20 Jan 2022
Thirty years ago, a German tourist named Helmut Simon was hiking in the Tirolean Ötztal Alps, between Italy and Austria. Taking in the gorgeous scenery, he was totally unaware that the accidental discovery he was about to make would change anthropological science forever.
Coming to a rocky hollow, Helmut stumbled upon the mummified remains of a human body. Scientists would later discover that the strange, perfectly preserved figure dated back to 3300 BC. This makes ‘Ötzi’, as the body was nicknamed, over 5000 years old, and a denizen of the Copper Age.
Judging by the items found with Ötzi upon his discovery, he had led quite a life. 61 tattoos mark his body along joints and modern acupuncture points. During his lifetime, he appears to have suffered a broken nose and several broken ribs.
He carried a copper axe and a deerskin quiver, along with a supply of arrows. A lump of smouldering charcoal wrapped in maple leaves made it easy for him to start a fire quickly when he stopped to rest.
Scientists have a few theories about how Ötzi came to be in his final resting place. However the original researchers believed that he had been shot in the shoulder with an arrow and bled to death, simply remaining where he died until he was covered by ice flows.
Others suggest that he may have been deliberately buried there by his people as a kind of territorial marking.(1)(2)(3)
Ötzi now resides in a special, carefully monitored cold chamber at the South Tyrol Museum of Archeology. He receives around 300,000 visitors per year, and is the regular subject of scientific study.
But why are we talking about Ötzi the iceman in an article about mushroom tea?
Well, as it turns out, Ötzi may well have been taking advantage of medicinal mushrooms himself, demonstrating just how long we have been using these fabulous fungi to nourish and heal ourselves.
Among Ötzi’s possessions, researchers found a girdle bag containing Fomes fomentarius (‘true tinder bracket’ fungus) and two pieces of Piptoporus betulinus mushroom mounted on a leather thong.(4)
It looks like the ‘true tinder bracket’ fungus was used primarily as tinder, but may also have been useful as a wound compress.
However scientists believe that Ötzi was using Piptoporus betulinus medicinally. In more modern times, this fungus has a long history of this kind of use, from Russia to Great Britain. It has been described as having anti-fatigue, soothing and immune-enhancing effects.
Why was Ötzi carrying around Piptoporus betulinus? It appears that he may have been consuming it to treat an ailment.(4)
Before the advent of modern science, mushroom teas were hugely popular in folk medicine.(4) People used them to treat a wide variety of ailments.
However, in the modern day, with the benefit of targeted medicines for specific diseases, mushroom tea has taken on a new role.
That is, we tend to drink it now as a way to help support our body’s natural health. Rather than using them as a treatment for illness, medicinal mushrooms are becoming more popular as a regular part of our wellness routine.
Throughout most of the period that humans have been drinking mushroom tea, we’ve been making it simply by steeping the mushroom in hot water.
However, we’ve also been experimenting with flavour combinations that bring out the best in the mushroom. Below, we have some great ideas for how to make your mushroom tea a little bit more special.
Mushroom tea is a great addition to any wellness regimen. While Ötzi and his contemporaries may have had an inkling of the benefits of consuming medicinal mushrooms, now we know quite a bit more about how they work.
For example, reishi and cordyceps have been popular in Traditional Chinese Medicine for thousands of years.
Yet, only in recent times have we learnt about their special abilities.
All the medicinal mushrooms we offer at Erbology are linked with supporting our natural immunity and - as adaptogens - helping us cope with stress.
However, lion’s mane is also thought to help support cognitive function, help you focus, and balance your mood.
Meanwhile, Cordyceps may have energising properties and help with athletic performance.
For a complete run-down of individual mushrooms and their properties, why not download our free guide to medicinal mushrooms?
It will also provide you with lots of information on where to source your mushrooms, the questions you should ask of suppliers, and many more helpful tips.
But for now, let’s take a look at the different options available for how to make mushroom tea.
Ötzi and his companions would have been working with fresh mushrooms which they foraged for themselves. Some lucky people still have the skills and opportunity to forage for wild mushrooms, but for many of us a specialist grocer would be a great place to start.
(Note: if you are foraging, be extra careful and make sure you are picking the right mushroom. Inexperienced foragers often cause themselves harm by picking a poisonous mushroom by accident. If in doubt, seek the advice of a specialist.)
Many farmer’s markets and specialist producers offer medicinal mushrooms, including lion’s mane. If you have the space, some companies also offer home grow kits.
