Interview: Understanding Medicinal Mushrooms with Asen Kyushev, nutri-fungi

Asen Kyushev is a naturopathic nutritionist and founder of Good Mushroom Nutrition Limited and nutri-fungi which creates medicinal mushroom products for optimum health and wellbeing.

What inspired you to create medicinal mushroom products?

After years of experience within the field of nutrition and extensive research and testing of various medicinal mushrooms, along with the support of my wife, Lucia, I created nutri-fungi. We invested a lot of time and travelled to China, the homeland of medicinal mushrooms. Traditional Chinese Medicine is the source of knowledge about their use and therapeutic benefits. During this time we came to realise that most of the medicinal mushroom products for sale in the UK and other Western countries are actually very weak or have no therapeutic potency at all. Retailers and manufacturers are often using cheap materials like mushroom powder, mycellium or mycellium biomass for their products in order to gain more profit.

Understanding medicinal mushrooms is the key to appreciating them and using them.

That idea to create our own products grew naturally. We thought it would be a shame if we knew so much and did not put it into practice, which could help people. We wanted to be able to have products available online and in stores which truly are worth spending money on. So we decided to create nutri-fungi.

What are the benefits of the mushrooms in your products?

We can talk about it for days. What is important to note is that most of the active ingredients of mushrooms, polysaccharides, triterpenes, are locked within their cellular walls. In order to make them bioavailable the mushroom material must go through extraction so we can break the cellular wall. We actually use a lot of mushroom material for our concentrated extracts. Once the active ingredients are extracted they are in a ready to use form by people or animals.

One of the main reasons for the great popularity of medicinal mushrooms is the fact they increase vitality via various pathways.

Main but not limited to benefits include balancing of the immune system, cholesterol balance, antioxidant support, anti-inflammatory support, liver support, energy optimisation, anti-viral support, anti-fungal support and more.

Can anyone use them?

Yes, indeed. Mushrooms are a highly nutritious food source and even more so are the extracts derived from them. Mushroom extracts are often used as supplements alongside radiotherapy as they possess anti-tumour properties and chemotherapy, both are usually quite harsh treatments and are found to reduce the negative side effects and recovery time.

The interest of the potency of medicinal mushrooms grew naturally with the increase of modern day diseases. We now know that it is the bioactive components in mushrooms, such as beta-D-glucans and triterpens that bring to us their incredible power.

In rare cases I have come across reports that some Shiitake can cause light allergic reactions but that might be due to usage of mushroom powder and not extract. TCM doctors have been using mushrooms for literally thousands of years with no adverse effects. Western science confirms the same.

How long does it take to receive their benefits?

On the average as far as I can say it takes three to four weeks and this is on the basis of personal experience and scientific studies. That of course may vary from person to person but often people feel the difference on the same day.

The mushroom is a very nutritious food. Differing species can be a good source of vitamin B along with essential minerals such as copper and potassium. While fat, carbohydrates and salt content is very low.

In terms of real benefit it takes time. Just like seeing the benefit of performing sport takes time. One does not get fitter after a single class of swimming but feels the positive difference after swimming on a regular basis. It is the same with mushroom extracts.

How do you create the extracts?

Via classic ways which we try to show through videos available on our YouTube channel. It’s a fairly long process but in short mushroom strains are cultivated into organic substrate which later produces mushroom fruiting bodies.

It is the fruiting body of the mushroom organism that has highest concentration of bioactive ingredients. That is why we only use the fruit bodies.

They are collected and extracted in an organic certified extraction facility. The end material is extract in powder form.

How did you choose the right formula for your 8 Mushroom mix?

We were willing to create a blend made entirely of mushroom extracts which would be effective against a wide range of conditions and support the immune system. We have found that Cordyceps militaris works really well with Coriolus versicolor so we had these two doubled up compared to the rest of the extracts included. Both are known to have potent antitumor and anti-viral properties.

All of the species in the mix are found to have human immune system potentiating effect; individual species have proven range of other benefits, including anti-microbial, anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, hepato-protective, nerve-repairing function and more.

We added Reishi and Chaga dual extracts to boost antioxidant activity, to reduce inflammation and help with adaptation and detoxification. Shiitake extracts to fight viruses, bacteria and fungal infections. Oyster mushroom to support the cardiovascular system and Lion’s Mane to help with recovery of neurons. These are only some of the potential benefits of the above-mentioned species.

