Jeff Chilton – The Magic of Mushrooms

Jeff Chilton, a mushroom pioneer with over 40 years experience joins me to discuss all things mushroom. From nutritional benefits to how they can be used medicinally, Jeff explains the relationship between human and fungal interactions.

Jeff Chilton – The Magic of Mushrooms Introduction

Mushrooms, now here is an interesting story. What is a mushroom? What are the nutritional benefits? Well, many are it turns out. What are the medicinal …What are medicinal mushrooms and how are they used? My guest today is Jeff Chilton, who studied ethnomycology, which is the study of human and fungal interactions, and those interactions are many and varied. I’ll let him explain. I hope you enjoy this conversation I had with Jeff Chilton.

Podcast Transcript

Dr Ron Ehrlich: Hello and welcome to Unstressed. I’m Dr. Ron Ehrlich. Mushrooms, now here is an interesting story. What is a mushroom? What are the nutritional benefits? Well, many are it turns out. What are the medicinal …What are medicinal mushrooms and how are they used? My guest today is Jeff Chilton, who studied ethnomycology, which is the study of human and fungal interactions, and those interactions are many and varied. I’ll let him explain. I hope you enjoy this conversation I had with Jeff Chilton. Welcome to the show, Jeff.

Jeff Chilton: Hello Ron. Thank you so much for having me.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: Jeff, we’re going to be diving into mushrooms, but I wonder if we could start with mushrooms 101? What is a mushroom? What is it actually?

Jeff Chilton: Well, you know what? A mushroom is actually what we call a plant part of a fungal organism, and that organism starts out with a spore. Mushrooms don’t have seeds, they have spores. A spore will germinate into very fine filaments called hyphae and multiple spores germinating into these hyphae coming together will form a network called mycelium. And you know that mycelium is out in nature in the ground, in wood. It is what is decomposing all of that organic matter that’s out there every year.

Leaves, branches of trees, plants, without these fungal organisms and that mycelium, we would be covered in all sorts of organic matter that comes down every year. So, that mycelium is very important, it’s out there and one of the things it’s doing, besides breaking down everything into humus for use in the ongoing growth of these plants, it will produce a mushroom.

When the conditions are right, it’s got enough energy, it will produce a mushroom. The mushroom will pop up, it will mature, it will drop spores. And at that place … at that time the life cycle is complete. So again, the mushroom is a plant part of this fungal organism, which is helping to decompose all of the organic matter out there.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: It’s so interesting because we have spent quite a deal of time talking with regenerative agriculture people, and we’re very big on soil health on our podcast. And I’m very familiar, my listeners will be familiar with the term called mycorrhizal fungi.

Jeff Chilton: Yeah.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: And that’s the mycelium.

Jeff Chilton: Well, well, yes it is. No, no, it is. Mycorrhizal is the fungal Mycelium building a relationship with tree roots and plant roots. And it’s a beneficial type of relationship where the … it’s a symbiosis, where the fungus will provide certain, whether it be sugars or other types of nutrients to the tree, and the tree will reciprocate. So, that’s a mycorrhizal and it is a symbiosis.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: Yeah. Because of one of the things that are a bit of a problem with … I digress here for a moment. But one of the things that’s a bit of a problem with using pesticides and herbicides and all of that is its effect on that mycorrhizal.

Jeff Chilton: Oh yeah. I mean, with all of those toxins that are being sprayed around on our soils and in the air everywhere, and it will fall and destroys so many of those delicate relationships that we have out there. And so that’s really an ongoing problem that we have. And you’re talking about regenerative agriculture. I mean, this is really what we need. In fact, I’m very familiar with a … I believe he was either Australia or maybe Kiwi Bill Mollison who-

Dr Ron Ehrlich: Oh yeah, permaculture.

Jeff Chilton: Coined the term permaculture.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: Yeah, yeah, very, very.

Jeff Chilton: I actually met Bill back in the 1980s when he came to North America and did some presentations on permaculture.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: Yeah. Because it’s a huge topic and I mean, we can put superphosphate onto a plant and make it look terrific. But nutritionally it doesn’t have quite the same benefits, or components as if it was growing in healthy soil. And we’ve been talking to a lot of people about that, so it’s interesting. So this is … Okay, so the difference … Well, that’s quite a … And spores, of course, we count them in the millions, billions, trillions. I mean-

Jeff Chilton: Oh, let me give you some … a number here because yes, billions is the term. In the air we breathe, of course, we don’t know it, but it is a soup of different microorganisms, spores, pollens, you name it, that we’re breathing in all the time. We can’t visualize it unless at times you can see as tree pollen at times in the right season, you’ll see this cloud of pollen.

But here’s something that’s going on in China right now. I mean, we grow our mushrooms and process them in China. We go to Reishi farms and today in China, Ron, they actually sell spores, and what they do is when this mushroom is growing, and it’s all growing out of the ground. The way they produce the Reishi mushroom, they’ll bury a log in the ground and cover it with soil.

