Scleroderma Cepa: An Inedible Mushroom to Avoid

Scleroderma Cepa
  1. cepa[i] is part of a group of puffballs (fungi with spherical fruiting bodies that burst when mature to distribute the spores) known as earthballs, because they often grow partly or fully buried in the ground[ii]. They should not be confused with earthstars, which are not similar except for the name. Some are sometimes referred to as pigskin puffballs, because of their thick, tough exterior. At least one is the host of a curious and possibly parasitic bolette species that fruits from the bottom of the earthball[iii]. Unlike many puffballs, the earthballs are poisonous. The main reason to know what they are, aside from differentiating them from edible puffballs, is simply that they are interesting. S. cepa is just one example.

Earthballs can be very difficult to identify down to species level without a microscope, because the most distinctive feature of each species is its spores.

The Truth About Medicinal Mushrooms

Medicinal Mushrooms

Medicinal Mushrooms are great. One of the few supplements I feel confident taking that actually has benefits. Most of the supplement industry is selling you on placebo, but I don't feel that's the case with medicinal mushrooms. HOWEVER; a large portion of the Mushroom Industry is corrupt. ​Come read this article if you want to find out the Dirty Secret in the Mushroom Industry and how to choose an Authentic Mushroom Supplement.

Identification and Description

Sporocarp: “Sporocarp” refers to the entire fruiting body. It is small to mid-sized, like a slightly flattened ball or cushion in shape. There is no true stem, though the mycelium connecting the sporocarp to the substrate may sometimes be stemlike. The skin is tough and, when young, smooth, developing cracks with age. It is initially white, becoming pinkish or orangish brown. Bruises dark brown if handled. When mature, the skin splits open to expose the spores.
Sporocarp Interior:
The interior, which becomes the spores, is initially white, becoming purple-black mixed with white mycelium, then finally dull brown. It is firm in texture, never soft or liquidy.
Smell:
Has a musty, mushroomy scent.
Spores:
Round and spiny.
Spore color:
Dull brown.
Edibility:
Poisonous!
Habitat:
Fruits from the ground, alone or in groups, often in grassy areas, in gardens, or along paths. Frequently, only part of the flush will be above ground; for every easily visible earthball, several more can be found nearby with a little digging.

  1. cepa is mostly an eastern species in North America. The surface bruises when handled, something not true of all earthballs. The skin is thick and smooth or cracked, but without the warts or scales some of its relatives have. It’s relatively small. Its spores—the distinctive feature by which most earthballs are defined—have narrow spines and are not reticulate[iv].

Earthballs vs. Puffballs

Puffballs are a large group of fungi that all have fruiting bodies of the same structure—a ball with spores inside—yet they are not closely related to each other. Earthballs, for example, are more closely related to bolettes than to the other puffballs[v]. Some puffballs are good to eat, and are often recommended to beginners as easy to identify even though they actually have some dangerously poisonous look-alikes.

Identifying edible puffballs often involves ruling out the various poisonous possibilities, of which there are several. Each must be ruled out separately.

The best way to rule out earthballs[vi] is to give the mushroom in question a gentle squeeze; edible puffballs are soft, rather like marshmallows, but earthballs resist squeezing, much like a football (squeeze too hard, and they’ll break open. A broken earthball will not resist squeezing anymore). Many writers also recommend slicing the mushroom open, saying that the inside of an earthball is never white—but actually, very young earthballs do have white interiors, it’s just that they darken much younger than the edible puffballs do.

Scleroderma cepa Toxicity, Safety, & Side Effects

The specific toxin involved has not been identified, but it causes vomiting, cramps, bloody diarrhea, and sometimes muscle rigidity. Symptoms can begin anywhere from ten minutes to five hours after ingestion.  Medical treatment may be available through a Poison Control Center. Assuming, that is, that S. cepa is biochemically the same as S. Bovista, for which information is more easily available[vii].

What is clear? Don’t eat this thing.

Of earthballs generally, none seem to be lethal, but sensitivity varies, so some people get mildly sickened, others are severely so. Some can get a bad reaction just from accidentally eating some spores—however, children who kick mature earthballs to make their spores go POOF (a favorite pastime of many) seem to suffer no ill effects[viii].

 References:

[i]       Wood, M., Stevens, F. (n.d.). California Fungi—Scleroderma cepa. Mykoweb.Com

[ii]      Kuo, M. (2011). The Genus Scleroderma.

[iii]     Kuo, M. (2020). Pseudoboletus parasiticus.

[iv]     Kuo, M. (2011). The Genus Scleroderma. 

[v]      Ibid.

[vi]     HenoftheWood (2018). Mushroom Identification: The Pigskin Poison Puffball.

[vii]    (n.d.). Scleroderma bovista—Potato Earthball. Zoology.UBC.CA website, accessed January 3, 2021.

[viii]   HenoftheWood (2018). Mushroom Identification: The Pigskin Poison Puffball.

 

Laetiporus gilbertsonii: The Western Hardwood Sulfur Shelf

Laetiporus gilbertsonii
  1.  gilbertsonii is one of several species that have been split off from L. sulphureus in recent decades[i]. The whole group is still usually referred to as chicken-of-the-woods (because of the taste) or sulfur shelf (because of the color and shape), and some writers still treat all of them as essentially the same mushroom. The European species has a long history both as food and in folk medicine, and so the whole flock of chicken mushroom species is now treated as a prize edible and as potentially useful medically. That may or may not be correct; there could be biochemical differences among the species that matter.

As the name western hardwood sulfur shelf implies, L. gilbertsonii is native to western North America and grows on hardwoods there. People do eat them, usually without problems. The now re-defined L. sulphureus grows only in eastern North America.

Chicken-of-the-Woods is not closely related to, and does not closely resemble, hen-of-the-woods, despite the confusing similarity of their names.

The Truth About Medicinal Mushrooms

Medicinal Mushrooms

Medicinal Mushrooms are great. One of the few supplements I feel confident taking that actually has benefits. Most of the supplement industry is selling you on placebo, but I don't feel that's the case with medicinal mushrooms. HOWEVER; a large portion of the Mushroom Industry is corrupt. ​Come read this article if you want to find out the Dirty Secret in the Mushroom Industry and how to choose an Authentic Mushroom Supplement.

Identification and Description

Cap: A single fruiting body is usually a large cluster of thin, medium to large, semi-circular or fan-shaped caps. The surface is suede-like. The color is somewhat variable and can fade in older specimens, but they generally have alternating bands of various shades of yellow. The internal flesh is yellowish or whitish, does not change color when cut, and is soft in young specimens but chalky in older ones.
Gills:
There are no gills. The spores are released from tiny pores on the underside of the caps. The pore surface is usually distinctively yellow, though there is a variant with a white pore surface as well. The surface does not bruise when handled.
Stem:
There is usually no stem, however some individuals have a short, poorly-defined, yellowish stem.
Smell:
Nothing useful for identification.
Taste:
Nothing useful for identification.
Spores:
Ellipsoid and smooth.
Spore color:
White.
Edibility:
Considered choice, but with caution.
Habitat:
Eats either living or dead oaks and eucalypts. Fruits above the ground, either singly or in groups, in the fall or winter.

Chicken mushrooms as a group are relatively easy to recognize; they are all clusters of brightly-colored, non-woody, shelves. The challenge is to determine which chicken is which—as might be suspected of a group that was until recently mistaken for a single species. The key is to remember that each species has a limited range; where the mushroom is growing is the first clue as to its identity.

  1. gilbertsonii is the only even vaguely similar mushroom within its range that both eats hardwoods and has a yellow pore surface (some do have white pore surfaces). As long as the enthusiast is aware that there is more than one chicken-of-the-woods species, this one is not difficult to identify[ii]. The fruiting bodies last only a few weeks before crumbling and then falling from the tree, but the fungus is likely to fruit again from the same spot the next year[iii].

Laetiporus gilbertsonii Benefits

Virtually all the information available on the benefits of chicken-of-the-woods refer to L. sulphureus, either because the research actually involved L. sulphureus, or because the researchers didn’t know there are more than one chicken species. Most writers assume that all the chicken species are functionally interchangeable—that they all have the same medicinal and nutritional benefits. That could be true, but it might not be. The following should therefore be taken with some caution, since it properly applies to a different species.

Nutritional Benefits

Chicken mushrooms as a group are considered choice edibles, and often recommended to beginner foragers because they are relatively easy to identify. They are reported to taste very much like chicken, to the point of making a good chicken substitute in recipes. If L. sulphureus is typical, then they are are quite healthy to eat; a 100g serving has 14 g of protein, 6g of carbohydrate, and just 1g of fat, all of which adds up to just 33 calories[iv].

Medicinal benefits

Like with many mushrooms, there is preliminary evidence to suggest that at least some forms of chicken-of-the-woods contain substances with various medicinal properties, such as antibacterials, anti-carcinogens, anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatories[v].

It’s important to recognize that even if L. gilbertsonii shares all of these same chemical constituents (it may or may not), that does not mean eating it for dinner will cure cancer or anything else. Much of the research on these mushrooms has involved animal studies or pure chemistry without any test subjects at all. Those that did involve human subjects were preliminary. And in virtually all cases, it was a concentrated extract being investigated and not the whole mushroom at all. Whether it’s possible to get a medicinally significant dose by eating the mushroom is simply not known yet.

Like the other members of its genus, L. gilbertsonii has potential as a source of medicinal substances. The lack of conclusive information is only that—a lack of information. It should not be taken as evidence that these mushrooms cannot be helpful. Maybe they can be.

Laetiporus gilbertsonii Dosage

No dosage guidelines have been established yet. Because L. gilbertsonii is edible, getting too much is not a serious concern, except possibly in extreme cases, but it’s likely that eating the mushroom provides too small of a dose to be helpful. In that case, concentrated extracts would be the best option. For proper dosage for them, rely on the judgment of an experienced practitioner.

Laetiporus gilbertsonii Toxicity, Safety, & Side Effects

Some people have gotten mildly ill from eating this mushroom[vi]. The problem appears to be caused by either inadequate cooking or by the advanced age of the specimen in question. Some people consider that specimens growing on eucalypts are toxic (possibly having absorbed oils from their food?), but that has not been confirmed. It’s possible at least some of the confusion regarding which chickens are good to eat is related to differences among the species—some may simply be more toxic than others. It’s also possible some people are more sensitive, or even allergic, to one or another chicken mushroom species.

