I am thrilled to bring you this conversation about the health benefits of reishi mushroom with Asia Suler. In this interview, Asia shares reishi through a beautiful lens. If you aren't already welcoming reishi into your life, her sharing will probably inspire you to do so.
As you’ll see, I just finished reading her book, Mirrors in the Earth, which I absolutely loved and highly recommend.
Also, don’t miss out on getting a free printable recipe card for Asia’s super-yummy and medicinal Reishi Maple Truffles.
By the end of this episode, you’ll know:
► What makes reishi so unique in the way it supports our immune system
► How nature connection can be so powerfully healing
► Why you shouldn’t buy *whole* dried reishi
For those of you who don't already know Asia, she is a writer, teacher, herbalist and earth intuitive who lives in the folds of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Asia is the founder of One Willow Apothecaries, an Appalachian-grown company that offers handcrafted herbal medicines and educational experiences in herbalism, animism, ancestral healing and earth-centered personal growth. Asia has guided over 20,000 students in 70+ countries through her immersive online programs. With her writings and teachings, Asia helps people embrace their own unique medicine through a joyful engagement with the natural world. Asia’s first book, Mirrors in the Earth: Reflections on Self-Healing from the Living World, is available now.
I've been seeing Asia's powerful herbal and healing offerings out in the world for years now. It was such a delight to finally meet her and I’m so happy to share our conversation with you today.
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In a separate bowl, combine ground pecans (or nuts of choice), coconut flakes, and cacao powder until well mixed.
Rosalee de la Forêt:
Hello and welcome to the Herbs with Rosalee podcast, a show exploring how herbs heal as medicine, as food, and through nature connection. I'm your host, Rosalee de la Foret. I created this YouTube channel to share trusted herbal wisdom so that you can get the best results when relying on herbs for your health. I love offering up practical knowledge to help you dive deeper into the world of medicinal plants and seasonal living.
Each episode of the Herbs with Rosalee podcast is shared on YouTube, as well as your favorite podcast app. Also, in the video description, you'll find other helpful resources. For example, to get my best herbal tips, as well as fun bonuses, be sure to sign up for my weekly herbal newsletter at the bottom of this page. Okay, grab your cup of tea and let's dive in.
I am thrilled to bring you this conversation with Asia Suler. I've been seeing Asia's powerful herbal and healing offerings out in the world for years now, and it was a delight to finally meet her and spend some time together. As you'll see, I just finished reading her book, Mirrors in the Earth, which I absolutely loved and I highly recommend. In this interview, Asia shares reishi through a beautiful lens. If you aren't already welcoming reishi into your life, her sharing will probably inspire you to do so.
Asia is a writer, teacher, herbalist, and earth intuitive who lives in the folds of the Blue Ridge Mountains. She is the founder of One Willow Apothecaries, an Appalachian grown company that offers handcrafted herbal medicines and educational experiences in herbalism, animism, ancestral healing, and earth-centered personal growth. Asia has guided over 20,000 students in 70+ countries through her immersive online programs. With her writings and teachings, Asia helps people embrace their own unique medicine through a joyful engagement with the natural world. Asia's first book, Mirrors in the Earth: Reflections on Self Healing From the Living World, is available now.
Welcome to the podcast, Asia.
Oh, Rosalee, thank you so much for having me here. It's an honor.
Rosalee de la Forêt:
Oh, it's my pleasure to have you here, and I'm very happy to finally meet you after all of these years of following your work and getting to know you through the online world. Thank you for taking the time to be here with us.
Yeah, well, I feel very much the same.
Rosalee de la Forêt:
Well, I'd love to start where we always begin, which is hearing your plant path, your plant story, and all that has come to bring you here with us today.
I love hearing people's stories, so I'm so glad you always ask this question and I'm happy to share my story. When I was in my late teens, I was diagnosed with a chronic pain condition of the pelvic bowl called vulvodynia. And at the time, what I like to say is that the world inside my body was so uncomfortable it pushed me outside. I was in college at the time, and anyone who's ever dealt with any kind of chronic pain condition, chronic illness, knows this experience of often feeling invisible. What you're dealing with is just not seen or recognized by the people you're around. Especially being in college, I felt like I was having a very different experience than a lot of the people around me. Yet, when I went out into the woods and when I sat with the trees and the herbs and lounged by the creek, I felt seen, I felt held, and I felt hope.
So I started going out and being with nature because I didn't know what else to do. It was my solace, it was my safe space, and especially when I was told that this would probably be pain I'd live with for the rest of my life and there was really nothing I could do besides get surgery to remove nerve endings from my body. It was really through being with the plants that I started to feel and have this sense that there was another way to go about things. That maybe this Western medical model wasn't the only model out there, that there was other possibilities for me and healing. This was before I knew any plant names or could really ID any plants at all. I made up my own names for plants and trees. I recognized them as individuals, but I didn't know their names.