Well, what they’re doing now is at the bottom, underneath that mushroom, they’re putting a plastic bag, and then when the mushroom comes up in matures and it starts to produce spores, they will shroud it with paper, so they will enclose that cap of the mushroom, the spores fall down out of there into this plastic bag. And you know what? One mushroom will produce as much as 500 grams of spores.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: Wow.

Jeff Chilton: Could you imagine half a kilo of spores from one mushroom?

Dr Ron Ehrlich: It’s extraordinary. Well, what … I was going to ask you about that because there are so many different types of mushrooms too, aren’t they?

Jeff Chilton: Yes, indeed.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: Go on. Tell us a bit about how much of variety there is here-

Jeff Chilton: Well, there are like tens of thousands of different mushroom species out there. I mean, we utilize a few dozen of those species. For example, there might be 20 or so mushrooms that we can actually cultivate. There are others that we can’t cultivate that we will go out and forage into the forests for food. But those mushroom species are vast. They have all sorts of benefits, one of which is for food, one of which is for medicine. And the other benefit that certain mushrooms have is that they’ve been used for thousands of years in shamanic practice.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: You know, I wanted to talk … Yeah, this is-

Jeff Chilton: And we can talk about that. And you know, it’s like these are amazing organisms. The other things they produce too are toxins. They will, if you get the wrong one, they will kill you. So, it’s definitely a kingdom that is very interesting, has a lot of benefits for us. And certainly in my business what we use them for is for their medicinal compounds. But I’m also a real advocate of eating mushrooms. And I tell people before you supplement with a mushroom, put mushrooms into your diet because it is very, very fine food.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: Well, let’s start with that. You mentioned nutritional benefits. Let’s just talk a little to our listener about the nutritional benefits of mushrooms.

Jeff Chilton: Sure. Well, first of all, now remember that mushrooms, that’s a broad category and every particular species will have a little bit of a different nutritional profile in terms of protein, carbohydrates and so on. But generally speaking, mushrooms have 20% to 40% protein. It’s a high-quality protein. Most of the essential amino acids are there.

There they are 40% to 70% carbohydrate, and these carbohydrates are our positive carbohydrates. One of the main carbohydrates is a compound called Mannitol, which is a very slow acting sugar. So, it’s a very positive type of carbohydrate. The other carbohydrate that is in mushrooms is what’s called a Beta Glucan and the Beta Glucan is part of … It’s up to 50% of the cell wall of a mushroom. And the Beta Glucan is what scientists have told us is where the immunological activity in mushrooms are.

And then the other part of mushrooms that’s fairly important is they’re very high in fibre. So, they have a compound called Chitin as part of the cell wall as well. And so they’re not digested in our stomach, they’re actually digested in our intestines. And that fibre in the mushroom will feed your microbiome. And the other thing about mushrooms is they have some B vitamins, including thiamine, Riboflavin and Niacin. Riboflavin and Niacin would be approximately 30% of your RDA of you ate 100 grams of wet weight of the mushrooms.

Which really in terms of mushrooms, I mean two or three of your button mushrooms that are in the supermarket would be 100 grams. So, you could eat that and you could get you… those two B … 30% of those in a helping.

So, really the nutritional profile is very good. And here’s what’s interesting about that. When I started growing mushrooms, which was in 1973 and I worked on a very large mushroom farm for 10 years. I’m sort of a mushroom grower by trade. At that time, classical nutritionists looked at mushrooms and they said mushrooms are just a non-food. They’re good for … They taste good. They can be used as a garnish or something that you … off flavour, something like that. But they said there they have no nutritional value.

The reason they said that was because mushrooms are very low in calories, and that goes back to the types of carbohydrates they have. And also the fact that they’re low in fat as well. So, really mushrooms are an excellent food, and I highly recommend that people put them in their diet. And Shiitake, definitely put Shiitake in your diet because not only it is that a great food mushroom, but it’s also a really highly prized medicinal mushroom as well.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: Well, now when we go into the supermarkets or shops nowadays we are … I’m rather impressed by the choices that we have compared to what we used to have. You mentioned Shiitake, there were a couple of others that … I mean, I guess all have some benefits. Shiitake, we’ve got brown, we’ve got … What are some of the other mushrooms that we … that you guys say in North America?

Jeff Chilton: Well, you know what’s interesting is what we’d call the button mushroom, which is the standard mushroom that’s been in the market for a long time. And here’s the thing, that button mushroom will come in a brown colour, or it could come in a white colour. In fact, in North America now they call the brown button mushroom, they call that [crummini 00:12:38]. And they also now will grow that much larger and allow it to open up and be mature. And they will call that a Portobello.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: Yes. Okay. So, a mature brown pod button mushroom is a portobello?

