Tune in as Storey acquiring editor Carleen Madigan speaks with Chris Hobbs about his book, Christopher Hobbs's Medicinal Mushrooms: The Essential Guide.
In this episode, Hobbs explains that his fascination with mushrooms had its roots in his upbringing as a lay naturalist and how a gut-wrenching, rebellious run-in with “eating all kinds of junk and candy and hamburgers and soda” led him to discover the healing power of mushrooms. Plus, Hobbs shares how mentors shaped his lifelong love of mushrooms and reveals which mushrooms he has in his kitchen right now.
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Full Podcast Transcript
This is Kindling: The Storey Publishing Podcast, where we explore the spark that ignites a deep-rooted passion for sustainable living. I’m Debra Balmuth, Storey’s publisher.
From growing organic food and making herbal remedies to fermenting, weaving, and raising chickens, the authors we’ll meet will empower you with the skills and savvy they’ve gleaned from years of hands-on experience. In each episode of Kindling, you’ll learn what fuels these authors’ excitement and what they love most about creating books that share their expertise and enthusiasm with the world.
You could say author Christopher Hobbs was born into a life of naturalism. Chris’ father and grandfather were professors of botany. His grandmother and great-grandmother were herbalists, and growing up, Chris and his brother spent their summers exploring the wilds of Lake Tahoe.
Storey acquiring editor Carleen Madigan recently spoke with Chris Hobbs about his book, Christopher Hobbs’s Medicinal Mushrooms: The Essential Guide. As Chris explains, his fascination with mushrooms had its roots in his upbringing as a lay naturalist.
For four years, when I was eight through 12, my brother and I just basically ran wild out in the woods for the whole summer, three months or more, fishing and looking for insects or my dad. I’ve just had a great love for nature since then. And I did notice the mushrooms even back then. And so, in 1978, I read about a mushroom conference that was going to happen on Orcas Island, which was started by Paul Stamets. And he invited all kinds of luminaries, such as Dr. Smith, who is one of the early mushroom guide writers, and Dr. Guzman, who was the world’s leading authority on psilocybin mushrooms at the time. So, I just got totally crazy over mushrooms after going to this conference.
So that was Dr. Alexander Smith and Gaston Guzman?
Right. And I was just so turned on by the whole conference and all these amazing mushroom people that I just took such a passion away and a spark. And then I moved to Santa Cruz in 1982, and that was the home of David Aurora. David Aurora is the author of All That the Rain Promises and More, a wonderful pocket field guide. And also Mushrooms Demystified, which is the absolute bible, a huge tome that is just chock-full of humor and passion and all kinds of mushroom descriptions. And I think more than anything, it was David Aurora and his book, and just being in the same town. And then I started going to the fungus fairs, which we had there in Santa Cruz, that I still attend even today—thirty years of giving talks at the Fungus Fair. And so, I really have to credit David Aurora for keeping the spark going for so many people, and his books are just priceless gems.
That’s great. It’s amazing how one early interaction with people who are passionate about something, you can share their passion and take it from there. And you certainly have taken that in a lot of different directions. You’ve talked a lot about what it meant to you to spend time in nature as a child. And it seems like that is something that has carried with you and part of the reason why you spend a lot of time looking for mushrooms. How did that early fascination with mushrooms in their natural setting expand into learning about their healing properties?
Besides having a passion for mushrooms and a passion for being out in the woods and fields and outside in nature, the third passion that I had besides music was, so this would be the fourth, I guess, is health and disease. Figuring out what causes disease, why a healthy person can get disease, and what is disease all about? And I didn’t come from a medical family, really. My dad was a scientist, but I just came up with that, just a fascination with health and disease. And I think one reason is because my mom and her mom, my grandmother, were Christian Scientists and they were big on natural health. Even in those days, even back in the early part of the 20th century, my mom served us a very healthy meal. And so, I have to credit her with really getting me going on a healthy diet and lifestyle early on.
And I’ve always been very active, but later after I left home, I wanted to do experiments. So, I guess I embraced the McDonald’s diet when I left home and moved to the Bay area from Southern California. I started just eating all kinds of junk and candy and hamburgers and soda. And I got really, really sick after about a year of that. I could barely walk up a hill without panting, and then I just felt terrible all the time. Turns out my mom lived in Desert Hot Springs area down in the Coachella Valley, and I was visiting her, and I was just feeling so bad. I went into a health food store—I was desperate—harking back to what my mom taught us in the old days. And I saw a book called Miracle of Fasting from Paul Bragg. And so, I looked and I found that he was living in Desert hot Springs.
And so, I tracked him down, and I went to his house, and I said, “I want to learn more about this. Can I study with you?” And he said, “No, go away. I’m too busy.” So, I wasn’t discouraged. I went back two or three times and told him—we didn’t have email in those days—and he finally agreed to let me go on some of his lectures around the Southern California area. His passion for health was so palpable and so real. And he just convinces you that eating lightly and eating a whole foods diet, and lots of vegetables and getting exercise. And even, he was into even meditation in those days. And I just went crazy over it and started fasting. And I got really sick after that, after fasting and drinking glasses of broccoli juice and things like that, I got really even more sick.
