299: Mushrooms


Mushrooms are generally known to be a delicious addition to our dishes. But did you know there’s more to mushrooms than that? Mushroom expert Jeff Chilton is our guest on this episode. He will explain how mushrooms can be used as medicine, help the body to prevent cancer, make as extracts, drink, capsules, as well as boost our immune system.

Growing Up

Jeff Chilton grew up in Seattle where it rains so much. He remembers during the fall season, the place where he lived had lots of mushrooms everywhere. So, he used to go on mushroom hunts when he was younger.

When Jeff Chilton got into university, his field of study was not about mushrooms. Despite that, he researched the use of mushrooms in indigenous cultures worldwide as well as the use of mushrooms in shamanism. Eventually, he took courses in his college about the study of mushrooms which is ethnomycology.

Working At A Farm

After college, Jeff Chilton decided to work on a mushroom farm and learn how to grow mushrooms. He went to Olympia, Washington, applied for a job and eventually got a job working at a big mushroom farm.  During the next decade, he became the production manager, responsible for the cultivation of over 2 million pounds of Agaricus mushrooms per year.

On this farm he worked on, they had a program using specific chemicals at certain times during the crop to avoid molds attacking the mushrooms, especially with Agaricus mushrooms. Mushrooms in North America are grown indoors in huge warehouses, so it’s a monoculture.

Understanding Mushrooms

Jeff Chilton says mushrooms are a reproductive structure of an organism that we usually don’t see. They don’t have seeds. The mushroom will produce a spore; the spore will go out and land on the ground and germinate into a very fine thread-like filament.

“Those filaments from different spores will fuse and form a network. The network is called mycelium which creates a lot of the soil out there used to grow our crops and plants. They are recyclers and important for our ecosystem,” explains Jeff Chilton.

When he was working on that large farm, they put in four new crops every week. Every crop was producing 20,000 pounds of mushrooms. They had mushrooms in every stage of development.

Choosing from among the various kinds of mushroom, Jeff Chilton highly recommends highly-certified organic Agaricus mushrooms in particular. There are so many other species that are good, but he says shiitake mushrooms is the one that everybody should be eating because it has so many great benefits.

Deeper Research

Jeff Chilton just started to delve into the literature deeper about growing mushrooms and all the different species that could be grown. He was also learning about the medicinal benefits of mushrooms. Certain mushrooms were used in traditional Chinese medicine.

From 1979 to 1983, Jeff Chilton worked with three other men. They put together mushroom conferences in the Northwest. Furthermore, the group organized two well-attended conferences in Washington State and two in Oregon. The conferences had experts from all over the country talking about how to identify mushrooms, how to cook mushrooms and Jeff Chilton spoke on how to cultivate mushrooms.

A New Chapter

Jeff Chilton also co-authored a book on mushroom cultivation in 1983 called The Mushroom Cultivator: A Practical Guide of Growing Mushrooms At Home. That was the year that he finally left the mushroom farm in Olympia and started his own business.

Then in 1989, Jeff Chilton made his very first trip to China for an international mushroom conference. That was also the year he established his new business, Nammex.

Nammex is a business that introduced medicinal mushroom extracts in powder form to the US nutritional supplement industry. At that time, no other company thought of using a medicinal mushroom in their product line. Jeff Chilton also reveals that his company tests every batch of each product they make.

Medicinal Mushrooms

Jeff Chilton traveled extensively in China during the 1990’s, attending conferences and visiting research facilities and mushroom farms. He eventually saw that in Asia, farmers were growing at least 12 different mushrooms for food and more for medicinal purposes.

“Medicinal mushrooms, in general, are one of the best things you can use regarding prevention. That’s why they call it the tonic herb. A tonic herb is something you can take regularly. It works on your body as a whole. It’s an herb that helps you maintain certain homeostasis. It brings harmony to our body,” said Jeff Chilton. 

Mushrooms do not have a lot of calories.  According to Jeff Chilton, mushrooms are 10 to 40% protein. Button mushrooms are close to 40% protein.

On the other hand, Shiitake mushrooms are 20% protein. Jeff Chilton says it has a good complement of the essential amino acids. It is also high in high-quality carbohydrates which is mostly what a mushroom is made up.

Busting Myths

There is an impression that an extract means that you are isolating something out of the natural product and leaving everything else behind. Jeff Chilton says that is just not true. The way Jeff Chilton’s company makes it is that they make sure the extract has the same profile as the material itself.

“If you talk to people who make their extracts, they are essentially taking everything out of that plant or mushroom. And their extract will have a profile that is just the same as the actual material,” said Jeff Chilton. “Nothing is being lost if the extract is made properly. In traditional Chinese medicine, hot water extraction is how they process their herbs.”

He adds, “Mushrooms are also high in fiber. They are digested more in our intestine than our stomach. In effect, mushrooms are feeding our microbiome.”