For me, it really began from this heart to heart, emotional and spiritual level of connecting with the plants. I was eventually able to actually heal from this chronic pain condition through a variety of alternative modalities. But it was really through connecting with the plants that I saw that possibility and that hope. I could see the way in which even when a tree fell, that wasn't the end of the life in that part of the forest. That new flowers came forth, new saplings could spring up. I thought, "Well, if nature can heal anything, then so can I."
I ended up after college moving to New York City and I was like, "I just want any job I can get that's working with plants." I got the only job I could find, which was working as a plant technician, which is a fancy name for someone who waters office plants. I had my giant duffle on the subway with my watering can, and I went from midtown to Times Square to the financial district, and I watered plants in these office buildings, but it was my tether, my connection to these plants and to the green and living world. I woke up early for this job. One morning I woke up before I did the commute, and I just had this thought in my head which was, "I want to go to school to be an herbalist."
Looking back now, I realize that I think I thought I knew what that was, being an herbalist, but I really had no idea. It was just this idea that fell out of nowhere. I was like, "Yeah, that. I'm going to do that." I ended up interviewing for herbal schools and moved down to the mountains of Western North Carolina in the Blue Ridge where I now live, to go to the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine. I still remember that first day so clearly. We had a potluck lunch and I was sitting at the potluck lunch and it slowly dawned on me that I was like, "Oh my gosh, I know nothing." We went around and was like, "What's your favorite plant? Oh, what tinctures have you made?" I was like, "I don't even know what a tincture is. I've never even made a loose leaf tea before. I don't know how to do this."
Yeah, it was humbling, but also amazing to look back because for me, I was just passionate about the plants. I wanted to get to know them. I wanted to have these relationships, I wanted to learn about them. I wanted to have them in my life and to be in their lives. Even though it was humbling and hard, I still came at it from just this place of passionate enthusiasm. I'm here to learn and that's still how I feel, I'm a lifelong learner. That's how my formal study of herbs began.
After I graduated from school, I ended up starting to see clients as a practitioner relationship and started in more of a traditional clinical setting, looking at whole health and then really eventually got more into mentorship and really working with people, more of an emotional spiritual level with plants and started teaching. Everything has evolved from that point. But what's been really neat to witness is just, the more I evolve and change and get older, the more my relationship with the plants just continues to evolve and change and inform each new layer of my life and my experience. Each time I'm a new beginner on something, which is still all the time, the plants are always there to hold me in that.
Rosalee de la Forêt:
That's beautiful, Asia. Some things that stick out to me is one, that you were called to the plants through your own healing process and just being outside and that connection. Then I loved how you were just like, "Well, I'll be a herbalist. I'll go to herbal school," and that you didn't know a thing. I was the same way. The first class I ever took was on how to make oils, and the instructor started talking about plantain. I had lived in the Dominican Republic, so I thought it was the fruit that you eat. She was talking about it and I was, "Really, plantain?" She was like, "Oh yeah, it grows in the driveway." I was like, "Really? Wow!" I had that same thing of just I didn't know a thing. But I think it's so important to share that. I mean, you probably hear this too as a teacher, people think, "Oh, it's too late. I should have learned when I was younger," et cetera. But it's just like we always start from this base level, and it really is passion and enthusiasm and the calling of the plants that keeps bringing us forth.
Yeah, so much so and I see this over and over again that often for people there is some sort of call and it can come out of a moment of real crisis. Whether it's a loss or a health crisis or just being in a really hard place and feeling like your life is falling apart. From that crux of that moment, there's this clarion call and it's so beautiful to witness how, I feel like this is nature calling us back home again and again and again. The plants are really, they're messengers and they're gatekeepers for us, and they're asking us to come back into relationships. I love hearing everyone's individual stories of how they've been called because it's just such a special and precious thing.
Rosalee de la Forêt:
It is, yes, thank you.
Well, Asia, you have chosen the first mushroom to be on the podcast, which I am so excited for. Leading up to this, I was just laughing to myself about how there are some people out there who really want the definition of herbs to be herbaceous plants that die back every year. But for the herbalist, we're like, "Plants, mushrooms, whatever, tree bark. It's all herbs to us." I'm very excited that you've chosen reishi and I'm excited to hear to start with, just why reishi spoke to you to speak about today.
Yeah, thank you for allowing me to talk about a mushroom on the podcast. That was something I remember realizing when I first started out in herbalism too. I'm like, "Oh, it's all herbalism." I thank reishi for letting me call them a herb. I chose reishi because this is a mushroom that I have a really profound relationship with and a deep relationship with. I really only like talking about plants that I have a deep relationship with and that also feel to me important for this time.
There's a story I want to share in a little bit about why I feel like this mushroom in particular is really speaking to us right now and why it's really come to the center of my practice and even my creativity practice where my inspiration is at. Reishi, if anyone is not familiar with reishi, is a mushroom that has a very long history of use. As much as we know, over 4,000 years of documented use in China and Japan. In Chinese medicine, it's called lingzhi, which means spirit plant. Another name for reishi was mushroom of immortality. When you start looking at the health benefits of reishi, you can begin to see why this was such a prized medicine. Before it was cultivated, it was reserved for royalty, for the emperor. Then they figured out how to cultivate it and it came available to the masses. But it was a highly prized medicine as something that helps nourish the chi and the blood.
