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Mushroom Extraction Techniques And Their Effectiveness

The Mushroom Supplement Craze

Recently mushroom extracts have become very popular. At Evolved Alchemy we have been doing a lot of extraction and product manufacturing with medicinal mushrooms because of this. With an organic chemistry background and a good understanding of why whole plant extracts work much better than any isolated version, it seemed like a good time to chime in about what products are on the market, how they’re extracted and what types of compounds are in them. We’ll then look at that and cross analyze these extracts with the most recent research. The goal will be to educate people on what is going to work well based on the extraction methods and what just has a pretty label on it.

First thing is first; extraction of mushrooms involves a lot of different techniques and methods people have come up with. Just like old school alchemy, we all have our different methods and logic behind those methods. The goal is not to say anyone is wrong if they differ from our techniques but the methods we use are based on keeping as many of the plant compounds together and intact in the end product. These consist of different temperatures and blending/grinding techniques.

Main Constituents in Medicinal Mushrooms

There are so many compounds found in mushrooms that are medicinal. Studies may sometimes be misleading as some compounds may not have any bioactivity but they may increase the bioactivity of something that is bioactive. We have especially seen this in understanding how cannabis/hemp works on the body. A full spectrum extract, containing many non-active compounds actually works better than an extract that only contains the bioactive compounds….why?…..The Entourage Effect!

This is also supporting the alchemical idea that plants should be taken whole as to meet the entire plant and converse with it. In the end, a proper extraction that brings all the plant’s water and alcohol soluble compounds together is going to deliver the best – full spectrum – effects.

Alcohol Soluble Compounds – Terpenes & Terpenoids

Terpenes are basically different types of essential oils which have low boiling points and readily evaporate. These compounds are responsible for giving the mushroom its aroma. This includes diterpenes like erinacine and hericenone found in lions mane or triterpenes like ganoderic, lucidic and ganoderol acids found in red reishi. These compounds are also similar to in structure to steroid hormones and they aren’t found anywhere else in nature. These compounds are non-polar and readily dissolve in high proof alcohol, especially if heated slightly. These compounds are known to be neuroprotective, highly anti-oxidant and have many health benefits.

Water Soluble Compounds – Polysaccharides

These are basically large sugar like compounds that require high heat to readily dissolve in water. The tricky part is that they are also locked up behind the cell walls of the fungi – being mostly made of chitin. Some way to break up the cell walls is necessary to get a good polysaccharide extraction. These compounds are mostly found as beta-glucans in many medicinal mushrooms and posses many immuno-stimulating effects including increased anti-body production, reduction of pro-inflammatory cytokines and they can also help promote healthy cholesterol levels.

What’s First? Alcohol or Water Extraction?

To sum it up, we have volatile alcohol soluble terpenes and big heavy water soluble polysaccharides locked up in the cell walls that we are trying to extract. A simple 50/50 hydroethanolic tincture of finely ground mushrooms will do a good job, but will leave a little of each water and alcohol soluble compounds behind. Also if you were to try and distill this down to potentize it, you would effectively distill off your terpenes (and make it less potent).

If you did a hot water extraction first and then an alcohol extraction and mixed those together, you would get a more potent tincture because the extractions are separate. If each extract was distilled to potentize it, the alcohol extract would also contain water since the water extraction was first (unless you dehydrate the mushrooms after water extraction first) and the terpenes could still be distilled out if trying to potentize it by distillation.

If the alcohol extraction was first, and then the water extraction second; each extraction could be distilled down without losing any potency and then mixed together. This method would allow for the highest potency product. If you were to immersion blend the mushrooms in hot alcohol to start, it would save time grinding the mushrooms dry and save a ton of time on cleaning all the powder that goes into the air too (this is the method we use to dual extract and potentize our mushroom extracts).