Alpha-Glucan Vs. Beta Glucan

Jeff Chilton says alpha glucan is starch. And a beta glucan is very different from an alpha-glucan. He says mushrooms have no starch, but they produce glycogen just like humans. Their storage carbohydrate is glycogen. Not like plants where the storage carbohydrates are starch.

“Most mushrooms are 25 to 60% beta glucan. And they have no starch. But the glycogen content is somewhere around one or two percent,” shares Jeff Chilton.

 Not A Quick Fix

Mushrooms in general, are there to work pretty much in the background. Jeff Chilton says it’s not an instant fix at all for something. So, if you’re taking mushrooms regularly and if you’re eating mushrooms, then they’re going to go to work for you.

“The top-selling mushroom supplement product in North America is myceliated grain. There’s a really interesting compound in mushrooms called ergosterol,” Jeff Chilton explains. “Ergosterol is in all fungi, and it is a pro-vitamin D2. The myceliated grain products have one-tenth the amount of ergosterol they should have. That’s because there is very little fungal matter. So basically, you’re just getting a starch supplement.”

Jeff Chilton furthermore explains that mushrooms are 90% water like most vegetables. When you dry out the mushroom, the supplements are dry. They’re not fresh.

“As a mushroom grower, I know the economics. Back in the 90s, I realized I couldn’t grow mushrooms in North America and sell them as supplements because it is too expensive,” said Jeff Chilton.

The Best Mushrooms

Jeff Chilton says China produces 85% of the world’s mushrooms. And Asia consumes so much reishi mushrooms. Reishi mushrooms from China are shipped to Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and Southeast Asia. Plus, they’re consuming a lot of it in China itself.

“Mushrooms are organisms that consume agricultural waste products. Most medicinal mushrooms are wood decomposers. If you want your mushrooms to produce those compounds that are so important, they need the precursors that are in that wood,” said Jeff Chilton.

Mushroom Supplements

Some people may not like the bitter flavor, so Jeff Chilton says it’s better to take it in capsule form. He says in other products like reishi coffee; you will always be getting only a small amount of the actual mushroom. Because it will have other things in there that will dilute that.

“To me, the reishi coffee thing is like a gimmick. I put a reishi extract in my coffee instead,” said Jeff Chilton. “Reishi also has a compound called triterpenoids. Triterpenoids are good for your liver, and it helps the liver purify your blood. Research has also shown that it can kill certain types of tumor cells.” 

He adds, “Nobody out there in the industry can do true clinical trials. There’s so much information we have about any herbal product is mostly anecdotal. It’s difficult to get clinical trial information because it’s so expensive.”

Jeff Chilton says there was this one study which comprised monitoring nine people. The study cost four million dollars!

Website Resources

Aside from Jeff Chilton’s official website Nammex, he encourages people to join societies where they could teach you all about mushrooms. Jeff Chilton’s site includes links of mushroom articles as well as his podcast guestings.

On his other website Real Mushrooms, you’ll get access to his blog and online shop as well as delicious recipes about mushrooms.

“People need to look at mushrooms as this wonderful world of fungi that can be part of your life and diet, medicinal regimen. Look at it positively. Mushrooms are a fabulous kingdom of organisms that we should get more acquainted with,” said Jeff Chilton.


Jeff Chilton, raised in Pacific Northwest, studied ethnomycology at the University of Washington in the late sixties. In 1973 he started work on a commercial mushroom farm in Olympia, Washington. During the next ten years, he became the production manager, responsible for the cultivation of over 2 million pounds of Agaricus mushrooms per year.

He was also involved in the research and development of shiitake, oyster and enoki mushrooms which resulted in the earliest US fresh Shiitake sales in 1978. 

In the late seventies, Jeff Chilton was a founder of Mycomedia, which held four mushroom conferences in the Pacific Northwest. These educational conferences brought together educators and experts in mushroom identification, ethnomycology, and mushroom cultivation. During this period Jeff co-authored the highly acclaimed book, The Mushroom Cultivator, which was published in 1983. 

In the 1980’s, Jeff Chilton operated a mushroom spawn business, and in 1989 he started Nammex, a business that introduced medicinal mushrooms to the US nutritional supplement industry. He traveled extensively in China during the 1990’s, attending conferences and visiting research facilities and mushroom farms. In 1997 he organized the first organic mushroom production seminar in China. 

A founding member of the World Society for Mushroom Biology and Mushroom Products in 1994 and a Member of the International Society for Mushroom Science, Jeff Chilton’s company, was the first to offer a complete line of Certified Organic mushroom extracts to the US nutritional supplement industry. Nammex extracts are used by many supplement companies and are noted for their high quality based on scientific analysis of the active compounds.

Get Connected With Jeff Chilton!


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Book by Jeff Chilton:

The Mushroom Cultivator

Recommended Reading by Jeff Chilton:

Medicinal Mushrooms by Christopher Hobbs

Recommended link:

Episode 242 – Eating Right – Dr. Joel Fuhrman

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