Culture

Can Mushrooms Be a Part of Your Self-Care Routine?

Hypebae sits down with Rainbo Founder Tonya Papanikolov.

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In recent years, functional mushrooms have gone from a taboo topic you hid from your parents to a common staple in any wellness warrior’s medicine cabinet.

As many of us have started questioning the actual rewards of hustle culture and addressing the consequences of burnout, shrooms have gone from something you do on the weekends to a tincture you might take before the start of your day. Functional mushrooms and adaptogens have provided healing benefits for centuries yet we’ve only recently begun taking their medicinal powers seriously.

Rainbo founder Tonya Papanikolov, however, has been a friend to fungi for years. Health issues as a teen and young adult sparked her interest in adaptogens, learning about plant-based medicine at a health expo, which led her to foraging for her own mushrooms. While many are understandably hesitant about the efficacy of adaptogens, Papanikolov credits an open mind and thorough research to her passion. “For me, they invited me to explore and understand nature’s intelligence. They have fostered a deep, ancestral connection to the forest and medicinal herbs,” she tells us.

Now, Tonya shares her love of mushrooms through her business, sourcing high-quality Canadian plants and turning them into tinctures and salves, making adaptogens more accessible. Used by the likes of Stassie Karanikolaou and Sydney Carlson, Rainbo has garnered a cult status amongst health-conscious It girls and for good reason.

Continue scrolling to learn more about Rainbo and the power of functional mushrooms.

How did your healing journey begin? What led you to using adaptogens?

I was a teenager when I first started to have gut issues, allergies, brain fog and anxiety. This was coupled with a handful of unhealthy lifestyle choices, as we do when we’re teens. Still, the health challenges got me interested in food and nutrition from an early age and I decided to major in that for my university studies which has since transformed into my life’s work. I knew from an early age that I wanted to study health sciences and be of service.

In 2011, I attended my first health expo where the keynote speaker spoke about Chaga and adaptogens for the first time. My mind was completely blown to learn about the healing and medicinal benefits of plants in the forest. It was information that I had never heard of before and it opened me up to a whole new world of natural medicine. I started to forage reishi and chaga in Canada and began to use adaptogens consistently around 2014. In 2016, I started using functional mushrooms therapeutically, which is when my health and symptoms really started to improve.

How have adaptogens changed your life? What part do they play in increasing your quality of life?

In many ways — they have inspired a connection to nature that I could not have anticipated, nor is it marketed in such a way. For me, they invited me to explore and understand nature’s intelligence. They have fostered a deep, ancestral connection to the forest and medicinal herbs, something I later learned my ancestors in Europe also did a lot of. They’ve also helped me to naturally balance my cortisol levels and find boundless energy and strength. They have balanced and strengthened my immune system and even moreso, have inspired me to create a mushroom company.

They have played a huge role. Over the past 10 years, I’ve been using food as medicine and have been committed and passionate about healthy eating, keeping my hormones balanced, avoiding sugar and such, but when I started to utilize the power of nature through adaptogens like reishi, cordyceps, lion’s mane, ashwagandha, ginseng and holy basil — I really took things up a notch.

Were you skeptical upon trying them? How did you determine that they were truly making a difference in your overall health and well-being?

I wouldn’t say I was skeptical. I was open-minded and intrigued by the science and traditional knowledge of uses in Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine. I studied the immune-neuro-endocrine system and the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis and was interested to see and understand how adaptogens could support my body. Adaptogens are called “adaptogens” because they are believed to help the body adapt to stress, just as these plants, roots and mushrooms have adapted to survive in challenging environments. These organisms have developed various defense mechanisms to thrive under harsh conditions such as extreme temperatures, high altitudes or exposure to toxins. When we ingest adaptogens, we are benefiting from these adaptive properties.

I determined they were truly making a difference because I had notable symptom improvements that radically increased my quality of life. My acne cleared up, my digestion strengthened and I no longer had constant gas, bloating, pain and discomfort, my stress levels reduced which was measured through blood tests and my mind-body-spirit became fortified. Because I had more energy and vitality, I also became more emotionally balanced and creative.

What does your self-care routine look like, especially as a business owner? How have adaptogens helped you balance your stress and mitigate burn-out, if they have?

My self-care routine is very important to me. I’ve had a handful of health challenges and scares that have made me realize that vibrant health truly is my greatest asset and something I am uncompromising about. Sure, just like anyone else I go through stressful periods, but I am extremely disciplined in my daily commitment to how I take care of myself.

