Can Mycelium on Grain be Full Spectrum

Full Spectrum: Truth or Marketing Hype?

When it comes to medicinal mushroom products, the term “Full Spectrum” gets used a lot.

It is an interesting statement, but what does it mean?

Is it simply a marketing gimmick?

An examination of this statement shows that U.S. producers of mycelium are primarily claiming that their product has all of the fungal parts: mycelium, mushroom, and spores.

In addition, they claim the presence of secondary metabolites and extra-cellular compounds that they maintain are secreted by the mycelium into the sterile grain which their mycelium grows on.

So they are proposing that their products contain a complete menu of what is important in a “medicinal mushroom” product.

An accurate definition of Full Spectrum would be a product that has the full complement or complete range of typical or possible elements, as in nutritional and medicinal compounds.

Let’s break this down and see what it really looks like.

The Presence of Mycelium

There is definitely mycelium in these products but the question is, just how much?

U.S. producers of mycelium actually grow their mycelium on cooked, sterilized cereal grain (rice, oats, sorghum, etc). What they don’t talk about is that the grain is not separated from the final product so it is not 100% mycelium like often assumed, but a myceliated grain, very much like the food product called Tempeh.

Tempeh - Mycelium on Grain

Tempeh is a traditional food product of Indonesia. It consists of growing a fungus on cooked soy beans, a process similar to mycelium grown on grain. Yet Tempeh is sold as a food product and not a dietary supplement.

How much of the final product is mycelium and how much is grain?

Nammex alpha-glucan testing has determined that U.S. grown mycelium on grain, what we refer to as MOG, is mostly starch from the residual grain. This was also confirmed in the McCleary & Draga paper (1).

Nammex ergosterol testing has shown that U.S. grown MOG has as little as one tenth the amount of ergosterol as actual mushrooms. Ergosterol is a fungal sterol and a key indicator of fungal matter. Testing for ergosterol is actually used by the grain industry to measure the amount of fungal contamination in stored grain.

Low ergosterol and low beta-glucans (see Active Compounds below), along with high alpha-glucans confirm that the amount of mycelium in MOG is minimal.

The Presence of Mushrooms

Since the ratio of mycelium, mushroom and spores is never given for a “full spectrum” MOG product, one must take their word that mushrooms are present.

Mushrooms contain very low levels of alpha-glucans in the form of glycogen. They do not contain starch.

Due to this, if a MOG product has any significant amount of mushrooms included, the levels of alpha-glucans should be lower and beta-glucan numbers should be higher.

So the amount of starch in a MOG product is directly proportional to missing fungal material. That is, if there is a high amount of grain starch in a MOG product then there must be a low amount of fungal material.

Mushroom vs Mycelium on Grain
Cordyceps militaris mushroom34.4%1.7%
Cordyceps mycelium on grain<0.1%55.5%
Cordyceps mycelium on grain<0.1%68.4%
Turkey Tail mushroom57.3%0.1%
Turkey Tail mycelium on grain6.7%24.55%
Turkey Tail mycelium on grain9.06%44.78%
Reishi mushroom56.2%0.6%
Reishi mycelium on grain1%38.9%
Reishi mycelium on grain1.1%51.4%
Mushroom vs Mycelium on Grain. Beta-glucan analysis using the industry standard Megazyme test. Note that a simple starch analysis will give the same results for alpha-glucans.


Primordia are Not Mushrooms

The presence of mushrooms claim is often substantiated by claiming the presence of primordia growing on the mycelium colonized grain. Primordia are the initial aggregation of mycelia that precedes the actual mushroom stage. But primordia have not differentiated at this stage and are still just a small knot of mycelium.

Primordia are very small

This petri dish is 3.5 inches in diameter. Each tiny primordia is a millimetre in size.

As you can see, primordia are very tiny and would contribute very little to the overall quantity of a MOG product.

External Addition of Mushrooms

If mushrooms are added externally after the MOG is harvested then the distribution of each should be noted in separate line items in the Supplements Facts panel on the product label to give consumers accurate information with which to make informed purchasing decisions.

The Presence of Spores

If a product contains spores, it must first have the mushrooms that produce the spores. Without mushrooms, few spores, if any, will be present. Spores are not digestible or a proven active part of the fungal organism so their presence or lack of presence is not an important issue.

Whole spores have no proven medicinal value. This is why reishi spore products are “cracked” or “broken” prior to sale.

The Presence of Grain

What is often overlooked and unstated is the presence of grain in a MOG product. Nammex analysis of MOG products has shown alpha-glucan numbers from 30-60%. This is almost solely in the form of starch which comes from the residual grain which is not fully consumed by the mycelium.

Mycelium growing on grain

Mycelium growing on grain and the grain is still easily distinguishable.

Can a medicinal mushroom product be a complete representation of these fungal organisms if it contains 30-60% starch?

Analysis shows that MOG products contain a significant amount of residual grain and this has been measured as high levels of alpha-glucans in the form of starch.

The Presence of Active Compounds

Mycelium on Grain has low levels of the important beta-glucans.

Beta-glucans make up the majority of the fungal cell wall and are responsible for the immunological activity of medicinal mushrooms. Nammex beta-glucan testing using the Megazyme test shows an average of 6% beta-glucans in MOG whereas mushrooms have an average of 35% beta-glucans.

If a MOG product has low amounts of beta-glucans this would indicate a lack of actual fungal material. It would also demonstrate a critical deficiency.

The Presence of Secondary Metabolites

Secondary metabolites are well known in mushrooms and produced in quantity.

Mycelium producers claim these metabolites are produced in their grain-grown products. But rather than providing analytical data as proof, instead they point to research with mycelium grown in liquid culture. Mycelium grown in liquid culture (ie. Cordyceps Cs-4) and mycelium grown on grain are completely different products.

Liquid culture mycelium vs mycelium grown on grain
Cordyceps Cs-47.58%1.61%
Cordyceps mycelium grown on grain1.5%64%

As seen above, the difference in beta-glucans and alpha-glucans confirms the lack of mycelium in mycelium grown on grain and the high presence of starch. This also demonstrates that pure mycelium also has low levels of alpha-glucans.

Nammex analysis has shown high amounts of secondary metabolites such as triterpenoids in reishi mushrooms and next to no triterpenoids in MOG reishi products.

