dried mushrooms. I don’t so I don’t do a lot of drying.
Melissa: I’m with you. I’m not a fan of dried mushrooms. With the Chantrelles that we forage, I saute them in butter, garlic, and a little bit of onion. We’ll eat what we want that night and freeze the rest of the haul.
I have not pickled mushrooms. I’ve not cultivated my own mushroom and have never bought enough from the store of the cultivated mushroom to be able to pickle them.
I’m interested in Lion’s Mane and putting Wine Caps under my blueberry bushes. And out in the garden, under the squash. I’m curious, what kind of an investment, in time and money, would you say it would take to start?
Mary Ellen: We could do this in terms of cost per pounds of mushrooms, depending on your investment and what form of spawn you get and how much quantity you get.
With Shiitake we look at somewhere around $1 to $2 a pound. Considering that you’re probably buying them in the store for $16 a pound that’s a pretty fair investment. Usually, with the log grown type, like the Lion’s Mane, it’s hard because you have to put a value on the log. Like do you have to buy the log and how far do you have to go to get it?
In general, the spawn is around $10 for two logs or it can be $25 for 25 logs, for example. Where the cost starts to come in is when you’re going to tool up and you want to do, say, a hundred logs. You would probably look for some ways to mechanize that a little bit. It’s very labor-intensive, and we do have the tools to allow you to do that. You just have to balance the investment of the tools and the frequency of which you’ll be cultivating the mushrooms.
In general, a bag of spawn can be anywhere from $10 to $12 depending on the size to $25. You’re going to actually get around $1 per log The Wine Cap, for example, is $25 for a bag of sawdust spawn which will do about 50 square feet.
Melissa: I think that’s way less than I thought it would be. A dollar a log…that’s less than a packet of seeds.
Mary Ellen: Because spawn is a heavy wet product shipping is where some of the costs come in. There’s not a spawn producer that I know of that can ship for free because it is a heavy product. But considering the flavor and what you’d have to buy the mushrooms in the store, it is a good value.
Melissa: Not only that but once the spawn is spent, for example, Lion’s Mane on a log where you grow the mushroom until it doesn’t grow anymore and then you work that down into a really fine medium that goes into the compost. That then grows another type of mushroom. So you’re getting multiple harvests of it throughout the different stages which is really a great thing.
Is there anything that someone who is considering growing their own mushrooms should consider?
Mary Ellen: Timing of planting. For example, the Wine Caps can be planted pretty much anytime. Any of the wood decay fungi, like Shiitake and the Lion’s Mane, there is a timing issue. You want to try to get the wood when it’s at a really good nutritive state. There are certain things that make the bark adhere to the log and the log will last longer through the life of your mushroom cultivation experience. You have to cut or gather wood during the dormant season. Surprisingly the dormant season is anytime from one third leaf color all the way until bud swell in the spring so there’s a big window for gathering the wood.
If you’re in the south you have to be ore careful about the wood drying out. Read the Planting & Harvesting Timelines for more tips and timing.
Fall is a really popular time for growing almost any mushroom with the exception of Almond Agaricus, which is a subtropical. It really likes warm weather and won’t survive the winter in most areas. The planting time for Almond Agaricus is past pretty much now unless you live in the deep south. It shuts down once we get into the forties.
Fall is a really great time because the wood is at a good stage. The cells and the wood are actually a little soft. They’re not completely hardened. They’re really receptive to when you put the spawn in.
Melissa K. Norris inspires people's faith and pioneer roots with her books, podcast, and blog. Melissa lives with her husband and two children in their own little house in the big woods in the foothills of the North Cascade Mountains. When she's not wrangling chickens and cattle, you can find her stuffing Mason jars with homegrown food and playing with flour and sugar in the kitchen.