If you have managed to get hold of whole reishi, lion’s mane, chaga or another type of mushroom, it’s easy to make mushroom tea.
The most basic way method is to steep the mushroom in hot water. However, the boiling time varies dramatically depending on the type of mushroom.
For instance, chaga - which is a very tough mushroom - needs to be steeped over a long period of time. When the water turns a deep red, it’s time to drink. This can take anywhere from one to four hours of gentle simmering.
Meanwhile, lion’s mane is a much more tender mushroom. It doesn’t need to be steeped for long at all.
Using a mushroom powder to make mushroom tea is a much easier and more convenient option for most people.
Grinding the mushroom down into a fine powder means that you increase the surface area exposed to the water in your tea. This means you’re more likely to get the beneficial nutrients in the mushroom transferring over into the water you’ll eventually drink.
What’s more, drinking the powder in your tea means that you’re consuming the whole mushroom, rather than simply the water it has been steeped in.
Further, using a powder eliminates any problems you might face with tough, woody mushrooms like chaga and reishi, which would need to be steeped over a very long period of time when fresh.
If you’re making tea with a powder, make sure that you source your powder from a reputable company. Look out for powders which are sourced in Europe and which come with a guarantee of organic growing conditions to avoid any unwanted nasties in your tea.
All of our Erbology medicinal mushroom powders fit the bill, so you can buy from us with confidence.
While the best way to drink individual mushroom powders may vary slightly, the general rule is to steep them in hot water for a few minutes before drinking.
If you’re OK with having a small amount of fine powder in your drink, it’s probably better for you to drink the whole lot. This makes sure you’re getting the benefits of the mushroom, as mentioned above.
However, if you prefer a smoother drink, you might like to try popping the powder into a reusable teabag. This allows the mushroom to infuse without letting the powder get into your tea. You can remove it at the end of the steeping period before drinking.
Generally speaking, we’d recommend using water at around 80°C. An easy way to do this is to boil your kettle and then leave it for around 30 seconds for the temperature to drop slightly. Very high temperatures can damage the important nutrients in some mushrooms.
However, with tough mushrooms like chaga, we recommend simmering the powder for 25-30 minutes to extract all the healthy nutrients. Alternatively, you can leave the mushroom powder to steep in hot water for a similar length of time (but you may find the tea a bit too cool when you come back to it!).
To clarify, most of our Erbology mushroom powders can be used to make teas without a long steeping time.
While chaga does need a longer period of simmering or steeping (25-30 minutes), our other powders can be added to hot water and steeped for just a few minutes before drinking.
To use these, simply brew your tea as you would with a normal teabag, leaving the mushroom to infuse for a few minutes before drinking. Easy peasy!
Many people enjoy the earthy flavour of mushrooms such as lion’s mane, which naturally have quite a mild taste.
These can be enjoyed on their own, or you can turn your broth into more of a soup by adding other edible mushrooms and vegetables for flavour.
However, other medicinal mushrooms like reishi have a rather strong, bitter flavour. For this reason, you might like to add other natural ingredients to improve the taste.
A popular way of drinking bitter medicinal mushrooms is to swap your tea for coffee. The natural bitter flavours of coffee help to mask the taste of the mushroom.
Similarly, you could try swapping your tea for hot chocolate. This is one of our favourite ways to drink medicinal mushrooms, and we have a lovely recipe for spiced hot chocolate with adaptogenic mushrooms.
Alternatively, try adding flavourings such as honey, ginger, maple syrup or lemon to help balance the mushroom.
While it’s easy to make a simple mushroom tea, sometimes we want to enjoy something a bit more special. That’s why we asked our recipe guru Ana to come up with her own special recipe for mushroom tea.
Ana’s chaga and nettle tea celebrates the health-supporting plants and fungi of our natural woodlands. Made gloriously creamy with coconut milk, and with the addition of comforting spices like nutmeg and cinnamon, it’s the perfect way to warm up after a wintry walk.
We are often asked whether our medicinal mushroom powders can be used in cold drinks like smoothies or added into baking and cooking.
It’s absolutely fine to do this, but it is not the optimum way to make sure you’re getting the benefits of the mushroom.
We always recommend taking our mushrooms in a hot liquid, such as a drink or soup. This is because infusing the mushrooms in hot water helps to draw out the beta-glucans in the mushroom.
Beta-glucans are a special type of polysaccharide present in medicinal mushrooms. Scientists believe that they may be behind many of the health benefits of these mushrooms.
For more information on this special nutrient and how it may help to support our natural immunity, head to our article all about beta-glucans.
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