Triterpenes in reishi mushroom and reishi mycelium

HPTLC analysis of reishi mushroom and reishi mycelium showing that reishi mycelium contains undetectable amounts of the beneficial triterpene compounds in reishi.

There is little to no research that demonstrates beneficial levels of secondary metabolites are being produced by mycelium grown on grain. In fact, the opposite has been shown.

The Not So Full Spectrum

It is clear that MOG products are not full spectrum in any true sense of the term. Despite claims, analysis shows that they lack fungal material which corresponds to lack of active compounds and high levels of grain starch.


Cordyceps Mycelium on Grain Nutritional Comparison

Nutritional analysis of Cordyceps mycelium grown on grains showing that these products closely mirror the grain itself and not the true Cordyceps mushroom.

It is seriously misleading for a Medicinal Mushroom product to be called Full Spectrum if it contains 30-60% grain starch. That is not a true representation of these fungal organisms.

A genuine mushroom product has high levels of beta-glucans and low levels of alpha-glucans. It also has triterpenoids and ergosterol and a profile that conforms to the mushroom, not the grain.

This fact was confirmed in recent research by USP (United States Pharmacopeial Convention). They determined through a number of analytical methods that only 5 of 19 samples of reishi mushroom supplements could actually be considered genuine. Three of those 5 samples were extracts from Nammex. (2)

If you are looking for a truly beneficial medicinal mushroom product, it is the mushroom itself that has the full complement and complete range of nutritional and medicinal compounds. The mushroom, traditionally used for centuries and scientifically proven, is genuinely Full Spectrum.


  1. McCleary, B. V., & Draga, A. (2016). Measurement of Beta-Glucan in mushrooms and mycelial products. Journal of AOAC International, 99(2), 364–373.
  2. Wu, D.-T., Deng, Y., Chen, L.-X., Zhao, J., Bzhelyansky, A., & Li, S.-P. (2017). Evaluation on quality consistency of Ganoderma lucidum dietary supplements collected in the United States. Scientific Reports, (June), 1–10.

Cordyceps And Supplements: What You Need to Know

In the marketplace today, the majority of supplements that called themselves Cordyceps sinensis are typically not genuine sinensis. That’s because these supplements do not contain actual fruiting bodies (mushrooms).  They are mycelium based.

A look at the history of Cordyceps sinensis offers a fascinating story of an ancient traditional Chinese medicine entering the modern world.

Cordyceps are not in your Supplements

Wild Cordyceps sinensis fruiting bodies, commonly known as the caterpillar fungus.


Historical Record

Ophiocordyceps sinensis fruiting body

Ophiocordyceps sinensis fruiting body. The caterpillar is underground and the fruiting body is above ground.

Ophiocordyceps sinensis is a fungus commonly referred to as Cordyceps sinensis. In China it is called called Dōng chóng xià cǎo, translated to “Winter Worm, Summer Grass” and in Tibet it is called Yartsa Gunbu. Winter worm, summer grass refers to the fact that it parasitizes and consumes a hibernating caterpillar over the winter and then produces a grass blade-like fruiting body in the late spring. This “caterpillar fungus”, is consumed caterpillar and all. It is commonly found in the soil of highland prairies at elevations of 3500 meters in the Chinese provinces of Sichuan, Yunnan, Qinghai and Tibet.

O. sinensis was first recorded in a 1694 Chinese Herbal and its use is at least 300 years old or more. It was officially recorded in the Chinese Pharmacopoeia in 1964 as an herbal drug. It is today one of the most famous of the traditional Chinese medicines and medicinal mushrooms. Due to its fame and popularity the wildcrafted supply has come under intense harvesting pressure making it the most expensive herb in China today. National Geographic recently referred to it as “Tibet’s Golden Worm”.

The current wholesale price is as high as US$20,000 per kilogram.

Traditional Uses

According to the State Pharmacopoeia Commission of PRC, 2005, O. sinensis is used for the treatment of fatigue, cough, hyposexuality, asthenia after severe illness, renal dysfunction, and renal failure.

Asthenia denotes a lack of energy and abnormal physical weakness, especially after debilitating illness, and this is a primary area of traditional Cordyceps use. Cordyceps is also prescribed for exhaustion and fatigue. Some have noted that this use of Cordyceps relates directly to its ability to enhance endurance and strength.

Quality Control and Active Compounds

The search for the active principles in Cordyceps species has been ongoing for over 50 years. Although this research has identified a number of compounds that have shown activity, there are few unique compounds that occur in the quantities necessary to demonstrate strong species specific activity. For this reason, standards have been used that are common among other species of fungi. Mannitol and the nucleoside adenosine are two such compounds.

It is now believed that the polysaccharides in Cordyceps represent the most biologically active compounds due to their anti-oxidant, immunopotentiation, anti-tumor and hypo-glycemic activity. There is also an increasing body of research that indicates cordycepin, a nucleoside from Cordyceps militaris, may be an important key. Cordyceps militaris also possesses  immunomodulating and antioxidant effects. Cordycepin occurs in sufficient quantity to make it a genuine marker compound for Cordyceps militaris.

How this Relates to Today’s Marketplace

Because no one has yet been able to produce a fruiting body from a C. sinensis mycelium culture, mycelium is currently the only and most used option for C. sinensis products in North America.

Meanwhile, wild C. sinensis (photo above) have become the most expensive mushrooms in the world. Bulk prices in China are around $20,000 per kilogram. With a price tag this high there is no way authentic, wild C. sinensis fruiting bodies could end up in any affordable supplement.

Despite this, the bulk of Cordyceps supplements typically show a photo of the caterpillar fungus on their labels even though their products do not contain them.

So What is Mycelium?

Mycelium is the vegetative body of a fungal organism and is somewhat similar to the root system of plants. It is the stage in the fungal life-cycle that gathers nutrients which enable the production of a mushroom. Unfortunately, today many so-called mushroom products, including Cordyceps, are made from the mycelium and not the mushroom.

With C. sinensis there are two methods of production.

Cultivation of Cordyceps using Liquid Fermentation

Cordyceps Cs-4 Liquid Fermentation Tank

A Cordyceps Cs-4 liquid fermentation tank at manufacturing facility in China.

By the 1980’s it became clear to people in China who were working with and utilizing Ophiocordyceps sinensis that the supply was not keeping up to the demand for the fungus. This was reinforced by the ever increasing price in the marketplace. In fact, the Chinese government has named Cordyceps a National Treasure and instituted export restrictions in an attempt to bring some stability and control to the wild harvest.

