NEW MILFORD — Humans have been consuming mushrooms for food and medicinal purposes for millennia. In recent years, interest in mushrooms has gained popularity, with Chaga tea blends and bars cropping up in abundance and locally foraged mushrooms showing up on restaurant menus and farmers’ market stands.
On Wednesday, August 12 Tanya Donatelli, a self-taught mushroom aficionado and owner of herbal product business Oak Fairy Apothecary, gave a talk about medicinal mushrooms at Twin Star, Connecticut’s School of Herbal and Energetic Studies, as part of their ongoing Plant Wisdom Wednesday series.
Donatelli’s love affair with mushrooms goes back over a decade. “When you discover fungi, it’s like going down a rabbit hole,” she mused, noting that this fascinating fungal kingdom often draws people in and makes them want to learn more.
In general, most mushrooms are immunomodulators, meaning they have an affinity for the immune system and can help stimulate it. “Just eating a mushroom is a medicinal act,” Donatelli said. She discussed several types of mushrooms during her talk, including Reishi, Lion’s Mane, Chaga and Maitake among others. Her personal experience using Lion’s Mane to help her manage symptoms of Attention Deficit Disorder is what initially drew her into the world of medicinal mushrooms.
Reishi and Chaga mushrooms both exhibit anti-cancer properties, with Chaga mushrooms being particularly rich in antioxidants. “Chaga is perhaps one of the most powerful medicinal mushrooms there is,” Donatelli explained of this locally-growing mushroom that grows exclusively on birch trees.
Donatelli also gave a demonstration of how to extract the beneficial constituents of mushrooms for consumption by showing how to make a double-extracted mushroom tincture. “Mushrooms contain lots of polysaccharides, which help form cellular structures in the body,” she said, explaining that tinctures are an effective way to extract these polysaccharides. A double extraction uses water and alcohol to extract both water-soluble and alcohol-soluble constituents.
Donatelli brought a half-gallon mason jar of dried and chopped Reishi mushrooms with her that had been macerating in high-proof (90, or 95 percent by volume) grain alcohol for several weeks prior to the talk.
When extracting the constituents of any plant, including mushrooms, using a high-proof alcohol works best. Chopping the plant into small pieces allows more surface area to come into contact with the alcohol. Tinctures should also be shaken daily as they sit for a minimum of six weeks before being strained for use.
After straining the tincture into a large bowl, Donatelli then boiled the leftover mushrooms in water for about an hour during the talk, and combined the tinctured alcohol and mushroom “tea” in a 1:1 ratio to create the finished extract.
Finally, Donatelli shared some resources for those interested in delving further into the world of fungi, including leading mushroom expert Paul Stamets’ website, www.fungi.com, and Vermont mushroom farm, Peaceful Harvest Mushrooms.
Twin Star, Connecticut’s School for Herbal and Energetic Studies in New Milford, was founded in 2009 by herbalist and director Lauren “Lupo” Passero. Over the years Twin Star has expanded to offer community classes, workshops and certificate training for Herbalism, Flower Essences, Plant Spirit Healing, Primitive Skills, Ancestral Healing as well as Goddess and Herbal Witch Programs.
In early 2020 Twin Star relocated their apothecary, which stocks a variety of tinctures, dried herbs, ritual tools, herbal products created by Twin Star alumni and more, to The Green Spot at 354 Litchfield Road, in a building situated on the beautiful Aspetuck River. The apothecary’s summer hours are Wednesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. For more information, or to shop online, visit www.twinstartribe.com.