Jeff Chilton: That’s exactly right. It’s the same species, but they’ve allowed it to mature. And one of the things about the button mushroom, the reason it’s a button and they sell it as a button, which is essentially just an immature stage. Is that when a mushroom matures, it’s going to drop spores. And we were talking about that earlier. So, if you are growing mushrooms in an enclosed space, you’re going to end up just … it’s going to be filled with spores and you’re going to have to wear some kind of protection in terms of respiration. So, and not only that, if you harvest it as a button, it’s got a much better shelf life.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: And is the Swiss brown an immature … a brown button mushroom? Is that the difference between … Have you heard of Swiss brown?

Jeff Chilton:             I have not heard of Swiss brown. It sounds just like a brand name.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: I think it’s a brown button mushroom. Because I do all the shopping and cooking at home, so I’m very familiar with all of these. But-

Jeff Chilton: Yeah, it would be a brown, and they’re calling it a Swiss brown, but that’s what it would a be I’m assuming. But listen, in China right now they are … and Asia in general, they’ve probably got 12 to 15 different mushroom species in the marketplace, and they eat all lot of mushrooms there. In fact, China produces 85% of the world’s mushrooms.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: And well, we’re going to talk about China, because I know it’s figured very, very prominently in your life. But back to the domestic … the nutritional parts of a mushroom. Is it better to white for the mushroom to go to the Portobello stage? Is it more nutritionally rich than it … I guess it must be. Is that logical?

Jeff Chilton: Well, and you know what, not significantly. No. I was not [crosstalk 00:14:52]. I think some people say that flavour-wise it is better. I haven’t seen any data that would indicate that it’s the nutritional profile is any different really. I still … You know what? When I was working at the mushroom farm for my 10 years, we were lucky there. We actually had a Japanese scientist that was growing Shiitake oyster mushroom and Enokitake mushrooms. This is in the 1970s in the United States.

And there were none of these mushrooms in the marketplace. And in 1978, the company put out these Shiitake mushrooms into the fresh mushroom market. 1978 that was the very first time shiitake was in the normal supermarkets in the United States. 1978. And here’s what’s interesting, it bombed basically, despite a really good marketing effort, people just thought the shiitake was too strong a flavour.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: I actually, I think you’re right, I think they’re my favourite, and it’s good to hear that nutritionally they’re good. Now, just let’s start, you’ve mentioned also twice now that you’ve worked … you started in 1973, so I’m guessing this was in your teen years, Jeff. But anyway, I’m in 1973, you were working in a mushroom farm for 10 years. Tell us a bit about your own journey that’s brought you to this point.

Jeff Chilton: Well, I was raised in the Pacific Northwest of the United States, which is a very mild temperate climate, not mild in Australian terms, but a temperate climate in terms of where it’s sea level. But in the Fall it rains a lot. So, we get a lot of mushrooms growing in the fall, and so I was surrounded by mushrooms my whole life. And when I went to university, I decided I was going to study mycology, which is the science of mushrooms and fungi in general. And I also was studying anthropology.

That was actually my major. So, I was interested in how mushrooms were used worldwide historically for foods, for medicine, for shamanic purposes. But after university, which was in the early ’70s, after university I can’t find a job in anthropology, so I decided well, I’d really like to learn how to grow mushrooms.

So, that’s when I went to the mushroom farm, which was the only mushroom farm in Washington state at the time. And I started there in 1973. I stayed there for 10 years. Believe me, I literally lived with mushrooms for those 10 years because we had 200 crops of individual crops of mushrooms on a 90-day cycle per year. So, think about this for a second, you’ve got 200 crops a year and I was there for 10 years, so I basically saw 2000 crops. How many crops of any plant does a normal farmer see in his lifetime? Maybe 50 or something like that.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: Yeah. Yeah.

Jeff Chilton: I saw 2000 individual crops and so it was a very intense experience. We grew 2 million pounds of Agaricus per year. And then I had these other three, what we call the specialty mushrooms that were going on. And after I left, and in 1989 that’s when I started my company, because I realized that growing a fresh product … You know, when you grow vegetables or any kind of fresh produce, fruit, vegetable, whatever, what’s the biggest problems that you have? One of which is harvesting. Mushrooms are actually still harvested by hand. And it’s fresh, you have to get it to market.

And I was just like, “Well, that’s all well and good, but I don’t think I want to be a farmer per se.” So, I had read all about the medicinal aspects of mushrooms and I thought, you know, I think that’s where I’ll start a business, is in medicinal mushrooms, because they are a product that is a dry powder.

So, I could keep it on the shelf. I didn’t have to worry about getting it out to market immediately. So, in 1989 I started my company in the medicinal mushroom market.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: Now, let’s talk a bit about the medicinal benefits of mushrooms. So, what are those benefits? What are their primary uses?