Since the 1980’s numerous pure cultures were developed in China that claimed to be O. sinensis. Yet from all these pure cultures, only one scientist actually demonstrated the growth of a fruiting body. Mycelium that does not produce a fruiting body is called an anamorph, indicating this mycelial state. Numerous anamorphs were developed and called O. sinensis, with an anamorphic name also attached as a qualifier (ex. Paecilomyces hepiali). These anamorphs were used to produce large quantities of mycelium using fermentation technologies based around growing mycelium in sterile liquid media. The pure mycelium and sometimes the liquid were harvested, dried and sold as an alternative to the wildcrafted and very expensive O. sinensis. It should be noted that DNA analysis showed that many of these products were actually C. militaris, and not O. sinensis.

The most well known of these anamorphic products is called Cs-4. It was extensively analyzed in order to compare its basic nutrient and chemical profile to the wild Cordyceps. Amino acids and nucleosides were analyzed and compared. Then the Cs-4 was subjected to many clinical trials to see if it produced the same benefits and effects as the wild Cordyceps. By 1990, on the basis of positive clinical trials, Cs-4 was certified by the Chinese National government as suitable for use in TCM hospitals and it was recognized as a new and safe natural product drug.

If your Cordyceps product is mycelium made in China, it is likely Cordyceps Cs-4, considered to be a strain of C. sinensis made by fermentation technology, which means it should be 100% pure mycelium.

Cultivation of Cordyceps Mycelium on Grain

Mycelium on Grain

Fungal mycelium grown on grain. As you can see, the grain is still a major part of this product.

If a C. sinensis mycelium product is made in the USA, it is produced using sterile grain as the growing medium (a solid substrate rather than a liquid). The mycelium is grown out on the grain and when ready for harvest, the mycelium and grain substrate are then dried and ground into a powder.

The issue here is that the grain ends up in the final product, which becomes a mixture of mycelium and grain.

Tests have shown that since Cordyceps mycelium grows very slowly, the starch content of mycelium on grain can be upwards of 65% due to the residual grain while the mycelium content remains very low.

For reference, pure fruiting body products typically have less than 5% starch. Not only is there a high starch content and low mycelium content, there is no research based on Cordyceps mycelium grown on grain. High starch content can easily be confirmed at home by doing a simple iodine starch test.

Authenticity of Cordyceps sinensis

The final question is the actual authenticity of Cordyceps sinensis cultures. In a recent workshop on product adulteration, the lead scientist for Authen Technologies, a DNA sequencing laboratory, stated that of the dozens of C. sinensis samples submitted for testing over the last 5 years, only one was authentic.

Cultivation of Genuine Cordyceps Mushrooms

Cordyceps militaris Fruiting Bodies

Cordyceps militaris Fruiting Bodies

A recent breakthrough is a method for the cultivation of Cordyceps militaris fruiting bodies, a different species of CordycepsCordyceps militaris is cultivated on a highly nutritious substrate, indoors in climate controlled grow rooms. This has resulted in the availability of Cordyceps fruiting bodies in reliable quantities for the very first time.

Research on C. militaris has demonstrated that the medicinal properties are similar to O. sinensis and in fact C. militaris has been used interchangeably in Traditional Chinese Medicine.

This also means there is absolutely no confusion as to the actual identity of the fungus since C. militaris is easily identified. Companies now have the opportunity to source Cordyceps in an organically certified cultivated form rather than a mycelium based product.

Best of all, the price is affordable, making the use of Cordyceps possible on a much greater scale.


To summarize, there are no economical market options for Cordyceps sinensis supplements. Cordyceps sinensis, the caterpillar fungus, is simply not possible as an affordable product offering. It is not in your supplements.

Cs-4 is pure mycelium, but the quality of the many Cs-4 products can be variable and it is often filled with carriers. USA produced mycelium on grain has no research to support it and is mostly starch from the residual grain.

At Nammex, after all our analysis and research, we can confidently say that Cordyceps militaris is a breakthrough product that provides all the benefits of cordyceps that people are seeking.

How to Grow Liquid Culture Mycelium

Mycelium can be produced using a number of different methods. One common method is the production of what mushroom growers call grain spawn, also referred to as a Solid State Fermentation, or SSF. This method is commonly used in the U.S. for the production of fungal mycelium for supplements.

The second method, and one that is extensively utilized for the production of many microbial products, including fungi, is called liquid fermentation. This refers to the production of mycelium in a tank of sterilized liquid nutrient media. The media formula for fungi generally has a carbon nitrogen ratio of 7:3 with added minerals.

Liquid Fermentation Tanks

Multiple fermentation tanks at a commercial factory in China

To start this process, a pure culture of mycelium is propagated in small containers which are then used to inoculate a larger volume of liquid in production scale tanks. The process takes place under aerobic conditions that are maintained by mechanically stirring the liquid and pumping sterile fresh air into the tank. Metabolic gases such as CO2 are allowed to escape. By maintaining a consistent temperature, mycelia grow and expand into a true biomass. After 3-8 days, the mycelial biomass is separated from the fluid media, dried and ground to a powder. The fluid can also be purified to harvest any extracellular compounds that the mycelia may have produced.

Liquid Fermentation Flow Chart

Liquid Fermentation Flow Chart

This process is used extensively in China to produce Cordyceps mycelium, Reishi mycelium, and a few other basidiomycete mycelia. The most famous product made with this technology is Cordyceps Cs-4.

The advantage of this process is that it is highly standardized and the final product is pure mycelium, without the residual grains or substrates you get by using solid state fermentation (mycelium on grain).

What’s the difference between mushroom, mycelium and mycelium on grain?

Watch the video above where Jeff describes the following:

  • the life cycle of a basidiomycete organism (commonly called a mushroom)
  • the difference between mushroom and mycelium
  • how mycelium is used to create grain spawn, which is “seed” for mushroom growing
  • what grain spawn actually looks like
  • how medicinal mushroom and pure mycelium research is being used to support the sale of grain spawn
  • the industrial process for making grain spawn
  • how grain spawn is grown in a completely sterile environment, nothing close to natural conditions
  • why there is very little mycelium in grain spawn
  • how companies are taking grain spawn and selling it as a “mushroom” supplement

Buyer beware: Grain spawn is commonly referred to as mycelium, or mycelium biomass by the companies that sell it as a nutritional supplement.