I found out later that was a healing crisis. And eventually, I stuck with it, and it’s been a whole lifetime habit of healthy living. And so I think that’s what got me on to health. And then I blended that with my passion for mushrooms and happened to see an article out of Europe that mushrooms might be healthy, too. And that’s what started me off. In 1987 I wrote my little pamphlet called Medicinal Mushrooms. And that was before anything about the healing qualities of mushrooms really were known in this country. But in Europe and in other countries, especially in Asia, of course, they have a long history of using mushrooms for healing and for health. And then, in 1995, I wrote the second edition and much-expanded version of my book. And after all that research, then I became fully convinced that mushrooms really hold amazing healing powers.
The cover of your current book with Storey, which is called Christopher Hobbs’ Medicinal Mushrooms The Essential Guide, the cover says that mushrooms can boost immunity, improve memory, fight cancer, stop infection, and expand your consciousness which all sounds pretty amazing. What is it that gives mushrooms that kind of superpower?
Mushrooms have three great, you might say, fractions or parts of their chemistry or makeup that have physical healing properties that are in our body. And the first is the fiber, and the protein, and the nutrients. So mushrooms have a lot of fiber—they are one of the highest-fiber foods, and we need more fiber in our diet these days. There’s so much processed food out there or partially processed food that we’re not getting enough fiber. And throughout our human history, we have eaten a lot of roots and obviously leaves and fruits from the trees. And then later cultivated the grains and still eating fruits and so forth. And so, our constitution really needs a lot of fiber. And our microflora is another big part of our health. We want to feed the microflora, the beneficial microorganisms in our gut. We have to feed them with a lot of fibrous material to really maintain their diversity and health.
And the diversity of the microflora is one major factor in maintaining health we’re finding out today. So mushrooms provide, if we eat them regularly or take them regularly, as a fiber supplement even, they have so much to promise as far as vitamins minerals, a lot of trace minerals, copper, zinc, that we need for health. And some mushrooms like the oyster mushrooms are amazingly high in high-quality protein. So, they are incredibly nutritious. They have a lot of fiber, which helps reduce cholesterol, and also helps keep our microflora in balance, and can help reduce the incidents of heart disease and cancer. So, that’s number one. And number two, they contain cell wall components. So, the part of that fiber that we’re eating are these cell wall components, which are long polymers of glucose molecules that are called glucans, G-L-U-C-A-N, glucans. And glucans come in different styles, alpha-glucan or beta-glucan. Alpha-glucans will typically start your cellulose, but beta-glucans are connected together, the glucose molecules, in such a way that we cannot digest them. And so they go into the gut, and they start interacting with a lot of immune receptors.
And these are found in the pyres patches. The pyres patches are specialized immune tissue in our gut. Turns out 60 to 70% of our total immune tissue is in our digestive tract, our gut. So, when these mushroom polymers, pieces of them, called beta-glucans are traveling through our gut, they are being taken up by our body, they’re sampled—and then this incredible immune response happens, which is very ancient. It’s a very ancient immune response that we’re getting to increase B cells to help the body produce antibodies against pathogens like viruses. It increases T-cell production, which can, we have different types of T-cells, but one is a memory T-cell, which can remember pathogens and react to them more quickly when we’re re-exposed to them, maybe like COVID or influenza, any type of pathogen.
And it also increases phagocytosis, which is our immune cells gobbling up bacteria and viruses, and recycling them basically and stopping the infection. So, these mushroom fragments of beta-glucans are amazingly potent once they enter our digestive tract, and our immune system takes them up and responds to them. Why do they respond to these? Because it’s fungi, it’s something different out there, and it’s a potential pathogen. So, our body is sampling them and thinking it might be a pathogen. And so it upregulates a lot of these immune functions, while at the same time, the mushroom is perfectly edible and perfectly harmless. So that’s the second way that mushrooms can really provide increased health.
And the third way are smaller molecules that are called terpenes or phenolic compounds. These are different types of small molecular weight compounds that have all kinds of functions in the body. Like anti-inflammatory, it can regulate nervous system functions. It can relax our nervous system. And the phenolics compounds have very strong antioxidant properties to help slow down the aging process in a way and stop free radical damage, oxygen radical damage to our cells and tissues. So these are three of the components of mushrooms that act inside of our body for increasing health and preventing disease.
It’s pretty amazing that mushrooms can do all that. One of the interesting things to me about mushrooms is that in addition to all of these benefits for our physical health—and as you said, the emotional and spiritual benefits of going out into nature just to look for mushrooms—you also have all of the psychedelic mushrooms, or visionary mushrooms as we call them in the book, that offer another level of healing. And as you mentioned in the book, there was what many people think of as an overreaction to the counterculture movement of the 1960s and ’70s—and psilocybin mushrooms have been classified as a schedule one drug along with heroin and other really highly addictive substances for the last 50 years or so. Recent research is showing that our thinking about visionary mushrooms could be all wrong. What are they discovering about these mushrooms and how they can help us?