Jeff Chilton: Well, I think that and what science has told us, and this is the thing there, we can look at traditional use of mushrooms and traditional Chinese medicine, which is where we get most of that information. And we can go, “Okay, what are you using these mushrooms for?” But what I like to do is I like to then go to the literature and look at the research, and go, “Okay, does the scientific research back up these specific mushrooms?” And there are about 10 or 12 mushrooms that have a very solid body of scientific evidence.

And the primary effect of a medicinal mushroom is it’s these Beta-glucans, and they have the ability to stimulate the production of immune cells. Macrophages, T cells, and k cells. So, these Beta Glucans will, when we ingest either a mushroom as a food or as a supplement when it gets dig … It goes through our stomach pretty much undigested, but when it gets to our small intestine, it will hit certain receptors sites that we have down there.

And we have specific receptor sites for Beta glucans. It will hit those receptor sites and then at that point, it will activate the production of these immune cells. That is probably the most important benefit for medicinal mushrooms. And I look at it more than anything else as a model of prevention. So, this is something that we are eating or consuming essentially to keep us healthy, to prevent the disease from coming forward.

And you know, they had actually developed drugs from some of these mushrooms that we are eating, like shiitake. In Japan, they’ve developed a drug called lentinan, that was a purified beta glucan. And they would give it to people who were in traditional cancer therapies. And then give it to them because the traditional therapies are breaking down and destroying the immunity of people.

And they’re giving this as an [inaudible 00:21:55] to these people as a way to try and help keep their immune system a little stronger, and keep it from being totally destroyed. So, that’s one of the primary benefits, and I would say the main benefit of medicinal mushrooms.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: And you also, of course, mentioned the fibre as a nutritional benefit, but-

Jeff Chilton: Absolutely.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: If that’s stimulating our gut microbiome, and I mentioned-

Jeff Chilton: Exactly.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: Yeah. When we first got introduced, you shared some really interesting articles about oral health.

Jeff Chilton: Oh yeah.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: That surprised me. Tell us … Share with our listener some of those benefits too.

Jeff Chilton: Well, you know what? It appears and certainly, they’ve demonstrated in a lot of testing that mushrooms have antimicrobial action and antibacterial action. And over the years and just within the last 10 years, there have been at least three different papers that have come out talking about shiitake and how it has antimicrobial activity against organisms, bacteria, specifically in the mouth. And how actually it was preventing plaque buildup, and also a reduction of biofilms. And I thought this is just fantastic. And for me, I was thinking, okay, let’s see, how can I create a shiitake toothpaste?

Dr Ron Ehrlich: Yeah. Wow. That’s an interesting challenge. How did you go?

Jeff Chilton: Well, and Ron, here’s the thing, is that shiitake has such a wonderful flavour, and our shiitake extracts taste so good. In fact, today I actually have a package of shiitake oyster mushroom blend here, extract blend, and I finally today went, and of course, thinking about our talk and the fact that you’re a dentist. I thought, “I’m going to get that out and I’m going to just start dipping my toothbrush into this stuff and start brushing with it.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: Okay. And swallow, and swallow, and get the benefits both ways.

Jeff Chilton: Yes absolutely, that’s exactly right, it’s-

Dr Ron Ehrlich: This could be a whole new concept, Jeff. I think it’s got legs, and I think it’s got legs, but let’s-

Jeff Chilton: Yeah, I do too. And you know what? If there’s just … What we need is just a little more like some clinical trials or something to carry on with that research. Because I think sometimes when I use toothpaste, I mean, I’m just thinking, “Oh my, what is in this stuff anyway?”

Dr Ron Ehrlich: Well, I always have a problem with the tooth … with something that you put in your mouth, which is on some of these packets it says, “Seek medical advice if swallowed.” Do you know? Well, hang on, I’m putting it in my mouth twice a day. Maybe I shouldn’t be. But I think the shiitake toothpaste has got … got a great idea there, Jeff. But anyway, we digress. We digress. Listen back to China.

I know China has featured a great deal in your life, particularly over the last 20 years. Why did you travel to China? I mean, you mentioned Chinese medicine, I guess that’s obviously one. With China, tell us a bit about your experience in China.

Well, I, of course, read a lot about medicinal mushrooms in traditional Chinese medicine. And then in 1989, a society that I was a member of called the International Society for Mushroom Science, the ISMS, they were having a conference in Nanjing, China 1989. And I was like, “Okay, I’m going to that conference, because here it is, it’s in China and it’s the group I’m a member of.” And every time they have this …. when they come together like this is, what it is, is that people will deliver all sorts of different research papers and that gets put out in books. And I had all of the volumes of this from the early ’40s. So, it was a really important conference. I went over there and I made all sorts of contacts in that first time that I was there.

And then I spent the whole ’90s travelling back and forth to China. And I went from top to bottom, left to right in China. And I visited mushroom farms. I visited the research institutes. I visited processors and went to numerous conferences over the years. And here’s one of the reasons why, Ron, was that, that what I knew from being a mushroom grower in North America was that we can produce mushrooms as food.