Grain spawn is not mushroom and definitely not a genuine medicinal mushroom product.

Why Growing Mushrooms in North America is not Economical for Supplements

What is the cost of growing mushrooms in North America and selling them as nutritional supplements?

A prime example is the shiitake mushroom, since this is a major medicinal mushroom with many local growers, making it readily available on the fresh market in North America. Shiitake producers can provide a good example for our investigation of locally grown mushrooms as nutritional supplements.

Let’s start with a producer price; what the grower will receive. The producer price will certainly vary from state to state and depend on whether the producer sells directly to supermarkets, restaurants, wholesalers or maybe even sells directly to consumers. Another variable will be quality of the mushrooms and if they are organically certified. Because of these variables, I am utilizing statistics collected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). These numbers are collected yearly and will be a consistent and reasonably accurate picture of producer prices. [1]

In 2007, the USDA producer price for fresh shiitake varied from $4 to $5.50 per pound. By 2013, the USDA producer price declined to an average of $3.33 per pound. If I take the $3.33 price and multiply it by 2.2, I reach $7.33 for a kilo of fresh shiitake.

So far so good. But nutritional supplements are sold as a dry powder, usually in tablet or capsule form. We need to find the dry weight of a kilo of fresh shiitake. Mushrooms are commonly 90% water and most commercial shiitake would conform to this figure. So one kilo of fresh shiitake is only 100 grams of dry shiitake. To get a kilo price for dry shiitake we would multiple by 10, or 10 times 100 grams.

Multiplying $7.33 by 10 equals $73.33. This is the value of a kilo of dried shiitake as it compares to the price of the fresh product. One kilo of dried shiitake is a quite different product with a much higher price.

Now, this is where it becomes very difficult for the North American shiitake producer. The producer must get $73.33 for the dried kilogram. And that price is for bulk dried mushrooms; we haven’t even added in the costs of drying the mushrooms and milling them to a powder that most supplement companies would require. Nor have we added the cost of testing the powder for microbes and heavy metals.

We can safely say that the shiitake mushroom producer needs to sell one kilo of dried shiitake for at least $75.00 to get the same price as his fresh product.

But now the producer has to compete with China, where shiitake growing originated and where 85% of the world’s mushrooms are grown. A kilo of dried shiitake mushroom powder produced in China will cost approximately $15-20, depending on the variables we identified earlier. That is one fifth the price of the North American producer.

Is it economical? Does any producer have this kind of business? I have not seen any North American grown shiitake mushroom powders in the supplement marketplace.

Now, think about this. Mushrooms are often sold in extract form, which concentrates the medicinal compounds and allows a more potent powder to be put into the capsules. With a 4:1 extract, one only takes 2×500 mg capsules instead of the non extracted powder which would require 8 capsules.

If 4 kilos of dried mushrooms at $75.00 per kilo are concentrated into one kilo of extract, the cost would be as follows.

Dried shiitake: 4 kgs x $75 per kg = $300.
Production cost of the extract. = $75 per kg minimum
A 4:1 extract would have to be sold for a minimum of $375.00 per kilo.

This is at least 3 times more money than the most expensive wholesale price for shiitake 4:1 extracts.

Economically speaking, North American mushroom producers cannot grow and sell either a simple shiitake mushroom powder or a shiitake mushroom extract. There is no money to be made in this business. And that holds true for all medicinal mushrooms, not just shiitake.

However, North American companies are able to produce mycelium on grain in a laboratory and sell it for $20-25 per kilo. This process is simple and economical. This is the reason so much mycelium has been produced and sold in North America. It’s all a matter of economics and has absolutely nothing to do with the actual medicinal value of the mycelium on grain product.

1. Mushrooms (August 2013) 15 USDA, National Agricultural Statistics Service

How are your Medicinal Mushrooms Produced?

This is a very important question to ask since there are many aspects of mushroom production that need to be properly understood in order to make educated decisions about a specific medicinal mushroom product. Read more

The Health Benefits of Mushrooms

They seem to come out of nowhere. In areas where there was no visible sign of their presence, they suddenly appear – overnight, or so it seems. Such is the nature of mushrooms, the higher order organisms of the world of fungi. Everyone has had some encounter with mushrooms. Whether on a walk through the woods, strolling through the park, or just finding them in our lawns and gardens, mushrooms are a phenomenon of nature that is hard to overlook.

In North America we tend to be somewhat fearful of mushrooms and generally regard them as something to be avoided. This attitude is sharply contrasted by other cultures. Europeans, East and West, are wild about mushrooms and hunt them with a passion. In Asia it is no different. Wild and cultivated mushrooms fill the markets and are looked upon with great favor. And nowhere are they so highly prized than Japan. With approximately 12 species cultivated for the marketplace, the Japanese surely lead the world in their appreciation of edible mushrooms. And although their use as food is the most obvious way mushrooms have been utilized by human cultures, the use of mushrooms as medicine could be their most important contribution.

Unbeknownst to North Americans, except for a handful of researchers and herbalists, certain mushrooms have been employed as herbal medicines for thousands of years in Japan and China. These mushrooms were some of the most effective, yet benign, of the many plants that formed the Oriental herbal tradition. One mushroom, reishi, was so highly revered that whole mythologies were built around it and representations of reishi can be found throughout Oriental art.

So why haven’t we heard more about these mushrooms? For the most part they were rare and therefore expensive. In the case of reishi and maitake, only in the past 40 years has successful cultivation made them more widely available. Other mushrooms such as Trametes (Coriolus) and shiitake have been enhanced by modern fermentation and extraction processes in order to manufacture PSK and Lentinan, approved drugs in Japan.

To fully understand mushrooms and mushroom products, a basic understanding of their life cycle is helpful. Most mushrooms are composed of a cap and a stem. The underside of the cap has many thin blades radiating out from the central stem. These blades are called gills and are the spore-bearing surface of the mushroom. Spores are the “seeds” by which mushrooms can spread to new areas. The stem lifts the cap above its environment and enables the spores to be carried away by the wind. The shiitake is an example of this classical mushroom shape.

Not all mushrooms are so classically formed. Polypores, the group to which reishi belongs, do not have gills and in many cases lack a stem. The underside of a polypore cap is composed of a tightly packed layer of pores. It is the inside surface of these pores where the spores are propagated.