What is clear is that all chicken mushroom species should only be harvested when young and soft (even if that means not harvesting the whole mushroom) and must be well-cooked before being eaten.

Some people caution that chicken-of-the-woods has poisonous look-alikes. Others insist that there are no look-alikes. The confusion likely results from differences in how well people can identify mushrooms. For example, an experienced forager would never mistake a gilled mushroom for one with pores, but a beginner might. It is human nature to have difficulty noticing distinctions among unfamiliar things, suggesting that only those persons familiar with mushrooms should gather them—even species considered “unmistakable” by experts.

References:

[i]       (n.d.). Western Hardwood Sulphur Shelf. iNaturalist

[ii]      Kuo, M. (2019). Laetiporus gilbertsonii.

[iii]     Wood, M., Stevens, F. (n.d.) California Fungi—Laetiporus gilbertsonii. Mykoweb

[iv]     Fresh Chicken of the Woods. Whole Earth Harvest website.

[v]      Rogers, R. D. (2015). Chicken of the Woods—Medicinal Mycology. FUNGI 8(4)

[vi]     Wood, M., Stevens, F. (n.d.) California Fungi—Laetiporus gilbertsonii.

 

The Ultimate Guide to Psilocybe Cubensis B+ Mushrooms

Psilocybe Cubensis B+ Mushrooms

B+ is a strain of Psilocybe cubensis, a well-known hallucinogenic mushroom species[i]. The B+ strain is popular with growers because it is easy to work with, accepting a very wide range of growing conditions and substrates and producing large, thick caps. Though not the fastest-grower among P. cubensis strains, B+ is not the slowest, either. Color can vary a little, depending on growing conditions; enthusiasts describe the large golden to caramel-color caps as “beautiful.”

About Psilocybe cubensis

It can be difficult to learn much about P. cubensis[ii] besides its use as a “magic” mushroom, since many writers focus on that one point to the exclusion of all else. Yet even if a person’s primary interest is the “magic,” learning about the mushroom provides necessary context.

  1. cubensis is one of a number of closely-related psychoactive species, though it is the most well-known (there are also other psychoactive mushrooms that are not closely related to P. cubensis and have somewhat different effects). The substances responsible for the psychoactive effects are psilocybin, psilocin, baeocystin, and norbaeocystin. The concentration of these substances can vary significantly from one individual mushroom to another.

Although P. cubensis is not generally considered toxic (but see note under Cautions!) it closely resembles a number of other species, including the aptly-named deadly galerina. Growing “magic mushrooms” at home is substantially safer than harvesting them wild, and multiple cultivated varieties, including B+, exist, often with creative, funny names.

Cap: Curved to flat on top, usually smooth. Variable in color, but generally light brown with a dark center. The interior flesh is white but bruises blue.
Gills: Initially gray, darkening to purple and then black, but usually with pale edges. Very young specimens still have a veil covering the gills.
Stem: Often very long. Whitish, but bruises blue. After the veil rips as the cap expands, veil remnants remain in a ring of tissue around the stem, like a skirt. Though the ring is actually white, once the purple spores are released some of them land on the ring and turn it purple.
Spore Color: Purple.
Habitat: In the wild, P. cubensis feeds on and fruits from cattle dung. It is distributed over much of the world, in part because it follows cattle; cattle egrets, birds that specialize in hunting insects near cattle, carry the spores to new pastures.

The Truth About Medicinal Mushrooms

Medicinal Mushrooms

Medicinal Mushrooms are great. One of the few supplements I feel confident taking that actually has benefits. Most of the supplement industry is selling you on placebo, but I don't feel that's the case with medicinal mushrooms. HOWEVER; a large portion of the Mushroom Industry is corrupt. ​Come read this article if you want to find out the Dirty Secret in the Mushroom Industry and how to choose an Authentic Mushroom Supplement.

Growing B+ Mushrooms

There are several different ways to grow B+ mushrooms. The simplest, especially for beginners, is to use a commercially available, already-inoculated grow kit[iii]. More advanced growers have plenty of other options, though. There are grow kits that are not yet inoculated with mycelium (bottles of liquid culture come with the kit or can be ordered separately). Or it’s possible to start from scratch, mixing and sterilizing the substrate at home and inoculating it with culture grown from spores[iv]. Starting from scratch does require a bit more know-how, but it yields more consistent results.

Please note, however, that in many jurisdictions growing psychoactive mushrooms is illegal, though possessing the spores or liquid culture usually isn’t. That means suppliers are not breaking the law to sell spores or culture or un-inoculated substrate or other supplies—but putting these items together and growing mushrooms may be a very serious crime. Again, it’s important for new, would-be growers to learn about current law in their area, to avoid breaking the law by accident.

Buying Supplies

Whether using a kit or starting from scratch, a grower is going to have to source supplies from somewhere. It’s important to keep in mind that not all suppliers are equal and not all are even remotely adequate—the industry is completely unregulated. It’s not uncommon for kits to arrive contaminated or  for bottles of culture to contain spores from the wrong strain or even the wrong species. Some would-be growers have bought bottles that turned out to contain nothing but water.

It’s important for growers to thoroughly research suppliers before ordering. Joining a community of growers and learning as much as possible about mushroom growing will help, both with knowing what questions to ask while vetting a grower and with knowing which companies have a good reputation.

Growing From Scratch

There are a number of different ways to grow P. cubensis, and indeed one of the advantages of the B+ strain is that it will grow on almost any substrate and is very forgiving of beginner mistakes. Rice flour with vermiculite is a very popular substrate, as are rice or coir, but manure works, too, as do a few other options (See: The Ultimate Guide to Mushroom Substrates). The entire process takes about two months from inoculation to harvest.

A grower will, of course, need detailed instructions, but here is an overview:

  1. Assemble equipment and supplies.
  2. Sterilize everything, and prepare to keep it sterile (shower before approaching the growing area). Contamination is a serious concern, since conditions good for the growth of mushrooms are also good for various other fungi and bacteria. Once established, these weeds are impossible to remove (the entire fruiting block must be discarded), and some contaminants are highly toxic.
  3. Make up several jars of sterile substrate and inoculate them with spores. Give the mycelia time to grow, while monitoring for any signs of contamination.
  4. Remove the colonized material from their jars and transfer to a fruiting chamber—giving the mycelia additional substrate, usually coir, to colonize at the point is optional, and depends on the exact growing method being used. Continue to monitor for contamination until harvest.

It’s important to keep temperature and humidity exactly where they should be (See: The Best Humidifiers for Growing Mushrooms). The growing fungi do need air to breathe, but light is less important. They should not be kept in the dark (without light, they won’t know where the outside of the substrate is when it’s time to form mushrooms), but they do not need light the way plants do. The same blocks of colonized substrate can go through multiple fruiting cycles.

Harvesting and Storage

It’s best to harvest the mushrooms before they reach full maturity while the gills are still covered by a veil. However, growers wishing to make their own liquid culture will want to let one or more mushrooms mature fully so it can start producing spores.

Fresh mushrooms do not last very long, but someone growing for their own use is not going to go through an entire flush quickly. Fortunately, P. cubensis both dries and freezes well. Complete drying requires a food dehydrator (See: The Best Food Dehydrator for Mushrooms).  Air-drying on a counter-top will extend the mushrooms’ shelf-life, but for a much shorter length of time.

Using B+ Mushrooms

Using any P. cubensis mushroom is illegal in many jurisdictions, though there are complications and exceptions, and laws do change over time. While this article cannot recommend that anyone break the law, obviously many mushroom enthusiasts do so. It is important to find out what the current law actually is for one’s own jurisdiction before even considering exploring mushroom magic. It would not do to get in serious legal trouble by accident.

Effects

In general, psilocybin-containing mushrooms alter both perception and mood, and not always in an enjoyable way[v]. Users may feel either euphoric or terrified. Hallucinations (which can be anywhere from subtle to extreme) may be beautiful or disturbing. There may be a sense of unreality. A lot of people have profound spiritual experiences on mushrooms. Exactly what a given mushroom experience will bring depends on the species and variety of mushroom, the dose, and the mental state of the user. There are ways to maximize the chance of having a good experience.

Aside from the psychoactive effects, there is some evidence that these mushrooms may be useful for treating a number of medical conditions, including severe headaches and depression.

The B+ strain specifically has a reputation for being very visual, “warm,” and spiritual. While not risk-free, it’s considered a good strain for beginners.

Cautions

  1. cubensis is relatively safe to use. Most people who seek help do so because of short-term problems associated with a “bad trip,” not because of any kind of toxicity[vi]. And yet there are several important cautions to keep in mind when using B+, or any other P. cubensis strain.

Don’t put too much faith in dosing guides. It’s easy to find recommended doses online, usually expressed as a certain number of grams of dried whole mushroom. Such guides may be accurate for the majority of users and the majority of mushrooms. However, sensitivity to the psychoactive substances in “magic” mushrooms varies from person to person, so one user’s minimum dose may be way too much for someone else. Also, the concentration of these substances varies dramatically from mushroom to mushroom, even within the same strain, meaning even an experienced user could have a bad experience with an unexpectedly powerful mushroom. Most users figure out what works for them most of the time, but it’s not a fool-proofyi proposition[vii].

Don’t over-estimate the psychological risks—but don’t underestimate them, either. “Magic mushrooms” have a reputation (mostly among people who have never used them) for being psychologically dangerous, able to cause psychotic episodes and other problems. These risks are often over-stated; people who have personal experience with the mushrooms report that such horror stories are extremely rare. However, negative effects are possible. Persons with a family history of schizophrenia, or other risk factors for psychosis, should not take psychoactive mushrooms.

Don’t gather wild Psilocybe mushrooms. Persons who are not actually experts at mushroom identification should not harvest wild “magic mushrooms,” since one of their look-alikes is toxic and can kill those who eat it.

References:

[i]       (n.d.). Psilocybe cubensis “B+”. Psilosophy

[ii]      (n.d.). Psilocycbe cubensis. Wikipedia

[iii]     (2018). All You Need to Know About the B+ Magic Mushroom.

