Are you being ripped off by medicinal herb suppliers?
Last week a friend of mine called me up because she was looking for a certain medicinal mushroom. She had been ordering it from Hong Kong for her aunt because of its medicinal properties; however, for some reason, the supplier had ceased to export mushrooms to Canada.
The mushroom she was looking for is called Yun Zhi in China, and my friend was paying around 800$ per bottle for it. Yun Zhi, what is that? You might think that 800$ might pay for a label with a botanical name on it so people outside of China know what they are really buying. I had to cross reference Chinese albino penus envy names to scientific names to discover that Yun Zhi is in fact Trametes versicolor.
My jaw hit the floor. 800$ for Trametes versicolor!!? (Aka. Coriolus versicolor / Turkey Tail). If you are a mushroom picker, you will probably be thinking either that you gotta’ start picking and selling this stuff, or that my friend was being totally ripped off. “Ripped off” because T. versicolor is a common mushroom in every temperate zone in the world. If you have walked in the forest ever in your life, there is a half decent chance that you have seen this mushroom.increase the five year survival rate of lung cancer patients by 400%.
I had to look more into it. The actual product that my friend was buying was a polysaccharide extract. Depending on which mushroom strain it comes from, these extracts are either called PSK or PSP, and there is significant evidence for their use in cancer treatment. The literature is extensive; for example, Robert Rogers book, The Fungal Pharmacy references legit, peer reviewed studies indicating that these extracts “inhibit the proliferation of lymphoma and leukemic cells by apoptosis… “, “restore antibody (IgG) production in mice with sarcoma 180… “, increase the five year survival rate of lung cancer patients by 400%, increase the survival rates of colorectal cancer, gastric cancer, and breast cancer patients. Rogers also writes that there were at least 16 papers that have studied the extracts ability to inhibit cancer cell proliferation, 40 that studied their ability to inhibit tumor growth, 13 that studied their ability to counteract the negative effects on the immune system of cancer treatment, and 24 that showed that PSK and PSP increase cancer patient survival rates. The health benefits of these extracts go on.
Anyways, 800$!!? About three quarters of T.versicolor is complex carbohydrates, and the only source I could find stating exactly how much of it is PSK or PSP says that the mushroom is usually >40% PSK or PSP. So, we aren’t talking about some supercharged, concentrated extract, we are talking about taking out the, fat (1.7%), protein (11%) (Rogers), fibre, and maybe the odd unwanted starch or basic sugar, leaving you with close to half of the mushroom by dried weight.
The first retailer of Yun Zhi that pops up on a Google search where I am, sells a bottle of 500, 400mg capsules for 550$ This works out to 1248$per pound. Now seeing as the extract is about 50% of the mushroom, that means that the unprocessed mushroom would be around 624$ per pound.
I will flatly state that this is ridiculous, and that if you are buying this product, you are being taken advantage of. A common mushroom that is easily cultivated because it grows on wood is not worth 600$ a pound. For comparison, Pacific Rim Mushrooms sells dried wild picked morel mushrooms which cannot be commercially cultivated, for 150$ a pound.
What is the moral of my story? Know what you are buying. Mushrooms are mysterious, even more so when they are sold with Chinese names, so find out what the botanical or the English name is with a simple Google search. I did. I wanted to find a less expensive yet reliable source for Yun Zhi for my friend. After a very short search, not for Yun Zhi, but for Turkey Tail extract, I found a website that charges 44.96$ for 120 500mg capsules (340$ per pound). This is much better. Although, if I personally wanted Yun Zhi, I would simply go for a long walk with a basket in hand.
I even found extract from a company in California for as low as 175$ per pound.
Shop around. See what else you can find. Obviously the best isn’t necessarily the cheapest, but keep in mind a couple things
There is no indication that Asian mushrooms are superior to North American mushrooms, so for something like T. versicolor which grows world wide, feel free to buy from Canadian and American growers or pickers.
- Make sure you know if you are buying extract. There is question as to whether or not the polysaccharides can be digested in the raw form.
- Do you trust the source? Do you know where it was grown and processed? Are you willing to pay more for organic products?
Be sure you aren’t being taken advantage of. Use your street sense; are their claims of superiority substantiated by a reference, or a good explanation? Are they making you afraid to use someone else’s product just to influence you to buy their own?
There are enormous benefits to mushrooms as medicine and food. A good book, website, or local mushroom club is a great place to learn about medicinal mushrooms.