We can produce mushrooms and sell them into the fresh market. But remember that mushroom is 90% water. Supplements are dry powders. So, if I get $5 for … or even $10 let’s say, for a kilo of fresh mushrooms, now I have to get … because it’s 90% water, now I have to get 10 times, I’ll have to get $100 now for that same kilo of mushroom powder.

So, the economics just did not work for using mushrooms as a supplement or for example, some of the products we make, we will take four kilos of dried mushrooms and turned it into one kilo of mushroom extract. You will never be able to grow mushrooms in North America and actually economically create a supplement. It just can’t be done. I realize that and for that reason, I established contacts with people in China, people who I’ve now worked with for over 25 years.

Where we grow mushrooms over there, we process them in extracts over there. And at that point, we bring them into North America. And listen, I’ve been organically certified since 1992, and in 1997 I took a very large organic certifier from the United States. I took them to China and I organized the very first organic certification workshop for Mushrooms in China. That was in 1997, and today we’re getting tons of organically certified mushrooms out of China.

And these are all certified by high-quality German certifiers. And believe me, we test our products. We test them for pesticides, fungicides, heavy metals, everything before they even leave China.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: Yeah. Because we do hear a lot about pollution in China and yet you’ll start a new organic farm there. Yeah, tell us about how you viewed that issue. I mean, is China very polluted? Is that your experience going backwards and forwards?

Jeff Chilton: Well-

Dr Ron Ehrlich: It’s a big country.

Jeff Chilton: Well, listen. You know, Ron, that if you travel the parts of the United States and see the pollution there, I mean it’s not just China, it’s worldwide.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: Yeah, yeah.

Jeff Chilton: That pollution, especially in industrial areas, it’s horrific. I mean, it’s like the Gulf coast of the United States, you would not want to dip your foot in the water in that area. You would not want to eat anything that comes out of the ground near that area. I mean, it’s a worldwide phenomenon. And listen, I’m taking an ethic to China, and today in China there are a lot of producers of all sorts of food that are now starting to do it organically.

They can do it. We do not grow our mushrooms next door to some industrial city of 25 million people. We grow them way back in the mountains, and in areas where they still have clean water, there are not any chemicals being sprayed nearby. So, we’re very careful about that and very mindful of that.

And the organic ethic is something that I subscribe to 100%. So, it’s very important to me and despite the fact of the pollution over there, and everywhere else, I mean we have to stop at wherever it is. I mean, we really do. And if I can produce an organic product over there that I can’t produce over here, well, I think that’s very beneficial. And believe me, just the idea that we have tons of organic mushrooms coming out of China today, that’s very important.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: The traditional or non-organic way of the farming mushrooms, does that also involve a lot of chemicals? Do we need that?

Jeff Chilton: You know what? Unfortunately, it does. And just to give you an example, when I was growing the button mushroom in the ’70s, we literally had a program and this program was okay at this stage you use this chemical. At this stage, you use this chemical. I mean, there were fungicides and pesticides that we applied to our crop at different times during the cropping cycle. That was part of how you grew mushrooms.

And with mushrooms, certainly in North America, you’re growing them in very large warehouses or houses, it’s a monoculture. You’ve got insects that are wanting to get in at every stage. You’ve got other fungi and moulds that are getting in. So, definitely, they had a program of applying chemicals to try and control those things. And believe me, I applied them all while I was there. It was not pretty. And so I know all about that.

Jeff Chilton: Today, I believe the Agaricus, the button mushroom, is grown with a lot less pesticide or fungicide use. I think it’s probably a lot better than it was then. It’s probably pretty good. In terms of the other mushrooms, certainly, you don’t need the same level of chemicals for those. There’s is a different type of growing, so really chemicals are not necessary. And even though … In China, we grow them all outdoors and under shade cloth in plastic greenhouses.

And it’s all done in very natural conditions of light and fresh air, and it’s grown … You know, the beauty of China is that they will do cropping according to the temperatures that are going on. So, they will use the ambient temperatures to grow a lot of their crops. When one crop is finished, another crop goes in that likes the cooler temperatures.

Jeff Chilton: It’s, for example, Reishi mushroom harvests in early September. It is still hot, and Reishi loves hot temperatures. But the Shiitake or maitake, that’s not actually harvested until November. So, they start it a little bit later and harvest later when the temperatures are lower, which is favourable to the growth of those mushrooms. And then there are a couple of others, like the lion’s mane that they harvest a month later when the temperature is cooler. So, they’re not using all of this air conditioning and heating and humidification types of mechanical systems that are very expensive. They’re not using that at all. They’re just using the natural temperatures and humidities of the areas that they grow in.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: What is the cycle of a mushroom? I mean, does it take from spore to mushroom harvest, how many days, or weeks? Or what-

Jeff Chilton: Well, different for different mushrooms. But let me just give you an idea of it. For example, shiitake in China, we will grow Shiitake on sawdust. And so what happens is the first thing is we will mix that sawdust was some nutrient. We will put it into autoclave bag, and sterilize it. Then it will be inoculated. Let’s just call that day one. It’ll be inoculated with … And we don’t use spores as our seed. Actually what we use as seed for growing mushrooms is live mycelium. So, that mycelium will actually be grown out on sawdust first. And then we will use that to inoculate hundreds, thousands of these little synthetic sawdust logs.

