Understanding Medicinal Mushroom Extraction

Last Updated on August 1, 2022

The subject of whether a mushroom powder should be extracted with water, alcohol, or a combination of the two (double extraction/dual extraction) is one that is often asked. The most popular method of mushroom extraction is with hot water, which is a very old and traditional method.

When it comes to medicinal mushroom powder, pure alcohol exclusively is not used very often. When both water and alcohol are utilized in the extraction process, this is referred to as a dual extract/double extraction. It is critical to choose the proper solvent since many mushrooms do not need dual extraction and may be adversely affected if the wrong one is used. Moreover, non-water soluble chemicals may often be preserved without the requirement for alcohol extraction, which is a significant time- and cost-saving measure.

What is A Mushroom Extract?

The term “extract” is defined broadly as “a substance obtained by extracting a portion of a raw material, often with the use of a solvent such as ethanol or water.” “Extracts are available as an ‘extraction tincture’ or powdered form for sale.”

Extraction tinctures vs powder

For a mushroom extract, the raw material is mushrooms, and the solvents are water and ethanol. The solvents may be evaporated, leaving behind a powder, or they can be retained to make an extraction tincture, depending on the required result. Extraction of mushrooms is common as it makes the natural components, such as beta-glucans, more bioavailable to the human body.

What is Chitin?

Chitin is the component that makes up the fungal cell wall, and it is the same substance that crustaceans use to construct their shells. Because the human body does not normally produce the chitinase enzyme necessary to break down chitin, most of the mushroom consumed as food ends up as insoluble fiber. This fiber is beneficial to the digestive system, but the beneficial chemicals are trapped inside the chitin cell wall. This is where mushroom extraction comes into play. By using conventional mushroom extraction procedures, we can break down this chitin and allow our bodies to have easy access to the vital substances contained inside. The vital beta-glucans, triterpenes, sterols and other beneficial compounds become more bioavailable.

Water vs Alcohol Extraction

It may not be very obvious, but the majority of people drink some kind of hot water extract on a regular basis—common hot water extracts include coffee, tea, bone broth, and soup stock. This is because the solvent (hot water) is retained and is consumed along with the chemicals that were extracted from the source material. Tea leaves, mushrooms, vegetables, and cattle bones are all examples of raw materials that may be used. These are boiled in boiling water for a certain amount of time.

For medicinal mushrooms, once the ‘cooking’ with hot water process is complete, the liquid is drained off and preserved. Extraction with hot water will remove any water-soluble compounds from our raw material, as well as some of the insoluble components. Those compounds will now be included in the mushroom extract. Some chemicals that are not soluble in water will be left in the solids that are discarded at the end of the hot water extraction process.

Extraction of various mushroom components necessitates the use of different solvents. For example, beta-glucans are water-soluble and need hot water extraction in order to be bioavailable to the human body. Triterpenes, on the other hand, are alcohol soluble, which means that they must be extracted with alcohol solvent in order to be bioavailable. The presence of beta-glucans as the principal active element in certain mushroom varieties necessitates the use of just water for extraction. Other varieties include a high concentration of triterpenes and beta-glucans, making them the best candidates for dual extraction (alcohol and water together).

Dual Extraction

Dual Extraction is a term that refers to two separate extractions or double extraction. The extraction of the raw materials often need more than just water to isolate all of the non-water-soluble therapeutic compounds. Solvents, like alcohol, will remove the non-water-soluble components from the solution and dissolve them in the liquid.

For performing dual extraction, once hot water extraction is done, the leftover insoluble compounds are added in a mixture of water and alcohol. The mixture is then set on high temperature for a certain duration. The liquid extract obtained after this process is then mixed with the original extract obtained from hot water extraction. This mixture is now a dual extract.

Non water soluble extracts in mushrooms

Let’s take a look at non-water soluble extracts in two different mushrooms i.e. Reishi mushroom and Chaga mushroom. 

Reishi mushroom

In a Reishi mushroom double extraction, we may find triterpenes such as ganoderic acid, many of which are not water-soluble and are thus useful for topical applications. The presence of these compounds in any high-quality Reishi mushroom extract is essential since they are a vital component of the Reishi mushroom. Triterpenes are responsible for the bitter taste of Reishi mushroom, and this bitterness is a reliable sign of high-quality Reishi mushroom. The presence of triterpenes in low concentrations may be inferred in Reishi mushroom products that do not taste bitter.

Chaga mushrooms

A double extraction of haga mushroom will aid in the isolation of triterpenes and sterols such as inotodiol, trametenolic acid, and betulinic acid, among others. The majority of them are not water soluble.

Why does it matter?