What is not readily visible to us however is the actual fungus organism, or mycelium. Just as an apple is the fruit of an apple tree, so too is a mushroom the fruit body of a mycelial “tree”. Mycelium is a network of fine threadlike filaments that originates from the germination of spores. Unlike green plants that convert sunlight into energy, mushroom mycelia derive their nutrients from dead organic matter, recycling this material into humus. The mycelia spread throughout a nutrient base or substrate, amassing nutrients. When environmental conditions are right, the mycelia use these nutrients to produce mushrooms. At this point the cycle is complete and a new generation of mushrooms spread spores into the environment. While we can readily observe mushrooms, the mycelia generally stay hidden within the nutrient base materials.

The use of mushrooms as food has been an enigma in North America. Classically trained nutritionists have stated that mushrooms are of little food value and have based their assessment on the fact that mushrooms are low in calories. It is unfortunate that this misrepresentation has persisted although it is due in large part to an early lack of concrete nutritional information and a general cultural bias. Studies done in the last twenty years clearly show that mushrooms are a nutritionally sound food that are of even greater value to vegetarians.

The most comprehensive study to date was undertaken by Crisan and Sands in “The Biology and Cultivation of Edible Mushrooms”(ed. Chang and Hayes, Academic Press, 1978.) This study gives complete nutritional analyses of over 50 species of wild and cultivated mushrooms. They find that on average, dried mushrooms contain 10% water, all of the essential amino acids, 9-44% crude protein, 2-8% fat, mostly in the form of linoleic acid (the only essential fatty acid required in the human diet) 3-28% carbohydrates, 3-32% fiber and approximately 10% minerals. They consider mushrooms to be “good sources of several vitamins including thiamine, riboflavin, niacin and biotin.” Pro-vitamin D is present in some mushrooms, particularly shiitake, and is converted to vitamin D by ultraviolet irradiation, including sunlight. They conclude that “the Essential Amino Acid Scores of the most nutritive mushrooms rank in potential nutritive value with those calculated for meat and milk. They are significantly higher than those for most legumes and vegetables. The least nutritive mushrooms, on the other hand, rank considerably lower but are comparable to some common vegetables.” They note that there is a great compositional variation between mushroom species and strains (varieties of the same species), a fact born out by the analytical tables they present.

Another important study, “The Nutritional Value of Mushrooms”, by Professor Edward Trione of Oregon State University (ed.Tony Walters, Mushrooms and Man, Linn-Benton Comm. College, 1978) looks more closely at the actual bio-availability or digestibility of mushrooms. He recognizes that some of the protein and much of the carbohydrates are bound up in the mushroom cell wall. These cell walls “contain many large carbohydrate polymers such as glucans, chitin, chitosans and mannans, but these polymers are linked together with covalent bonds that cannot be attacked by our digestive enzymes. Therefore, we suspect that a large percentage of the carbohydrate in mushrooms cannot be utilized as nutrients by humans and function only as roughage.” Dr. Trione also states that spores are quite nutritious, yet because of the thick tough spore wall, spores “would not yield many of their nutrients….” He concludes that thorough chewing and cooking will break down many cell walls, but not all.

Andrew Weil, M.D., in the Nutrition News section of American Health Magazine, May, 1987, states that drying as well as cooking breaks down mushroom cell walls. An avid proponent of mushrooms, Dr. Weil recommends cooked mushrooms and rice as a way to obtain a balanced and complete protein due to the fact that mushrooms contain the essential amino acids lacking in cereal grains. He also advises against eating raw mushrooms in quantity.

It is fair to say that mushrooms, in a cooked or processed form, represent a valuable food source. But mushrooms have been used in Asia for thousands of years in a much different way; as herbal medicines. It may be that mushrooms were one of the first “nutraceuticals”, foods that also function as medicines. In the book, Icones of Medicinal Fungi from China, (Ying, et al., Science Press, Beijing, 1987), the authors document 272 species with reported medicinal properties. Over sixty of these contain polysaccharides which inhibit the growth of specific tumors. Some species can be traced to the earliest records of Chinese Materia Medica, the “Shen Nong’s herbal”, 1st century B.C. By the time of Li Shih-chen’s monumental work, the “Compendium of Materia Medica”, A.D. 1600, Li lists over twenty species with medicinal benefits.

Despite the relatively large number of mushrooms identified as having medicinal properties, only a dozen or so species have been seriously utilized or studied. These include: Ganoderma species (reishi or Ling-zhi), Lentinus edodes (shiitake), Polyporus umbellatus, Grifola frondosa (maitake), Trametes versicolor, Poria cocos, Cordyceps species, Auricularia auricula, Hericium erinaceus, Schizophyllum commune, Flammulina velutipes, and Pleurotus species. The practical research on these mushrooms has gone beyond traditional Chinese medical use and extends to the production and isolation of specific compounds designed for specific illnesses. This development is in tune with the Chinese integration of traditional medicine with Western medicine.

The common bond that is shared by these mushrooms is the occurrence of complex carbohydrates called polysaccharides. Of these, glucans and mannans have been been the primary focus of research due to their ability to inhibit tumors in laboratory test animals. Researchers have found that the structural linkages of these substances is the primary determinant of biological activity and that the active links are most often beta (1-3) and beta (1-6). Furthermore, the activity of these polysaccharides has been shown to be immuno-stimulating rather than directly cell killing. In fact, according to P.K. Tsung, in “Anti-Cancer and Immuno-stimulating Polysaccharides”, (OHAI Bulletin, 1987) “Studies of Biologically or immunologically active polysaccharides can be said to constitute the history of the search for anti-cancer agents from an immuno-therapeutical viewpoint.” Traditionally, medical practitioners in China and Japan have used the following herbs as anti-cancer medications: ginseng, astragalus, brasenia, laminaria, as well as many of the mushrooms named above. All share a high polysaccharide content.

The specific effect of these polysaccharides is the activation of macrophages and T-lymphocytes, stimulation of interferon, and an enhancement of cell-mediated immune response. Dr. Tsung believes the anti-cancer and immuno-stimulating effects of polysaccharides should be considered as an anti-aging property since our immunity decreases with age. He also views these herbs as health foods that function as preventive medicines. Writing in the same issue of the OHAI Bulletin, H. Yamada states his belief that polysaccharides play the role of regulating homeostasis and immuno-modulation in the human body. Of importance to this use is the fact that immuno-stimulating polysaccharides have no toxic effect on humans and are clinically safe. Given that most of these mushrooms are also used as food strengthens this safety observation.

