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Couple promotes medical benefits of mushrooms

Mushroom foragers and growers Tom and Margaret Painter prepare their mushroom tinctures in their home. Seb Foltz/Butler Eagle

BRADY TWP — Tom and Margaret Painter are mushroom evangelists.

Through their company, Foraged With Faith, they preach the medical benefits of the tinctures they extract from mushrooms they grow at home and harvest in the wild.

And they use their sales of mushroom remedies to spread the word of God through their Mushroom Ministries.

The Painters credit God with guiding them to their new career.

Margaret said up until two years ago she was practically bedridden after a decade’s battle with lupus and multiple sclerosis.

Lion’s mane mushroom (Hericium erinaceaus) growing in the basement of Tom Painter. Seb Foltz/Butler Eagle 05/05/22

“God put all these mushrooms into our path for healing,” she said. “I was a vegetable for 10 years. I couldn’t do anything. I was basically bedridden, waiting to die.”

“I prayed for a change. I said, ‘Lord heal me or cure me,’” she said.

Tom said his wife’s illnesses were taking a toll on him as well.

Because he was powerless to change his wife’s condition, Tom said he tried to hide the reality of the situation from himself.

“I became an alcoholic. I was working obscene hours, anything I could do to hide,” he said. Finally, the Painters said they both heard God telling them what to do.

The message, they said, was “heal my people.”

After that Margaret said she was able to get out of bed.

Tom Painter explains his mushroom growing process in a downstairs grow room in his house Thursday. Seb Foltz/Butler Eagle

Health benefits

A chance meeting with Adam Haritan in the woods at McConnells Mill State Park led Tom to Haritan’s website, Learn Your Land.

Margaret said she bought her husband an 88-part cybercourse in mycology, or the study of mushrooms.

Different mushrooms grow on different trees and have different medicinal properties.

Tom said their health benefits were known to healers in the Far East for centuries. Different mushrooms promote different benefits.

For instance, he said, lion’s mane promotes healthy brain function and neuron generation while the cordycep mushroom is thought to boost energy and increase lung capacity. Reishi mushrooms are thought to support the immune system, promote restful sleep and a calm mind, and reduce occasional stress and restlessness.

“Holistic and natural-path doctors know their benefits,” Tom said. “Mushrooms draw toxins out of the earth. They clean the earth. They do the same thing to the body.”

The Painters set out to gather wild mushrooms on foraging forays into the woods of Western Pennsylvania and surrounding states. They said mushroom-gathering season lasts from May to October, and they forage from 50 to 60 hours a week.

Dried mushrooms at the home of grower and forager Tom Painter. Seb Foltz/Butler Eagle 05/05/22

But the wild supply was soon outstripped by the demand for their tinctures.

Now, their home is part mushroom farm and part laboratory. In a 10-by-12-foot room in their basement cordoned off by plastic sheeting and filled with a misty humidity, Tom grows lion’s mane mushrooms.

Tom said not enough of it grows in the wild, so he grows lion’s mane from spores in bags of hardwood sawdust combined with a wheat bran mixture under conditions of 92% humidity.

It’s in demand because lion’s mane is thought to provide protection from dementia, reduce mild symptoms of anxiety and depression, and help repair nerve damage.

It also has strong anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and immune-boosting abilities.

The lion’s mane and other mushrooms the Painters gather in their foraging trips to McConnells Mill and Allegheny National Forest are then sun dried, dehydrated and ground and mixed with sterile water, and cooked for 2.5 to 3 hours at 192 degrees, just below water’s boiling point. The mixture then is filtered multiple times and combined with alcohol, glycerin or vinegar and bottled in a 1-, 2- or 4-oz. container equipped with an eye dropper.

Tom Painter shows a Chuga mushroom sample. Seb Foltz/Butler Eagle 05/05/22

Tom recommends putting a drop of mushroom tincture under the tongue twice a day for the most efficient results.

The Painters credit reishi and chaga mushroom extract with getting Margaret out of bed and walking up to 10 miles a day.

In addition to the different mushroom tinctures, the Painters also produce pet products and a skin cream.

And, before anyone asks, no, the Painters said they do not traffic in hallucinogenic or psychedelic mushrooms.

The products are sold online at their website, and the Painters also travel to fairs, festivals and home shows to bring their product and their message to the public.

Tom said it’s really not that unlikely that mushrooms provide such health benefits to people.

“If you test our DNA, you will find that we share 30% of our DNA with mushrooms,” he said.

Mushroom grower Tom Painter. Seb Foltz/Butler Eagle 05/05/22
Lion’s mane mushroom (Hericium erinaceaus) grows in the Painters basement. Seb Foltz/Butler Eagle