Now in the Western world, there's been a lot of studies with reishi, so we have this interesting way in which these two worlds can meet. The ancient knowledge and folkloric knowledge and highly practiced knowledge and Western clinical studies.
Here are the things that we know about reishi and its medicinal uses in the body and one of the reasons why it's so well known these days. Reishi, it's considered both an immune tonic and an immunomodulator. This is a pretty special combination. Immune tonic means that it's strengthening your natural immunity, it's something you can take longterm, versus a herb that might stimulate our immune system for the short term, which is helpful. Something like echinacea. With reishi as an immune tonic, you can take it longterm and it won't cause an over activeness or hyper activeness in our immune system because of its qualities as an immunomodulator. What that means is that it helps our immune system meet whatever is coming its way.
For example, if you have an autoimmune condition, reishi can help your immune system modulate itself so that yes, you're increasing your innate immunity to outside pathogens, but you're not jacking up your immune system so that then it's triggering this autoimmune condition. Which to me feels like such important medicine for the times because it seems like almost all of us have some variance of some autoimmune stuff going on. Whether it's an actual autoimmune condition or whether it's just something like allergies. That we have often these hyperactive immune systems because of the environments that we've grown up in and what we've been exposed to.
So having a medicine that can help both increase our immunity and also help our immune system be really smart is really an invaluable thing. Reishi's also considered an adaptogen. Adaptogens have gotten a really big reputation. It's like, "Take this adaptogen and you'll have endless energy," but really adaptogens, they're really about your body becoming more adaptable. Yes, it's about learning how to meet stress and not have it take down your system as much, but it's really about learning that flexibility. We can see that within the immune system with reishi.
There's that component of reishi and a lot of the ways in which people also know of and work with reishi in a wider context or in more mainstream culture, is knowing about reishi as something that actually has cancer-inhibiting properties, as well as properties that help support people through chemotherapy. It's become a popular remedy for folks who are dealing with cancer or moving through chemotherapy. Obviously, that's a really important medicine for our times. Alongside that, in Chinese medicine, reishi was really prized for its interaction with our heart and our lungs. In Chinese medicine, the heart and the lungs, they're a little bit more of a combined system than we think of it in Western medicine.
In this way of thinking and what we know from a medical perspective is that reishi can actually improve coronary artery flow, it lowers cholesterol, it can help our lungs actually have more oxygen capacity, which living in the times that we live right now, that seems really important. One of its sort of traditional indications was shortness of breath. In Chinese medicine, the lungs, they're very associated with grief. We often think of the heart as associated with grief in the Western world, but from a Chinese medicine perspective, grief is housed in the lungs. It's something that I ask myself when I tend to have respiratory illnesses come up, which I tend to be prone to, is asking myself, "What grief am I processing? What grief am I holding here? What grief am I trying to release?" It is used for things like asthma and allergies and stuff like that.
But if we look at it from this Chinese perspective, we see that this effect on our heart and our lungs is really multidimensional. There's even more I can talk about with the properties of reishi and what we know of in the Western world, but I want to just take a moment and shift into talking about reishi's affinity for our hearts because this is really what it comes down to for why I love this mushroom so much and why I think it's so powerful for this time. In Chinese medicine, reishi is considered to be something that helps nourish our heart so our shen can settle. Shen, from a Chinese perspective, just to simplify a little bit, shen is almost this concept of the spirit and the soul. We have a big Shen, a capital S, that's the light that we come from. And then we have our little shen that lives inside of our heart, almost like our individual soul, individuating from spirit and coming to live inside of our bodies.
From a Chinese medical perspective, when the shen, our soul, is disrupted, when it's not settled inside of our hearts, we can have what's called shen disorders, which looks like things like mood disorders, anxiety disorders, irritability, insomnia, restlessness. I look at all this and I think, "Okay, we are suffering from shen disturbance en masse in this world." Basically all these things that we list as shen disturbance is something that most people I know, myself included, experience.
The concept here is that reishi actually helps nourish our heart so much that it expands our shen, it allows this individual light that is us, that came here in this lifetime to ignite the body and bring our soul to life, that it helps that part of us feel safe here, feel grounded here. We know, looking at trauma and what we understand about trauma, that part of what happens is we disconnect from our body, that we lift up and out, that it doesn't feel safe to be here, so we pop out. Which is a really smart mechanism to deal with a charge that's too intense to experience in that moment.
Yet, I think that the task of our lifetime here on the planet right now is to come back into embodiment, to get that shen settled again inside of ourselves so that we can be here for this journey. We can be embodied in full heart and soul. It's something that I've thought a lot about, but if we want to return to a world where we can recognize the shen of every being that we come across, the shen of other humans, the shen of the plants that we interact with, the earth itself, then we need to feel embodied in our own shen to have that settledness come back in.