The inability to precisely measure many of these non-water soluble substances is an issue for medicinal mushroom supplements. With current technology, it is difficult to test their presence in the end product in commercial laboratories. 

Currently, the measurement and confirmation of the presence of triterpenes in Reishi mushroom using high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) is done in the industry. The inotodiol content of Chaga mushroom can be determined, albeit only a few labs are capable of doing so.

The examination of these substances adds a layer of quality assurance to the process. This is why it is recommended that any product you buy is tested for beta-glucan levels rather than polysaccharide levels.

What does full-spectrum mean?

The term “full spectrum” refers to all of the chemicals found in a mushroom extract, independent of their physical and chemical qualities. This comprises both water-soluble and non-water-soluble chemicals found in the mushroom extract, as well as other compounds. A full spectrum product promotes the whole range of bioavailable compounds in a mushroom, receiving ‘the entourage effect’ of the whole-food.

Dual extraction is not always better than hot water extraction

Dual extracts have been shown to have much fewer beta-glucans (one of the important therapeutic components found in medicinal mushrooms) than their hot water extract equivalents, according to test findings. Polysaccharides precipitate out in alcohol and are eliminated from the final liquid during the filtering process, which explains why this is the case. This effectively eliminates the majority of beta-glucans.

Because alcohol can cause some of the beta-glucans in these mushrooms to harden and be filtered out of the liquid, it is not recommended to use alcohol or dual extraction for certain mushroom species. Lion’s Mane for example, can contain over 30% beta-glucans if extracted by just hot water. The problem is that, the non-water soluble compound called hericenones is bioavailable by alcohol extraction only. Hericenones stimulate Nerve Growth Factor and which is the most popular use for Lion’s Mane. Once alcohol is used to extract Lion’s Mane, the beta-glucan amount can fall to below 15%. As you can see, there is an interesting trade-off! Would you rather have the hot water extract and have more beta-glucan content but no hericenones? Or would you rather have less beta-glucan with guaranteed hericonenes?

On the other hand, dual extraction is advantageous for Reishi and Chaga mushrooms, due to the presence of both water-soluble beta-glucans and alcohol-soluble terpenoids in these mushrooms.

However in some cases, after the hot water extraction is performed, the residual mushroom material is not discarded but also used in the final product. In this case, the alcohol soluble compounds are still present in the residual mushroom material and since it is also used as a final mushroom product, there is no need to conduct a dual extraction. Therefore, both dual extracts and hot-water extracts may be utilized to create successful Reishi and Chaga mushroom products. 

Contrary to what you would expect from the term “dual,” as we’ve described above, dual extracts are not always essential and may be counterproductive for some mushroom products.

Importance of knowing the extraction process for medicinal mushroom supplements

When looking for medicinal mushroom supplements, it’s important to know what sort of extraction process is being utilized for the particular product you’re interested in purchasing. This will guarantee that you are receiving a high-quality mushroom supplement that is also effective in its intended function. If you are looking to get maximum percentage of beta-glucans out of your Cordyceps, Lion’s Mane, Turkey Tail, Shiitake, or Maitake mushrooms, you should seek a product that has hot water extract. This is due to the fact that their most essential active constituents – beta-glucans – are water soluble in nature.
However if you also want to consume the benefits of hericenones, erinacines, triterpenes (eg. ganoderic acid, lucidenic acid, betulic acid) dual extraction is best but there will be less beta-glucans.

Conclusion

Extraction is undoubtedly important for medicinal mushrooms, but it isn’t always practicable, as discussed above. Dual extraction, although a useful procedure to get the maximum compounds out of the medicinal mushrooms, may not be necessary for all mushrooms, and in certain cases, it can decrease the compounds of a mushroom extract.

Whenever possible, look for a third party lab test and Certificate of Analysis. This will give more transparency and reliability of the bioavailability of the compounds in the medicinal mushrooms. Moreover, you should be aware of the type of mushroom extract that you want to purchase and subsequently, learn their extraction processes suitable for each.

We are not a traditional society or club. World Mushroom Society is a collective of fungi enthusiasts and health advocates, sharing information and identifying top producers of high quality medicinal mushroom supplements.

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DISCLAIMER

DISCLAIMER
The information on this website is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. All information found here is not meant as a substitute for, or alternative to, information from your doctor for ongoing medical treatment you currently receive. If unsure, please consult with your doctor before using medicinal mushrooms. Any content related to cancer should not be considered as prescriptive medical advice and should not be a substitute for any cancer treatment, unless advised by your doctor first. The efficacy of these products has not been confirmed by TGA and FDA-approved research. If you are pregnant or on prescription drugs that thin the blood, consult with your medical professional before using medicinal mushrooms.
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