[iv]     (n.d.). The Ultimate Guide to Growing Psilocybin Mushrooms. The Third Wave

[v]      Davis, K., Wilson, D.R., (2019). What Are Magic Mushrooms and Psilocybin?

[vi]     Austin, E., Myron, H.S., Summerball, R. K., Mackenzie, C.A. (2019). Acute Renal Injury Cause by Psilocybe cubensis Mushroom Ingestion. Medical Mycology Case Reports 23: 55-57.

[vii]    (n.d.). Psilocycbe cubensis. Wikipedia

 

Medicinal Mushrooms: A Great Source for Beta Glucan Benefits

Beta Glucan Benefits Medicinal Mushrooms

Beta glucans[i] are a group of chemically similar substances that humans cannot produce but can benefit from by consuming. All beta glucans are polysaccharides, but not all polysaccharides are beta glucans.

A polysaccharide[ii] is a long string of sugar molecules—the string as a whole is a fiber, either insoluble or soluble (actually more like semi-soluble) in water. Depending on the details of its chemical structure, a polysaccharide can serve any of a group of functions, including intercellular communication, energy storage, and support for the physical structure of the organism. Familiar polysaccharides include starches, glycogen, chitin, and cellulose.

Here is a better explanation of Polysaccharides vs Beta Glucans.

Beta glucans are not all alike. They don’t all provide exactly the same benefits—however, they are closely related to each other, so it’s possible to make generalized statements about them and what they do[iii]. Many edible mushrooms contain beta glucans, as do certain yeasts and both oats and barley. Mushroom beta glucans have only recently begun to be seriously researched, so there is a lot that still is not known about them.

How do Beta Glucans Work?

How do beta glucans work? The question does not yet have a complete answer, especially since it isn’t yet known that they do work for all the things they are claimed to do. Much of the available research is still preliminary. That being said, a big part of the picture is that beta glucans are not digestible[iv].

Beta glucans are soluble fibers, meaning they partially dissolve in water. Yet they do not completely dissolve, and the human digestive system has no way to disassemble them into their component molecules. They cannot be absorbed. While traveling through the human digestive tract not being digested, beta glucans slow the digestion process, preventing spikes in blood sugar, and reducing the absorption of dietary cholesterol (not all cholesterol is dietary; the human body can make its own).

Beta Glucan Benefits

There are many health benefits claimed for beta glucans[v], mostly based on preliminary and sometimes conflicting evidence. The one benefit that is fairly well established is heart health. A diet rich in beta glucans lowers a person’s risk for heart disease. Almost as reliable is their reputed ability to lower cholesterol; some studies show the benefit, others do not, possibly because of differences in how the beta glucans used in the treatment were processed.

There is also some good preliminary evidence for several other benefits. Beta glucans may be able to reduce symptoms of hay fever. Intravenous injections of certain beta glucans (but not others) seem possibly useful for extending life for women with advanced cervical cancer and for reducing the risk of serious infection after surgery or trauma.

There are also many conditions for which research suggests beta glucans might be of some use, although the jury is definitely still out. These include type 2 diabetes (but not type 1), high blood pressure, irritable bowel syndrome or IBS, certain cancers, certain infections in the airway, eczema, canker sores, obesity, and pain after surgery.

The common elements for many of these benefits appear to be blood sugar control, cholesterol reductions, immune modulation, and anti-inflammatory effects.

The lack of clarity in the research may be the result of subtleties in how beta glucans work that are not yet understood. For example, studies with different results could have used different beta glucans, or variation in the details of processing or administration could be having a big impact on the results.

The most important benefits of Beta Glucans, seem to be that they are just good for general health and well being, almost like a multi-vitamin.

The best Mushrooms to take for beta glucans are Maitake, Shiitake, Lions Mane and Reishi.

Medicinal Mushrooms and Beta Glucans

Most (not all) of the medicinal benefits attributed to mushrooms are the result of their beta glucans. That is one reason why the same list of uses, with slight variation, appears again and again among mushrooms: immune modulation, anti-inflammatory effects, blood sugar control, cholesterol reduction, and cancer treatment. Mushrooms, particularly those with a reputation for medicinal properties, are rich sources of beta glucans.

However, that does not mean that eating a lot of mushrooms is simply “a cure for what ails ya.”

The Limitations of the Research

Virtually all of the studies done on the medicinal value of beta glucans have used concentrated extracts or isolated beta glucans. Such methodologies allow researchers to focus in on the properties of the beta glucans themselves, without risking confusion from other substances that may have their own health impacts—however, that also means that basic questions, such as “if I eat a lot of shitake mushrooms, will my diabetes get better?” haven’t been addressed.

Also, there are many different beta glucans and many possible ways of preparing and administering them. Only a few possibilities have ever been tested and only on a handful of all the possible medical problems these substances could possibly address. We have more questions than answers.

As a result, most of the use of medicinal mushrooms and mushroom products depends on educated guesses based on the limited amount of information available. Certain beta glucans are effective against certain cancers. Does that mean other beta glucans will be effective against other cancers? Maybe, maybe not. An isolated beta glucan is effective against type 2 diabetes, so does that mean the mushroom that beta glucan was isolated from is also effective against type 2 diabetes? Maybe, maybe not. Many writers over-state the case for medicinal mushrooms, writing as if all benefits for which there is even a suggestion of support are proven, definite things. The truth is the research isn’t there yet.

Making sense of the limited and conflicting information we have is a job for an expert. Those who are sick and wish to try mushroom-derived beta glucans should either consult an expert or become one.

Possible Warnings and Concerns

Beta glucans generally stimulate the immune system, so they may not be a good choice for people taking immunosuppressant drugs.  Also, while the amount of beta glucans present in food appears entirely safe—a person can eat as much of the beta glucan-rich foods as they want—concentrated extracts could be a different story, and the safety of their long-term use has not yet been well researched.

People who are pregnant or otherwise medically vulnerable should take note that beta glucan supplements are unknown territory.

Choosing Beta Glucan Supplements

There are a lot of beta glucan supplements on the market (they may or may not be mushroom-derived), as well as mushroom extracts that owe much of their effectiveness to their beta glucan content. Unfortunately, these products are not regulated, so quality is very far from assured. It is up to consumers to do their own research.

One approach is to speak with experienced medical practitioners and ask for recommended brands. Another approach is to research the product directly. One of the most important things to look for is a statement of guaranteed beta glucan content (not polysaccharide content, since there are polysaccharides that are not beta glucans). Companies that cannot say exactly how much beta glucan their product has might not actually provide any.

It’s also important to learn enough about biochemistry to recognize nonsense. A favorite tactic of unscrupulous companies is to couch their product claims in language that sounds good, but actually mean nothing—and any company willing to mislead consumers to any degree is likely not to have a safe and effective product. Achieving scientific literacy is an excellent way to separate the charlatans from the reliable providers. This is my choice for a trustworthy company selling a Beta Glucan Supplement.

References:

[i]       (n.d.). Beta Glucans.

[ii]      (2019). Polysaccharide. Biology Dictionary

[iii]     Khan, A.A., Gani, A., Khanday, F.A., Masoodi, F.A., (2018). Biological and Pharmaceutical Activities of Mushroom β-Glucan Discussed as a Potential Functional Food Ingredient. Bioactive Carbohydrates and Dietary Fibre 16: 1-13.

[iv]     Goldman, R., Butler, N., (2016). Beta Glucan: The Heart-Healthy Fiber.

[v]      (n.d.). Beta Glucans.

The Best Adaptogenic Mushrooms for Natural Stress Relief

adaptogenic mushrooms

An adaptogen is any substance that increases the body’s resistance to stress. The concept was developed, initially in relation to plant-derived substances, based on research conducted in the Soviet Union beginning in World War II[i]. The military hoped to find substances that could increase the physical and mental performance of military personnel, especially in the intensely stressful conditions of war. True adaptogens appear to work by stimulating the endocrine system, immune system, or central nervous system. Not all adaptogens have exactly the same benefits. Not all substances claimed to be adaptogens actually are—the term is used rather loosely by many writers.

Adaptogens are not simply “stress relievers” in the ordinary sense. They don’t necessarily help a person feel more relaxed after a rough day at work. Instead, they protect the body and mind from the illness and fatigue normally caused by ongoing extreme difficulty. Of course, avoiding the stress to begin with is even better, but that might not be an option for soldiers, healthcare workers, and others who put themselves on the line for the greater good. Adaptogens are substances identified as able to help them stay on the job longer without breaking down.

Adaptogens are curious in that they can help with many seemingly very different conditions by improving the body’s own ability to cope. For example, extreme emotional stress might manifest as mental impairment, exhaustion, susceptibility to illness, and even flare-ups of old soft-tissue injuries. An adaptogen might be able to address all of those problems, not because it is a magical cure-all able to morph itself into seven different kinds of medicine as needed, but because it addresses the underlying problem, which might in this case involve the adrenal glands.

It’s easy to mistake adaptogens for something they are not, to speak of them as a cure-all, or as somehow able to identify what a person needs and then become that. It’s also easy to assume that any substance traditionally believed to be a “tonic” or thought to have some other vaguely defined or difficult-to-scientifically-test benefit is an adaptogen and therefore supported by science. The fact is that calling something adaptogen does not automatically mean it’s good to take for whatever.

As always, relying on actual research and real critical thinking is key.

List of Adapotengic Mushrooms and their Benefits

Although the initial research on adaptogens involved plants, there are also a number of mushroom species either known or suspected to have adaptogenic properties[ii]. Again, adaptogens should only be used alongside lifestyle changes and, if necessary, professional medical treatment. And no one should ever self-diagnose chronic or severe medical problems—what seem to be symptoms of stress could turn out to be a very different underlying illness. Only a doctor can be sure.

Chaga (Inonotus obliquus)

Mushroom forums online often fill up with photos sent in by eager amateurs excitedly asking “is this chaga?” No, it usually is not. The lumpy, burnt-looking growth is easily confused with all sorts of other lumpy growths trees get. The excitement is on account of chaga tea’s reputation as a cure-all, both in European folk medicine and among modern enthusiasts. Some of that reputation has been at least partially borne out by recent research; chaga[iii] appears to have a number of medicinal properties, including immunomodulation, anti-inflammation, and neurostimulation, meaning it is, possibly, an adaptogen.

