595: Danielle Ryan Broida on How to Use Functional Mushrooms & Healing Adaptogens 

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Danielle Ryan Broida on How to Use Functional Mushrooms & Healing Adaptogens
Wellness Mama » Episode » 595: Danielle Ryan Broida on How to Use Functional Mushrooms & Healing Adaptogens 
The Wellness Mama Podcast
The Wellness Mama Podcast
595: Danielle Ryan Broida on How to Use Functional Mushrooms & Healing Adaptogens 
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Medicinal and adaptogenic mushrooms have really exploded in popularity lately and today’s episode is all about just that. I’m talking with Danielle Ryan Broida today, a mushroom expert, registered herbalist, and holistic nutritionist. Danielle also teaches mycology at the Colorado School of Clinical Herbalism and is the head of education at Four Sigmatic (makers of my favorite mushroom coffee!).

Mushrooms are such a huge part of our ecosystem and we’re constantly learning more about their health benefits. In fact, every time we take a step we’re walking on at least 300 miles of mycelial biomass in this amazing underground network!

Danielle covers how different mushrooms and adaptogens can help our different body systems (like immunity, sleep, aging, etc.). We also cover how to choose the right herbal medicine for your body type. Humans have used these plants and mushrooms for thousands of years, but they’re widely available for the first time in history. I learned so much in today’s episode and I’m sure you will too!

Episode Highlights With Danielle

  • How she lives a very low waste, almost zero waste lifestyle and why she started
  • Tips for reducing our footprint and living lower waste
  • What she learned living in Thailand and teaching environmental classes there
  • Vitalism- the type of medicine she studied and uses
  • Functional mushrooms 101- fascinating facts about fungi
  • Why mushrooms are considered their own kingdom in the animal world and why we didn’t figure this out until the 1970s
  • Things that separate fungi from plants, including the need for external nutrients
  • There are at least 6x more fungi species than any kingdom on earth
  • Why some fungi sprout into fruit (mushroom) and some don’t
  • Fun fact: we breathe in fungal spores every time we breathe
  • What functional mushrooms are and what separates them from other fungi
  • Understanding adaptogens and the unique properties they share
  • How to choose the best adaptogens for your body
  • The categories of adaptogens and what to look for to personalize to you
  • Performance adaptogens: lions mane and cordyceps
  • Immune supporting adaptogens: turkey tail, acerola cherry (for skin), goji
  • The two compounds in turkey tail mushrooms that have been studied and are the foundation for the first mushroom derived anti-cancer drug
  • Restoring adaptogens for mood, sleep and stress: ashwaghanda, reishi, tulsi
  • Cacao is the single most nutrient dense food that exists, moringa is another great choice

Resources We Mention

More From Wellness Mama

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Katie: Hello and welcome to the Wellness Mama Podcast. I’m Katie from wellnessmama.com. And this episode is all about functional mushrooms and healing adaptogens and how to use them. I am here with Danielle Ryan Broida, who is a registered herbalist and holistic nutritionist, and she is the instructor of mycology at Colorado School of Clinical Herbalism and head of education at Four Sigmatic. She brings her passion and expertise in herbal medicine and clinical practice, teaching formulation, and her deep love for fungi Four Sigmatic and all of her work. And we go deep on some of these topics today. Start off by talking about how she lives a very low waste, almost zero waste lifestyle and how she got started, as well as tips for reducing our own footprints and living lower waste. We talk about what she learned while living and studying in Thailand, and then we go into vitalism, which is the type of medicine she studies and uses.
We talk a whole lot about functional mushrooms and adaptogens, why mushrooms are considered their own kingdom in the animal world, and why we didn’t figure this out until the 1970s. Talk about the things that separate fungi from plants, including the need for external nutrients, and why there are at least six times more fungal species than any other kingdom on earth. We talk about how to use functional mushrooms and the different categories that they fit into, and how to know and understand your unique body type, and which herbs and adaptogens and mushrooms might work best for you. We talk specifically about performance adaptogens, immune-supporting adaptogens, and longevity adaptogens, and how to get increased nutrients from your food when our food supplies we know is depleted in many important nutrients. So many facts packed into this episode. I definitely learned a lot I know you will too. So let’s join Danielle. Danielle, welcome. Thanks so much for being here.
Danielle: I’m so honored to be with you, Katie. Thanks for having me.
Katie: I’m excited to chat and learn from you today. And we’re gonna talk all about functional mushrooms and adaptogens, but before we get to that, I have a note from researching your bio that you live a very low-waste, almost zero-waste lifestyle. And I find this so fascinating. So I would just love to hear maybe about your journey into that and maybe some of your most practical tips for people who could reduce their footprint a little.
Danielle: Yeah, absolutely. I have been a big environmentalist my whole life. I recently found a big box of notes that my mom saved from when I was under 10 years old, and I was, like, writing ways to save the planet and reduce waste. So I think it was built into me from birth. And that’s really the root of why I’m into herbal medicine and functional mushrooms as ultimately a greater connection to the planet. And so a lot of my zero waste starts in the kitchen. I buy all in bulk. I have mason jars full of all of my grains and herbs. I’ve been a plant-based eater since I was eight years old. I grow as much my food as I can. Even now I live in the middle of Los Angeles, but still trying to grow definitely herbal medicine and then greens year-round and chard and tomatoes and whatever I can. But yeah, I think we can start with being in our kitchen, and what are we consuming.
One thing that I like to do is look through the trash can. So we get awareness. This sounds really weird, but taking one moment and pulling everything out of your trash can to really gain that first step of what am I consuming? What am I throwing away? And then from there, composting is an amazing next step. I’ve been a backyard composter for a long time, and it’s so easy. There’s so many methods to do this and it’s so empowering to divert our waste from landfill. I also like to label the trash cans landfill. This might sound extreme to some. I used to get in trouble for it when I’d go to my parent’s home and literally stick a label that said landfill on the garbage can. But it’s creating that sense of awareness of everything that we’re consuming, is it going to build more soil? Is it going to sit in a landfill? Are we recycling it? But even so, there’s so much energy that goes into…and water goes into recycling.