To me, it's not surprising that one of the qualities that I have really found with reishi that I don't see a lot of other people talking about, but it feels very clear to me, is that reishi has this subtle psychedelic quality to it. We're all familiar with the big psychedelics, the super mind altering entheogens out there, but reishi really has this subtle psychedelia to it. The bulk of reishi's medicinal constituents are best extracted in water, which is why, along with this podcast, I have a recipe for these amazingly decadent reishi maple cacao truffles. They're out of this world and they will expand your perception and give you this experience of the subtle psychedelic. But to me, the heart is in many traditions, this organ of perception. If we want to see the life force of this world, if we want to be able to connect to plants on a heart to heart level and to have these experiences of this expanded perception of reality, then we need to come back into our heart, which is exactly what reishi does.
I remember when I started teaching for the Chestnut School, one time I went in to teach a class and I had made this reishi tea from fresh reishi I had just harvested. I showed up and was just like, "Ooh," I just was feeling really good. Reishi, it's very calming, it is considered a nervine, so it does relax the nervous system. But I got there and Juliet, the head of the school was like, "If I didn't know any better, I'd think that you were high." I was like, "I am, on reishi." I do think that this coming back into our hearts, it's healing for ourselves and it's healing for the world in so many ways.
Here's the story that I wanted to share to bring this all home and why beyond its medicinal benefits, which of course are many, it's a panacea and it's one I take year long and I especially concentrate on taking in the winter time because as I said, I'm very susceptible to lung stuff and respiratory infections and things like that. But this story catapulted reishi from being something I admired as a medicine and I had cool experiences with, to really internalizing as, okay, this is actually a profound medicine for this time.
Where I live, we have a species of reishi called ganoderma tsugae. The species of reishi that you see most often talked about is ganoderma lucidum, and that's the species that exist in China. There are several species around the world, but the one that grows here where I live is ganoderma tsugae. What's interesting about this mushroom is it only grows on hemlock trees. If you were to ask somebody from these mountains 100 years ago what the keystone trees were of these mountains, they would say two things, chestnuts and hemlocks. Within the past 100 years, we have had blights come in for both of these trees. There is the blight for the chestnut tree, which arrived to these mountains in the early part of the century and decimated the chestnut population. Then in the '80s we had the wooly adelgid, this small insect that is non-native, that has made its way to this continent and down into these forests that slowly kills hemlock trees.
What's fascinating is that our forests here have completely changed in the past 100 years, and even since the '80s we've had 70% to 80% of the hemlocks in our forest fall. As the hemlocks fall, the reishis bloom. We now have whole swaths of forests where what was once hemlock forests, now are forests of this mushroom. There was one time where I was going to harvest this mushroom. I normally go out early in the season to scope out the spot. The reishis tend to bud out in early spring, and they have these white heads that push out of the tree. I think they look like cute little aliens. But they push out and they're actually edible, the white nubs as they push out. That's something you can do, is slice off the tips and they'll continue to grow and fry them up in the early spring.
But what you're really waiting for is for them to reach their full maturation. Normally here that's around the summer solstice. They fan out in this gorgeous sepia tone from dark red to yellow lacquered shelf, like a seashell sticking out. It looks a bit like you would imagine a Chinese lacquered cabinet, just this deep shine to it. You could see them shining in the woods, almost like they're lanterns at a distance. I had scoped out the spot earlier in the season and I thought, "Okay, I'm going to go back to the spot," because it was a really magical spot. It was this tree that was growing over two boulders, perched in the middle of this creek. This waterfall was rushing out from beneath the tree and it felt like this gateway to the other world.
Right before I left to go back to visit this tree with my harvesting knife in hand and my bags, a friend called me and we were talking for a while. She's a friend I've had forever and so there's a lot of comfortability. I was letting my mind wander in and out of the conversation. Finally, we reached the natural end of our talk and she asked me offhandedly, "Oh, where are you headed to today?" It was in this space of unthinking naturalness that I just said, "Oh, I'm going to visit a reishi tree." This friend of mine doesn't know anything about plants, so she was like, "That's cool, have fun. Bye." I get off the phone and I'm just standing there like, "Reishi tree, why did I say that? There's no such thing as a reishi tree. There's hemlocks and there's reishis."
I remember driving in this altered state thinking like, "Okay, why did I say that and why did it feel so important? And why am I having this emotional experience with this word right now?" I got to the forest and I was standing with this tree, and it was in that moment that I realized this tree was no longer a hemlock, but it was not just reishi, it was both at the same time. It had become a reishi tree, it was alchemizing what was dying into something new, something being born. I realized in that moment that I am a reishi tree, that we all are reishi trees, that we come here to this planet at this time to become like reishi trees for this world.
All of us have stories like this. Stories where the field that was behind our house got paved over and turned into a strip mall or the ecosystems that we love are really struggling. Or the tree that once defined our woods is now disappearing. We all carry these stories of death and endings that we're moving through right now. And what reishi, I think, is here to teach us and this idea that we are reishi trees, is that every ending is a new beginning. And that we came here to be midwives for a new world and this is something that mushrooms do innately. It's their Tao in the world, is to turn what is dying and alchemizing that into new life, into new medicine, into new potential.
