"Functional mushrooms are about to be everywhere." It was a declaration we at Well+Good believed so strongly at the end of 2020 that we proclaimed adaptogenic 'shrooms as one of our 2021 Wellness Trends. And it certainly turned out to be true.
Not sure what functional mushrooms are? Unlike the portobellos and oyster mushrooms you'll find in the produce section, functional mushrooms are varieties like reishi and lion’s mane that scientific research has suggested have real-deal benefits for cognitive health, stress levels, and immune support.
To be clear, functional mushrooms certainly aren't new. Functional mushrooms have been used in Eastern medicine, including Traditional Chinese Medicine, for centuries. This is just another case of Westerners being late to the party—and this particular party is full of fungis. (Sorry!)
Watch the video below to learn more about functional mushrooms:
Not only are functional mushrooms popping up in everything from canned oat milk lattes to energy bars, there's now an entire marketplace dedicated to curating products that contain them. Multiverse is an online shop that sells functional mushroom products only—and they do the dosage and ingredient research (plus vetting) for you, so you know you're getting only the highest-quality items. Tinctures, teas, chocolates, gummies... you'll find it all there.
Here, co-founder and CEO Alli Schaper reveals what led to the launch of Multiverse and how their curation process happens. She also shares her top tips and tricks for people trying functional mushrooms for the first time—including how to sniff out the snake oil from the real-deal reishi, cordyceps, and more.
Well+Good: What led to the founding of Multiverse? Why was launching a functional mushroom marketplace so important to you?
Alli Schaper: Before co-founding Multiverse, I did a lot of healthcare consulting. And as I immersed myself in the health space, I became vehemently fascinated by and passionate about wellness. This led me to founding a company that was essentially a Birchbox for wellness products. We worked with hundreds of brands, some of them being functional mushroom brands. I started experimenting with functional mushrooms as a way to treat some gut issues I was experiencing, and they played a huge part in my healing journey. I've been using mushrooms every day for the past six years.
Around four years ago, really prominent figures in wellness started talking more about functional mushrooms. In parallel, psilocybin (psychedelic) mushrooms are starting to play a bigger role in conversations around mental health as psychedelic-assisted therapy is experiencing a massive resurgence after being shut down in the 60’s and '70s. Although fungi have been used for thousands of years in Chinese medicine for their medicinal benefits, Western culture is just now waking up to their potential and they are disrupting every industry from fashion, to supplements, to mental health. For example, it's being used [as a vegan alternative] to leather. Also, certain types of fungi can reverse environmental damage. I believe fungi have the potential to save the world. I know that's a really dramatic statement, but it's one I truly stand behind.
Functional mushrooms have become so popular that they're popping up in new products all the time. How do you decide what you're going to include in the Multiverse?
We have a couple of standards that brands must meet. One is that the products we include must truly be wellness products in every regard. We want to be the Thrive Market of mushrooms. The Multiverse has a list of "fung-yes" and "fung-no" criteria that you can find here our website that details our overall wellness and mushroom quality standards. One example of this is that we only partner with brands that use the fruiting body of the mushroom in our dietary supplement products. Some brands will include a tiny bit of a functional mushroom in their product just so they can say it's in there. But everything in our marketplace must have a measurable dose that's enough to truly make a difference for someone. We ask every brand how many milligrams of chaga, reishi, or other functional mushrooms are in their products because we believe that transparency and accountability is really important.
The dosage is an interesting point because I think the majority of people have no idea what that looks like. What is a good dosage people should look for on product labels?
We like to look for around 500 milligrams of functional ingredients (mushrooms and adaptogens) per serving. So if a product says it has reishi and chaga, it should have at least 500 milligrams of each in it. That would be the minimum and then there are some products that have 3,000 milligrams. Most products fall between 500 and 1,500 milligrams.
What is the main reason you're seeing people seek out functional mushrooms? Is it for stress? Immune support? Brain fog?
Using mushrooms to help with immune health, focus, and 'chilling out' are the most popular reasons. While it's true that functional mushrooms can help in these ways, they're also good for overall wellness—for instance, they contain antioxidants and have anti-inflammatory properties. This is more how they've been used in Eastern medicine for thousands of years. Often people will start taking functional mushrooms for something specific, such as focus, and they'll notice their health is benefitting from them in other ways. Mushrooms as a whole are in major need of a rebrand, and we’re so excited to be launching our own in-house brand called SuperMush later this summer that will make it easy for people to get a daily dose of functional mushrooms back into their diet.
What are some of your personal favorite products in the Multiverse?
That would be like picking a favorite child—I'm obsessed with them all. I personally like consuming functional mushrooms in powder form, so I like using a brand called Alpha Dynamics ($49) which has a high dose of 3,000 milligrams. I also really like a brand called Mood Shine ($44), which historically was a CBD brand but now they've expanded to mushrooms.
Do you think the popularity of functional mushrooms says anything about how wellness may be shifting in bigger ways?
One-hundred percent. People [in the U.S.] are turning to mushrooms because we're all stressed out and tired, and we need help. But the more people learn about mushrooms, the more they uncover the magical species that they are. We have a lot to learn from the powerful kingdom of fungi, and all mushrooms (both functional and psychedelic) deserve a seat at the table in the wellness conversation. I think the conversation about functional mushrooms now will lead to psychedelic mushrooms getting the attention they deserve in the future. I'm really excited to see where the mushroom movement leads.
This conversation has been condensed for clarity.
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