So becoming aware of our waste stream. And it can be really, kind of, fun and exciting to shift our buying habits. Another tip I would say is becoming aware that every dollar we’re spending, I look at it as an investment into the places that we want to see more of, that we want to grow. So really empowering ourselves, okay, this dollar, I could spend it on a packaged processed food at Kroger, for example. And that’s my investment, saying, I want you to keep doing this for years to come. Versus putting that dollar towards a farmer or local farmer’s market or towards a small zero-waste store that’s trying to make it. And so becoming aware of our choices, looking through our trash can, and starting with food because it’s something we do all day every day, and it can be a fun empowering process.
Katie: I love that. And that seems very much an area where what’s healthiest for the human also lines up with what’s healthiest for the planet. And you inadvertently reduce your exposure to a lot of those additives and chemicals and plastics when you even just try to reduce your waste, even if you can’t go completely zero-waste, it makes a big difference. And I’ve seen some statistics, I don’t know how accurate they are, but about how if even just a third of American households started having a backyard garden, it would totally change our food supply. If I think it was even just one in 10 people had chickens, it would totally change our food supply. Like, so many things we can actually do, even in small spaces that would really shift the supply and demand curve of our food supply.
Danielle: Yeah, absolutely. You’re spot on. And it takes just one person at a time. I was always told, I’m like…people are like, “How are you gonna make a difference? You’re only one person. What are you doing?” I’m like, “That’s all we can do.” And if enough of us do that, it does start to compile and make a bigger and bigger impact. So yeah, do what we can and spread that. And it is contagious. It’s like I was a big rowdy environmentalist keynote speaking in these conferences and protesting and there was this big shift that happened where I was like, “I wanna be part of the energy of solutions instead of getting more angry and kind of…” There’s this quote, Rondo said, and Einstein said it years before, but it’s basically, you can’t change the world from the same level of consciousness or from the same level of thinking in which the problems were created.
And so how do we start really living in the way that we see is solution-oriented? And there is so much goodness that comes, not just physiologically when we’re growing our own food or tasting local food. I mean, the taste alone is night and day. Being so embedded in the food industry as well, it’s kind of wild what we’re allowed to put in our food, especially in this country. It’s like even 100% organic food, you only need 95% of those ingredients to be organic. You can sneak lots of things in there. And so really kind of having a back-door insight into that has made me that much more motivated to grow food and make my own crackers and make my own almond milk in the morning and do as much as I can like that.
Katie: Yeah. And so much in the U.S. that’s used, that’s banned in most other countries, and I know I’ve seen the side by side of even the same ingredients on the same food, it’s entirely different in Europe versus here, for instance. And I know a lot of the moms listening think often about this because our kids are often the ones that are getting the majority of that marketing and those foods at school or at events. And you’re right, like those little choices, over time, especially when enough of us make them really do start to shift things, and that’s within our control. I also read that you speak Thai, and you spent some time there, and I would love to hear about that and how that impacted…if it impacted anything and how you eat or your knowledge of more natural remedies or what that experience was like.
Danielle: Yeah, I was looking like be kitschy and [foreign language]. I do speak Thai. I was actually just back there this summer for the first time in eight years, but I spent about three and a half years living abroad in Thailand. I went for the first time when I was 15 and fell deeply, deeply in love with the culture and the respect and the customs, and there’s just spirit kind of interwoven into day-to-day life. And I was less of a tourist and more of, like, I’m going straight in. I learned to speak, read, and write Thai at the same time, which was total hell when I was going through it. I was living with a host family. They didn’t speak a lick of English. I had an hour and a half commute into the city to Thai school and language class every day. So it was like sink or swim. But so grateful for that.
After that kind of initial exposure, I ended up living with hill tribe villagers and taking groups out to do service projects centered around water or education into the whole tribes. And this is really rural, a lot of the people I was taking… So I was actually taking high schoolers out from all around the world that would come. And my program was called Come With Nothing Go Home Rich. So everyone could take a backpack with five items of their choice, but it was really like, we don’t wanna come in there with iPhones and cameras and whatever. It was, like, take what you need. And there’s so much to unpack about the culture, and I guess some of the big things for me were the appreciation of really simple daily things that we often take for granted.
In the hill tribes, we lived with, there’s no running water. You know, you take bucket showers, cold bucket showers outside, there’s no toilet paper, you know, you have squatty potties, you forage and hunt for all of your food, depending on how remote you are. I just remember, like, going out with my host mamas and, like, spearing squirrels and kind of torching off all their fur over an open fire and cutting that all up and throwing it into a curry. All the houses are raised, which is so interesting. It’s all made of…a lot of it’s teak wood or different if it’s a nicer home or a different wood, and the animals live beneath the house. So talk about like real composting and food waste. If you didn’t finish your food while we’re sitting at dinner, you turn your plate and scrape it through the floor that you’re sitting on, and it goes directly to your pigs and your chickens underneath.
And yeah, really that connection to the land, that’s still alive today. Coming from, you know, I grew up in Santa Barbara, California, which is just like total wealth and a really skewed perspective of how the rest of the world lives, and tried to get out from an early, early age. And living with these hill tribe villagers, these are some of the happiest, most generous humans on the planet. And I find it so ironic, a lot of people that have traveled have experienced a similar thing where it’s like the less you have, and you don’t know what you’re missing, the more connected you are to yourself, to your community, to your backyard, your garden, and your earth, and I was like, “I wanna live this way.” It really changed my entire life. Yeah, I mean the herbal medicine piece, I’d go out and forage like fiddlehead ferns and different barks with the medicine men in the village, some of the medicine women, but a lot of medicine men. And we’d sit out there, like, on these big trays, just collect all different plant medicines, and you’d say, “Okay, this is for this, and this is for this.”
And a lot of times in these hill tribe villages, they didn’t even speak Thai. They’re too far out. So they spoke local dialects like Bach Nya, was a common dialect. And so it would even be me translating with someone else in Thai to then translate in Bach Nya, and there was a moment I was sitting on this porch with this old medicine man and something clicked. It’s like gonna make me cry thinking about it. And he was like, “I want you to study with me. Can you stay here?” And it was this moment I was actually studying abroad in my undergrad at that point, and it was going through this like big life, do I forego college, do I forget my last senior year and stay out in Thailand and, you know, this is where what my heart is pulling me to do, or do I finish my education and, like, come back to this?