Reishi (Ganoderma lingzhi)

Reishi is another species famous for its use as a cure-all in folk medicine. Although there are complications involved in the use of reishi products (notably, reishi can be toxic under some circumstances), at least some of its supposed benefits have been borne out by preliminary research. Notably, rats treated with a reishi extract survived simulated high-altitude environments better than did rats in the control group, in part by avoiding damaging inflammation[iv]. At least in rats, reishi does appear to be an adaptogen.

Cordyceps (Cordyceps sp.)

Cordyceps is a genus of club fungi that attack, kill, and fruit from either puffball fungi or certain insects[v]. Various cordyceps species have long histories as folk medicine, and remedies made from these species have become popular among modern enthusiasts. Among the benefits supported by at least preliminary research are anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory effects[vi], putting these fungi firmly under the heading of adaptogen.

Other Species

There are many other mushroom species commonly claimed to be adaptogens. They may well be, particularly as their other claimed benefits are supported by at least preliminary studies. However, scientific papers on medicinal mushrooms seldom use the word “adaptogen,” and it is difficult to be sure, without extensive analysis of the literature, whether the benefits these papers do mention count as adaptogens by other names.

Using Adaptogenic Mushrooms

Even if a mushroom species is an adaptogen, that might not mean that eating it for dinner is the same as taking medicine. For one thing, some medicinal mushrooms, such as reishi, are not palatable. For another, most medicinal mushrooms do not provide a therapeutic dose when eaten whole. Instead, it’s necessary to prepare a concentrated extract.

To be effective, the extract must be the result of hot-water extraction—some might go through a second  extraction process using alcohol, but alcohol alone cannot break down the tough cell walls of fungi. Without hot water, the medicinal substances inside the cells stay inside, and the extract is worthless. It’s possible to make extracts at home—sometimes the process is as simple as making tea, though for some species specialized equipment is necessary. It’s also possible to buy commercially-made extracts.

Unfortunately, mushroom-based supplements are not regulated, so there is nothing to prevent low-quality product from hitting the shelves. Buyers must do their own research. Generally, the most important thing to look for is a guaranteed analysis of how much of which medicinal substances the product contains. Companies that cannot provide such information cannot be trusted to contain any medicinal value at all.

There are other indicators of quality to look for, depending on the species of mushroom, the type of product, and the needs of the buyer. Searching for and identifying quality mushroom supplements is an art in itself. Fortunately, if a medical practitioner has recommended mushrooms, that practitioner should also be able to recommend a reputable brand.

References:

[i]       Panossian, A., Wikman, G. (2010). Effects of Adaptogens on the Central Nervous System and the Molecular Mechanisms Associated with Their Stress-Protective Activity. Pharmaceuticals 3(1): 188-224.

[ii]      (n.d.). 6 Adaptogenic Mushrooms and Their Health Benefits.

[iii]     Patel S. (2015). Chaga (Inonotus obliquus) Mushroom: Nutraceutical Assessment Based on Latest Findings. In Emerging Bioresources with Nutraceutical and Pharmaceutical Prospects. Applied Environmental Science and Engineering for a Sustainable Future. Springer, Cham.

[iv]     Sharma, P., Tulsawani, R., Agrawal, U. (2019). Pharmacological Effects of Ganoderma lucidum Extract Against High-altitude Stressors and Its Subchronic Toxicity Assessment. Journal of Food Biochemistry 43(12).

[v]      Kuo, M. (2006). Cordyceps militaria.

[vi]     Ng, T.B., Wang, H.X. (2005). Pharmacological Actions of Cordyceps, a Prized Folk Medicine. The Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology 57(12): 1509-19.

The Ultimate Guide to Buying the Best Mushroom Supplement for Dogs

mushrooms for dogs

People who love their dogs naturally want to give their dogs good and healthy things. Just as naturally, dog lovers who also happen to be mushroom enthusiasts want to give their dogs mushrooms.

Edible mushrooms are delicious and nutritious to us, and medicinal mushrooms are a popular part of alternative healthcare beginning to be backed up (at least in some cases) by modern scientific research. But humans aren’t dogs. It’s well-known that there are things most humans can eat safely (like chocolate or onions) that dogs can’t—and vice versa. It’s also true that medicine works a little differently from one species to another. You wouldn’t give your dog your pills without talking to a vet.

So should you give your dog mushrooms?

Ultimately, definitive medical and nutritional advice for your dog ought to come from your dog’s vet, not the internet. But just to get the mental wheels turning—to give you an idea of what questions to ask—read on.

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Can Dogs Take Mushrooms Safely?

Can dogs take mushrooms safely? The short answer is that they can take what we can[i].

Unlike with plants, there are no known mushrooms that are safe for humans and poisonous for dogs. They seem to react the same way we do, more or less. That means that mushrooms toxic to us are also dangerous to them. Unfortunately, some of the most toxic mushroom species around smell interesting and taste great to dogs (to humans, too, reportedly). Dogs should not be allowed to forage for mushrooms on their own, because they can and will poison themselves that way.

Another problem is that many edible mushroom species taste great cooked with onions and garlic, both of which are poisonous to dogs. It’s not a good idea to share mushrooms off your plate unless you’re sure the rest of the ingredients are safe for dogs, too. It’s also not a good idea to give dogs raw mushrooms, unless the species is one known to be safe for humans to eat raw (most are not).

But any mushroom that is safe for humans to eat can also safely be prepared for dogs, yes. If there are exceptions, they have not yet been discovered.

What Benefits Do Mushrooms Have for Dogs?

Mushrooms probably have the same nutritional and medicinal benefits for dogs as for humans. Practitioners recommend the same species for the same reasons to both human and canine patients. The tricky thing is there is very little research on the effectiveness of medicinal mushrooms in humans. There is even less for dogs.

In most cases, the existing research supporting the medicinal use of mushrooms is extremely preliminary. There might be encouraging studies that used experimental mice or rats or, in some cases, human tissue cultured in labs. Chemical studies identify the presence of substances thought to have certain benefits. Folk traditions thousands of years old recommend certain treatments (and are sometimes right and other times very wrong). For a few species, there are clinical experiments in human beings (rarely in dogs), but most of these are still small and preliminary. All of this is not to say that mushrooms don’t work—on the contrary, it is reason to believe that they probably do, it’s just that there are still a lot of unanswered questions. Basically, the jury is still out.

Experienced practitioners take all of this preliminary information, add in their own clinical experience, and make educated guesses. Some of those experienced practitioners are vets treating dogs.

What benefits a person can expect from mushrooms (for themselves or for their dog) depends on the species of mushroom. However, among the most popular, best-researched species, the following possible benefits stand out:

  • Cancer Treatments
  • Diabetes Treatments
  • Anti-inflammatory Effects
  • Antibiotics
  • Anti-viral Effects
  • Faster Healing of Wounds
  • Weight Management
  • Cardiovascular Treatments

Choosing the Best Mushrooms for Dogs

The best way to choose which medicinal mushrooms to give a dog is to ask a vet. But not every vet will be able to answer. Most vets do not know much about mushrooms and may be openly skeptical or dismissive, but there are holistic practices that combine standard veterinary medicine with alternative therapies, and many of these have experience with mushrooms.

But the reason to consult one of these vets is not their expertise in mushrooms, but rather their expertise in dogs.

First, none of the above-mentioned conditions (cancer, diabetes, and so forth) should be tackled by a non-expert alone, no matter how effective mushrooms are. And when a dog is being treated by a vet, the vet has to be made aware of all aspects of the dog’s care, because otherwise a mushroom remedy given at home could interact badly with a drug given by the vet.

The principle that mushrooms don’t replace doctors applies to human health, too, but dogs carry an added complication—they can’t talk.

Humans know how we feel, and we can learn how to self-diagnose to some degree. Dogs, too, know how they feel, but they won’t tell us. Most try to hide their pain and discomfort until things get really bad. The signals they do give are often ambiguous. Vets have the experience and the diagnostic equipment necessary to figure out what’s really going on, and only with an accurate diagnosis is choosing the right treatment even possible.

But if the vet doesn’t prescribe a specific brand of mushroom supplement, it’s important to know what to look for.

Buying Quality Supplements

With rare exceptions, medicinal mushrooms are best taken as powdered extracts or as teas—in whole mushrooms, the medicinal substances may not be concentrated enough, or may be hard to absorb. There are medicinal mushroom products made for dogs, though those made for humans are likely to be useful, too. But since mushroom products are not regulated the way FDA-approved medications are, it’s up to the buyer to make sure the product is safe and effective.

The rules for choosing quality mushroom products[ii] are the same, whether the intended beneficiary is human or canine.

  • Buy extracts, not whole mushroom. Raw mushroom, whether fresh or dried and powdered, is nearly useless to dogs or humans since we cannot digest the chitin in fungal cell walls. Hot water extraction (basically making tea) melts the chitin and releases the medicinal substances. A secondary extraction process with alcohol may release even more, but alcohol extraction is useless if hot water extraction has not been done first. The extract may be sold in liquid form or dehydrated into a powder, either packaged loose or in capsules. The important thing is that it is a hot-water extract, not just powdered mushroom. A good article about buying a hot water extracted medicinal mushroom.
  • Avoid mycelium products. Mycelium (a network of almost-invisible threads) is the body of the fungus; mushrooms are its fruit. Mycelium-based products are cheap to produce because the grower doesn’t have to wait as long to harvest, but in most species the mycelium contains little if any of the potentially medicinal substances buyers need. It’s just filler. With very few exceptions it’s important to look for extracts that are made, 100%, from the fruiting body, the mushroom itself. Here is a good article on why you should avoid Mycelium based mushroom products for your dog.
  • Know what you’re getting. There are medicinal mushroom products out there that don’t contain medicinal substances. Some don’t even contain the right species (that some common names refer to multiple species does not help). If the packaging doesn’t include a guaranteed analysis of the specific medicinal substances in the product, call the company; if they don’t know either, or won’t say, do not buy the product. What to look for on a label and why you want Beta-D-Glucans.
  • Choose organic (or wildcrafted). There is little point in giving your dog alternative or supportive therapies made of mushrooms if said mushrooms are full of pesticide residues. If the mushrooms were harvested from the wild, make sure they were sourced from an area that is not polluted, and that they were harvested sustainably.