Visionary mushrooms have been used since the 1500s or even before. They might’ve been used, even in the ancient world, in South America, in Southern Mexico, they thought it was spirits. And these psilocybin mushrooms have been also called the flesh of the gods. It does have profound effects on our psychology, on the way our brain works, and neurochemistry works. And one of the main aspects of eating these mushrooms or taking a visionary substance like psilocybin is that it temporarily, at least, gets rid of our sense of being a separate person, our ego center. It seems to dissolve that temporarily so that we can get a more connected feeling with everything around us and see that we’re not just stuck in this bag of bones and skin, in this body and with its limited view. And so it expands our viewpoint so much, it goes way beyond what we can imagine.
And people describe again and again, after eating psilocybin mushrooms for the first time, that this is the most profound, spiritual experience that I’ve ever had. And even a year or two years later, it still ranks up there with one of the most profound experiences of their life, including the birth of their children and so forth. And a lot of it has to do with just being able to expand our consciousness well beyond our own bounds. Just recently, one of the largest studies on psilocybin mushrooms, on its effects, was published just a couple of weeks ago. They found that four times more people with intractable depression had positive results with psilocybin mushrooms than with any type of medication like SSRIs, for instance, and with less side effects. Really amazing. And I think there will be a time before too long where legislation is passed where physicians can prescribe psilocybin mushrooms, or psilocybin, one of the alkaloids for intractable depression.
We’ve had quite a wide-ranging discussion about mushrooms and all of the things they have to offer us. And I have just a couple of questions left, kind of bring it back down to earth and into your kitchen specifically. I’m wondering if you could take us on a virtual tour of your kitchen and tell us what kinds of mushrooms you have on hand at the moment, or typically, and how do you incorporate them into your daily life?
Well, I always have a Reishi powder. I take Reishi Powder all winter because I feel like it’s probably the best mushroom for antiviral use. And also, it’s a very relaxing mushroom. It kind of helps me. It’s been known since ancient times as a visionary. Well, they call it Mushroom of Immortality. It supposedly leads to longevity. So maybe that’s one reason why I’m taking it. I’m hoping for an extra 10 years here, but Reishi is really one of the best, highest beta-glucan mushrooms of all. So it has one of the most potent immune-stimulating effects. And I find it is one of the greatest for preventing colds and flus and viral infections. I just boil the mushroom fruiting bodies down or cook them up in a pressure cooker, and then blend them, and then dry them in my food dehydrator. So that process of making a dried tea extract is fully explained in our book.
And so, I sometimes make those, I have some of that powder on hand, and I take a scoop of that and I put it sometimes in with my dietary smoothie. Other mushroom that I have on hand almost always is Shiitake, because I just love its taste and texture. In one small pot of soup, I’ll put about 10 fruiting bodies of Shiitake in there, for the flavor, for the texture, and for the immunity. I know I’m getting a good immune response out of just the mushrooms that I’m putting in the soup. Shiitake is my favorite, but I also have Oyster mushrooms on hand. I grow them sometimes. Now the wild mushroom season is just starting, and I’m so excited because we’re getting early rains this time. We’ve got about two more months of mushroom season. So, I’m just crazy about getting out there in the woods, and people are finding Chanterelles already. So, I can’t wait.
Well, hopefully, we’ve inspired some of our listeners to go out and start looking for mushrooms. If you have a recommendation for someone who’s just getting started foraging, what is the one mushroom you would encourage them to look for, and how should they use it when they find it?
I would say Chanterelle is certainly one of the safest and most delicious and delectable. And the other being Porcini Boletus Edulis. So those are the two that are pretty foolproof. They’re not a hundred percent foolproof, but they’re fairly foolproof. And they are two of the most sought-after edible mushrooms, certainly two of the most delectable and flexible in stir-fries and soups again. And really get to know some of the really toxic ones, like Amanita phalloides, the death cap, so you know to stay away from ones that are possible lookalikes. And Chanterelles and Porcini are not really—they don’t look like any other mushrooms that are potentially lethal anyway. You can find out more in our new book. I do mention all of the main toxic species. That’s another benefit of the book, is that I do really go over in detail the most toxic ones to look out for, the most common ones, and also the ones that are the most foolproof. Get the book when it comes out because I think it has everything you need to get going. And just ease your way into it, and you’ll be fine.
That was Christopher Hobbs, author of Christopher Hobbs’s Medicinal Mushrooms: The Essential Guide. He spoke with Storey acquiring editor Carleen Madigan. To learn more about Storey Publishing’s books and authors, visit storey.com. That’s S-T-O-R-E-Y.com. And if you have questions or comments about what you hear on Kindling, let us know. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. That’s it for this edition of Kindling coming to you from the Berkshire Hills of Western Massachusetts. I’m Storey’s publisher, Debra Balmuth. Thanks for listening.