They will be incubated for a period of approximately 60 days. And during that period that sawdust will become completely colonized with the mushroom mycelium. And then at that point, it will be put on to shelves outside where the temperature is cooler. And we will start to see mushrooms coming off of that in approximately 30 days. So, now we’re, let’s say 90 days out from start already, and then for the 30 to 60 days, we will be harvesting mushrooms off of that log. So really we’re talking about 120 to 150 day cropping cycle.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: Wow. Okay. Just, it’s interesting, isn’t it? Because sometimes you go out after a rain and where there weren’t mushrooms, suddenly there is one. And then you kind of think, “Oh wow, that must … it must take about a week to grow a mushroom.” But-

Jeff Chilton: Well yeah, I know, I know. That’s absolutely right. But the fact is, is that that mycelium that produces that mushroom has been there in the ground for many, many months. And it’s been growing out during the spring and the summer amassing more nutrients. So, let’s say it’s been growing out after a dormancy period, during the winter, it’s been growing out for maybe six months. And then when the temperature goes down and you get more rain, then up comes the mushroom.

And that mushroom may only be there for about two weeks before it’s mature. So, and you know the thing about a mushroom too, which is interesting is oftentimes it appears like, Oh man, I just, I didn’t … it wasn’t there yesterday and now it’s there. The fact is, is that what happens is, remember it starts out kind of as a small little button and a lot of times we don’t even notice it until it reaches a certain size. So, so it has been there all the time growing up and then all of a sudden it’s like, wow, we notice it.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: And you mentioned also, now you mentioned that there are nutritional and we’ve covered that, and looked at medicinal. There were some toxic issues here too. Is there any simple way of knowing other than trial and error, whether a mushroom is toxic? Is there any sign? I don’t think there is an answer to this one but go on.

Jeff Chilton: Well, there is an answer certainly, but trial and error is not one of them, that’s for sure. Now, the thing is no, there is no good way to test a mushroom for toxins. And then the only thing you can really do is be someone who is trained and knows the identification of different mushrooms so that you know which ones to avoid, which ones to harvest.

Anybody going out and harvesting wild mushrooms, all I would say to them are, “Do not eat that mushroom unless you have somebody along who is skilled at mushroom identification and has years of experience. And then number two, do not eat a lot of that mushroom the first time you eat it.” Because even if it’s a good edible, sometimes what happens, there’s probably 5% of us or 10% of … You know how with almost any food, there’s a certain percentage of the population that it will just not agree with them.

Jeff Chilton: It’s no different than mushrooms. Certain mushrooms will not agree with people and they’ll end up eating it, and even though it’s a fine mushroom for most other people, they’ll end up having stomach upset because of it. In fact, one of my friends when I was younger, one of my friend’s father was a real mushroom hunter, out all the time. and there’s a mushroom called a Morrell, which is a very choice edible.

He could not eat Morrells, so he was just allergic to them. So here it was, there was just choice that it will mushroom out there, but he couldn’t harvest it for his own purposes. He could harvest it for others but not for himself. So, do not eat a lot of mushrooms, new mushroom. Even if somebody identified it and said, “Oh, this is a great mushroom,” do not eat a lot of it the first time. Eat just enough to get an idea of the flavour and the taste, and all of that. But don’t eat a lot of it because you might have an adverse reaction.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: And you mentioned Shamanic, and I know that psychedelic effective mushrooms were explored a lot in the ’60s and ’70s, probably still explored today. But what … Tell us a bit about that side of mushrooms.

Jeff Chilton: Well, it’s interesting because as we learn more and more about prehistory and as we explore more and more ancient ruins and texts and pictures, we now realize that psychoactive mushrooms have been a part of the human experience for tens of thousands of years. And here’s what’s really interesting. And one of the things that I came across when I was at university and studying this, there was a man out there that was doing a historical study of mushrooms worldwide.

He was a New York banker, his name was Gordon [Wasson 00:40:26]. He had a Russian wife. She introduced him to mushrooms. He became fascinated, and they started to look at the history of mushrooms, and they discovered after some people had … some researchers had told them that in the deep mountains of Mexico, there were still people there from certain groups that were still using these psychoactive mushrooms in their healing ceremonies.