The Best Mushroom Supplements for Dogs

Among the most frequently recommended mushrooms for dogs are the following[iii]:

Reishi (Ganoderma lingzhi)

Reishi is a tricky medicinal because what was once thought to be one species is actually several, and no one knows yet how these species might differ in terms of their potential benefit. There is also some evidence that it might be toxic for humans under some circumstances. Nevertheless, it remains popular for strengthening the immune system and may help with anxiety in dogs.

Maitake or hen-of-the-woods (Grifola frondosa)

Maitake is also popular for immune support and for help with cancer treatment (never attempt to fight cancer with mushrooms alone!).

Cordyceps (Cordyceps sp.)

Cordyceps is actually a group of species, all of which kill and then grow from the bodies of insects. They are considered useful for supporting the metabolism.

Turkey Tail (Tremetes versicolor)

Turkey tail, named for the colors of its fan-shaped fruiting body, is considered useful for fighting cancer and for immune support.

Lion’s Mane (Hericium erinaceus)

Lion’s mane, and possibly some of its close relatives as well, promotes the production of substances associated with brain growth. It is therefore sometimes used for dogs experiencing cognitive dysfunction (the canine equivalent of dementia).

Individually those are all great medicinal mushrooms for dogs, but we recommend an “all around” mushroom supplement for pet health. Our favorite is Noomadic Herbals, Mushroom Total. It contains, Reishi, Turkey Tail, Lions Mane, Chaga, and Cordyceps.

References:

[i]       Burke, A. (2017). Can Dogs Eat Mushrooms?

[ii]      (n.d.). Medicinal Mushrooms Extracts and Supplements: A Buyer’s Guide.

[iii]     Shields, T. (n.d.). Everything You Need to Know About Choosing the Best Mushroom for Dogs.

A Guide to Getting Vegan Vitamin D from Medicinal Mushrooms

Vitamin D from Mushrooms

Vitamin D[i] is a group of several substances the body needs for bone health and possibly other reasons. Humans can make our own vitamin D in our bodies if we get regular exposure to sunlight, but unfortunately many people don’t. Without sunlight, we must get our vitamin D from our diet or from supplements.

Unfortunately, most natural dietary sources of the vitamin are animal-based. Foods such as orange juice are sometimes sold with vitamin D added, but it’s often from an animal-based source (the packaging will say whether vitamin D was added, but not how the vitamin was sourced). Vitamin D pills are also usually animal-based. All of this is a problem for vegans.

In general, vegans don’t use animal products. Rigor varies; many people call themselves vegan to indicate only that they don’t eat animal flesh, eggs, or dairy, but others make a serious attempt to literally use no animal products whatsoever, including orange juice that contains vitamin D synthesized from lanolin (the skin oil of sheep).

Fortunately for vegans who don’t get enough sun, fungi are in some ways more similar to animals than to plants and, like animals, produce vitamin D. Unfortunately, using mushrooms as a dietary source of the vitamin is not as simple as ordering extra mushrooms on a pizza[ii].

Why Do You Need Vitamin D?

Vitamin D helps the body make use of calcium and phosphorus, necessary nutrients. Serious vitamin D deficiency causes osteomalacia and, in children, rickets[iii].  The names are sometimes used interchangeably, but strictly speaking rickets involves impaired mineralization of the growth plates of the bones, whereas osteomalacia involves impaired mineralization of the bones.

Children can get both, often simultaneously, but adults no longer have growth plates and therefore can’t get rickets. Mild cases might have subtle symptoms or none at all, but more advanced cases involve bone pain, muscle weakness, and eventually warping and fracturing of the bones. Children with rickets can develop serious deformities, delayed growth, and seizures[iv].  Rickets and osteomalacia can be caused by a combination of dietary deficiency and insufficient exposure to sunlight, but they can also be caused by a number of other conditions, such as celiac disease or cystic fibrosis, that prevent a person from making use of the vitamin D they have.

Vitamin D may also have other functions in the body that have not yet been confirmed.

Rickets and osteomalacia are both very rare conditions, but it’s thought that mild vitamin D deficiency—enough to have a subtle effect on a person’s health, without causing overt illness—is quite common.

How the Body Gets Vitamin D

The primary way to get vitamin D is to expose the skin to sunlight. A short period of exposure every day should be enough, although the darker a person’s skin is, the more exposure they need. Even light-skinned people sometimes don’t get enough if they live in far northern areas where sunlight is weak and cold weather makes skin exposure unpleasant or dangerous.

People who don’t get outside enough, or who always wear protective clothing and sunscreen when outside (something that is otherwise a good idea), are at high risk for vitamin D deficiency. Even glass windows sometimes filter sunlight in a way as to prevent vitamin D production.

Dietary vitamin D isn’t always able to fully counteract insufficient sun exposure, but it certainly helps. Doctors recommend that anyone at risk of insufficient sunlight make sure to get enough dietary vitamin D, or, if that is difficult, take supplements. In general, the older a person is, the more vitamin D they need.

It is possible to get too much vitamin D—the result is excess calcium in the blood, which can cause heart problems. Most people don’t have to worry about getting too much, but it’s worth remembering this is not one of the vitamin pills that can be safely popped willy-nilly. Follow recommended doses.

Getting Vegan Vitamin D from Mushrooms

It’s not quite accurate to say that mushrooms are the “only” non-animal source of vitamin D—and it’s certainly not accurate to say they are the only plant source, since mushrooms are not plants. The thing is that there is nothing “only” about mushrooms. The fungal kingdom is every bit as diverse as the plant and animal kingdoms, and there are many, many kinds of edible mushrooms. Rather, plants don’t produce vitamin D, but animals (including humans) and fungi both do.

Fungal vitamin D is not chemically identical to animal vitamin D, and there is some thought that it might be slightly less useful in the human body, meaning we might need more of the vitamin if we’re getting it from mushrooms exclusively. That is the first complication.

The second, and potentially more serious, problem is that fungi, like animals, only make vitamin D when exposed to sunlight (or at least ultra-violet light). Because fungi don’t need light the way plants so, commercially-grown mushrooms develop either in the dark or under fluorescent lighting provided for the convenience of the workers. They have little to no vitamin D at all. To get vitamin D from mushrooms, the mushrooms must be either wild or grown by someone who deliberately exposed them to sunlight, full-spectrum grow lights, or UV lamps.

Oddly, there is a third option. The chemical process that coverts ergosterol, the cholesterol-like precursor to usable fungal vitamin D, is not accomplished by the living cells. Rather, it occurs automatically whenever ergosterol is exposed to UV radiation, even if the mushroom is no longer alive. This means that mushrooms can be enriched with vitamin D post-harvest, even after being dried. Some growers have begun to do just that. The possibility exists that consumers could buy commercially-grown mushrooms and expose them to sunlight at home before eating them in order to get more vitamin D.

Vegans, like everybody else, should prioritize regular direct sun exposure, though not to the point of risking skin damage or cancer. If that’s not possible, or if there is some other reason why getting enough vitamin D is a concern, than regularly eating wild mushrooms or mushrooms otherwise exposed to UV light could make up the difference. Vitamin concentrations vary depending on the species and also how the mushrooms are cooked, but in general light-exposed mushrooms are an effective source of vitamin D. And there are also commercially-prepared vitamin D supplements made from mushrooms.

Of course, anyone suffering from a medically-definable vitamin D deficiency should seek and follow the medical advice of a doctor.

References:

[i]       Eyvazzadeh, A. (2020). The Best Vegan Sources of Vitamin D.

[ii]      Cardwell, G., Bornman, J. F., James, A. P., Black, L.J. (2018). A Review of Mushrooms as a Potential Source of Dietary Vitamin D. Nutrients 10(10): 1498.

[iii]     (n.d.). Osteomalacia and Rickets. AMBOSS

[iv]     (n.d.). Rickets. Mayo Clinic

 

Best Digital and Analog Hygrometers for Growing Mushrooms

Hygrometer for Mushrooms

Generally speaking, a hygrometer is a device for measuring humidity. Knowing the outdoor humidity is important for meteorologists, while knowing the indoor humidity is important to anyone wishing to control humidity for any reason—museum curators who need to keep their collections very dry, for example. Even ordinary homeowners sometimes use hygrometers to discover and address damp corners before mold and other problems can develop.

Mushroom growers know that most mushrooms fruit best in high humidity, usually 85% or better. Many indoor growers use hygrometers to make sure their grow chambers are in the optimum range and to monitor their humidifiers.

It’s fair to point out that not all growers use hygrometers[i]. It’s difficult to find a unit at a reasonable price that reads accurately at very high humidity, so many growers find it easier to just estimate based on factors such as the presence of condensation on the chamber walls. Condensation is the result of the relationship between the humidity in the chamber and the temperature difference between the chamber and the room it’s sitting in—place the chamber in a warm enough room, and no condensation will form no matter how humid the air inside the chamber is. And yet an experienced grower will know what temperature differences should produce condensation, and will know to mist if it’s not there.

But inexperienced growers, those with large or automated set-ups, or anyone who needs very precise measurements will appreciate a quality hygrometer.

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Types of Hygrometers

Strictly speaking, “hygrometer” is a whole family of devices that differ not only in how they measure but also in what they measure. That is, unlike a thermometer, which always measures the same variable (temperature) no matter what sort of technology it uses, hygrometers can measure any of a group of related variables[ii][iii], all of which bear, directly or indirectly, on the amount of water in the air.

The buyer doesn’t really need to know which is which—it’s perfectly fine to just look for a gadget that will spit out the necessary numbers, and never mind the how or the why. In fact, consumers may not be able to find out which a given model belongs to, since product descriptions don’t necessarily include the information. And yet knowing the different types of technologies and the advantages and disadvantages of each provides useful context for making sense of product descriptions.

The following discussion its not exhaustive—it’s just intended as an introduction to the topic.

Hair-tension Hygrometer

The hair-tension hygrometer is the oldest type of humidity sensor. The first one did indeed involve a human hair, although many now use cellulose or nylon instead. The important thing is that there is a fiber of some sort that expands and contracts due to humidity, thereby moving a needle or a dial. These devices are inexpensive and durable.

Metal-paper Coil Hygrometers

Metal-paper coil hygrometers also depend on an object changing shape in response to humidity, and they are also inexpensive. They aren’t very accurate, and so are used in circumstances where getting within about 10% is good enough.