According to Traditional Chinese medical theory, herbs such as these mushrooms are classified as “superior”, are used as tonics, and fit into a category called Fu-Zheng. A modern day corollary would be immuno-therapy. It should be understood that immune enhancement goes beyond help for serious diseases like cancer, AIDS, or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. It goes to the roots of health itself. The primary function of Fu-Zheng herbs is to increase disease resistance and normalize bodily functions. They are what Steven Fulder calls “harmony” herbs. These mushrooms should therefore be seen as a cornerstone for preventive medicine and a means to maintain a high level of overall resistance to disease in general.

Using the wisdom of Traditional Chinese Medicine as a guide, other health benefits from mushrooms have been elucidated and studied by researchers. These benefits on a mushroom by mushroom basis are as follows.

Lentinus edodes – Shiitake

The second most widely cultivated mushroom in the world, shiitake is a culinary delight and a mainstay in the Japanese diet. Because of its use in folk medicine and its availability, it has been the subject of intense research. Cochran’s review of medicinal mushrooms, “Medical Effects”(Biology and Cultivation of Edible Mushrooms, Academic Press, 1978), lists shiitake extracts as having antifungal, antitumor, and anti-viral effects. The anti-viral effects are believed due to shiitake’s ability to induce interferon, although because of its oral effectiveness other factors are also suspected.

Researchers have reported that oral administration of mushroom powder lowered blood cholesterol levels by as much as 45%. The most dramatic results occurred when high cholesterol foods were eaten at the same time. In two human studies, cholesterol dropped 6-15% when the amount of shiitake consumed was 9 grams per day, or approximately 10 dried medium sized mushrooms. Shiitake has also shown the ability to lower high blood pressure in laboratory animals.

The most significant shiitake product on the market today is Lentinan, which is the name given a highly purified beta-1->3-glucan from extracted mushrooms. Pure lentinan is an approved drug in Japan, is generally administered by injection, and has been used as an agent to prolong survival of patients in conventional cancer therapy as well as in AIDS research. Lentinan and related beta-glucans occur naturally in shiitake mushrooms and are orally active.

See our Shiitake Mushroom Extract »

Grifola frondosa – Maitake

A choice edible mushroom that is now being cultivated on a grand scale, maitake has shown promise as an immuno-stimulant in recent Japanese research. Although there is little evidence for traditional use of maitake, a similar mushroom, Zu-ling (Polyporus umbellatus), is listed by Li Shi-chen as a diuretic. Zu-ling is traditionally used in its sclerotial form although extracts are now being studied and applied as immuno-stimulants with good preliminary results.

Early animal work by Japanese researchers Mizuno et al. found 100% tumor regression with injections of a water soluble beta-D-glucan and stated that “this effect was similar to that of the beta-D-glucans obtained from other polyporus fungi such as mannentake (reishi).” He concludes in his study that the protein bound beta-D-glucan fraction from Trametes versicolor and Flammulina velutipes are orally active against tumors whereas the polysaccharides he extracted from maitake and reishi are not. Further animal studies by Dr. Hiroaki Namba has shown a high degree of oral antitumor activity in a protein bound polysaccharide fraction (D fraction or MT-1) of maitake extract. It shows activity in laboratory animals in amounts as low as 25 mg/kg of body weight. Other researchers have shown antitumor effects from maitake mycelia and the sclerotia of Polyporus umbellatus. Namba et. al., have also demonstrated that ether-soluble maitake extracts lower blood pressure in laboratory animals. However, they state that “…..the hot water extracted fraction was inactive, even though the same fraction of Lentinus edodes(shiitake) and Ganoderma lucidum(reishi) possessed the activity.”

See our Maitake Mushroom Extract »

Poria cocos

Poria is the most widely used fungus in Traditional Chinese Medicine and is utilized primarily in formulas. It is used as a diuretic and a cure for edema, a condition of excess fluids which can cause swelling. The form of Poria used looks somewhat like a potato and grows as a subterranean mass of hardened mycelial tissue called sclerotia. Poria is composed mainly of a substance called Pachyman and also contains some triterpenoids. Pachyman can be chemically converted to pachymaran, which shows a high degree of antitumor activity.

See our Poria Mushroom Extract »

Trametes versicolor – Turkey Tail

The Chinese call Coriolus, Yun-zhi, which means cloud fungus, an apt description for its wavy concentric shapes which often cover a dead standing hardwood tree with cloud-like formations of multiple small stemless mushrooms. A rubbery polypore, Coriolus has been called “mushroom chewing gum” by Christopher Hobbs, who likes to chew it during mushroom hunts. Traditional Chinese medicine uses Coriolus for pulmonary and liver disease.

Coriolus is one of the first of the higher fungi to be made into an approved drug. This substance is called PSK, which stands for polysaccharide Kurhea (Krestin), and is manufactured in Japan using liquid fermentation of the mycelia. A similar compound called PSP (polysaccharide-peptide) is manufactured in China and is reputed to be more effective. Both products are highly purified pharmaceuticals used for immune-system enhancement during conventional cancer treatments and are based on protein-bound polysaccharide fractions of this mushroom. PSP is distinguished by its ability to increase appetite and reduce pain in chemotherapy patients.

See our Coriolus Mushroom Extract »

Cordyceps Species: sinensis, militaris, ophioglossoides

A small club-shaped fungus that grows on insect larvae, it is said in ancient herb books that Cordyceps “withholds semen and strengthens energy of life” and builds up the “gate of vitality”. Today it is used as a tonic and tranquillizing medicine as well as for treating general debility, anaemia, and lung disease. It is also present in most Chinese male virility herbal formulas.

Cordyceps is a highly revered fungus that is still wildcrafted for lack of cultivation methods. This has resulted in very high prices for the small fruit bodies and promising investigations into mycelial culture. Recent research with mycelial extracts of Cordyceps ophioglossoides has yielded a protein bound polysaccharide with high oral activity against tumors. It is reported to possess direct antitumor effects as well as immunological enhancement. It is also strongly anti-fungal.