Jeff Chilton: And this is in the 1950s. And this was an amazing discovery because when the Spanish came to the new world, and they discovered that the natives were using mushrooms in various types of ceremonies. And one of the things that the natives were doing was they were calling the mushroom God’s flesh. Now can you imagine if you’re a Catholic and somebody is saying, “Hey, this motion was God’s flesh and it gives us these visions, and we use it in this way.” Well, it was blasphemy.

They rooted it out and they drove it back into the mountains. But here it was, it was still being used in healing ceremonies. And in these healing ceremonies, the Shaman would actually consume the mushrooms. And the person that she was trying to help would also consume the mushrooms, and then she would go through a … get into a trance state and try to figure out what is going on with this person that was sick.

Jeff Chilton: And not being a Shaman myself, I can’t tell you how or what she was seeing in those states. I know what I see in those states, and I know how I feel in those states. And I consider it to be an experience that people should definitely … A very positive experience, and for people who are ready for it, I think it’s a wonderful, wonderful experience. And today, after all of this prohibition for the last 50 years in the United States, more and more researchers are looking at mushrooms.

For example, these mushrooms in addiction therapy, using it with people that are about to die and trying to help them out there. It’s worked well. And even types of mental illness. So, it is looking like it’s going to be a tremendous therapeutic tool in that sense. But also in terms of just being able to experience the natural world in another frame of mind is a very powerful experience that has changed a lot of people’s lives.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: No, I’ve had that it’s making a comeback in all of those areas that you’ve mentioned, addiction and mental health and that you know … And yes, I think there’s a lot going on there that we’ve kind of dismissed as we have with sent many of these issues around drugs. Listen, if someone wanted to get started, they’re listening to you, they’re thinking nutritionally, medicinally you mentioned. Well, what would be some hints you would give people, some tips about going about this in an appropriate way?

Jeff Chilton: About now the shamanic side of things or-

Dr Ron Ehrlich: Oh, well the shamanic side … Well, that’d be interesting. But I was thinking … I think the shamanic side may be something that we might do a separate program on.

Jeff Chilton: Yeah, certainly. So just mushrooms in general-

Dr Ron Ehrlich: Yeah. Like if you were looking for a good supplement, how would you know that?

Jeff Chilton: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Absolutely. First of all, what I tell people is okay, put mushrooms into your diet, create food. Start with shiitake. Shiitake is wonderful, great flavour. In China, it’s called xiānggū, which means fragrant mushroom. And if you’re going to eat mushrooms, be sure and cook them properly. They need to be cooked in a hot pan, in some type of oil or however, you do it.

But in a hot pan. If you cook mushrooms at too low a heat, the water will come out of them and you’ll have these mushroom pieces that will be soggy, slimy. And everybody’s heard that before. I’ve certainly heard it from all sorts of people. Mushrooms, they’re just really slimy. They don’t like the taste of them or whatever. So, definitely cooked them properly.

Jeff Chilton: In terms of supplements, listen, that is so difficult out there because right now there are supplements on the market that are not truly mushroom, even though they’ve got … they say on the label that it is a mushroom. But what some companies are doing now is they will actually grow the mycelium on to grain, and after the mycelium has fully covered that grain, they will then dry it and grind it to a powder grain and all. And then they will call it mushroom and sell it as a mushroom.

And the fact is, it’s not mushroom. For one, mushrooms do not have starch and these products are mostly starch from all the grain in there. They don’t have the compounds you’re looking for because there’s very little actual fungal matter in these products.

Jeff Chilton: And the only way that you can really figure that out, there’s a couple of ways. One of which looks at the supplement facts panel. Make sure … Sometimes they will reveal that it’s mycelium. Sometimes they will say myceliated rice or myceliated oats or something like that. A lot of companies will not reveal that. But if you just taste the product, pour it out, taste it, these products will be very bland.

They will be generally speaking, lighter in colour. They will taste like flour a little bit, sweetish. They will not have a mushroom flavour at all. So, be very wary of that, because if you look at the front panel on that label, it will say Reishi mushroom, Shiitake mushroom, and it will say sometimes made from a 100% organic mushrooms, when in fact there are no mushrooms in it at all.

Jeff Chilton: And the other way that you could do that too is there are very simple tests you can do if you have one of these products. You say, “Oh, I love my mushroom product.” And I’ve had people tell me that. They’ve come up to me when I’m at a trade show and they say, “Oh, mushrooms, that’s so great. I love my mushroom product.” I say, “What’s the brand?” They tell me. And then I have to tell them that it’s mostly grain. If you buy a little bottle of iodine, take some of your mushroom product, mix it up and do a quarter a couple of capsules into a quarter of a cup of water. Drop in a few … 10 drops of iodine. If it is one of these products, which again is mostly starch, that water will turn black from the reaction of iodine and starch.