Dew-point/Frost-point Hygrometers

The dew point is the temperature at which dew will form. Because warm air holds more moisture, the more humid the air is, the higher the dew-point is. Dew-point or condensation hygrometers work by chilling a mirror until condensation forms on it, then recording that temperature. Devices designed to work below freezing are called frost-point hygrometers (and are clearly irrelevant for mushroom growing). Dew-point hygrometers are super-accurate (far more so than a grower needs) and do not need to be calibrated. They are used in scientific research.

Electrical Hydrometers

No, an electrical hygrometer is not simply one with a digital read-out; they are based on how humidity changes the behavior of electricity. Generally, the sensor sits inside a semiconductor that can absorb water and records changes in either capacitance or resistance, though there are other types as well. Both the capacitance and resistance versions are vulnerable to contamination. Resistance types fail if too much condensation forms inside the unit.

Psychrometers

A psychrometer has two thermometers, one with a wet bulb, the other dry. The drier the air, the faster the moisture evaporates off the wet bulb, cooling that thermometer more. The difference between the readings of the two thermometers is then used to calculate the humidity. Air has to move past the wet bulb, and can be sucked into the device for that purpose, as in aspirating psychrometers, or the bulb itself can whirl around, as in sling psychrometers. Not surprisingly, the former is the smaller, more portable option. Psychrometers in general have a few limitations; they don’t work below freezing, and they don’t work if the humidity is below 20%. Neither is a problem for mushroom growers. They’re also less accurate in very small spaces because they themselves emit moisture. They are usually used either outdoors or in large indoor spaces.

What to Consider when Choosing a Hygrometer?

Once a grower has decided to use a hygrometer (and as noted, many decide not to), the choice of model depends on the intersection of a couple of different issues.

The first issue is range. Hygrometers are at their most accurate within a fairly narrow range of humidity’s and temperatures, and where the range lies depends on the model. A museum curator, for example, would need a hygrometer that was very sensitive at extremely low humidity, because the goal would be to keep the humidity of the museum below a low threshold for the safety of the collection. A hygrometer a museum curator would like would likely not be anywhere near accurate above 80% humidity, and would therefore be useless to a mushroom grower. Look for a model that is at its most accurate in the temperature and humidity range that the grow chamber should be.

Next up is durability, especially with respect to condensation. Some hygrometers fail if condensation forms inside them, as it is almost sure to do if kept in a grow chamber above 85% humidity for any length of time. There are ways around the problem, ranging from just removing the device when a reading isn’t needed all the way to major electrical engineering projects, but the simplest solution is to get a model that doesn’t mind being damp. Above all, it’s important to know whether dampness is a problem requiring a solution or not.

Cost is, arguably, next on the list. If a hygrometer won’t read in the right range or breaks promptly because of condensation, then its price is irrelevant. But once those two basics are covered, it’s time to decide on a budget. There are hygrometers that cost thousands of dollars, but they are typically used for meteorological research, where extreme precision is important. Mushroom growers are more likely to gravitate to the other end of the scale, where home models are available for less than $10.  A few more dollars buys more precision and reliability (the lowest-cost models seem to have a high unexplained failure rate), but many users are quite satisfied with very simple, low-cost devices.

Accuracy is important, though how important it is varies from grower to grower. Some folks might need very precise information, while others only want a general idea.  The accuracy of a given brand should be listed as part of its product information. It’s also not uncommon for hygrometers to get less accurate over time—most need regular re-calibration, so it’s important that the screw or other control used for re-calibration works well and makes sense. Having a second hygrometer on hand, so each can be used to check the other’s accuracy, helps too.

Finally there are bells and whistles, features that may have a lot to do with the usefulness of the device but aren’t directly involved with sensing humidity. For example, does the display have its own light? And if it doesn’t, can the display still be read under whatever lighting conditions exist in the grow chamber? These extra features often reflect the unit’s intended use. For example, many include a dry/comfortable/wet indicator that has nothing to do with mushroom growing. Unfortunately, few if any are designed for mushroom cultivation, so it’s important to make sure that a given model’s bells and whistles won’t get in the way of its use in a grow chamber.

Whether the display is digital or analogue is not that important, except that it suggests wither the sensor is mechanical or electric, which in turn bears on the unit’s accuracy and reliability. Digital models tend to be the cheaper sort, in both senses of the word, but again many digital models do just fine.

The Top 5 Hygrometers for Growing Mushrooms

The following list includes a number of popular models. They are “top,” but they are not necessarily the best for everybody, because grower’s needs vary. Most of them fall into the “inexpensive digital hygrometer” category.

1. ThermoPro TP50 Digital Hygrometer

The ThermoPro is a small, digital hygrometer and thermometer unit designed primarily for home use, but it also does well in a variety of other contexts, including greenhouses and terrariums.  When the humidity is between 30% and 80%, the hygrometer is accurate plus or minus just 2% humidity—a range of greatest accuracy that is low for a mushroom grower’s needs, but even outside of that range it is accurate plus or minus 3%. It can respond to new conditions within 10 seconds, and records recent high and low readings of both temperature and humidity. The price is low, though somewhat higher than for some digital hygrometers.

Quality varies. Although most users report excellent results, some units arrive not working well. Others cease working well after only a few months. And unfortunately this model cannot be re-calibrated, so once a unit goes bad, it is simply done.

Buy the ThermoPro TP50 Digital Hygrometer Here

2. LittleGood 5″ Indoor Outdoor Hygrometer/Thermometer

A medium-sized analogue hygrometer and thermometer. Not only is the display analogue, but the sensor is mechanical not electric, meaning that the unit requires no batteries. It is accurate to plus or minus 5% anywhere within 1% to 99% humidity—meaning it is less accurate than some other models, but still good enough for most users. Units usually arrive reading a bit off, but since they have re-calibration screws, users can easily adjust the device as needed. The price is a little higher than some, but still very affordable. Can either sit on a shelf or hang on a wall, an advantage for growers whose grow chamber floors might be occupied by mushrooms. Users get good results. Naysayers seem to be mostly those who don’t understand re-calibration.

Buy the LittleGood Hygrometer Here

3. AcuRite 00613 Digital Hygrometer & Indoor Thermometer

Another small, digital hygrometer and thermometer. Like most, it is designed primarily for use in the home, for the benefit of human comfort. Its accuracy is not listed, but its range goes as high as 96% humidity. It is pre-calibrated, meaning it cannot be re-calibrated, but most users find that it is accurate and reliable. Some units do arrive with issues.

The AcuRite can sit on a table or hang on a wall, a good option for growers. The small size is convenient, and the price is very good.

Buy the AcuRite 00613 Digital Hygrometer Here

4. Cigar Hygrometer, Anync Round Hygrometer for Cigar Humidor

As the name implies, this analogue hygrometer is designed for use in humidors, but has features growers will appreciate. It’s small and sleek, about the size and shape of a large Reeces Peanut Butter Cup, with an attractive aluminum housing. A removable rubber ring acts as a seal if the user wants to insert the device in a hole in the humidor lid—or in the cover of a grow chamber. Alternatively, the whole unit can be placed inside. The price is lower than almost anything else available, and yet the accuracy is much better—within 0.5%. The hygrometer can be re-calibrated as needed.

There is no thermometer display. For users who don’t need a thermometer, its absence leaves the design sleeker and more elegant-looking. Its range is not listed—and for a device designed for humidors, which should maintain a humidity much lower than that of a grow chamber, that is a concern. Some users report units arriving in a non-functional state, but most find this model extremely accurate and reliable.

Buy the Anync Cigar Hygrometer Here

5. Habor Hygrometer Indoor Thermometer, Humidity Gauge Room Thermometer

Habor’s little digital hygrometer and thermometer has a stripped-down, no-frills design that fits anywhere (it can be wall-mounted) and is easy to read. Between 20% and 95% humidity it is accurate plus or minus 5%, and it responds to new conditions within ten seconds. The price is excellent. Quality varies somewhat, but relatively few naysayers report poor quality—instead, most complaints seem to be from people who simply wanted something else, usually something larger. This one is tiny, an advantage for small grow chambers.

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References:

[i]       Rebelutions (2012). What’s a Good Hygrometer You Use?

[ii]      Biles, J. (2017). Instruments that are used to Predict Weather. Sciencing website, accessed November 18, 2020.

[iii]     (n.d.). Types of Hygrometers for Multiple Uses.

 

Mushroom Complexes: Are the Reported Benefits Real?

Mushroom Complex

A “mushroom complex” is a mix of mushroom extracts used together for medicinal purposes. The idea is that multiple mushroom species can work together to produce a specific result, much as multiple musical notes work together to make a chord. Mushrooms with similar benefits can enhance each other, mushrooms with different benefits can balance out each other’s side effects, and synergistic effects (where different substances interact to create new results) are possible.

Unfortunately, there has been little to no research into the effectiveness of most complexes—what research exists on medicinal mushrooms concerns mushroom species tested separately. The use of complexes (whether custom-blended or commercially prepared) therefore depends on the clinical experience of practitioners.

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Mushroom Complex Benefits

There are too many different mushroom complexes to list—the number of possible combinations of potentially medicinal mushroom species is nearly infinite, so it’s difficult to provide users with any kind of guidance as to what to take. The safest bet is always to talk with a qualified practitioner, especially given the possibility of synergy, a situation where two or more substances interact within the body to produce effects different from what either produces alone, a more-than-the-sum-of-their-parts situation.

It’s also worth noting that some of the conditions for which mushroom products are thought to be helpful (for example, diabetes and certain cancers) require the care of a medical doctor, in addition to whatever supportive or alternative therapies a patient wants to try. Mushrooms should never replace medicine, particularly not mushrooms self-prescribed by the patient on the basis of an article on the internet.

That being said, a non-expert can begin to explore the possibilities of medicinal mushrooms by learning which species are thought to have which effects. Someone looking for, say, improved cognition or a strengthened immune system can expect the right complex to include one or more of the species considered individually to confer that benefit.

Immune Support

Substances derived from Turkey Tail are routinely used in both China and Japan to strengthen the immune system as part of cancer treatment—although research on the mechanisms involved is still preliminary[i]. Reishi extracts have been traditionally used to strengthen the immune system, claims supported by at least some research[ii]. In one study, people who ate Shitake mushrooms regularly showed improvement in certain immune markers[iii].