And was a lot of journaling and a lot of meditating and back and forth to realize I wanted to focus on medicine that was localized to where I was going to be living. So instead of importing a lot of medicine from Asia, from Thailand, I was like, “I wanna learn, you know, what grows in my region.” And so I ended up coming back to the States and finishing school. Then the day I graduated, I booked a one-way ticket and moved back out there for three more years. But I eventually came back and went to grad school for herbal medicine in Colorado, and we can get deeper into it, but the type of herbalism and practice is called vitalism and a big part of that is knowing what’s around you and using herbs that are growing in your backyard. And there’s actually so many incredible stories of plant wisdom showing up and what is near us is often what our bodies need. So anyways, tangents all around, but beautiful chapters.
Katie: That’s so fascinating. And that story reminded me of that quote, something along the lines of everything we own owns a part of us. And I’ve had that experience traveling as well of, you know, people that we would look at from the American view of the world and say like, “Oh, they have nothing,” but no, when you actually are with them, they have everything, and they have this amazing, beautiful life and they live in such deep gratitude, and there’s so many lessons there. That’s a really cool story. Thank you for sharing that. Thailand is next on my list of places I would really love to visit, so I’m hoping to make that work in the next year or so.
Danielle: I’ll help plan your trip. I have so many people to connect you with.
Katie: I will gladly take you up on that. Well, you mentioned vitalism and studying and having graduate studies in herbal medicine and different… I’m really excited to learn from you on this because I think it’s… We’re gonna touch on a lot of topics that probably a lot of us have heard the terms or have a passing understanding of some of these things, but it’s one of those things that to me seems like the more you know, the more you learn there is to know and almost endless directions we could go. I would love to go deep first on the topic of functional mushrooms and maybe start with some kind of overview stuff and also maybe debunk some of the more common myths around these. I know every time I’ve studied anything related to mushrooms, I’m always just so fascinated with how I think the largest organism on earth is a mushroom in the U.S., I believe, actually, and I’ve read that we’re more similar to mushrooms than they are to plants, for instance. Like, there’s so many cool stats and I know, you know, infinitely more, so I would love, maybe let’s just start broad with functional mushrooms 101.
Danielle: Yeah, I love it. So we’ll zoom out. Really important place to start, fungi are their own biological kingdom. So much like we’re in the animal kingdom, there’s the plant kingdom, fungi are their own kingdom. This is actually kind of novel for the scientific community. it wasn’t discovered, or they weren’t put into their own kingdom until 1970. So this is like a 50-year-old discovery of the kingdom. They used to be considered a lower form of plant and then we realized they’re actually nothing like plants. A lot of their similarities are some of the things that we have in common with them. We do share 50% of our DNA with fungi. One of the most fascinating things to me and that separates them from the plants are the way that they need external nutrients in order to have a food source and grow and thrive. So they can’t photosynthesize, they actually live kind of in a bath of their own nutrients.
So they were put into their own kingdom, and we are still discovering how massive this kingdom is. Just to kind of put things in perspective a bit, think about all the plants that you can name. So every, like, fruit, vegetable, tree, shrub, grain, now think about how many mushrooms or fungi we can name. And yet the agreed-upon ratio is there is at least six times as many fungi species as all plants on earth. So this is massive with really, really massive kingdom. Within the kingdom, some of these fungi fruit into mushroom. So some live in the form of like black molds and the fungi that often we’re afraid of, others actually fruit. So the mushroom, like think of the verb to mushroom, to grow up and out, is like the apple of the tree. So the mushroom is the fruiting body of the species. The rest of it lives, as you mentioned, in the form of mycelium, which is essentially an underground network made of these highful threads, which I think of as the…it’s kind of a combination between the nervous system and cardiovascular system of our planet.
So just to give you an idea, like, every footstep we take on this planet, no matter where we are, we’re stepping on at least 300 miles of this mycelial biomass. Every breath we breathe, we’re breathing in about 10 fungal spores. So we are surrounded by fungi, they’re in us, they’re underneath us. They’re connecting 90% of plants on the planet through this underground network. So as herbalist, I find it’s so important to pay attention to the fungi. They’re almost these secret detectives that are delivering so many of the nutrients that we then credit our plants for. And this word functional mushroom, so we have this massive kingdom, some of them fruit mushrooms, we’re zooming in even more. And then there’s an even smaller subset of about 600 to 700 species that fruit into mushrooms and have known study benefits to the human body. These are ancient herbal medicines, and even smaller than that, there’s about 10 that have really become popularized in the last couple years. At Four Sigmatic, we’ve been using them 10 years, and 5 of those who are like really zooming, zooming in are also considered adaptogens, which we can get into.
And there’s so many things that make these fungi unique. One of them that really fascinated me and that I think brought them onto the scene in the past couple years is a shared sugar that they all have, these functional mushrooms. It’s polysaccharide, so it’s this poly many saccharide sugar long complex sugar chains. And the type found in these mushrooms, we’re getting geeky today, but is 1, 3 and 1, 6 beta D glucans. And what these do is they modulate the immune system. So most of our herbs or medicine we take regarding immune health either stimulate different immune cells, immune activity, or downregulate them. The functional mushrooms have the ability to do both based on the body that’s ingesting them.
So why I became particularly fascinated with them was, after grad school, I opened a private practice in herbal medicine, no idea what type of people would come to me. This is gonna be relevant for your health history as well, but I started, basically working with people that said, “Hey, I’ve tried it every practitioner, you’re my last resort.” And it brought a lot of autoimmunity, a lot of misdiagnosed autoimmunity or chronic illness, ailments that the western world was like, “We don’t have a name for that, nothing’s wrong with you.” So people are like, “Hey, I’m dealing with all these symptoms, but no one believes me.” And a lot of this, the foundation of what I was seeing among my client base was immune compromisation, whether it was, you know, too active immune systems or then they would be put on immunosuppressants and then be getting sick all the time.
