The quality and potency of medicinal mushrooms can depend on a variety of factors, including the medium on which they are grown. If you are new to the world of medicinal mushrooms, you will likely come across a much debated topic, what is better - wood or grain grown mushrooms?
In this article we will cover:
- What is a growing medium?
- Grain-based mushroom cultivation
- Wood-based mushroom cultivation
- Dì Dào Sourcing (地道)
What is a growing medium?
The medium on which mushrooms are grown refers to the substrate or material that the mushrooms are cultivated on. There are many different types of substrates that can be used for growing mushrooms, including grain, wood, sawdust, straw, and compost. Each substrate has its own unique advantages and disadvantages, and the choice of substrate can have a significant impact on the quality and potency of the mushrooms that are produced.
Grain-Based Mushroom Cultivation
One of the most popular methods of growing mushrooms is on grain. Grain-based mushroom cultivation involves growing mushrooms on a substrate made from grains such as rye, wheat, barley, or corn. This method is often used for growing species such as shiitake, oyster, and lion's mane mushrooms. One of the advantages of growing mushrooms on grain is that it allows for a high degree of control over the growing conditions. Grain-based cultivation also allows for a high yield of mushrooms, making it an efficient and cost-effective method of cultivation, which to some may seem like a positive but in reality can lead to an inferior supplement.
Medicinal mushroom supplements that are grown on grain often result in a mycelium only or combination of mycelium and fruiting body product. If you are not sure what either of these are, the mycelium is essentially the actual living network of the fungus, the portion of the herb that in nature moves through the ground and the wood to help the mushroom spread. The mycelium is woven into whatever substrate (the plant material) it has chosen to feed on and from there can produce the fruiting body.
Whilst the fruiting body is the mushroom's reproductive structure, it is the part that most of us would recognise as the mushroom proper: the bit that sticks out of the tree or pops out of the ground. Before we go on, it’s important to reiterate that although the fruiting body is composed of mycelium, this does not make them the same thing, as is the case with medicinal mushroom supplements!
If you want to dive a little deeper into the difference between the two, read our article ‘Fruiting Body vs. Mycelium’ to learn more.
Medicinal mushroom products that are grown on grain may have a different nutrient composition compared to those found in nature, therefore any variability in growing conditions, substrate quality and extraction methods can have a significant impact on the bioactive compounds found within the supplement. This can be perceived in both a positive and negative light.
It is argued that the dense network of fine filaments called hyphae within mycelium enhances its bioavailability of nutrients and bioactive compounds as it interacts with its environment, absorbing and metabolising nutrients and compounds from its surroundings. Whilst this is true, most mycelium-based supplements are grown on grain-based substrates, leaving the mycelium only starch to interact with. Myceliated grain often contains up to 60-70% grain, reducing the percentage of active compounds within the final product.
Wood-Based Mushroom Cultivation
Another popular method of growing mushrooms is on wood. Wood-based mushroom cultivation involves growing mushrooms on a substrate made from hardwood, sawdust or wood chips.
Wood-grown mushrooms tend to have more diverse and complex nutrient profiles compared to grain-grown ones. This is because wood substrates offer a wider range of nutrients and compounds for the mushrooms to absorb during their growth. Wood substrates can contain unique compounds and phytochemicals that can enhance the medicinal properties of mushrooms. These compounds are absorbed by the mushrooms as they grow, potentially leading to higher levels of bioactive substances.
The wood the mushroom grows on lends its biochemistry to the mushroom and this, in turn, creates some of the medicine we imbibe when we eat the mushroom extract. Trees are full of potent medicine and the mushroom harvests this and concentrates it in the fruiting body.
Wood substrates are also often considered more sustainable and environmentally friendly for large-scale cultivation compared to grain substrates. They can be sourced from wood waste or sustainably managed forests.
Dì Dào (地道) Sourcing
The constituents of a plant are affected by environmental factors such as soil, climate, humidity and light, which directly influence the bioactive compounds available in the resultant herbal medicine. This is one of the reasons why we choose to source our herbs in alignment with Dì Dào growing practices.
Dì Dào (地道) is the concept of growing herbs in their spiritual and native homeland; The preferred environment, atmospheric energy, pressure, and altitude required to grow and thrive. When tonic herbs and mushrooms are grown Dì Dào, they deliver their intended spiritual intention and potency to the body. Contrastingly when herbs or mushrooms are not grown Dì Dào and are instead grown on grain, oats, or even wood- away from their natural environment, they inevitably lack quality and their innate energetic potency.
Dì Dào (地道) poetically translates as the ‘way of the Earth’, and it shows us where to harvest herbs if we wish to experience the herb’s true Spirit. This method results in a medicinally robust and Qi-full end product sourced from its ‘original place’ or ‘spiritual homeland’.
About 200 of the 500 or so herbs in the Chinese materia medica have specific Dì Dào forms, and these herbs make up about 80% of the Chinese herb market. Dì Dào is a fundamental concept in Chinese herbalism but one that is vastly overlooked and disregarded by many Western herbal companies.
The Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing was the first text to discuss the importance of production regions, though certainly not the last. In 659 AD, the Tang Dynasty herbalists emphasised the importance of production regions, stating: “if medicinal material is not produced from its native environment, it will be the same in substance but will differ in effect.”
You can read more about Dì Dào (地道) on our blog - ‘Dì Dào (地道) - Sourcing From The Spiritual Homeland’ as well as listen to our podcast episode ‘Superior Dì Dào 地道) Sourcing From China with Mason Taylor (Episode #162)’.
Tune in below to hear SuperFeast Founder, Mason Taylor explain the difference between wood and grain grown medicinal mushrooms.
Chang ST, Miles PG. Mushrooms: Cultivation, Nutritional Value, Medicinal Effect, and Environmental Impact. 2nd ed. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 2004.