Neuroscience meets naturopathy in Pretty Mushroom’s earthy elixirs, designed to enhance your beauty, mood, and mind.
To go way back, I spent a lot of time at the library growing up. I lived in a very small town where the education system wasn’t the best, so I spent a lot of time reading outside of class. I was fascinated by the brain and how it – and the body in general, really – is basically our last great frontier. It was this great mystery that we could infinitely explore and I wanted to be a part of that team of people investigating the unknown. I knew Johns Hopkins had the best neuroscience program so I just naturally gravitated towards it. I was there in Baltimore for college during the 2015 riot, which was ignited by the death of Freddie Gray. I started volunteering in the community and noticed these discrepancies between healthcare available for people there as compared to where I grew up. Those issues of access and quality further inspired me to go into medicine.
I got a grant at UCSF for a research project on maladaptive plasticity in spinal cord injuries. At the time I was also doing research at a lab studying the neurobiology of stress and how it affects learning and memory at UC Berkeley. Juggling the 10-12 hour workdays – not to mention traffic in the Bay Area – I was experiencing a lot of stress myself, and the classic signs of adrenal fatigue. I was tired all of the time. Nothing helped. I was also experiencing a lot of anxiety issues, too. At some point I realized the irony, to be studying stress and simultaneously experiencing it so heavily.
So I did some research on my own, mainly trying to figure out how to treat myself. There were all the normal options, like SSRI’s ( selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) and medications that I could take, but I wanted to find out if there was something else. That’s how I discovered adaptogens. It completely blew my mind. Just the fact that you could have this category of herbs and mushrooms that don’t have any side effects and that they could literally adapt to your body. At the time I was on a particular medication [to help with my anxiety] and I didn’t like the way it made me feel. I felt a blunting effect on my emotions, and I really didn’t want that. I knew there had to be a different way, and I had a feeling that adaptogens could be it for me.
I discovered the research on adaptogens was robust and growing. I zeroed in on the adaptogenic herbs and mushrooms that had widest spread of research supporting them. Eleuthero root , for example, has more published studies on it than any other herb. Focusing in on the adaptogens with the most established benefits, I learned about the many ways in which they could influence the body, and saw how they could be combined to create a blend that is potently beneficial.
When I first started using adaptogens myself, it was a really frustrating process to find sources I felt could meet my quality standards. I was looking for options that were verifiably sustainably sourced, including other key factors depending on which herb or mushroom I was looking for. For instance, the way that the herb or mushroom is grown has a huge impact on the end product quality that you’re going to get. What they’re grown on is incredibly important. If Lion’s Mane is grown on grain instead of on wood, the concentration of beta glucans aren’t going to be nearly as high. Unfortunately, most of the US grown mushrooms are grown on grain, whereas the majority of Chinese grown mushrooms are grown on wood. So for each ingredient I was trying to find out all of this detailed information and having very little success finding answers. There just wasn’t a lot of transparency in what was out there, and it was really frustrating.
Because of my background in science, working with suppliers that provide detailed and transparent data is extremely important to me. I want to be able to pass that information on to our customers. Sometimes I think the amount of detail I want to share can almost be overwhelming to people! But I want customers to know that we’re always working to find the highest quality and find sources that can meet all of our standards. But if we aren’t there yet, I’m honest about that.It got to the point where I looked at all of the research I had done and knew I had to share it with others. One thing led to another, and Pretty Mushroom was created.
It’s been really challenging. In research, everything that comes to you is more or less expected. You have a plan everyday of what you’re going to work on, and there’s a kind of comfort in that predictable environment. This is not predictable at all. I’m a perfectionist by nature and there were a lot of things that I just had to let go of. There are things even beyond the quality of ingredients that I’m still working on and trying to perfect.
And also, with entrepreneurship in general, you’re never assured that what you’re doing is right. Throughout college and even my time in the lab, I always had that reassurance at the end of the day that I did the right thing, or if I did the wrong thing someone tells me that it’s wrong. But now I’m never sure if what I’m doing is right or wrong. If I answer a customer’s email with a five paragraph explanation of where these things come from because I want to make sure it’s completely accurate and transparent, is that too much? Can someone even tell me that? Or how I reach out to retailers, or how I go about our packaging. There’s just been a lot of Googling and asking questions. I come from a family of entrepreneurs so at times I’m able to ask them. But really it’s just working on it all the time, and slowly making improvements.