And there were very few plant medicines in our, we call it a materia medica. It’s like our encyclopedia of herbal medicine that I could turn to that had the ability to safely either stimulate or downregulate these immune systems. So it’s like cruise control, right? And this is why I think functional mushrooms, especially in 2020, kind of started entering our consciousness really loudly because we needed something, and still need something that is safe to take long term that can be taken more as a tonic as opposed to a short-term acute medicine that can really effectively, so not only are they this really safe, they’re working with our bodies, they have the ability to kind of give us what we need on this baseline immune system-level.
So that’s kind of the thread between our functional mushrooms. It’s like if you go to a grocery store today, you’ll still probably find these functional mushrooms in the aisle labeled immune. But each of them are unique, you know, just like Katie, we’re both sitting here today, lots of similarities. We have similar shared interests, and yet we offer unique things to the world. Similarly with our mushrooms, right? So they have this kind of shared phytonutrients, but beyond that, they have other compounds that make them beneficial for cognitive health, you know, mood, stress, and sleep, libido. They all have these really powerful compounds that we’re kind of realizing how much we need and how, perhaps, we’ve been turning towards things that aren’t working as well or have side effects. And now we’re like, “Oh, what are these mushrooms over here?” And while they’re new to us in the West, I like to remind us that they’re not new to us as humans. We’ve literally been using these same species of mushrooms for 5,000 to 10,000 years, depending on the specific mushroom and the place in the world.
Katie: Yeah. And there’s so much even within that. I know we can go deep on. Before we move on, can you just define, you mentioned one of the properties of adaptogens, but maybe, like, kind of define that category in general and what things fit under that category?
Danielle: Great question. I’m so glad you asked because there’s a lot of hype around adaptogens and still a lot of confusion. So essentially, think of them like an umbrella category. Within the world of herbal medicine, we basically group groups of species based on their actions. And so we have herbs that relax our nervous system. We call these nervines, right? We have chamomile and lavender, passion flower, hops all in these nervines. We have other herbs that are great for our digestive system. We call these carminatives. It’s like warm and spicy herbs. Adaptogens are another grouping like this. So there’s about 30 species that qualifies an adaptogen and there’s three things that they have in common. So all adaptogen are non-toxic. So similarly to those functional mushrooms we mentioned, non-toxic means that there isn’t a dose we can take that results in kind of extreme negative side effects.
And this is actually quite rare, like even garlic is toxic. Like, garlic is an herbal medicine and burn our tissues if taken at too high of a dose. So non-toxic means they are more food-like, they’re meant to be taken long-term. They’re meant to be taken at a daily, or weekly, or monthly basis. They’re all normalizing. So this is really interesting. I think of it like a bath or like a shower of nutrients that are helping our bodies reach the state of equilibrium, of homeostasis. This is really why they’re associated with stress, because they help us more quickly and efficiently deal with stressors, keeping us at this state of normalization. And then the third piece with adaptogens, which will kind of start to click now that we spoke of our mushrooms a bit, is that they’re all nonspecific.
And this takes a totally different pair of sunglasses, a different lens for us to view through because, especially in the western world, we’re so engrained to think about a pill for a nail. I have a headache, what should I take? Even if it’s natural or pharmaceutical, we take it for a specific reason, and adaptogens don’t work in this way. They actually have compounds that work in opposition to each other or with our mushrooms, this modulating ability. And so it’s, kind of, each body is going to get something slightly different. Even if both of us take the exact same ratio, mushroom extract, say, right now, depending on how well we both slept last night, what we ate, the state of our stress, our liver function, I might feel really relaxed from that reishi mushroom, and, Katie, you might feel super energized, right?
So they’re working with our bodies and non-specifically targeting multiple systems of the body, which actually makes a lot of sense when we start kind of peeling back what this means. The body’s an ecosystem, right? When we affect our respiration, for example, then our cardiovascular system gets on board and our nervous system is downstream. And so it’s really a more traditional way of treating the body, it’s knowing that each body is individual, and therefore, a headache for you is not a headache for me, is not a headache for, you know, whoever else. And so paying attention to the bio-individuality of each of our bodies, and adaptogens do that in a lens that can be so profound for so many bodies.
When people start taking adaptogens in the right format, you know, the right dosing and from the right places and the right part of the plant… There’s a lot of marketing riff raft out there. I find it’s one of the first times that they’re like, “Wow, this is really working with my body. I’m actually feeling something unique.” And yeah, it’s kind of like magic in a way. It’s not like this fairytale magic, but it’s for us that are so used to, like, taking a pill for an ill and not paying attention to our body types. Adaptogens can really come in and start working with your system and symptoms begin to shift rather rapidly as well, which is pretty amazing for the world of plant medicine.
Katie: Yeah, and it speaks to, I would say my biggest lesson over the last 15 years of being in the health and wellness world, which is that more and more, I just am reminded how individualized we all are and how personalized this is. And I now look back and think like every expert I’ve learned from, every book I’ve read, there’s always something to learn. But we’ve all only, hopefully, figured out what works for us. And so it’s like to take the wisdom from each approach, but then at the end of the day, the responsibility still lies on each of us to figure out, like I use the phrase a lot, we are each of our own primary healthcare provider because we are the ones putting the inputs in. And so I think that perfectly leads into the next question, which is then, how can we individually start to figure out which of these adaptogens work best for our own bodies?
Danielle: Yeah. It’s beyond just adaptogens. I’m almost like let’s pay attention to any herb we take, any food we ingest that works with our body. And in all traditional systems of medicine, there was an understanding that the elements are embedded within our body type. And so, for example, in Ayurveda, which is the third largest system of medicine still practiced today, it’s practiced around India, there’s three doshas or body types, right? We have Vata, Pitta, and Kapha where all the elements, we have Vata which is more of this air element, Kapha, which is more of this earth and water element, and Pitta, which is more of this fire element. In traditional Chinese medicine, right, the second largest system of medicine still practice today… And I’m making a point of this because we think, “Western medicine, that’s across the whole world.” No, there are huge systems, second and third tertiary to what we view medicine through. And the body types are an integral part of treatment.