In the last twenty years, Cordyceps mycelia has been cultured on a large scale in China and has become an outright replacement for the wildcrafted product. All tests seem to indicate that it is as effective. The most widely studied of the mycelia products is Cs-4, which is the only Cordyceps mycelia product that has been approved by the National Government in China.

See our Cordyceps Mushroom Extract »

Ganoderma lucidum – Reishi

Reishi, or Ling zhi, is a legendary mushroom that is endlessly depicted in Chinese art and is the subject of many folktales. It has also been given many names, such as “auspicious herb,” “miraculous chi,” and “holy mushroom”, and is looked upon in China even today as a symbol of good fortune. It is recorded as early as 300 B.C. as a “healthy food”. Li Shih-chen lists its traditional uses in this way: “Its sensation of taste is bitter, not adverse and never toxic. The prescription benefits symptoms of a knotted and tight chest. It affects in a positive fashion the heart Qi, and mends the chest. It also increases intellectual capacity and banishes forgetfulness. Eaten over a long period of time, agility of the body will not cease and the years are lengthened to those of the Immortal Fairies.”

Along with shiitake, reishi is the most studied of the medicinal mushrooms. It is unique among these mushrooms in that it not only contains active antitumor polysaccharides, but also a high content of terpenoids. Steven Fulder, in The Tao of Medicine (Destiny books, 1987), suggests that terpenoids increase our resistance to stress, or “restore harmony”, which is a basic definition of “adaptogen”. He states, “it is more than coincidence that the active principles of most of the harmony remedies are triterpenoids.” Dan Mowrey, in his book, Next Generation Herbal Medicine (Cormorant Press, 1988), notes that centella, another longevity herb, contains triterpenoids. Research with reishi triterpenes indicates that they play a role in lowering blood pressure, lowering cholesterol, and improving liver function.

Other traditional benefits of reishi that have been confirmed by modern scientific research are: calming of central nervous system over-excitation, relief from insomnia, inhibition of allergic reactions, and relief from chronic bronchitis.

See our Reishi Mushroom Extract »

Plant Form

One important aspect of all herbs, and mushrooms are no different, is what plant form to consume and how much? Despite a shortage of Western scientific “clinical trials”, there are three basic areas from which this information can be determined. These areas are traditional uses, (which can encompass current as well as ancient use by traditional doctors), scientific research data, and modern uses by holistic medical practitioners. A survey of these spheres of knowledge should give a reasonable answer to this question.

Since the use of medicinal mushrooms is most well developed in China, and given their very detailed and preeminent system of herbal medicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine(TCM) is the best place to begin. Regarding plant form, traditional practitioners focused on the mushroom fruit body and the sclerotia, which were for all intents and purposes the only parts of the plant that could be harvested. A sclerotium, is a hardened mass of compact mycelial tissue. Poria (Wolfiporia extensa), Chaga (Inonotus obliquus) and Polyporus umbellatus are used in this form. As is common practice in TCM, the mushrooms or sclerotia were decocted, usually as part of a formulation. A decoction, or tea, has the benefit of being concentrated and fast acting. In the case of these fungi, decoctions also break down cell walls, allowing the medicinal components to become available and thereby readily absorbed once consumed.

Most mushroom extracts are made with hot water, which removes the water soluble polysaccharides. The fibrous mushroom remains are discarded and the extract is placed on a carrier material or can be vacuum or spray dried. It has been well established that mushroom polysaccharides are heat resistant. Reishi is unique in that it has a high content of terpenes, many of which are not water soluble. Therefore, many reishi extracts are prepared with a hot water/alcohol blend. The woody fibrous reishi is generally cooked 2-3 times to obtain all the compounds. What remains is also discarded.

A twentieth century technique for medicinal mushroom production, pioneered by pharmaceutical companies for the production of antibiotics, is fermentation technology or submerged culture of mycelia. This method is being used extensively in Japan and China for the production and refinement of polysaccharides and secondary metabolites from mycelia. It is a logical next step for producing these compounds because it is a highly controlled process that takes less time than growing the actual mushrooms and results in a concentrated extract high in specific medicinal compounds. This methodology is now practised by many mushroom research institutes within China in the development of new mushroom based drugs. Although the development of highly refined drugs is the primary motivation, the initial mycelial extractions, prior to the isolation and purification of specific compounds, fit well within the definition of whole herbal extracts. It should be noted however that production of many of the medicinal compounds, such as triterpenes, rely upon precursors, which must be present in the media. Without the precursors, these secondary metabolite compounds are absent.


One of the most difficult figures to determine with any herb is the effective dose. This is no easier with most mushrooms although it is more certain with reishi, Poria and Cordyceps because of their current and traditional use in TCM. It is therefore helpful to begin with traditional use and then consider scientific research and contemporary applications. It should be understood that most scientific research into these mushrooms is carried out in an attempt to define a singular compound responsible for biological activity. Generally speaking, the discovery of purified active compounds is the starting point for the development of pharmaceutical drugs and does not necessarily characterize whole herb activity. This type of research relies initially on animal studies where high doses of active extract fractions are administered, most often by injection, to get quick results. Animal studies are a necessary first step, but are difficult to translate to humans and should be interpreted as a guide rather than an absolute.

The following table gives approximate values as reported from various sources. It should be used as a general reference. Amounts will vary depending upon the specific ailment being treated.

Ganoderma mushroom 3-30 grams
Ganoderma extract 1-9 grams 10-50mg/kg 120-1000 mg
Ganoderma mycelia* 10mg/kg
Lentinus mushroom 6-8 grams
Lentinus lentinan 1-5 mg/kg 1-5 mg**
Poria sclerotia 9 grams
Cordyceps mushroom 3-9 grams
Cordyceps mycelia* 1-50mg/kg
Grifola extract 3 grams 1-40mg/kg 120-1000 mg
Coriolus PSK** 10-250mg/kg 250-1250mg
Flammulina mycelia* 10mg/kg

mushrooms are decocted in TCM use
*mycelia extract fractions
**pharmaceutical drugs


The current value of edible mushrooms worldwide is 8 billion dollars as recently evaluated by Professor S.T. Chang, chairman of the International Symposium on Mushroom Biology and Mushroom Products held in Hong Kong on August 22-25, 1993. But what surprised participants, myself included, was the statement that medicinal mushroom products were valued at 1.2 billion dollars. The implication was clear, that this use of mushrooms was increasing rapidly and may at some future date rival consumption as food.

