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Tonya Papanikolov-rainbo wellness-wellness interviews
rainbo wellness-Tonya Papanikolov-wellness interviews


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Where did your interest in mushrooms evolve from?

I’m a seeker and alchemist at heart. I’ve been seeking tools of transformation and paths to higher consciousness since my early 20s. I had a range of health issues that led me down this healing path to explore eastern and western modalities – from nutrition and food to sacred ceremonies. I started learning about functional mushrooms in 2011 and soon after started foraging in northern Ontario and drinking chaga and reishi tea. A few years later I was working with high doses of reishi and saw major transformations in my health and body. It was incredible. Next thing I knew I was listening to Terrence McKenna, learning to grow mushrooms and was called to create Rainbo and use business as an agent for change!

My fascination with the fungi kingdom as a whole – whether functional or sacred – is formed by wisdom teachings, personal experience and study into how these organisms can heal our planet and body, and change, open and rewire our minds. The greater metaphor of what mushrooms represent in nature is both my and Rainbo’s raison d’être: resilience, cooperation and the unfathomable magnitude of nature’s intelligence and interconnectedness. These fungal organisms contain some of the secrets to life, as they network and weave into the collective consciousness.

How do mushrooms benefit environmental health and our ecosystems?

Fungi don’t just benefit ecosystems, they create ecosystems!

Fungi create habitats, environments and the world as we know it. Mycelium (a network of fungal threads) form vast underground networks which work to hold our soil together and this network supports all plant life, trees and allows for communication and transportation to occur underneath the forest floor. Fungi sit at the intersection of life and death – they are the decomposers of our planet – without fungi dead plant matter would just build up! Fungi basically eat death and decay, and in doing so, create new life. When they break down the dead organic matter, they then release nutrients which are made available to plants to grow. Fungi are the immune system of our planet.


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How do you grow and harvest your mushrooms sustainably? 

We cultivate all of our mushrooms locally in Canada instead of wild-sourcing them from nature or purchasing them from far distances overseas. Instead of borrowing from nature to create our products, we aim to give back to nature through our business efforts, operations and product sales.

Why are they so good for our health and well-being? How do they support our immune systems? 

Medicinal mushrooms are groups of fungi that contain active compounds that have been shown to have health-enhancing effects in the body. Most of these mushrooms have a long history of use in traditional medicine that continues to be supported by modern science. In fact, many of the current pharmaceuticals used in Western medicine today are derived from fungi! (think: penicillin).

Medicinal mushrooms produce a myriad of compounds that are capable of influencing our physiological processes. Far beyond folk medicine tradition, these compounds are now recognized as having medicinal value when consumed as part of an anti-aging and preventative-disease diet. These benefits include but are not limited to: immune system enhancement, great source of antioxidants, cardiovascular health, anti-cancer, anti-diabetic, and a balancing of the stress response via adaptogenic effects. 

Through scientific investigation we are learning that all medicinal mushrooms have their unique benefits (ie. brain, gut, cardiovascular, liver, sex, stress management etc.). However, what most medicinal mushrooms have in common is their immunomodulating capability. That is to say, when incorporated into our diets and bodies, these mushrooms all seem to enhance the immune system. 

The main players are the beta-glucans. These compounds have been shown to interact with the immune system to upregulate or downregulate our immune response, effectively balancing the normal functioning of our immunity so that it doesn’t over or under react. Medicinal mushrooms are unique in their ability to bi-directionally modulate the immune system!

Consumed as a regular dietary supplement, medicinal mushrooms have a high potential for improving general health by increasing resilience, delaying the aging process, protecting against chronic disease, and supporting the structure and function of the body.

How can they help mitigate stress?

Reishi can help with stress. Ling zhi, Reishi’s Chinese name, translates as “spirit plant,” and this mushroom has a long history of use in Chinese medicine. Traditionally it is used to nourish the Chinese heart, which stores shen. The term shen usually is translated as “spirit,” though that term is frequently misunderstood by non-Chinese speakers. Shen is a person’s mind/consciousness and his/her emotional balance. Disturbances of shen cause anxiety, insomnia, bad dreams, fatigue, weakness, moodiness, confusion, irritability, poor memory and others. Reishi may be used for individuals with these conditions, along with other adaptogenic or sedative herbs.

Research on the chemistry, pharmacology and therapeutic benefits of the reishi mushroom have shown that it’s an immunomodulator capable of strengthening the immune system (enhancing monocyte, macrophage, and T-lymphocyte activity) and down-regulating excessive immune responses and allergies. Research suggests that Reishi’s adaptogenic effects are mild and cumulative – that it may improve adrenal function and relieve stress. However, as with most natural remedies, more research is required.



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And what is an adaptogen and how does these relate to mushrooms? Why are adaptogens so powerful? 

Adaptogens are a unique class of herbs (and fungi) that remarkably help the body adapt to stress, support normal metabolic function and help restore equilibrium in the body. They increase the body’s resistance to physical, biological, emotional and environmental stressors and help boost our defence response to acute and chronic stress.

Both Reishi and Cordyceps are adaptogenic mushrooms.

What are some of the best ways to ingest mushrooms when it comes to our health? 

Tinctures are my preferred route.

– Bioavailability: Unless subjected to an extraction method, the majority of the medicinal compounds locked up in mushrooms will not be bioavailable for absorption in the body. A dual-extraction is the best method to access the most complete range of compounds from the mushroom.

– Absorption: Herbalists state that alcohol increases the absorption of an herb by approximately 30 per cent, so the doses can be much smaller.

– Faster absorption rate: An extract in liquid form is absorbed faster by the body than a powder extract, with absorption starting in the mucous membranes of the mouth.

– Stable quality: The alcohol in a tincture gives it a long shelf life and maintains its potency over time.

– Easy to mix: As a liquid, tinctures are easy to add to other liquids and mix into food dishes without the clumping of powders.

– Time: Tinctures are the quickest way to reap the benefits at full bioavailability. You can put the tincture right into the mouth or in a water bottle with no need to shake or mix in as you would a powder.

Do you have a favourite mushroom recipe? 

Every morning I make a matcha mushroom latte. It loaded with an organic, ceremonial matcha, a homemade almond/cashew milk, about 2 grams of Rainbo’s functional mushrooms (I choose whichever tincture I feel I need that day), vanilla bean, collagen, pearl and a splash of Forest Juice or stevia. 

This is another popular recipe in my house.



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Which Rainbo product would you recommend starting with?

11:11 is a great product to start with as it’s our multi-mushroom blend, you can think of it like a multivitamin but your multi-mushroom version! It’s a synergistic blend that combines the power of all 11 mushrooms. Synergy occurs when the interaction of biological substances produces a greater effect than the sum of the individual effects – meaning, the mushrooms are stronger combined than they would be on their own. 

I also always suggest people check in and tune into their needs to decide which mushroom to start with. This is a helpful blog post to read to help you decide.

We love that you are climate neutral certified! Can you tell us what that means as a business? 

Our Climate Neutral Certification means that we measured and offset our entire 2020 footprint (what it takes to make our products, run our business, deliver them to customers, etc.), with a third party organization (Climate Neutral) who helped us audit and verify. Once we determined our carbon emissions, we offset them by investing in nature based carbon credits: carbon credits generated from nature doing its thing and sequestering carbon – tree planting, avoided deforestation, soil, mangroves, etc. 




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