And so the type of herbalization that I practice, this vitalist herbalism, is about constitutions. It’s very similar to these other traditional ways. Basically, there’s four constitutions, and all of our bodies are on the spectrum of hotter cold, and moist or dry. And this can change based on where we’re living, right? I used to still live at 8,000 feet in the mountains of Colorado, very drying up there. Almost everyone has more of a dry constitution regardless of where they were born. They probably need more moisture added. Now, you know, I live in California by the sea. My moisture content is higher. You can tell, and I actually go into this in the new book, “How to Understand Your Own Constitution.” But getting quiet and really like, “Oh, if I’m in a room with a bunch of people, am I the one that has a sweatshirt on, or am I like sweating and ripping off layers?” Right? It might give you a clue, are you warmer or colder.
The flushness of your skin, right, there’s tongue diagnoses and pulse diagnoses. But if you’re kind of a… Simple example is you’re really red and loud and have a loud voice, that probably means you have a little more fire, a little more heat element in you. For example, I’m really Pitta, I have a lot of energy versus someone that’s maybe colder, quieter, more shy, they might have maybe a cooler constitution to them. So really understanding kind of where we fall on the spectrum. And there’s a cool chart, like a visual that I added into the new book as well, which is fun to check out and get familiar. And there’s certain traits that are associated with it, and you can kind of pick up on who you are in terms of your constitutional profile. And then all of our plants, all of our fungi also have a constitution. This might sound a little heady and hippie, but it’s really not. It’s pretty scientific. Like, if we think of the extremes, think of aloe vera, right? Very cooling, very moist. Demulcent, mucilaginous, we call it from an herbalist perspective, versus cayenne pepper, another herb we use as a sip stick. We use it to stop blood. We use it to warm the system, to pull heat from the inside to the exterior. Cayenne is really warming and really dry, right? We know that, it’s heating.
And so those are kind of, two ends of the spectrum. But every plant, every mushroom, even foods that we ingest, have a dryness or a moistness, a warmth, or a coolness. And so let’s say, Katie, we both have a stomachache, and we’ve been told ginger is really great for stomachaches. If I’m really picked out, right, I’m really hot, and really fiery as a constitution, and I take ginger, which is also really heating, it’s probably not gonna work for me, right? It’s gonna push me over the edge, I’m too heated. But if you have ginger and the same stomach ache, and are more of a cool constitution, that might be the perfect medicine for your body.
Okay. Yeah. In this new book, I’m bringing it up a lot because it’s very top of mind. It’s like less than a week out into the world, but the energetic profile of every one of our herbs, our adaptogens, our mushrooms. And so instead of choosing a specific function and saying, “Hey, I really wanna take a herb for my cognitive function,” it’s, “Okay, these are five herbs that are great for brain health, which one matches my body type?” And starting there, right? And there’s also the art of formulation, which is really fun, right? We can pair different ingredients together. So, like, I really, really want the benefits of Mucuna, for example, so really cool velvet bean from India. But you’re like, “I don’t know, I need like a little more moisture to it,” you can add a more moisture-forward herb and begin to kind of experiment and create formulations for your own body type, which can be really fun.
Katie: That’s awesome. And it’s helpful to understand kind of in categories like that. I think I’ve been told I’m also pretty Pitta in the past by practitioners, but I think it’s cool because it’s a totally different way of looking at health than we often get in the western world. And, to me, just much more holistic and taking into account the whole body. And I love the focus of nourishing and building up the body versus what’s often in the western world, like spot-treating the symptoms. I think over the long term it’s a much more comprehensive approach. And understanding the kind of categories of adaptogens make sense too because I’ve certainly had those experiences. I’m guessing a lot of people listening have where, you know, something works wonderfully for a friend and it sounds like a panacea, and then we try it and have a totally different experience. And this is kind of a good framework to understand how to use the same trial and error and the framework to understand you might have the same effect, but from a different substance than your friend, even your family, even someone who shares genes with you. So I know that it’s, obviously, the answer’s gonna be it’s extremely personalized, but are there kind of general categories of, like, these are ones you would look at maybe as, like, to kind of defend your immune system or help build up that like as a category to experiment within?
Danielle: Yeah, absolutely. So within the world of adaptogens, the way I think about it is in three categories. So we have a category that are more for…it sounds ironic, but more for somewhat acute needs. So performance is kind of that umbrella I put these in. And they can be either to perform to turn on your mind or to turn on your body. So we have in kind of the mind, the brain category, are, one, functional mushroom, that’s also an adaptogen, that’s also a Nootropic or a cognitive enhancer as Lion’s mane, right? So we have Lion’s mane in the mushroom space kind of performance for the body, for the physical body is cordyceps, where without having any stimulation which would make it not an adaptogen, because pushing your body in one direction instead of the non-specificity, but cordyceps works to increase our VO2 mark. So it can bring up to 15% more oxygen into the bloodstream, which gives us a lot of energy without this deep crash later on, right? It’s just we burn through eventually our oxygen levels return to the baseline state, but we get a sense of energy.
So we can use adaptogens. And again, it’s like meeting us where we’re at. I’m like, “These are all non-specific, you’re not really gonna feel anything noticeable. ” People are like, “Okay, what am I actually doing, and how do I build believability into this ingredient if there’s nothing going on?” So those perform adaptogens, I find if people are like, “I don’t believe what you’re saying. I don’t believe in plant medicine. I don’t feel anything.” Because it is more of this long-term root-based building, nourishing approach. The perform adaptogens are a fun place to start. I give lectures, I teach mycology. So I do these like three-hour lectures and always at the beginning I’m like, “Who doesn’t really believe in functional mushroom medicine, or adaptogenic medicine?” There’s always a couple of hands. And I give them a cordyceps elixir in the beginning of class. Say, “Would you be open to taking this?” Because it’s one of the few that we can actually feel within like 15 to 20 minutes of ingesting.