Mycelium vs Fruiting Body

This is yet another hot topic. Paul Stamets came out with some research a while ago that said the mycelium had more medicinal compounds than the fruiting bodies in some cases… (here is a link to all of Paul Stamets’ peer reviewed research articles). Mycelium is also much easier & cheaper to produce while cutting a lot of space and time out of producing the fruiting bodies. Sure, pure mycelium is very medicinal and shown to be more medicinal than the fruiting bodies but it is rarely found like that***. A typical mycelium mass is going to contain a lot of compounds from the substrate it grew on. See the picture above as a reference…. Tasting a tincture of any mycelium or tasting the mycelium yourself will reveal how potent the mycelium is. If its tastes mostly like grain or some kind of substrate, it may not be that potent. This can also be visually identified if you’re extracting your own mushroom mycelium. Another big factor here is there are no ways to ensure each batch is up to potency standards since there is a huge lack in 3rd party testing companies for mushrooms. This will hopefully change as the industry grows.

When it comes to variability between batches of mycelium or fruiting bodies, mycelium can have the most variability in potency. This means mycelium based products can have the largest swings in potency variation depending on the growing methods. Fruiting bodies are generally more consistent based on the growing methods and serve as a better standardized starting material for products for this reason.

Is the research valid in analyzing the medicinal compounds in mushroom mycelium? – Yes.
Does that mean you should just eat mycelium and ignore the fruiting body? Absolutely not.

***The only exception is if the mycelium was grown in a liquid culture or if the mycelium was grown in a way that the mycelium has little to no substrate left.

Products on the Market

If the product is water based it is likely just water extract. These contain only the polysaccharides which posses only immuno-stimulating effects. Many of the anti-oxidant compounds and neuroprotective effects linked to all kinds of health benefits are only found in the alcohol extract – yet many companies are promoting these benefits without having any of these compounds in their product. How many water based lions mane drinks do you see that promote brain health? Sadly they don’t even have the neuroactive compounds they are promoting….

When it comes to potency vs starting material vs extraction methods – here is a general breakdown:

Best – (Highest Potency & Full Spectrum) – Dual (Alcohol/Water) extraction of fruiting body or mycelium with 3rd party testing on the end product for potency (almost no companies are able to offer this at the moment).
Second Best – Dual extraction with fruiting bodies from a reputable company that knows what they are doing. This can be a capsule or tincture format.
Third Best – Water extract only of unknown mycelium/fruiting body
Fourth Best – Non extracted/ground up fruiting body or mycelium in a capsule

If they cant tell you how its made they either:

1. Have some special technique they think is worth hiding
2. Don’t know what they are doing
3. They just buy it from some other company….

Alcoholic tinctures are one of the best ways to consume mushrooms as this will get a full spectrum extract of the compounds. That is to also say; if it wasn’t ground up well/heated/thoroughly extracted it can still be low potency product. Getting products from a company that has a good understanding of the compounds and how to extract and combine them is going to provide the best extracts. If they are able to 3rd party test that would be the absolute best. Finally, any products that have extremely high extract ratios like 8:1 or something is likely a very poor water extract. The higher the ratio or ‘potency’ usually means it’s actually missing all the other good stuff in an entourage sense.

The Importance of Testing

We saw it in the cannabis industry and it revolutionized and standardized the market. When it comes to mushrooms, it is still very much an unverified market when it comes to potency. If it’s a capsule of ground up mycelium/fruiting body, a tincture or an extract supplement with a potency dosage without any 3rd party testing; the actual medicinal potency is largely dependent on the potency of the starting material (mycelium or fruiting body) along with the extraction techniques used in the manufacturing process. In simple terms, the potency is completely unknown. If one batch of starting material is half as potent as the next batch the end product will reflect the difference yet have the same potency label on the bottle. Also, this isn’t just a problem for mushrooms, its an issue for the entire herbal supplement industry.

Spagyric Mushroom Extraction

The absolute best way to ingest mushrooms would be an alcohol and water extract reacted with the purified minerals of the mushroom. These minerals are only extractable after incineration and calcination of the leftover extracted mushroom. This effectively makes an extract we like to call ‘beyond full spectrum’. The easiest way to make this is into a tincture format. Our spagyric method is what made Evolved Alchemy what it is today. We do our alcohol extraction first, then water and then incinerate the leftover mushroom material to extract the mineral salts. When the minerals react with the alcohol extract they create esterified/saponified versions of the terpenes. This is due to the basic nature of the minerals and the acidic nature of terpenes. Similar to mixing vinegar with baking soda, a spagyric reaction is irreversible. These alchemically synthesized compounds are actually more bioavailable in a general sense (we haven’t done any clinical testing, yet). When tasted, a faint soap like taste can be noted. This is only found in a spagyric preparation. You can try an alcohol only reishi, chaga, hoof polypore and willow bracket spagyric tincture we made called Mushroom Recharge.