I think we as humans have the ability to be in that role. Of course, over the years and especially the past full of centuries, we have been the cause of a lot of trouble and strife in this world. I think that cause really comes down to our shen disruption. But the more we anchor back into our shen and into our bodies and into this connection with the earth, the more we can connect back into why I think we're here as humans, which is our ability to actually be co-creative forces here on the planet. To help bring in more medicine, create more diverse ecosystems, create more abundance. Reishi, as this mushroom that helps us fortify our systems, come back into health, come back into alignment with ourselves, helps us to realize that we are here to be those reishi trees, to alchemize this legacy of what is waning and to create a new birth here on this planet.
Rosalee de la Forêt:
Oh Asia, I'm so glad you shared that story. I feel like we just have to mention your book because Mirrors in the Earth, I've been reading this book for the past six weeks or so, and this is how you end the book, with the story of reishi and the story of the reishi tree. It's such a powerful ending to a book that's so filled with hope and beauty. I've been reading the book, I'm a reader and I read a lot of fantasy fiction, like dragons and witches and lizards, I love it all. I'll read easily a couple books a week. This is not that book. I treasured it, I savored it, I read it chapter by chapter, really thought about it and each chapter was my favorite chapter because I knew you were coming up on this interview. So I'd be like, "Oh, I'm going to tell Asia that my favorite chapter was the chapter that had the moon in it and following the phases of the moon." It was like each chapter was now my new favorite chapter.
Then the ending with the reishi tree and your beautiful descriptions of harvesting the reishi and so respectfully as well and just everything, oh, it was just such a beautiful end. I feel like it's a very special thing that you shared that with us today too. Yeah, it's such a beautiful connection that you have with reishi and such a beautiful book and on and on and on. I also want to say that I'm very excited that I take reishi every day. If I wasn't before, I am now. The whole time I'm like yeah, yeah, that's fine, that's fine.
There's a couple of roads that I would love to just circle back on. One, I feel like we have to definitely circle back on the reishi maple truffles recipe, we can't gloss over that. Everyone who wants to can get a copy of that recipe above this transcript. But will you just tell us a little bit about this recipe and how it came to be and all of those fun things?
I concocted this recipe after I went and harvested reishis one day. If anyone's ever visited Southern Appalachia, you know that we get these big summer thunderstorms every afternoon throughout the summer. They can all be dark and dramatic and sweep through. It was on one of these afternoons where I had all this fresh reishi that I was like, "Okay, it's this dark, magical thunderstorm-y afternoon, and I just want to whip up something really special." I ended up creating these truffles, they're super decadent and they have cacao butter in it, powdered cacao. I used fresh reishi because that's what I had, but most of the time you're going to be working with dried reishi. The recipe is for making with dried reishi.
You start by making a decoction, which is a long simmering of the mushrooms. Then you reduce that and then you add maple syrup in and then you reduce that. First of all, there's something about maple and reishi together, it just really works. Then you add the cacao in and it's like, "Mind blown." There's something about these little balls that you will create that they have this potent dark magic quality to them. Not dark magic in a negative context, like it's midnight and I'm stirring the cauldron, or it's midnight and I'm reading this really magical book or studying this new discipline.
I find that it has this amazing ability to help me focus and concentrate while also expanding my perception. I lived with a roommate at the time, and we would often eat these and then have these philosophical conversations late into the night. Those conversations that you're like, "Oh my gosh, my cup is so full after this." Just talking about spirit and magic and possibility. All these qualities to me are embedded in these truffles, and it does take a little bit of time to make. It's something I invite you to make if you have a rainy afternoon or a stretch of time. But they can be frozen and stored for later, so then you have them. Just even to just snack on one and just see what happens in your mind, see how your heart's opening, what you're being drawn to, because I've had a lot of really amazing synchronistic things happen when I eat these truffles. It just seems like magic is afoot whenever I whip up a batch of these.
Rosalee de la Forêt:
Oh, I'm so excited to try them. That was a wonderful introduction. For people who've never harvested reishi before or bought reishi, what tips do you have, maybe especially for buying it? Where can people find reishi for this recipe or if they want to make some other reishi potion?
Reishi is one that people have figured out how to cultivate. It's a mushroom that I feel pretty good about recommending people use. There's other fungal medicines out there that are harder to cultivate that you want to be more careful with. But reishi in general, what I tell folks is to look for growers like Mountain Rose Herbs is a good company that will connect you with growers that cultivate reishi. Most of the time you're going to see ganoderma lucidum if you're purchasing online, which is great. Everything that I mentioned, all of those benefits all are normally coming from studies with ganoderma lucidum. You can do research to find out if you have a species of reishi growing nearby you. But I do recommend always, of course, you have to have a positive ID. But I do recommend just start working with it from a grower that you find and trust. I know here where I live, we have a couple local mushroom growers who have inoculated logs, so you can get them fresh and locally. You might find out if you have a local mushroom grower nearby you that might be cultivating reishi.