So I give them this like high, it’s a 1,500-milligram extract of the cordyceps fruiting body. And then like 30 minutes into class, I check in and I’m like, “How are you feeling?” And there’s never been a time… I’ve been teaching for five years in this mycology school. Herbal school, I teach the Mycology courses, and there’s always this, like, lift in energy, like, “Okay, cool.” So if you’re new and you’re like, “Ha, I just wanna know that this works,” you can start with something like cordyceps or something like lion’s mane in the perform category. Then I find there’s a category that it’s immune. It’s like how do we really be specific, but it’s immune health, gut health, totally interrelated, right, 70% of immune cells reside within our gut and our microbiome. So we can’t really separate our immune system from our gut health. But a lot of our functional mushrooms are also working on this level.
Turkey Tail is a really fun example, incredible, functional mushroom, one for the immune system. Each one of these has these, like, amazing stories and lineages of how they’ve been used. But a fun fact about Turkey Tail is there’s two compounds that were identified from it. They’re both these sugars we mentioned in the beginning, the polysaccharides, called PSP and PSK, and they actually were the foundation for the first-ever mushroom-derived anti-cancer drug. So the name of the drug was Creston. It’s still used today in Japan, really profound anti-cancer benefits. And then we also found that Turkey Tail has pre-biotics, right? So the food for our probiotics really root-based approach to gut health. So we kind of have this defend category, which is immune health, which is gut health.
I also think of adaptogens that are supporting skin within this category. So a lot of our berries, we have adaptogens like acerola cherry, and Schisandra, and goji berry, and these are so rich in a lot of the vitamins, antioxidants that we take to support skin health from the inside out. And so by replenishing and giving our body ample supply of these, we can kind of reach that state of glow, or whatever skin benefits we’ve been searching for from band-aid topical solutions by actually giving our bodies what it needs to show up in the most vital skin it can.
So defend, we have like immune gut, skin adaptogens perform defend. The third category I like to think about them and find it helpful for people is a restoration category. So this is more of mood, stress, sleep support. And if people are new to adaptogens, you’re not really sure about your constitution, body type, his is a really safe place to start. So these are the most gentle, because adaptogen doesn’t exist within a spectrum, right? Even though they’re all part of this umbrella category, they have these three…they’re all non-specific, and normalizing, and non-toxic, they’re all unique. And some can be a little more pushy and some are a lot more gentle and nourishing. So in our restore category, we have some of the most popular adaptogens like Ashwagandha. Ashwagandha has surpassed green juice in Google searches. Like, this is amazing. It’s like really hard to spell. Indian root is surpassing green juice. Like, we know our world is open to what these adaptogens have to offer. Yeah. I really encourage starting in this restore category.
We also have reishi mushroom in there, Tulsi or holy basil, like some of my most favorite adored species out there. And so much of the time we’re looking for like energy, cognitive health, brain function, better endurance. And we want something to like give us that quick fix. But if we really look at it through a vitalist perspective from a root-based holistic lens, we have to look at, “Why aren’t you waking up with that energy? Like, why isn’t it naturally coming to you?” And often, that is, “Okay, what are we doing before, right? What are we doing the night before? How’s our sleep? How’s our stress levels?”
And so I’ve found the best way to approach, whatever outcomes you’re looking for are to start with the restoration adaptogens because it’s almost as if we can have this whole, like, Smorgasbord of symptoms, and we often are like, “I just wanna address my skin, or my headache,” whatever you’re coming to the table with. And so often you don’t think it has to do with sleep or stress. And once those two areas have been supported, when you’re sleeping again, when your stress levels are low, the body, it’s almost like, I think it’s like a pin pushing on the body, that’s like the stress. And when that’s been moved, the energy can then be reallocated to all these other organs of the body.
And so, what that looks like, you know, in a symptom picture is, symptoms begin to go away that we thought had nothing to do with stress. If symptoms still remain, which is totally okay, that’s often the case, we at least have a clearer picture of then what still exists to address. So we’re not putting bandaids and getting symptoms to move deeper and deeper. They don’t go away, they just change forms. Literally early childhood food allergies can turn into asthma. I mean, people are like, “No, that can’t be connected.” It is. And so yeah, like supporting your sleep, supporting your stress, and then moving into maybe more of the, like, other categories, defend, and performance would be my kind of gentle recommendation.
Katie: That makes sense. I think of as an analogy. Even recently, I had a pretty minor injury during a fighting class, but I had like a bunch of bruising on my leg, and it was just uncomfortable enough that it was like I could feel how much energy it was taking…just body energy, and even workouts became much more difficult. Sleep was a little bit impacted, and once that healed, then those things came back, no problem. But it was a great example for me to realize like, “Oh, yeah, we don’t maybe perceive that in the same way when it isn’t like a physical stress, but it’s doing the same thing to our energy.”

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And I definitely echo what you say about if you could improve sleep, it has ripple effects into all of these other areas so much, and that’s one metric I watch pretty closely, is deep sleep. Because I feel like when you have deep sleep dialed in, everything else gets so much easier. And that was a super helpful primer on like kind of where these all fit within categories too. I really appreciate that.
Danielle: Yeah, absolutely. And I’m so glad you mentioned, like, it takes energy to restore, and to heal, and to bring us back into a state of balance where we can, you know, then feel optimal. And where does that energy come from? It comes from what we’re eating, right? What we’re putting in our body, what nutrients we have to then have that energy dispersed through our system. And I’m sure you have heard… I mean, our diets today are so deficient, like our 43 most common fruits and vegetables don’t have the nutrient profile that they did even 50 years ago, 67% of young people’s calories come from like ultra-processed foods, like really ultra, ultra-processed, frozen pizzas, cookies, burgers, and yet we’re so stressed. And I look at this correlation and I’m like, “Oh, my gosh, we’re more stressed than ever before.” And then we have less nutrients to deal with this stress. And that’s one other piece where adaptogens are really relevant, is this specific, this small group of plants and mushrooms, they’re the most phytochemically complex foods on the planet.
