High Desert Nectar x The Loving Fungi/Heart in the Hands
Spring has arrived but mushroom foraging in the Pacific Northwest is the true “season” here in Oregon. As we celebrate our close proximity and abundance to the many medicinal mushrooms local to this region, I have collaborated with a friend and Founder of two mushroom companies built upon the mystery and awe of mushrooms: The Loving Fungi and Heart in the Hands. Willis Mitchell, a Bend local and healing advocate, has a true passion for mushrooms that runs as deep and wide as the mycelium network on which we live. Willis is an avid mushroom forager, medicine maker and healing in our community. To purchase our first formulated product, shop here. To learn more about our collaboration and Willis's deep knowledge of mushrooms, read on and you may be tempted to incorporate mushrooms into your lifestyle one way or another.
Part I: A Conversation about Mycology with Willis Mitchell
HDN: Mycology is the study of mushrooms. What is mycology to you and how has it impacted your life?
WM: Mycology to me is ridiculously expansive. We have identified not even a third of existing species of fungi that inhabit this planet. You can’t just dip your toes into the subject as it becomes all-encompassing once you move beyond the surface level information. I feel like there is no end to what I can learn from studying these beings, and for me that is thrilling. The study of mushrooms and their effects has opened up my eyes to a deeper understanding of how the planet has come to be. This subject has taken my life down a road where I feel a deep level of love and connection to them, one that has me in the passenger seat as I work alongside them for the benefit of humanity. This feels amazing to me, as I have faith that wherever this takes me, it will be in a place of service to the planet and humanity as a whole - I’m truly grateful to have my passions aligned with my work in this way.
HDN: Tell us about your journey into this world of mycology? How do you "study" mycology?
WM: I remember being around 13 when I bought a hat that had a smiling mushroom on it that said “fungi to be with” and I absolutely loved it - I wore it until it fell apart. The hat aside - I have always been intrigued by nature and spent most of my childhood outside in trees, along streams, and in lakes and mountains. My love of the natural world led me directly into the arms of mushrooms. My preferable way of studying is finding mushrooms in the field or working with them directly for medicines and pulling one of the many books I own to study each one as they come forward into my consciousness. This alongside sitting with them, tasting them, and feeling them gives me a well rounded connection to each one I work with.
HDN: What do you find most fascinating about mushrooms? Do you have "favorites" and why?
WM: There are so many things I find fascinating about them - here are a few…. They are our ancient ancestors, the oldest known fossil of a mushroom back dates all plant life by hundreds of millions of years. They created the soil that gave opportunity for all other life to begin. Spores exist in space and travel all over the universe. The mycelial network that runs under our feet connects all plant life in a type of “internet” that sends information and shares resources. They create meadows by overtaking trees, and create forests by decomposing matter and creating fertile soil. The largest living being on this planet is a honey fungus that reaches over 2.4 miles. Spores are in every breath we take. They are the reason we have beer, bread, cheese and kombucha. Morel mushrooms are the most protein dense substance you can put in your mouth. We have receptors in our bodies designed specifically for them. Part of the reason they work so well as medicines in our bodies is that the genetic composition of mushrooms is actually more similar to humans than plants. For example, when mushrooms are exposed to sunlight they can produce vitamin D - just like humans.
I have many favorites! all of the tasty ones :D I truly love to eat all of the choice wild edibles - King and Queen Boletes are at the top of my list. For medicinal fungi I have been captivated by the properties of each one. My favorite medicinal to find is Oregon Reishi - as these are a rare find and something I use regularly in my beverages, capsules or tinctures.
HDN: What have mushrooms taught you?
WM: Mushrooms have guided me towards understanding the importance of our interconnectedness to nature and to one another. Consider the symbiotic relationship that these elements in nature have to one another and how Mushrooms and mycelium live harmoniously by sharing resources and information openly so that all life may thrive. We have a beautiful opportunity to look closely at these communities and see how we can recreate the format in our own societies and culture. Looking closely and understanding their role in decomposition of dead matter - we see that they play one of the most important roles in our ecosystem - that of transfiguration of waste into base elements that our soil, plants and bodies need to survive and thrive.