Backed by all sorts of alchemical/philosophical logic along with 1000’s of years of herbalism and ancient alchemy being the supreme science of the old world; spagyrics are probably the most important process for making pharmaceutical style applications of herbal/mushroom extracts. We also claim to do it the best and at one of the largest scales in the modern era.

Since tinctures taste a little strong at high potencies and alcohol isn’t for everyone, we also created an spagyric based capsule. This is something Evolved Alchemy invented a few years ago to make extremely potent capsules as part of our Superior Supplement line of products. Yes of course we are going to say our products are the best on the market, and we mean that by the facts we only use fruiting bodies to get the best standardized starting material and our methods are top notch…

Our Due Diligence

Our goal was and always will be to create healthy competition in the supplement market. Evolved Alchemy was set out to stand out and create a new benchmark that would soon push companies that are not doing a good job to either step up their methods or close their doors. This is the future of herbal medicine and we should support companies doing a good job as well as educate ourselves on what works best for our bodies. Sure we are disclosing a lot of our methods, and in the end we hope companies will take our advice and make better medicine – because that is more important than anything else.

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CO2 Vs Alcohol Extractions

There are many differences between the extracts of carbon dioxide and alcohol involving polarity, bio-availability and ester formation. Carbon dioxide is a liquid gas and only extracts the non-polar chemicals of a plant. Alcohol is a solvent that is made due to plant fermentation and is a by product of plants themselves. It is a solvent made by the plants for the plants. Alcohol is also the only solvent that maintains the original chemical ratios contained in the plant. This is due to alcohol extracting both water soluble and oil soluble components.

The use of carbon dioxide results in a very limited extraction of the plant. Since the extracts of carbon dioxide are non-polar; carbon dioxide extracts are not water-soluble. This plays a vital role in bio-availability. Since our bodies are 70% water, oils must be digested by different acids and enzymes to become active. During this digestion process, the active ingredients of the oils are degraded.

Since alcohol is both non-polar and polar, it can dissolve a much wider range of molecules that includes almost all of the plants medicinal oils, polysaccharides, carboxylic acids and other beneficial chemicals. In other words, alcohol dissolves both water and oil soluble chemicals found in the plant while carbon dioxide can only dissolve the oil soluble chemicals. In terms of keeping the plant whole and together, alcohol is the only solvent for the job.

Ester Formation

Something else that happens with alcohol extraction is ester formation. Esters are formed when an organic acid combines with alcohol. When a carboxylic acid is esterified it changes into a more water soluble, bio-available form.

Taking Alcohol Extracts to the Next Level

Spagyrics is a method of transforming a plant’s extracts using only the chemicals contained within the plant. It consists of recombining the oils and minerals of a plant in an alcohol solution. Alcohol is the only solvent that can dissolve both an oil and salt. The addition of purified mineral salts has a huge effect on the oils of the plant in alcohol. When an ester is formed it makes water. Water balances out the equation and a certain percentage of esters are formed and the rest of the acids/oils are left un-esterified. When the purified mineral salts of the plant are added back it catalyzes the reaction by pulling water out of solution. The result is that all the carboxylic acids of the plant are now esterified and neutralized. This turns all of the plants medicinal chemicals into a form that is more bio-available along with faster absorption times.. This form is best for effectively ingesting a plant’s natural chemicals and getting the most out of it.

In Conclusion

Alcohol extracts are far superior to any other method of extraction. It extracts the most amount of the chemicals compared to any other solvent. To add, it also can esterify vitamins, oils and other medicinal chemicals making them more bioavailable and water soluble. Taking it a step further with the spagyric method, adding the purified minerals of the plant continues to make more esters and then neutralizes them. This method is far more advanced than any other patented method of extraction and purification and only involves using the plant’s naturally contained chemicals. These products can easily be organically sourced.