When it comes to the magic of medicinal mushrooms, there is no duo we trust more than Ali and Joe Banks - the founders of Forest Folk Fungi. With reciprocity and reverence as their guiding ethos, they bring to life the most efficacious and potent tincture and powder blends that harness the fruits of the forest. Creating with sustainability and deeply responsible wild foraging at the forefront, Ali offers us a glimpse into the Forest Folk world. A world full of connection, integrity, and fantastic fungi.
What inspired you and your partner, Joe, to bring Forest Folk Fungi into being?
Our very first interaction was overhearing each other talking about mushrooms. I thought, “Who is this fella talking about mushrooms and healing plants?” At the time, I had been taking my herbal creations to our local farmers markets, and when Joe and I began creating together, the mushrooms started leading the way.
What initially sparked your interest in medicinal mushrooms?
The first medicinal mushroom that I made relationship with was Reishi, and that introduction came through a friend—one of those serendipitous ‘right time, right way’ moments. The very first tincture I ever created was a dual extract with our local Ganoderma tsugae, the Hemlock Reishi. Upon reflection of my journey with plants and mushrooms, I feel that Reishi acted as a gatekeeper in my life, initiating me onto not only the mushroom path, but the plant path as well.
Mushrooms are vital to our entire ecosystem. What role do mushrooms play and why are they so important?
SO many roles! Fungi are the archetypal midwives of the woodlands—they stand at the thresholds of birth and death, helping life transform into more life through their rot and decay processes and building of fertile soil. Networks of underground fungal mycelium connect individual trees over vast distances, helping plants exchange nutrients and information—communications so profound that we can only begin to grasp the underlying intelligence.
You build a deep + intimate relationship with all the mushrooms that are a part of your blends. Could you please share more about this and how you all source your mushrooms with so much integrity?
Foraging responsibly is at the forefront of our minds, especially so when operating a business that asks the forest for her creations. A big part of being a responsible wildcrafter is really knowing the areas you’re visiting. That means returning year after year to the same places with attention and care—observing the lean years, the boons that the spring rains bring, what the drought 5 years ago was like, who else visits there, who else forages there, and on and on. This leads to intimacy with the land, friendship. We’ve chosen to stay small so that our business practices can remain true to these values, and when we source mushrooms from other folks, we make sure they are following a similar inner compass in their foraging or cultivation work.
You only use fruiting body mushrooms. Could you please explain why this is essential for the vitality + potency of your creations?
When we say “fruiting body” we mean the above ground reproductive part of the fungal organism. A bright red mushroom on the forest floor is a fruiting body connected to its underground network of mycelium. We believe in the power of ancestral and folk medicine, and it is the above ground fruiting bodies of mushrooms that our ancestors knew as food and medicine. Mycelium based mushroom products are often produced by growing out the mycelium on grain, and that grain makes it into the final product. There are complex debates about whether these grains should be considered ‘filler’ or understood as a medicine in their own right, but in the end we feel best knowing that we’re working with the mushroom’s fruiting body alone, nothing else. One exception to note, however, is that mycelium-based products are the best way to work with species whose fruiting bodies are slow-growing and rare, like Agarikon.
All of your mushrooms are dually extracted. Why is a dual extraction imperative for medicinal mushrooms?
Mushrooms contain both water soluble and alcohol soluble medicinal constituents. The water-soluble constituents are called 1-3, 1-6 beta glucans, and they are a kind of polysaccharide, which is a long-chain of sugar molecules arranged in a triple helix form. The alcohol soluble constituents in mushrooms are terpene compounds. Together, beta glucans and terpenes give mushrooms their immune system supportive qualities as well as provide unique benefits for our nervous systems, respiratory systems, and metabolic function.
Mushroom Immunity is your classic blend and unites 9 highly revered mushrooms to promote overall wellness of body, mind, and spirit. What inspired this blend and what makes it so effective (because I know, firsthand, that it is wildly efficacious!)?
So glad you like it! We wanted to create a formula that combines some of our favorite medicinal mushrooms and tastes good. If I’m going to have an everyday ritual, my preference is that it be enjoyable. Honey, cardamom, and blueberries add some sweetness and spice to the earthiness of the mushrooms.
You create phenomenal blends that unite medicinal mushrooms with plants. How do you come up with these formulas?
Formulation is about harmony (all parts singing together) and synergy (the whole is greater than the sum of its parts). We both study deeply with plants as well as fungi. Plants are so good at working within specific body systems and can help give direction to a formula. So instead of just taking lion’s mane, for example, we can add plants like rosemary to help direct both the function of the formula and its energetics.
Which Forest Folk Fungi offering is really resonating with you these days?
I’m really loving our Guardian Throat Spray. It feels like a protective shield that is soothing and comforting. The secret bonus is that a lot of the aromatic plants that make it so effective are also deeply relaxing, so I feel supported in more ways than one.
How do you start and end your days?
We start our day gently, with tea and meditation or quiet conversation on our front porch overlooking our garden. I’m in a deep love affair with Camellia sinensis and look forward to this time of tuning in with her medicine and teachings. In the evenings, we usually cook dinner together (shout out to the zucchini plants in our garden who are feeding us so well right now), then either read, make music, watch a film, or take a walk down the quiet road we live on.
For someone looking to go into nature to wildcraft mushrooms and/or plants, what is a piece of advice you’d offer on their journey?
Start slow, practice patience, and focus on reciprocity and making relationship.
What is one of the greatest lessons you’ve learned from our fungal friends?
This planet is a temple of healing for the deep reclamation of our wholeness and joy. All is love. Balance in our minds, bodies, and spirits is possible and available to us.
Could you please share a recipe using one of your blends?
I love our Equanimity Elixir added to a cup of tea. I’ve also included it in desserts—on top of ice cream or fruit and blended into maple-sweetened frosting.
Here’s a delicious non-dairy ice cream recipe incorporating Equanimity Elixir: Reishi + Rose Coconut Ice Cream
Soak 7 ounces of pitted dates in 1 can of full-fat coconut milk overnight. Add 6 dropperfuls of Equanimity Elixir and use a blender to blend everything until smooth. Pour mixture into a loaf pan and freeze for a few hours. Leave at room temperature for 10-20 minutes before scooping and serving. This recipe comes from Kindearth.net.
And what is a word (or a few words) to describe each mushroom’s spirit + energy…
Chaga: deeply protective, like the bonfire at the center of a camp in winter, coalescing
Cordyceps: lively, yang, solar/Martian, upward and outward moving
Lion’s Mane: cooling, connecting, lunar, synthesis and reflection
Maitake: grandmother/grandfather protection, quiet and strong support
Reishi: ancient, calming troubled seas, light-bringer, balance, release, letting go
Shiitake: warming, nourishment, deep relational ties to humankind, lifelong partner
Turkey Tail: child-like wonder, inner freshness, hope, optimism, lightening burdens
Photo courtesy of Forest Folk Fungi