If you've ever harvested Chaga, somewhere along your journey you may have wondered about its tough, dark, seemingly charred surface. Some have even made the mistake of scraping it away, assuming it has no value... Until they are told the truth:
"The black is the best part"
August 25, 2020 marks an important milestone for Birch Boys, Inc., with the filing of our first patent! Over the last six months, we have been perfecting the process of isolating Melanin from several fungal species, including our champion fungus, Chaga (Inonotus obliquus).
Melanin is a class of pigments produced by plants, animals, and fungi to protect cells from damage and promote survival. Scientific research on melanin is exploding with new innovations in the fields of nanotechnology, biomedicine, and materials science. It is being investigated for use in biomedical devices as a biocompatible and biodegradable component. For the same reasons, melanin is also perfectly poised to be a skincare solution with antioxidant properties and UV radiation absorption. Previously, commercially available melanin was limited to synthetic or squid ink derived melanins, but Birch Boys Inc. is changing that with our sustainably produced natural fungal melanins.
Garrett Kopp (founder and President of Birch Boys, Inc.) was faced with a quandary when he stumbled into some research on melanin. Knowing it was a major constituent of Chaga, he realized Birch Boys was in a unique position to produce melanin. Research on melanin and its applications is exploding, but much of it is focused on using synthetic or squid ink-derived melanins, and both of these have obvious drawbacks. Namely, synthetic melanins are subject to post-synthetic transformations that can cause degradation of the product. This raises quality and safety concerns, especially if it is synthesized using toxic or harmful chemicals. With squid ink, the process involves living animals, so there’s ethical as well as safety and sustainability concerns. So, in a culture that is finally pushing for natural and ethical products, where is the natural and ethical melanin? It’s right here.
Garrett contacted me, Maya Duncan-White, a friend from college, and conveniently a Chemist. Garrett and I were both a part of the Clarkson School, an early entrance college program at Clarkson University. We skipped our senior year of high school in order to start college. While unorthodox at the time (my high school even tried to convince me I wasn’t allowed to do this), it gave us the opportunity to get a head start on education and careers, with far better resources and opportunities than we would have had in high school. Garrett poured his heart into his business, and I poured mine into science and research.
Melanin is a general term for a group of pigments produced by plants, animals, and fungi. In humans, we are most familiar with eumelanin and pheomelanin. Everyone has eumelanin in their skin, but skin tone is dictated by the amount of melanin concentrated in the skin cells. Pheomelanin is an orange-toned melanin that gives red hair and freckles their color. Melanin serves a similar purpose for fungi, providing protection from harmful UV rays and acting as an antioxidant and free-radical scavenger. The high melanin content in Chaga is responsible for its unprecedented ORAC score (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity). The ORAC score is a quantified measure of antioxidants, and to give some context, Chaga has 1,300 times as many antioxidants as blueberries! So, when you drink Chaga tea, you are drinking soluble melanin and experiencing its benefits.
Many studies have shown that melanins support the survival of fungi in many different ways in addition to antioxidant activity, including resistance to infection, increased ability to survive in extreme environments (temperature, radiation, and improved mechanical strength of cell walls. In fact, species of melanized fungi have been found thriving in the nuclear reactors of Chernobyl!
Fungal melanins are the obvious choice for a natural and sustainably produced melanin for use in research and in skin care products. Current research initiatives have identified melanin as a choice biocompatible, biodegradable material to be used to advance the fields of biomedicine and biomedical engineering, materials science, and nanotechnology. Melanins have been used in the design of drug delivery systems, coatings on implanted devices, and even in edible batteries! Melanin also shows promise for use in water filtration systems, with the ability to chelate and effectively filter heavy metals from contaminated water. This feels appropriate since mushrooms have always been nature’s cleaners, with the incredible ability to break down toxic waste like oil spills and even cigarette butts. So with this, I say: The future is melanin. The future is fungi.
Lastly, Garrett and I want to thank everyone who has been alongside us on this journey: Our loyal customers, our wholesalers, and our local harvesters. Your support gave us the opportunity we needed to pursue this; YOU fueled the successful outcome of our discovery and we are so thankful. We ask for your continued participation and feedback as we explore new markets and customers for fungal melanin. If you know anyone who may need wholesale melanin, whether they are academic researchers, skin care companies, or someone with an innovative idea, feel free to send them our way and email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
Birch Boys is a wonderful and unique company because we value our relationships with our customers and listen to them. So please, we would love to hear from you! Thank you so much for reading.
You can look forward to four new incoming blogs over the month of September, NATIONAL MUSHROOM MONTH! Up next is the healing history of the Adirondacks. Stay tuned, and thank you for celebrating with us!
If you are interested in purchasing fungal melanin or wouldlike to request a quote, submit an inquiry here.
Disclaimer: The statements on this website have not been evaluated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to treat, fight, cure, or prevent any disease, illness, or ailment. The information presented herein is not a substitute for a consultation with a licensed physician.
Remarkably, Reishi mushroom has managed to establish its permanence in Chinese medicine as well as advancing its ascent within the western world, where soon it will reach new heights in its own cultural relevance.