Anti-inflammatory Effects

Chronic inflammation is a factor in a wide variety of health problems. Mushrooms shown to reduce inflammation, at least in experimental animals include Lion’s Mane[iv] and Chaga[v].

Cardiovascular Support

Lion’s Mane extracts lower triglyceride levels and slow the development of obesity in experimental animals[vi][vii]. Cordyceps extracts contain a substance known to protect the heart from certain kinds of damage[viii]. Shitake extract lowers blood pressure and cholesterol levels in experimental hypertensive rats[ix]. The mushroom also lowered the cholesterol of experimental mice on a high-fat diet, and let them develop less fat on their livers[x].

Cancer Treatments

In both animal studies and in vitro studies, lion’s mane extracts slow the growth of certain cancers[xi]. Cordyceps has been effective against certain cancers in mice[xii], as well as against one of the more dangerous side effects of many cancer treatments—immune-system suppression—also in mice[xiii]. Chaga inhibits the growth of certain cancers both in vitro[xiv] and in experimental animals[xv]. Maitake extract has shown promising results in in vitro studies against human breast cancer cells and as a means of strengthening an immune response potentially capable of attacking cancerous growths[xvi]. The same extract also slightly suppressed tumor growth in mice and increased the immune response[xvii].

Diabetes Treatment

Lion’s Mane extracts can lower blood sugar[xviii] and reduce diabetic nerve pain[xix] in experimental animals. Cordyceps fruiting body extract (as opposed to extracts of the corpse of the insect from which the fruiting body grew) reduced the severity of diabetes in experimental rats[xx]. Chaga effectively treated type 2 diabetes in experimental mice[xxi]. Maitake extracts given to experimental diabetic rats can lower blood sugar and increase immune function[xxii].

Support for the Brain and Nervous System

Lion’s Mane contains substances known to stimulate brain growth[xxiii], and the mushroom can protect experimental mice from memory loss[xxiv]. A preliminary human trial showed improvement in patients with mild cognitive impairment[xxv]. In experimental rats, lion’s mane extract improves recovery from both nerve damage[xxvi] and stroke[xxvii].

Support for Physical Stamina and Recovery Time

Cordyceps extracts have improved certain measures of athletic performance in generally healthy older adults[xxviii] but not, interestingly, in trained athletes[xxix]. Turkey tail extracts improved athletic performance in mice[xxx].

References:

[i]       Chang, Y., Zhang, M., Jiang, Y., Liu, Y., Luo, H., Hao, C., Zeng, P., Zhang, L. (2017). Preclinical and Clinical Studies of  Coriolus versicolor Polysaccharopeptide as an Immunotherapeutic in China. Discovery Medicine 23(127): 207–219.

[ii]      Lin, Z. (2005). Cellular and Molecular Mechanisms of Immuno-Modulation by Ganoderma lucidum. Journal of Pharmacological Sciences 99(2): 144-53.

[iii]     Dai, X., Stanilka, J. M., Rowe, C. A., Esteves, E. A., Nieves, Jr., C., Spaiser, S. J., Christman, M. C., Langkamp-Henken, B.,Percival, S. S. (2015). Consuming Lentinula edodes (Shitake) Mushrooms Daily Improves Human Immunity: A Randomized Dietary Intervention in Healthy Young Adults. Journal of the American College of Nutrition 34(6):478-87.

[iv]     Qin, M., Geng, Y., Lu, Z., Xu, H., Shi, J., Xu, X., Xu, Z. (2016). Anti-inflammatory Effects of Ethanol Extract of Lion’s Mane Medicinal Mushroom, Hericium erinaceus (Agaricomycetes), in Mice with Ulcerative Colitis. International Journal  of Medicinal Mushrooms. 18(3): 227–34.

[v]      Mishra, S. K., Kang, J., Kim, D., Oh, S. H., Kim, M. K. (2012). Orally Administered Aqueous Extract of Inonotus obliquus ameliorates Acute Inflammation in Dextran Sulfate Sodium (DSS)-Induced Colitis in Mice. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 143(2): 524-32.

[vi]     Choi, W., Kim, Y., Park, B., Kim, J. Lee, S. (2013). Hypolipidaemic Effect of Hericium erinaceum Grown in Artemisia capillaris on Obese Rats. Mycobiology 41(2): 94–99.

[vii]    Hiwatashi, K., Kosaka, Y., Suzuki, N., Hata, K., Mukaiyama, T., Sakamoto, K., Shirakawa, H., Komai, M. (2010). Yamabushitake Mushroom (Hericium erinaceus) Improved Lipid Metabolism in Mice Fed a High-Fat Diet. Bioscience, Biotechnology, and Biochemistry 74(7): 1447-51.

[viii]   Yan, X., Zhang, Z., Yao, H., Guan, Y., Zhu, J., Zhang, L., Jia, Y., Wang, R. (2013). Cardiovascular Protection and Antioxidant Activity of the Extracts from the Mycelia of Cordycepts sinensis Act Partially via Adenosine Receptors.       Phytotherapy Research 27(11): 1597-604.

[ix]     Kabir, Y., Yamaguchi, M., Kimura, S. (1987). Effect of Shitake (Lentinus edodes) and Maitake (Grifola frondosa) Mushrooms on Blood Pressure and Plasma Lipids of Spontaneously Hypertensive Rats. Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology 33(5): 341-6.

[x]      Yang, H., Hwang, I., Kim, S., Jeung, E. (2013). Lentinus edodes Promotes Fat Removal in Hypercholesterolemic Mice. Experimental and Therapeutic Medicine 6(6): 1409-1413.

[xi]     Li, G., Yu, K., Li, F., Xu, K., Li, J., He, S., Cao, S., Tan, G. (2014). Anticancer Potential of Hericium erinaceus Extracts Against Human Gastrointestinal Cancers. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 153(2): 521-30.

[xii]    Yamaguchi, N., Yoshida, J., Ren, L. J., Chen, H., Miyazawa, Y., Fujii, Y., Huang, Y. X., Takamura, S., Suzuki, S., Koshimura, S., et al. (1990). Augmentation of Various Immune Reactivities of Tumor-bearing Hosts with an Extract of Cordyceps sinensis. Biotherapy 2(3): 199-205.

[xiii]   Liu, W., Chuang, W., Tsai, M., Hong, J., McBride, W. H., Chiang, C. (2009). Cordyceps sinensis Health Supplement   Enhances Recovery from Taxol-induced Leukopenia. Experimental Biology and Medicine.

[xiv]   Lee, S. H., Hwang, H. S., Yun, J. W. (2009). Antitumor Activity of Water Extract of a Mushroom, Inonotus obliquus, Against HT-29 Human Colon Cancer Cells. Phytotherapy Research 23(12): 1784-9.

[xv]    Arata, S., Watanabe, J., Maeda, M., Yamamoto, M., Matsuhashi, H., Mochizuki, M., Kagami, N., Honda, K., Inagaki, M.(2016). Continuus Intake of the Chaga Mushroom (Inonotus obliquus) Aqueous Extract Suppresses Cancer Progression and Maintains Body Temperature in Mice. Heliyon 2(5): e00111.

[xvi]   Alonso, E. N., Orozco, M., Nieto, A. E., Balogh, G. A. (2013). Genes Related to Suppression of Malignant Phenotype Induced by Maitake D-Fraction in Breast Cancer Cells. Journal of Medicinal Food 16(7).

[xvii]  Masuda, Y., Inoue, H., Ohta, H., Miyake, A., Konishi, M., Nanba, H. (2013). Oral Administration of Soluble β-Glucans Extracted from Grifola frondoda Induces Systemic Antitumor Immune Response and Decreases Immunosuppression in Tumor-Bearing Mice. International Journal of Cancer 133(1): 108-19.

[xviii] He, X., Wang, X., Fang, J., Chang, Y., Ning, N., Guo, H., Huang, K., Huang, X., Zhao, Z. (2017), Structures, Biological   Activities, and Industrial Applications of the Polysaccharides from Hericium erinaceus (Lion’s Mane) Mushroom: A Review. International Journal of Biological Macromolecules 97: 228-237.

[xix] Yi, Z., Shao-iong, Y., Ai-hong, W., Zhi-chun, S., Ya-fen, Z., Ye-ting, X., Yu-ling, H. (2015). Protective Effect of Ethanol Extracts of Hericium erinaceus on Alloxan-Induced Diabetic Neuropathic Pain in Rats. Evidence-based Complimentary Alternative Medicine 595480.

[xx]    Lo, H., Tu, S., Lin, K., Lin, S. (2004). The Anti-hyperglycemic Activity of the Fruiting Body of Cordyceps in Diabetic Rats Induced by Nicotinamide and Streptozotocin. Life Sciences 74(23): 2897-908.

[xxi]   Wang, J., Wang, C., Li, S., Li, W., Yuan, G., Pan, Y., Chen, H. (2017). Anti-diabetic Effects of Inonotus obliquus Polysaccharides in Streptozotocin-induced Type 2 Diabetic Mice and Potential Mechanism via PisK-Akt Signal Pathway.  Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy 95: 1669-1677.

[xxii]  Chen, Y., Lee, C., Hsu, T., Lo, H. (2015). Submerged-culture Mycelia and Broth of the Maitake Medicinal Mushroom Grifola frondosa (Higher Basidiomycetes) Alleviate Type 2 Diabetes-Induced Alterations in Immunocytic Function. International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms 17(6): 541-56.

[xxiii] Lai P., Naidu, M., Sabaratnam, Wong, K., David, R. P., Kuppusamy, U. R., Abdullah, N., Malek, S. N. A., (2013). Neurotropic Properties of the Lion’s Mane Medicinal Mushroom, Hericium erinaceus (Higher Basidiomycetes) from Malaysia. International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms 15(6): 539-54.

[xxiv] Mori, K., Obara, Y., Moriya, T., Inatomi, S., Nakahata, N. (2011). Effects of Hericium erinaceus on Amyloid β(25-35) Peptide-induced Learning and Memory Deficits in Mice. Biomedical Research 32(1): 67-72.

[xxv]  Mori, K., Inatomi, S., Ouchi, K., Azumi, Y., Tuchida, T. (2009). Improving Effects of the Mushroom Yamabushitake (Hericium erinaceus) on Mild Cognitive Impairment: A Double-blind Placebo-controlled Clinical Trial. Phytotherapy Research 23(3): 367-72.