Why don’t you include mycelium in your products?

We base our work on the long-standing experience of Traditional Chinese Medicine. These ancient medicinal practices have always used the mushroom fruiting bodies of medicinal fungi to prepare the herbal remedies or respectively to use as medicinal food source.

What are your mushrooms grown on? Are they cultivated or harvested from the wild?

Some of the species we use are wild harvested. Our most emblematic species, Reishi, we cultivate on Linden tree logs, which are sustainably cut, in order to ensure the process has least impact on local countryside environment. But most of the species, Maitake, Shiitake, Black fungus, Lion’s mane, etc, we inoculate on wood rich substrate. The wood chips used always encounter for over 70% of total volume of the substrate. Why? It’s simple – in nature these same species grow on wood. So what we want to do is mimic the wild environment within the boundaries of our plant/ mushroom houses. Even more importantly, unless the mushrooms are cultivated on wood/ wood rich substrate, the content of beta glucans tends to be reduced.

That said, Cordyceps militaris is an exclusion from this rule. Commonly silk worm has been used for its cultivation, in order to mimic Ophiocordyceps sinensis’ natural life span (acting as parasitic fungus and invading dormant worms during winter). For its cultivation we use organic brown rice rich substrate. The content of beta glucans, as well as cordycepin and adenosine appeared to be higher, compared to the same species, cultivated on silk worm. As we are a vegan brand you can imagine for us it was out of question to use silk worm for the substrate of any of our products. Essentially it was a win-win situation and we are super proud to be able to offer this incredible high quality 100% vegan Cordyceps extract.

Do your powders include any substrate matter?

No. The mushroom fruiting bodies are collected by hand once they reach maturity. They are then sundried on nets, directly under the sun. This allows the formation of ergosterol. Once dried, the mushrooms (mushroom fruiting bodies) are stored and prepared for transportation to the extraction facility.

Why is it important that you use organic ingredients?

Organic is an important aspect of modern agriculture. It is also an adequate trend. But for us it is mostly a personal choice. We would choose organic before conventional. The reason being is that most of the pesticides used have not been tested for their long term effects and the little we know is scary enough.

We offer entirely certified organic medicinal mushroom extracts. Organic is about strict control and traceability of the product.

Often mushroom extracts are used by people with various health conditions. Such conditions are usually accompanied by higher levels of toxicity, inflammatory processes and a compromised immune system. Considering we are trying to reduce these negative factors it is important to make sure whatever we use for that purpose is as clean as possible and is not going to add to present health issues.

Where are you products made and your ingredients sourced?

When we talk about world supply of medicinal mushrooms there is one country that can offer the most comprehensive service from the strain, via collection of fruiting bodies to extraction of actives. This is China. In our videos people will be able to see where our mushrooms, which later are extracted to produce extract powders, come from. Indeed China has pollution issues as do European and Western countries such as England, Germany and the USA but it also has very clean regions.

We are proud to actually work with partners that have a sustainable approach to mushroom cultivation.

As you will understand from our videos to cultivate potent medicinal mushrooms in most cases the main part of the substrate (the food for the mushrooms) is wood. Cultivation is done in deep rural areas where people make their living from mushroom growing. They appreciate the importance of what is used in the production process and are a lot more careful of how they treat their surrounding environment than many of us in “modern” Western countries. They are also very down to Earth and turn whatever is possible into compost. Mushrooms are usually cultivated in very clean areas with fertile land which offers a variety of fruits and vegetables.

Are they fair trade and sustainable?

The entire process from A to Z is very sustainable. For example, in cases when plant houses are situated in the mountains, temporary accommodation and food is organised for the farmers and workers. These people have a busy job and are very loyal and they get the same in return. It is a symbiotic relationship.

Currently we do not have fair trade certification, however, the production process is organised on truly fair trade terms.

Our packing is made of recyclable materials. We are not sure that every council has the facility to properly recycle these on 100%. We wish to soon have the chance to organise biodegradable packing, however, co-packers require extremely large number of products to be packed in order to offer biodegradable packing. And still only few co-packers are using such material. But hopefully that will change in near future with the demand for biodegradable materials used for packing.