Here are a few things I do to take care of myself as a business owner:

I quit coffee in 2020 and have been drinking green tea and matcha ever since — I still have a cup a couple of times a month on weekends, but rarely use it on working days so that my energy stays solid and anxiety doesn’t peak. I take reishi mushroom daily to help balance my mood, spirit and stress levels and rotate between our other Rainbo tinctures on a daily basis based on my needs. I meditate every morning and practice kundalini yoga, which adds a lot of energy to my system and listen to a lot of mantras and Solfeggio Frequencies on a daily basis. I exercise, walk and practice yoga and pilates to stay active. I eat healthy, simple whole foods that are nourishing and drink spring water or good filtered water, as well as avoid alcohol. I also take time in nature and spend time with people I love and take time off regularly.

There are a lot of tools I use to manage and mitigate burnout. Adaptogens and mushrooms are one of the tools in my toolbox. I take a holistic approach to everything I do and I recognize that nothing is a panacea. There is no magic pill, but what I do have is a brilliant body and mind that are designed to self-heal. All I am trying to do is help foster that innate healing response in my body. The body and mind are incredibly powerful, we don’t give them as much credit as they deserve. I believe everyone carries within themselves the power to heal themselves. Not only is the body designed for it but it also puts the power back into our own hands. It’s vital that we recognize this power and heal ourselves.

What led you to create your own brand? What was unsatisfactory about the product market and how is Rainbo different?

I was inspired to create my own brand in Canada that focused on Canadian medicinal mushrooms after my experience with functional and sacred mushrooms in 2016 and 2018. Frankly, I couldn’t find the transparency I was looking for within the market around where and how mushrooms were being grown and which part of the mushroom was being used. I also had a deep calling to represent mushrooms and nature in a way with integrity. I wanted to build a company that I would want to work at that was doing good and improving the lives of our customers, employees and communities.

What advice would you recommend to those skeptical of the efficacy of functional mushrooms and/or beginners?

Just in the same way that we have foods with various vitamins, polyphenols, flavonoids, antioxidants and health-supportive compounds that keep us healthy — herbs, plants and mushrooms contain similar powerful and healing compounds. While this may seem like “alternative medicine” to many, it’s actually the most popular and oldest form of medicine on the planet. Many herbs, mushrooms and many natural compounds are used and synthesized to create western meds too. Additionally, there is a growing body of research and many books surrounding the use of mushrooms and adaptogens that I would suggest skeptics and beginners check out and then make the decision for themselves.

Several mushrooms are considered adaptogens due to their potential stress-reducing and immune-modulating properties. Here are a few well-known adaptogenic mushrooms:

  1. Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum): Reishi is a highly revered mushroom in traditional Chinese medicine. It is believed to support the immune system, promote relaxation, and enhance overall well-being.

  2. Cordyceps (Cordyceps sinensis): Cordyceps is a unique mushroom that grows on caterpillar larvae in the high-altitude regions of Tibet and Nepal. It is known for its potential to boost energy, improve athletic performance, and support endurance.

  3. Lion’s Mane (Hericium erinaceus): Lion’s Mane mushroom has gained popularity for its potential cognitive benefits. It is believed to support brain health, memory, and focus. Lion’s Mane is also considered neuroprotective and may help with nerve regeneration.

  4. Chaga (Inonotus obliquus): Chaga mushroom is found primarily on birch trees and is known for its immune-modulating properties. It is rich in antioxidants and has been traditionally used to support overall well-being.

  5. Shiitake (Lentinula edodes): While not typically categorized as an adaptogen, shiitake mushrooms have immune-stimulating properties and contain various bioactive compounds. They are widely consumed for their culinary and potential health benefits.

What is the Rainbo vision? What are you building?

We envision a future where humans and nature are harmoniously living interdependently. We are optimizing body and mind with mushrooms and are on a mission to spread this knowledge and our products to all who can benefit. We live in increasingly difficult times of stress, conflict, toxins and chemicals — there is a heavy burden on the human body in our fast-paced lives and culture. We also live in increasingly beautiful, abundant, awe-inspiring times of possibility, innovation and hope. We believe in activating awe and wonder through nature and fungi. With mushrooms, we have the chance to rediscover the healing power of nature, take a deep breath of fresh air in a forest or park and stay open and curious about the mind-expanding potential of these brilliant organisms. It is humbling to truly discover and commune with a universal intelligence that threads its way through every living thing. This is what we strive to build, teach and share.

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