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Finding Health Through Mushrooms

Strolling through a farmer’s market I was amazed by the variety of fresh, locally grown mushrooms on offer. Chestnuts, shiitake, pink oyster, lobster, chanterelle, porcini, and morels. On top of their delicious taste, mushrooms are known to decrease the risk of cancer, protect brain health, be a great source of vitamin D, stimulate a healthier gut and support a healthy immune system. In addition to the diverse selection of mushrooms on display, another product caught my eye: mushroom extracts. 

Hernan Castro, also known as “The Man Behind the Mushrooms,” started cultivating mushrooms in Tucson in 2012. Three years later, Castro’s father suffered three strokes, leaving half of his body paralyzed. Doctors told Castro that if his father continued to suffer from strokes, which was likely, his father would have a very poor quality of life with risk of death. Castro was told that he should do his best to focus on making sure his father was comfortable. “I just couldn’t take that as my only option,” Castro said. 

After receiving discouraging news, Castro set forth on a mission to research stem cell therapies around the world. Most only had a 50 percent success rate. Castro continued his search, finding studies done in Japan, China and Korea where scientists extracted the essence of Lion’s Mane mushroom and injected it into rats. The result? The restoration of the nerves in the spine of the rats. Other articles Castro read mentioned that this same mushroom provided strong concentration and focus for monks during their meditations and that there was encouraging research it could help against Alzheimer’s, too. 

Castro put his biology and chemistry education to use, working to extract the beneficial properties from the Lion’s Mane mushroom to create a concoction he hoped might cure his father. “Dad, it will not kill you, but it may cure you. You decide if you want to take it,” Castro said upon the introduction of the concoction to his father. His dad, a fully trained medical doctor, took a chance and used the concoction three times per day throughout his healing journey. Immediately he started feeling better and, within a year, found himself fully recovered. Only one finger remains slightly stiff after regular use of the extract.

Castro has studied the properties of many different mushrooms and is a member of the North American Mycological Association and The Scientific Foray. He casts himself in the model of Paul Stamets, a self-taught mycologist, intellectual and industry leader in fungi. When Castro is not at his warehouse manufacturing the extracts, he can be found on Mount Lemmon collecting spores of Reishi, Turkey Tail, Lion’s Mane, and other mushrooms with health-supporting properties that he then plants and cultivates.

Hernan Castro makes different extracts of mushrooms and herbs that help restore energy, promote better sleep, fight diabetes, boost the immune system and maintain healthy cholesterol levels. Castro is the proprietor of a mercantile called The Desert Alchemist ( where he sells his extracts alongside Chaga (mushroom) coffee.