Like cacao, which I talk about a lot, I love cacao. That’s the single-most nutrient-dense food that exists. And so we’re often thinking of like our foods, and they’re really calorically high, but the nutrient density of them is pretty low. And it’s the exact opposite with these adaptogens. Foods like Moringa, I’ll call out, amazing adaptogen, is so calorically low. There’s almost no calories in it, but it’s loaded with micro and nano nutrients that are replenishing our systems on so many levels and giving us the energy that we need that we’re often not getting from our diet, even if we are eating really clean, to allow us to deal with these stressors and to bring our systems back and heal from, whether it’s a bruise on our leg, or from the external stressors of just being a human in 2022.
Katie: That’s a great point. I got to recently talk to Chris Kresser on this podcast who has been very much a proponent of get everything from food when possible. And I share that thinking, but he even said, you know, “I think we are now living in a time where it’s almost impossible to actually get the nutrients that you need purely from food even if you’re super intentional.” And we are at the point of needing to be able to rely on some of these really nutrient-dense kind of superfood categories and/or supplements when needed because we’re just not getting even, for instance, magnesium from our food anymore, things that are really important for stress resilience. And so it’s interesting to know that we’re living in a time like that.
And, for me, it was a helpful shift after coming from kind of, like years of diet culture and weight loss culture to shift my thinking from, “I need to eat less calories” to, “How can I get the most nutrient density in every food that I’m eating?” Which I think, in general, is a helpful mindset shift because it’s in a positive direction versus a deprivation direction. But I think it’s also just a very helpful thing to keep in mind because, like you mentioned, our food supply isn’t what it used to be. It’s extremely difficult to get enough nutrients. And for those of us with kids, especially, keeping that top of mind of just how do I get the most nutrient density for my kids? And I think that’s gonna lead into another question with a lot of moms listening, I know we’ll get questions on, you know, can we consume these things while in various phases of pregnancy, breastfeeding? At what age can kids start incorporating some of these things? And I know mushrooms, for instance, are in a category I personally consider as more food than a supplement, and my kids eat them and consume them in various ways, but I would love your take on this, of like, what are some guidelines to be aware of in the various phases of life, of when we can incorporate these?
Danielle: Yeah, there’s so many things I wanna say about this category. The first that I’ll just mention, and we can get into the politics of it if we want, but as an herbalist in this country, it’s illegal for us to work with pregnant women, which is really wild. So in my private practice, I have women that, you know, are often on a fertility journey, and I’m working with them to build up their systems and remove inflammation, and support their stress response. And oftentimes, pregnancy is the result of that. And once they get pregnant, I have to pass them on and say, “I legally can no longer work with you,” which is incredibly frustrating. But I will say that each adaptogen is different. I can give examples of ones that we maybe don’t wanna take during pregnancy and breast feedings, and ones that we would. The ones that are more restoration that are food-like, moringa is coming top of mind as something, I already mentioned it briefly. It’s this leaf, incredible tree from India that is so full of, we call it a nutritive.
So a lot of our herbs like nettle and oat straw would fall into this category, like really, really nutritive. It’s actually used as a way to build up children’s systems that are malnourished in developing countries because of how nutritious this leaf is. It can be incorporated more as a food, so you can make like moringa pesto or… Like pesto just means paste. So, like, we can make pesto with all sorts of things, but moringa pesto, adding in as like a leafy green, or adding the powder into smoothies would be something that’s a really safe kind of base place. Tulsi, or holy basil is a really safe herb to take, not only throughout different stages of womanhood and throughout life, but it’s also called Tridoshic, which is really interesting. Basically, three doshas, right? These three body types. It’s safe and applicable for all body types. So if you don’t know where to start, and you’re on this fertility journey, consider Tulsi or holy basil.
Some that we wouldn’t want to take, Ashwagandha is actually contraindicated in pregnancies, so I would steer away from Ashwagandha. So the thing with some of the functional mushrooms is there isn’t research. So what’s really interesting about adaptogens is not only do we have this, like, amazing several thousand-year documented use case, this amazing anecdotal evidence of using them, we also have the past 70 years of gold standard clinical trials. So we have this amazing merging of East versus West kind of ancient modern history science. But a lot of the functional mushrooms particularly haven’t been studied in pregnancy or breastfeeding probably because mamas are like, “I’m not gonna risk doing this trial with a weird mushroom during my pregnancy.” So yeah, that’s something to note.
I like to make sure recommendations I’m giving are backed by both the historical use and the data. And so mushrooms are space, I’m like, yeah, feel that during pregnancy, best to avoid, or low doses, if anything. Low doses in your third trimester would be like the lowest I’d recommend. And then yeah, with children, kind of my rule of thumb is wait until they are at least seven years old. This is specifically with the mushrooms because of how powerfully immunomodulating they are, and so much of the immune system is building naturally in these first few years of life. And so bringing a mushroom that’s really strongly interacting like activating our B-cells and T-cells, and natural killer cells are downregulating these systems is something that I feel we don’t need to yet interfere with. And so why would we? Let’s let the immune systems build and then slowly, like one of the first things that I recommend bringing in if you’re excited to share mushrooms with your kids is when they’re, you know, 7 to 10.
Reishi mushroom, which is amazing. We make reishi mushroom hot chocolate, so it’s like a super food version of cacao with two grams of sugar from coconut. So it’s like, again, we’re replacing maybe less healthy habits like a cup of hot chocolate in the evening with something that can be really nourishing. Speaking of cacao, is another one that you could take like throughout any phase of life. Really different than cocoa. I’ll mention briefly both starting from the Theobroma Cacao trees, they come from the same place, but cacao is the minimally processed, less refined version, and it’s one of the richest natural forms of magnesium. So, huge proponent of magnesium as well. It’s one of the few supplements that I’m like, even if we’re eating a ton of leafy greens, and brassicas, and kale, we just can’t get enough of what we need. It’s so important for 300-plus functions in the body.
So cacao is an awesome option, and so decadent and delicious to be using. And contrary to a lot of people’s beliefs, it is an adaptogen itself.
So yeah, there’s several guidelines, and then there’s just amazing herbalists that we can talk to and refer to, I mean, that also are focused on working with mamas during their pregnancy journey. So doulas that can recommend specific herbs for your body type as well. But some kind of general guidelines would be, look more towards the moringas, the cacaos, the Tulsi basal, and even turmeric. Turmeric would be a great one to incorporate as well as more of a food category. So that’s kind of maybe the safest arsenal we can give people for now.