So although the use of mushrooms in herbal medicine is in its infancy in the West, their use is now becoming more commonplace and as such, more information regarding their effectiveness in treating disease will become known. We are still just catching up to those areas of the world where herbal traditions remain strong and preventive medicine is an important facet of health delivery systems. As the value of prevention is realized here, these mushrooms will surely be incorporated into our diets and play an important role in our overall health and well-being.

About the Author

Jeff Chilton has been in the mushroom industry for 25 years, is the co-author of The Mushroom Cultivator, and is President of NAMMEX, a company specializing in the production of medicinal mushroom products for the Nutraceutical, Functional Food and Nutritional Supplement Industry.

10 Questions to ask About Your Mushroom Supplement

1. Is the product made from mushrooms or mycelium?

Even though the label may say “mushroom”, you need to look at the Supplement Facts panel. For example, does it say Reishi mushroom? Reishi mushroom mycelium? Or Reishi mycelium? Some products will list the latin name, Ganoderma lucidum, without mentioning mushroom or mycelium.

Honest companies will reveal if the product is mycelium. They will also state in the “Other Ingredients” that there is grain or myceliated grain. Note that it is a requirement for herbal products to state “plant part” and also whether there are other unrelated materials present.

Many companies selling mycelium products will have the word “mushroom” everywhere. In their literature, label, website. Seeing the word mushroom so many times can obscure the actual product – low potency mycelium on grain.

2. Why are there so many companies selling mycelium on grain (MOG)?

MOG is actually nothing more than what commercial mushroom growers call “grain spawn”. Grain spawn is cheap to produce and is therefore economical to grow in North America. Unfortunately, mycelium grown on grain or rice contains minimal amounts of the important compounds that are in medicinal mushrooms. Myceliated grain is cheap to produce, often cheap to purchase, but the lack of medicinal compounds makes it gram for gram the most expensive product on the market.

3. Is the product a mushroom powder or an extract?

Although mushroom powders are superior to MOG powders, they are still less potent than a concentrated extract. Traditional Chinese Medicine, which has used mushrooms and herbs for thousands of years, almost always makes a tea from herbs. Tea is a simple water extract. Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners will boil herbs for long periods of time to extract the medicinal compounds.

A hot water extract is a very simple and effective way to concentrate mushrooms and at the same time make them more bio-available. The combined use of alcohol and water is utilized when some important compounds in the mushroom are not water soluble, such as Reishi or Chaga triterpenoids.

4. Does the product make any statement regarding the amount of the medicinal compounds?

The majority of medicinal mushrooms are known for their active polysaccharides, called beta-D-glucans. Some mushrooms like Reishi also have triterpenoid compounds. Take note of whether these compounds are listed and quantified. If they are, make sure the company can support this claim with actual testing documentation. Some companies list multiple “active” compounds without any actual testing results.

Don’t be fooled by high polysaccharide numbers. Polysaccharides can simply be starch, which is an alpha glucan and a major component of grain. Grain is commonly found in mycelium products.

5. Is the product Organic?

Be sure it is Certified Organic. It should have the logo of USDA Organic or NOP or other certification organization. Natural does not mean organic. Nammex has been working with organic mushroom producers in China for 20 years. We organized the first organic certification courses for mushrooms in China in 1997. Our growers are time tested.

6. Where is your product made? Where does it come from?

Mushrooms utilized as nutritional supplements are rarely cultivated in North America. It’s just too expensive. Most mushrooms today come from Asia, primarily China. In fact, China produces 85% of the world’s mushrooms. Even Japan, a traditional mushroom producer, is the number one importer of Chinese mushrooms.

Nammex has worked with Chinese mushroom growers for 20 years. We have selected cultivation areas in China that are deep in the mountains and far from industrial pollution. We stand by our Chinese partners 100%.

7. Can I trust Chinese mushrooms? All I ever hear are stories of how polluted it is in China.

Any company selling food or herbal products grown in China will be required to run detailed analyses. First and foremost will be a Heavy Metals test. Then it will be important to test for agricultural chemicals and microbial contamination. Call the company and ask if their mushrooms meet the standards set for these categories.

Nammex gets all its mushrooms deep in the mountains of China, far from the lowland industrial pollution. Our mushrooms come from the ancient Chinese heartland, the original source of world mushroom cultivation. We have a rigorous testing program that all products must meet before they are released.

8. I have a product that says it’s mycelium and mushrooms. Is that a good combination?

Some companies make the claim that their product has “all stages”, or is a “unique combination” of mushrooms and mycelium. They may also claim this is therefore “full spectrum”. They make further claims that this provides a more diverse menu of medicinal compounds. A mushroom and its mycelium are actually made of similar tissue, but with important differences. Mushrooms are genetically more complex and have more medicinal properties.

Look to see if the companies that make this claim actually give you a percentage of each fungal part. One company that makes this claim uses only 10% mushroom in one of their products. Another doesn’t even state how much of their mycelium product is actual mushroom.

Don’t be fooled. Mushrooms are more expensive and therefore likely to be left out or included in small amounts just to make the claim of being present. Call these companies and ask them to provide some guarantee of the actual amount of “plant part” presence.

9. Is your product “Full Spectrum”?

What actually does a full spectrum mushroom product mean? Generally speaking, this means that the product in question has all the major components of the mushroom present. So an analysis of the product would show a profile that matches the data that is present in major published research or government databases.

For example, the USDA has a database of foods and natural products that lists nutritional information based on approved analytical tests. If the product is a mushroom extract, full spectrum would indicate that the naturally occurring components would remain in approximately the same ratio as the mushroom itself.

How is it possible then that mycelium grown on grain or rice, which is part of the final mycelium product, can be full spectrum? It simply can’t be, by definition. Whether you have pure mycelium or a real mushroom, the addition of grain negates a claim of full spectrum. It gets worse when one realizes that the majority of a MOG product is actually grain.

Nammex products are 100% naturally produced mushrooms. This is the true definition of Full Spectrum.

10. Did you know that a mycelium product cannot be labeled as a mushroom? 

FDA states this clearly in Compliance Policy Guide, Section 585.525.

Be aware that mycelium on grain producers always use the term mushroom for their product sales. This is misleading and is counter to FDA regulations. Be certain of your product labeling.