Those are some good resources. Some people will take reishi powder, which is a fast route to really working with reishi as medicine. That's something I did want to mention for this recipe. I think there's a magic to the decoction aspect of it, but if you're like, "Listen, I've got 10 minutes for magic and that's it," you could just skip that and just add reishi powder to these balls. Yeah, that is another way to take it. Reishi, it's a good bit bitter, so I do recommend that, especially if you're sensitive to bitters or you have a sensitive palate, to mix it with other things in a tea or in these truffles because yes, it's a bitter mushroomy taste.
Rosalee de la Forêt:
One tip that I will add, that I learned from my own experiences, don't buy whole dried reishi. If they're fresh, you can slice them up. But I bought whole reishi. They're so pretty, it was so tempting, so I bought it and I should have brought it, because I still have it. I use it as a classroom demo, it's 15 years old. I used a saw, I used a hammer and nail, didn't even dent it. It's so tough once it's whole and dried. So, if you're buying it dry ...
That's a really good tip, Rosalee.
Rosalee de la Forêt:
Buying dried, you want to get it sliced. You can often find it sliced or powdered like you mentioned. Yeah, if you want a beautiful whole mushroom that you have for the rest of your life, then you can buy a whole one. Because if it's whole, it's whole. Do you have anything else to add about reishi before we move on?
I think that's really all I wanted to share about reishi. Reishi has very few contraindications. The only one that I'm really aware of is the contraindication of using caution with blood thinners and if you have mushroom allergies. But it's one of those ones that I consider to be a very safe tonic. I would just say to people out there who are curious about it, that this is a good one to dip your toes and a powerful medicine that also has a pretty high degree of safety.
Rosalee de la Forêt:
Wonderful, thank you. Well, I actually want to spend more time talking about your book. The writing in here is so incredible and which is part of why I savored it and didn't rush through it. There were paragraphs where I felt like I would need a month to create this paragraph because it was just so beautiful. But it's just one paragraph amongst many beautiful paragraphs in this book. I was just often just honestly in awe of your ability to express so much beauty and in such a wise way. I'm just curious, how did writing show up in your life and how did you start writing? What is your writing practices? I'm curious, this is my own personal question here.
I always loved writing and when I was little I thought, "I'm going to be a writer when I grow up." In some ways I did become a writer because writing's a huge part of what I do. It's my business, it's what I love. Yet, I always knew I wanted to write a book, that was always on my heart. I actually started this book 10 years ago. So when you say, "Oh, this would take me a really long time to write that paragraph," I'm like, "Yes, it probably did take me very long time to write this paragraph."
Yeah, 10 years ago I knew that there was a book that wanted to come through, I could feel it. The way I describe it in the book is it's like waking up to a cat sleeping on your chest and this insistent feeling of time to wake up, time to write this book. But I just didn't know what it was about. I would sit down and I would write out these stories. I collected those stories over a decade that exist in the book. I would write out the stories and I didn't know what the connecting thread was and it really took me living out these stories and starting and discarding drafts before I realized, it was probably about five years before I realized what the central theme of the book was, which is this idea that self-compassion is something that the living world and the plants are actively trying to teach us, they're actively trying to help us to realize, to see ourselves in the mirror of the earth.
Not because the earth is an object that we project ourselves upon, but that the earth is... I call it the parent mirror. It's reflecting back to us our goodness, our belonging, and who we truly are. Because when we see who we are, when we can hold ourselves with compassion, then we can access the gifts that we came here to give as a part of the earth's creation. We are one of the earth's creation, we were given birth to by this planet and we came here to bring a gift. We really only can bring that gift when we can see and recognize and appreciate ourselves. It took me going on that journey to realize what it was that I was here to write.
Then it was like once I realized that, then I was like, "Okay, I have the overarching idea," because I know that there's two ways to go about a book. There's the long way and the short way. The short way is I come up with the outline, I know what the book's about, then I sit down and I plug away. Well, I went the long route. I was like, "I have no idea. I'm just writing this and writing that and how does it all fit together?" Once I had the overarching realization, I was like, "Okay, I have all the stories, now I have to sort of realize how they all fit together and how one leads into the other and reconstruct my own journey." I sat down and wrote the book over a series of years.
I remember the first year my goal was just to write for one hour a day, five days a week. Then I think the second year I was like, "All right, we're going to do," whatever it was. Spoiler alert, that first year I did not write for an hour a day, five days a week. It was probably one hour a week. Then the second year I think I got more serious about that. Then I slowly worked my way up to, I think the final half year that I was working on it, it was three hours a day, five days a week. It was a serious commitment and I had a whole first draft of that book without my story in it at all. Which if you read the book will be very surprising because my story is a huge part of the book. It's part memoir in some capacity. I had written about these moments of these realizations with these plants, but none of my own backstory.
So I shared the book with my writing buddy, another wonderful writer named Samantha Faye. She was like, "Asia, this is great and the writing's beautiful and the ideas are great, but where's your story?" I was like, "You're right. My story's not in there and I think it's because I don't feel like my story's worthy." That was another layer of the process of releasing self-judgment and realizing my own story was worthy. So I went back in and I wrote my story back into every chapter. That was another year to do that process. I'm very interested in the idea of writing other books and seeing what it would be like to go the other route of having the idea beforehand and having an outline and plugging away at it. But for me, that was the journey I needed to go on to write this book. I think it comes through in the book, in the way in which the book has that quality of a journey to it.