[xxvi] Wong, K., Naidu, M., David, P., Abdulla, M. A., Abdullah, N., Kuppusamy, U. R., Sabaratnum, V. (2011). Peripheral Nerve Regeneration Following Crush Injury to Rat Peroneal Nerve by Aqueous Extract of Medicinal Mushroom , Hsieh, M., Lu, C., Lee, Ko., Lee, L., Chen, W., Chen, C., Huang, W., Kuo, H. (2014).   Protective Effects of Hericium erinaceus Mycelium and Its Isolated Erinacine A against Ischemia-Injury-Induced Neuronal Cell Death via the Inhibition of iNOS/p38 MAPK and Nitrotyrosine. International Journal of Molecular     Sciences 15(9): 15073-89.

[xxviii]       Yi, X., Xi-zhen, H., Jia-shi, Z. (2004). Randomized Double-blind Placebo-controlled Clinical Trial and Assessment of Fermentation Product of Cordyceps sinensis (Cs-4) in Enhancing Aerobic Capacity and Respiratory Function of the Healthy Elderly Volunteers. Chinese Journal of Integrative Medicine 10: 187–192.

[xxix] Parcell, A. C., Smith, J. M., Schulthies, S. S., Myrer, J. W., Fellingham, G. (2004). Cordyceps sinensis (CordyMax Cs-4) Supplementation Does Not Improve Endurance Exercise Performance. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism 14(2): 236-42.

[xxx]  Ho, C., Tung, Y., Kung, W., Huang, W., Leung, W., Huang, C., Wu, J. (2017). Effect of Coriolus versicolor Mycelia Extract on Exercise Performance and Physical Fatigue in Mice. International Journal of Medical Sciences 14(11): 1110-1117.

 

Choosing the Best Food Dehydrator for Mushrooms: The Top 5 Reviewed

Best Food Dehydrator for Mushrooms

It’s a sad fact, but fresh mushrooms don’t keep forever. Drying may be the simplest and most versatile way to preserve mushrooms that can’t be eaten right away.

The most basic and traditional method is simply air-drying, which requires no special equipment. Simply slice the mushrooms thinly and either spread them across a table-top or string them into garlands and hang them up. Provided the air-flow is good, most species of mushroom will dry in a few days, even in a humid climate.

But using a food dehydrator means not having to sacrifice the dinner table to drying mushrooms for a week. Depending on the design, a dehydrator can offer more control, which is important for some mushroom species. Plus, in humid conditions the traditional method might not be able to get the mushrooms quite as dry, shortening shelf-life from years to weeks. Investing in a dehydrator is a good option for people who often want to dry more than a pound or two of mushrooms and don’t live in a desert. A good food dehydrator is as important as a good book or field guide, a good knife, and/or a good basket or collecting container.

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The Art of Dehydrating Mushrooms

Besides extending shelf-life, drying is also a way to enhance the flavor of some species, and drying is the first step to making mushroom powder—powder can be used in broths, butters, rubs, and other contexts, and is a great way to use insect-damaged mushrooms or mushrooms with texture problems, such as puff balls.

Some writers claim that dehydration can even deactivate certain toxins, just as cooking does, but it isn’t true. Dehydrators don’t get hot enough. Mushrooms that go into the dehydrator raw also come out that way.

Dried mushrooms will usually turn out OK no matter what method is used, but for best results, there’s an art to it[i].

  • Clean the mushrooms properly first and remove any bugs or bad spots.
  • Do not put wet mushrooms in the dehydrator. Mushrooms that were washed or rained on must be allowed to air-dry first or their shelf-life will be very short.
  • Some species, and older specimens generally, react very badly to getting too warm, or not warm enough during drying, or to not getting enough air. Learn these picky species and how to baby them.
  • Notice how dry the mushrooms are. Ideally, dried mushrooms become almost brittle and get stored in humidity-proof containers (they can partially re-hydrate themselves in humid air). If the ideal is not possible, that’s OK, the mushrooms will still last much longer than fresh ones, but their shelf-life will be measurable in weeks, not years. Be sure to use them quickly.
  • Except for powders, which can be used dry, mushrooms must be carefully re-hydrated before use. Placing dried mushrooms in water lets the flavor leak out of the mushrooms, creating weak mushroom tea. To avoid losing flavor, use as little re-hydration liquid as possible, and add any that does not get absorbed to the cooking pan. Never let the mushrooms sit in water too long, either, unless the plan is to puree them, since extended baths make mushrooms slug-like.

What to Consider when Choosing a Dehydrator?

Unless a mushroom is “picky,” any dehydrator should give OK results. For better-than-OK results, though, the choice of equipment matters and depends on the specifics of the user’s needs (and budget)[ii].

Type

Dehydrators can be either vertical or horizontal[iii]. Either type can be made at home, but both are ALSO commercially available. Commercially available models are generally electric, but some DIY designs use solar heat only.

Vertical dehydrators consist of a stack of mesh plates or trays that air flows through vertically, either up or down, depending on where the blower is.  Horizontal dehydrators consist of a box with removable mesh shelves. Airflow is horizontal across the shelves.

Vertical models tend to be more basic. Plus, plates can’t be removed individually because they rest on each other’s rims, but the stack can be made taller or shorter by adding or removing plates. The plates don’t dry at the same rate. Either move the plates around so they dry evenly or be prepared to unload some plates early.

Horizontal models tend to be fancier. Though some have stacking shelves, in most the shelves slide in and out like drawers, meaning that it’s possible to remove the middle one and leave the others in place. All shelves dry at the same rate.

Capacity

Dehydrators vary from little models able to handle only a pint or two at a time to huge industrial machines able to handle hundreds of pounds, and everything in between. Generally, it’s best to get the smallest dehydrator that is adequate for expected need, since it will be easier to store when not in use.

Control

Some dehydrators just turn on and off. They generally keep a consistent temperature, so if that temperature is the right one these machines are fine. Some trial and error might be necessary, though, to find out what that temperature is.

Users who want to tackle “picky” mushrooms, or who want to avoid the “error” part of trial and error, will want a unit with adjustable heat. Everyone else can save a few bucks and keep things simple.

Electricity Demand

Running the fan and the heating element both take electricity. Especially if the dehydrator is going to be in frequent use, it’s worth checking to see how much power it will use. The right model is the one that uses the least but still meets the user’s needs.

Ease of Cleaning and Maintenance

Even a “cheap” model should last many years with luck and proper care. Higher quality just makes bad luck less likely.

Dirty dehydrators can breed bacteria, or even break. Mushrooms don’t drip juice the way fruit or meat can, but they do release spores. Some species will release enough spores while drying to clog up the blower fan. Can the dehydrator be disassembled for cleaning? If not, its days may be numbered.

Vertical dehydrators are more likely to get clogged, especially those with their blower vents on the bottom. On the other hand, their plates can just un-stack and go through the dishwasher. There is no box to wipe down.

The Top 5 Food Dehydrators for Mushrooms

It’s possible to make a great food dehydrator at home. Plans are available online, or users can design something that fits their needs perfectly. But for those who aren’t handy, or who are in a hurry, there are plenty of options available commercially. Here are five popular examples.

Magic Mill Food Dehydrator

Magic Mill Food Dehydrator

 

This handsome, black, horizontal dehydrator has adjustable heat, and automatic shut-off with a timer, and a window to make monitoring the process easy. Capacity is large, for an at-home unit, and drying time is fast. Besides the stainless steel wire trays, there are mesh fruit trays, sheets for fruit leather, and a rack for hanging items. A good option for the pickiest mushrooms and able to handle large hauls quickly. Plastic accessories and housing may bother some, and this is the priciest model of the five.

Buy the Magic Mill Food Dehydrator Here.

Excalibur 9-Tray Electric Food Dehydrator

Excalibur 9-Tray Electric Food Dehydrator

Excalibur’s horizontal drier hovers at a price point similar to the Magic Mill and machine is almost as large, but it does not have as many bells and whistles (adjustable heat yes, but no timer). The plastic construction and the noisy operation bother some. However, dehydration is very fast, the capacity is impressive, and the unit is very easy to clean.

Buy the Excalibur 9-Tray Electric Food Dehydrator Here.

COSORI Premium Food Dehydrator

Another sleek horizontal dehydrator, this one in silver and mid-size (somewhat like a large toaster oven). Adjustable heat, automatic shut-off with timer, and notably quiet operation—it could run in a library and not bother anyone. Comes with stainless steel trays, a mesh screen for fruit (or small mushrooms), a fruit leather sheet, and a recipe book. The large window makes monitoring progress easy. Some users are frustrated by the lack of extra trays and other accessories, but it is easy to clean.

Buy the COSORI Premium Food Dehydrator Here.

Nesco Snackmaster Pro

Nesco Snackmaster Pro

At a much more moderate price, the lack of bells and whistles in this model makes good sense. It is a horizontal drier, but the trays stack. It lacks a timer, and while the heat is adjustable, some users report variation. The capacity can be more than doubled through the addition of extra trays, and the machine is surprisingly light-weight. The top-mounted fan makes clogging less of a concern. Comes with a range of useful accessories and a seasoning packet.

Buy the Nesco Snackmaster Pro Here.

Presto 06300 Dehydrator

Presto 06300 Dehydrator

This machine is a fraction of the cost of the others on our list and is simple but very functional. It does not have adjustable settings, although the fixed heat setting should be high enough to safely prepare jerky. Its capacity can be doubled by the addition of more stacking trays, and the trays and lid are dishwasher-safe. A variety of additional accessories, including a jerky spice kit, are available, and the compact, lightweight body is easy to move and to store. It’s a good option for someone drying a couple of pints of non-picky mushrooms a few times a year, and who doesn’t want an extra major appliance taking up space in the meantime.

Buy the Presto 06300 Dehydrator Here.

References:

[i]       Bergo, A. (n.d.). How to Dry or Dehydrate Wild Mushrooms.

[ii]      Rust, D. (n.d.). Purchasing and Using a Mushroom Dehydrator. Bay Area Mycologicial Society: The Art and Science of Mushrooms

[iii]     Schultz, P. (2019). 9 Best Electric Food Dehydrators for Mushrooms/Fruit/Nuts.