I see these beings as ancient teachers of death and rebirth - the dark night of the soul. They exist in nature to do just this. And when we ingest them, they help us process (liver, kidneys) physical waste into base elements. Similarly, with the use of Psilocybin I see them as helping us process what is no longer needed in our mental/emotional warehouse. It brings to the surface that which is ready to be seen and transmuted. There are many gifts in this process - our greatest traumas and challenges in life get broken down to their constituents and we are able to see them as our greatest gifts and opportunities to know ourselves, and in effect, know everyone else on a very deep level. The process of death-rebirth is a constant theme with the Fungi world, and it has taught me that the process of death is much more beautiful than what our modern society and culture has deemed it to be.
Mushrooms have taught me that we have everything we need to live a whole, balanced life. They have led me to a stronger connection to the earth, the trees, the water and the animals as well as my own self. I am forever grateful for the many gifts that my connection to this realm has brought to me.
HDN: Have you had any significant teachers in your life that have influenced your fascination with mushrooms? If so, who and why?
WM: I am forever grateful for a close friend taking me out into the old growth forests of Northern California many years ago and teaching me about the numerous edible mushrooms of the area - from that moment I was awestruck and infatuated with the world of fungi and began my insatiable quest to learn more about them. I am essentially self taught with the off-hand podcast and lecture that i’ve attended. Paul Stamets being the poster boy for the increase of popularity in mushroom knowledge based on his Books and Ted talks has been a reliable source of information throughout my journey. I would suggest his two podcasts he guested on with Joe Rogan as a good resource for beginners and enthusiasts alike. Beginner Foragers might enjoy “all that the rain promises and more” - pocket guide. Also check out Fantastic Fungi documentary if you haven’t yet! Fabulous work of art!
HDN: What is the difference between medicinal mushrooms and "magic mushrooms?"
WM: Well pretty much all edible fungi have some medicinal quality to them as they all contain many different chemical compounds & polysaccharides that can be beneficial to the human body. The psychoactive ingredients in some fungi (such as psilocybin and psilocin) are what separate the beneficial fungi from the “Magic” ones. There are more than 200 species of mushroom that produce these compounds that we know of. They have been used by indigenous peoples for centuries in healing ceremonies, and possibly as far back as the age of homo-erectus (see “Stoned Ape Theory”).
I personally do not mind that the term “magic mushrooms” is used for psychoactive fungi as I feel the phrase is valuable and elicits a certain sense of awe. Psilocybin is quite magical to those who have experienced it - unique to each individual and yet oddly similar in some of its effects. Guaranteeing that you will see and feel and hear exactly what you need to - and never know what to expect - that is pretty “magical” to me.
HDN: Why is Measure 109 such a significant milestone?
WM: Measure 109 is monumental in its effect of legalizing Psilocybin assisted therapy for those suffering from anxiety, depression, PTSD, trauma and many other conditions that are prevalent in our current society. This Measure passing recently in Oregon gives our society as a whole an opportunity to reverse our conditioning towards Psilocybin as something to be feared to that of a safe medicine for those seeking healing outside what has been available through mainstream medicine. This brings the spotlight back into the realm of natural medicines and their ability to help us heal deep traumas and live a healthy, balanced life - some of us for the first time in years. Psilocybin therapy has been a prevalent healing force in my own life and of friends, family and clients alike. I have witnessed it transform the lives of people suffering from so many different conditions such as Lymes, MS, Early onset Alzheimers, Tinitus, Anxiety and symptoms of depression to name a few.
This paired with the Measure 110 that passed at the same time - which decriminalizes personal amounts of drugs/medicines and instead gives those in possession a fine and mandatory therapy - is an amazing opportunity for us to move away from the ineffective system that has been putting non violent offenders in prison, and instead get them the help they need.
I couldn’t be happier to live in a state that is progressive in its views on both of these issues. Both are important measures that give us back our freedom to explore our consciousness in a healthy manner that is our birthright. We have lived closely with the land and natural medicines for centuries and used them to aid us in healing and our connection to the earth. I feel that this is a time of remembering and that these natural medicines are here to aid us in our growth.
To purchase our medicinal mushroom tincture, be sure to shop it here.
For more information and product updates, follow @thelovingfungi and @heartinthehands on instagram & Heart in the Hands Medicinals are available through my website heartinthehands.com/store. My Loving Fungi beverages are available for local order with delivery/pickup through TheLovingFungi@gmail.com. You can find My Loving Fungi elixirs stocked at Central Oregon Locavore and soon to be Thump Coffee in Bend, OR.