Rosalee de la Forêt:
Yes, absolutely. In some ways there's 12 lyrical essays that in some ways stand apart. But within each of those essays, it's a braided essay where you're combining your story and then these other bigger themes. One thing that I really appreciate about having your story in there is just the way you shared it and you shared about your first day at herb class, you shared about having these new friends that were the earth skills and you not knowing much about that. Just the humility and vulnerability in sharing that, it was like it gave me permission to see the meaning of my own personal story and my own evolution. It was a story, it was a beautiful memoir, but it was also an opening for me too to reflect in my own life. Then of course, at the end there are exercises and practices to bring things to ourselves as well. I really appreciated that, in addition to the bigger themes and reading about your life too.
Well, that's just so meaningful and I really couldn't ask for a higher compliment than just hearing that it shone a light on your own journey and to see the goodness and the value in your own journey, because that's so much of what the book's about. Thank you so much for sharing that with me.
Rosalee de la Forêt:
Another thing that I really loved about the book is I know both of us are big fans of Robin Wall Kimmerer, and in her book, Braiding Sweetgrass, one of the many poignant things she shares in that book is she talks about how she does a survey of environmental study students. They're in their advanced studies and asks them what are some positive examples of humans and nature, and they aren't able to answer, which is a very scary thing. If environmental studies students, they only see negativity between humans and nature, that's not what we need right now. That is one of those threads in Braiding Sweetgrass that has really meant so much to me in thinking about what my own personal teaching is and what I have to offer.
I feel like in some ways this book is almost like the continuation of that thread in a very positive light, because there is so much doom and gloom out there, it's so easy to be heartbroken and overwhelmed about the story of our earth right now and ecological hardships. That is not what this book is about, nor is it about glossing things over and pretending that it doesn't exist. But you just have a lot of really beautiful stories and analogies and hope and beauty, which I think is what we need right now. Not the doom and gloom, I'm never a fan of that. But your book brought it through in such a beautiful way of, again, not dismissing anything but really looking at things in a hopeful different way.
Yeah, well I'm so glad that came through because it's something that I feel like I learned from the earth really. When I first started really connecting to the plants and to nature in a meaningful way, I felt like I was drowning in grief some days. It was just... so much of it was just so hard to handle. The more you learn, the more it's like, "Ugh, this is really hard," and I would feel that. But then I would go out into nature and I would have a completely different experience. I would feel the living world reaching out to me and saying, "There's always hope, there's always possibility. We want you to nurture and safeguard your hope," because we know that when we have hope, that's when we access our creativity and our innovation and our ability to connect. It's important to sit with the grief and the heartache, that is an important part of the healing process.
Anyone who's experienced any kind of loss in their life, you know that it doesn't mean that the grief disappears or that it's not there or that it disappears or that it's not important. It means that the grief, it becomes integrated into the wholeness of who you are as you open up to the new era that grief is really asking you to explore and be a part of. That's where we're at, I think, as a world and I think that's what the earth is trying to help us remember, that there is hope and that we are here to be a part of that rebirth.
Rosalee de la Forêt:
Yeah, that really comes through in the book and it's such an important message for today, like you said. I think I have one more thing I just want a fan girl about. I'm just realizing this has just been so much fun because I got to read this beautiful book, I love the beautiful book, and now I just have my own personal session with the author to both exude my enthusiasm and ask questions about.
But one other thing that I just want to say I really appreciated in the book is that it's filled with so much beautiful imagery. Again, I would read the same paragraph over and over again just to soak in that beauty. One thing I really appreciated is that you had all these metaphors that were not expected. For example, in the chapter where you talk about the autumn and the fall and the letting go of leaves and talking about that for ourselves and how we might let things go, which is cliche a bit, and that's not where even you went with it. It's like you explain that and then you talk about marcescent trees, the trees that hold onto their leaves and pulled this whole other way of thinking about things out from that experience. I really loved that.
I loved the pinching back of the basil as related to boundaries. I realize that people don't know what I'm talking about, but you have to read the book. There was surprising things. It wasn't just beautiful, it wasn't just hopeful, it was also it gave me pause to think about things in a new way. I really appreciated that as well.
Oh, thank you. Thank you for that so much. I think just the more I spend time with plants and in nature, it's the more I'm continually surprised by just the messages and the metaphors. It's just an ongoing creative endeavor just to be engaged and in relationship with this world.
Rosalee de la Forêt:
Well, we are all so lucky that you have captured that and shared it so beautifully with us in your beautiful book. I know you have other offerings with the book, you have a little nature writing course that's a part of it, you have meditations. I definitely recommend picking up the book at your local bookstore, enjoying it, savoring it, and then being sure to be in contact with you to all the other ways that they can keep enjoying these themes and the hope and the beauty that's there.