Katie: And are there any that are studied specific for longevity? I know this has been a big part of the health and wellness conversation lately, and there seem to be a lot of emerging studies related to longevity and mushrooms and certainly other cultures and their use of these kind of speak to that, but are there any kind of favorites for you?
Danielle: Yes, there are two that stand out. The first is a mushroom and the second’s a plant. So the first is Reishi mushroom, and this is such a powerful species. I could talk about Reishi all night. But it’s known as the longevity mushroom, the 10,000-year mushroom. It was thought to make you live for several hundred years, incredibly revered in TCM, in traditional Chinese medicine. Of all the several thousand species in TCM, they were ranked into three categories, and Reishi is in the top category called superior tonics. And even among all of them, it’s rated the number one herb. It was an herb back then, you know, we didn’t have the fungal kingdom identified, but the number one “herb” in all of traditional Chinese medicine.
It’s so powerful, specifically for longevity, for cardiovascular health. It kind of looks like a heart, a Reishi mushroom. So the doctrine of signatures, right, when something looks like in nature are gonna give us information about how it’s supporting our bodies. But it is in this restoration category of adaptogen, so more gentle, more restorative, stress-supporting, working on the level of our cardiovascular system. And, you know, there’s more nerves from our heart to our brain, and the other way around. When we can tonify our heart, we kind of feel this overall nervous system relaxation without being sedative in any way. There’s so much going on with Reishi, it has the most identified compounds in all of our mushrooms. So 120 different terpenes and 100 different polysaccharides among with so much else going on. So talk about a really incredibly nutrient-rich food that is nourishing our bodies. And, you know, what we need for longevity, for anti-aging is to have enough nutrients, enough kind of antioxidants, minerals, nanonutrients to support the aging process. And so by replenishing our system with something like Reishi, it’s kind of like internal like keeping youth pill, I guess, keeping us young.
The other longevity adaptogen that’ll mention today is called Astragalus, Astragalus Membranaceus, it’s this root. It’s really incredible. It does something unique, different than all of our other adaptogens where it actually acts on telomerase. And so without going too deep into a lecture, as we age, our telomeres get shorter. And so it’s kind of, if we look at aging on a really literal level, it’s like how shorter your telomeres, that’s kind of a determining factor of how old you are, and what astragalus has shown to do in gold standard studies, so in human control, double-blind placebo studies is to lengthen our telomeres. And so, this is through our DNA, and it’s really kind of a fascinating, literal way to look at youth and antiaging, is by extending these telomeres. It’s also wonderful for the immune system. You can throw the roots in like a long tea, or I put it in, you know, different broths, mushroom broths through the winter. So yeah, lots going on, but specifically antiaging, looking at Reishi and Astragalus would probably be the top recommendations.
Katie: I’m such a fan of Reishi. I think Reishi is my go-to nighttime beverage for sure. And it really does make a noticeable difference like with tracking with Oura Ring on deep sleep metrics for sure and just how fast I fall asleep and stay asleep. And I think all these are great because they’re a long-term, like we talked about holistic approach to increasing that stress resilience, and improving sleep, which then also improve every other area of life. And I know there’s also so much more than we could ever go into in one podcast episode to learn about all of these, and that you teach this, you have written about it, there’s a lot more to learn. I’ll put links to a lot of those things in the show notes as well. Our time has flown by, but a couple last questions I’d love to ask, the first being if there is a book or a number of books that have profoundly impacted your life, and if so, what they are, and why?
Danielle: I love this question so much. I have so many books written down from guests on the show, but the few that I’ll recommend if you are interested in the world of mycology and wanna take it two-step deeper, “Radical Mycology” is an incredible kind of bible to the world of growing mushrooms, to the history of mushrooms, to the functional varieties. It’s by a man named Peter McCoy. There’s also an amazing Canadian herbalist named Robert Rogers who wrote a book called “The Fungal Pharmacy,” and, it’s again, an awesome guide of all beyond the few we spoke about today, the couple hundred functional mushrooms out there. “Be Here Now” by Ram Dass is probably the most pivotal book of my life. Along with, “This Is It” by Alan Watts. Most recently, “Braiding Sweet Grass” has been incredibly profound about… Native American woman wrote it and talk about connection to the land and remembering how integral our lives are with the plants and with the fungis is really shown through that book. So those would be my five for today.
Katie: I love it. Those will be linked in the show notes as well, for all of you listening, wellnessmama.fm as well as links to read more about a lot of the stuff that we have talked about. And lastly, any parting advice for the listeners today that could be related to something we’ve talked about or entirely unrelated?
Danielle: Yeah. We have this arsenal of herbs and mushrooms that I think about as allies. They’re friends, they’re here to support us through all the phases of our life, in sickness and in health. And I find a lot of us feel like we’re alone, or we don’t know where to turn. And just a reminder that we’ve always relied on plant medicine as humans, since we’ve been humans to help us, whether we’re depressed, or we can’t sleep, or we need energy, we have these all over, they’re here to help us. And especially with the adaptogens, they’re accessible for one of the first times in human history. And beginning your journey starts with you. So just begin to pray and bring these into your life, know that they’re safe, and they’re here to help you, and you’re never alone.
Katie: Awesome. Well, this has been a really fun conversation for me. I’m so grateful that you joined us today. Thank you so much for your time.
Danielle: Thank you so much for having me. It’s been my pleasure.
Katie: And thank you as always to all of you for listening, for sharing your most valuable resources, your time, your energy, and your attention with us today. We’re both so grateful that you did, and I hope that you will join me again on the next episode of “The Wellness Mama Podcast.”
If you’re enjoying these interviews, would you please take two minutes to leave a rating or review on iTunes for me? Doing this helps more people to find the podcast, which means even more moms and families could benefit from the information. I really appreciate your time, and thanks as always for listening.

Thanks to Our Sponsors

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Katie Wells Avatar

About Katie Wells

Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Co-founder of Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. WellnessMama.com is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.

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