Mushrooms do not have starch. That’s what’s interesting too, Ron, is mushrooms are … the Kingdom of mushrooms is between plants and animals, and mushrooms actually have glycogen. A small amount of glycogen is their storage carbohydrate like humans do. Plants have starch so that’s one of the things you really have to be aware of.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: So, with the mushroom complex, the real one, you drop the iodine, it shouldn’t turn what-

Jeff Chilton: It will not turn colour. Instead, all you’ll see is maybe the colour of the iodine.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: Iodine yeah.

Jeff Chilton: Yeah, yeah. So, that’s a good test that you can do. Very simple because iodine is really cheap. Buy a little bottle for a couple of bucks at the pharmacy and … I’m really … To me, I want people when they’re buying a mushroom supplement, I want them to get the real thing. I want them to get what’s been used for thousands of years. These other products are what I call fact similes. They have very little fungal matter. They have great marketing, talking about how wonderful their products are. And they’ll call the mushrooms when they’re really not. And it’s just what I consider to be a bait and switch. And so you have to be very careful, because let me tell you, in North America, maybe 70% of the products in the marketplace are those types of products.

Because I was telling you earlier how you can’t produce mushrooms in North America and sell them as supplements. So, North American companies and American companies have been producing this, myceliated grain and have been calling it mushroom and selling it out in the market in the United States. And that’s what a dominates the market there because it’s very, very cheap to produce. Mushrooms are expensive to produce. So, that’s what’s happening and it’s really unfortunate.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: Yeah. I’ve tried mushroom extract and I think it was a very good product because it tasted very mushroomy. I was really struck by that. But that’s a good one to do that. Now listen, we’re just going to finish up here. It’s been great talking. We’ve covered a lot of territory here. I just wanted you to take a step back from your role in mycology and in manufacturing and all that. Because we’re all on a health journey in our lives. What do you think the biggest challenge is for people on that health journey through life, in our modern world?

The Biggest Health Challenge

Jeff Chilton: Well, you know we all tend to build up habits and, and a lot of those habits, unfortunately, are very negative for our health. And especially when you’re looking at food products, oh my goodness. Go into a supermarket and 80% of the food in there is going to be bad for your health. So, first of all, I would say slowly, surely try to move into real foods, eat more vegetables, more plants, stay away from all of those processed products that are in the middle isles.

And then the other thing certainly that I do is, I walk. I have to stay active. In today’s world, Ron, how much time do we all spend sitting now, and sitting in front of a computer? Way too much time. And so I try to get out every day and walk for one to two hours. And I like that much better than riding my bike, or …

Jeff Chilton: I’m not a runner so that just keeps my body moving and keeping all the parts going. And I think those two things in particular for me are very, very important for health. And again, now it doesn’t have to be like, okay, a New Year’s Eve resolution or something, and I’m going to change overnight or something. You can always move into that slowly, a bit at a time.

But we have to break these habits. I mean, it’s just … And it’s so difficult. We’ve been doing some of these things for years and years and years and it’s really tough not to. So, to me that’s exercise. Having a good diet, very, very important to ongoing health. And ultimately I think that will lead to a lot less stress too because let’s face it, we’re all so … especially if you’re in the city. My God, it’s a stressful environment. I mean, it really is. And we have to have some ways to balance out our life and find harmony in, and I think that’s what we’re all looking for, is some harmony in our lives.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: Jeff, on that note, thank you so much for joining me today. It’s been terrific to talk to you. We’ll have links to your website and a lot more information you’ve mentioned there. So, thank you again.

Jeff Chilton: You’re very welcome, Ron. It’s been enjoyable speaking to you.


Dr Ron Ehrlich: So, there it is. Mushrooms can be toxic, but they have many nutritional and medicinal purposes. Now I’ve attended several seminars in the last few years about an integrated approach to cancer, specifically focusing on colon, breast and prostate cancer. And mushroom extract often features as a supplement with some really good science to support it.

But as you heard, not all supplements are the same. I’ve had a patient recently with an endocrine gland cancer who attributes the control and regression of that cancer to using mushroom extract for the last three years. Interesting. The shamanic or psychedelic properties also sound really interesting. And as Jeff said, they are making a comeback, at least therapeutically in recent years, and we’ll have to do a program on that.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: I’ll have links to Jeff’s site, Nammex in our show notes. Now listen, we have some very exciting things happening with the new app, which you can download from iTunes. It’s called Unstressed and Simply be Well. There are some free webinars on my website worth looking at, and those webinars include our current state of health and how we approach it. Why public health messages are so confusing and often contradictory. And a short overview of the five stressor model. Check it out. So, until next time, this is doctor Ron Ehrlich. Be well.


This podcast provides general information and discussion about medicine, health, and related subjects. The content is not intended and should not be construed as medical advice or as a substitute for care by a qualified medical practitioner. If you or any other person has a medical concern, he or she should consult with an appropriately qualified medical practitioner. Guests who speak in this podcast express their own opinions, experiences, and conclusions.