Oh, well thank you Rosalee so much. I mean, just this has been food for my heart in so many ways. Thank you for everything that you shared about your experience with the book, it's so meaningful.
Rosalee de la Forêt:
Oh, well it's been an absolute pleasure. I think I shared before we started recording, so I just wanted to mention too that I read this book mostly outside this summer. I took it out to my hammock and just read it out there and the whole experience was just very healing and very grounding. I highly recommend for those picking up the book. You also have an audio book too also available, audiobook.
Yeah, the audiobook is on Audible and other places, but I know Audible is where a lot of folks get their books. It is there and it is narrated by me, which was really fun to do.
Rosalee de la Forêt:
Wonderful, I recommend however you pick it up, just putting it out there, you might want to read it outside because that was especially beautiful for me too.
Alright, Asia, to close I have a season six question for you. For everyone who listens to the podcast regularly, you know that I ask all the guests the same question for each season. I want to give a shout out to Laura and Anne Marie because I asked my readers, "What question should I ask for season six?" And they both came up with a variation of this question. I feel like for you Asia, this is a question that... all of your work exudes this. So it's the perfect question. Also, it might be like we already discussed a lot of it, but the question is, herbs give us so much and so how do you like to give back to the plants?
Okay, so there's so many things I want to say about this because I feel like giving back, just the gift giving aspect of it is something I'm really passionate about. I wanted to just highlight a couple things for the different maybe kinds of people who listen to this or the different passions. First of all, I will say on a very technical level, my partner recently has gotten really into regenerative agriculture and soil science. I've been learning more from him about how important it is to reinoculate your soil with fungal components and creating fungal-dominated compost. He's the scientist behind it, I can't say that I have necessarily that kind of mind. But just on the topic of mushrooms, I've been learning so much about how even if you just get this fungal-dominated mushroom tea for example, and put it back into the earth, that it can recreate these mycelial connections. And even though there's not as much top soil or it's depleted, it actually makes nutrients more available in the soil for all the plants that are there.
I'm really excited about that even though I'm not the science mastermind behind it. That's a very physical way of giving back. But I've always loved these more physical actions, getting a glass of water and just taking a moment and holding it to your heart and thanking that plant and then pouring the glass of water at the roots. That's a very tangible thing. When I lived in New York City and was going through my monthly cycles, I would take my period pads and soak them in water and then use that water to feed my plants. I remember I still have people who are like, "Oh yeah, that's the girl that told me to feed my period blood to plants," which is really funny, but it killed two birds with this one stone and it was full of nutrients. That's another thing. Those are some really tangible things.
But something I've been practicing a lot recently that actually feels really good, especially because sometimes we feel like, okay, "I don't have even water in this moment. What can I give?" Is actually just connecting to a plant and in your mind's eye, imagining that plant completely flourishing, seeing that plant in all of its beauty and glory and possibility. I'll do this, for example, there's a mimosa tree that is between my home and my office and I made a flower essence from the flower one day on the fly. I didn't really have a gift. I normally would bring water or maybe a stone or something like that and I didn't really have a gift. I told that tree, I was like, "Every time I pass by I'm going to say hi and I'm going to envision you as this big beautiful tree."
I've really found that even just this active imagination of saying, "I'm going to use my energy and my intention to envision this flourishing for you," that it's so appreciated by the living world. Yeah, it's its own kind of food. Our attention and our imagination is something that we have in spades as humans and I think it's very appreciated. I know I went from this high tech thing, to this very low tech thing, but I just wanted to give people that to show that there's always a way to give back. Even if it's just sitting in your home and looking at the tree outside and just beaming these intentions of love and flourishing, that can do so much and it is so received and appreciated by the living world.
Rosalee de la Forêt:
Oh, that's so beautiful, Asia. I did not foresee any of those, which is why I really love asking so many people the same question. The responses that I get to hear are wonderful. Yeah, I appreciate all of those. So thank you very much and thank you very much for taking the time to be here with us today.
Oh, well thank you for having me. It's really been an honor and a delight to be here with you, Rosalee.
Rosalee de la Forêt:
Oh, I feel the same way. Thank you so much, Asia.
Thanks for watching. Don't forget to click the link above this transcript to get free access to Asia's reishi maple truffles recipe card. You can also find Asia at onewillowapothecaries.com. If you enjoyed this interview, then before you go, be sure to subscribe to my newsletter below so that you'll be the first to get my new videos, including interviews like this. I'd also love to hear your comments about this interview and this amazing mushroom. I deeply believe that this world needs more herbalists and plant-centered folks. I'm so glad that you are here as part of this herbal community. Have a beautiful day.
Rosalee is an herbalist and author of the bestselling book Alchemy of Herbs: Transform Everyday Ingredients Into Foods & Remedies That Healand co-author of the bestselling book Wild Remedies: How to Forage Healing Foods and Craft Your Own Herbal Medicine. She's a registered herbalist with the American Herbalist Guild and has taught thousands of students through her online courses. Read about how Rosalee went from having a terminal illness to being a bestselling author in her full story here.