by The Culinistas
To kick off our Feed Your Brain Initiative, we sat down with Danielle from Four Sigmatic, purveyor of all things mushroom related. From reishi powder to lion’s mane coffee, Four Sigmatic believes in the healing power of fungi. It’s no shocker that caffeine helps your brain in the morning, making you your most perky, alert self. But studies suggest that having a cup of joe a day has long term positive effects on the brain. Mixing in mushrooms like lion’s mane that promotes nerve growth in your brain, and chaga that lowers oxidative stress therefore improving memory and cognition makes your morning brew that much better. We talked with Danielle about her favorite morning brew, breathwork, and brains she envies.
What ritual do you have that helps you get or stay focused in under five minutes?
Breathwork. Every morning when I wake up, I practice Wim Hof breathing. I try to do about 3-4 rounds each morning which takes under 10 minutes (depending on how long you can hold your breath). I am fascinated by Pranayama, or the ability for us to consciously play with our breath and the associated health benefits both mental, spiritual and physical that come from it.
What helps you calm an anxious mind?
My herbal allies. I truly believe that we coexist on this planet with hundreds of medicinal plants and fungi to help support us throughout each of our changing moods and states. Nervines and adaptogens are my two go-to categories of plant medicine that I turn to when I feel an anxious mind. Reishi, the Queen of Mushrooms and Lemon Balm are probably my most used when I feel anxiety or pressure creeping in.
What is your ideal focused environment?
I love to be outside or in an organized and inspiring environment. Working outside keeps my nervous system calm, allowing me to focus. With nature’s aromatherapy of essential oils from the plants and the sounds of birds, I feel grounded, taking my time to thoroughly complete projects in my own time. It also seems that ideas flow much more organically when I’m working outside. In the winter months when working outside is a challenge, my ideal indoor work environment is clean and tidy, with touches of beauty: flowers, a jar of tea, a dried mushroom, or a note of inspiration. If there is a mess around, my mind feels messy. Thus, I always take a few extra moments in the beginning of the day to make sure I feel comfortable in my space before sitting down to focus.
Three people whose brains you envy?
This incredible Indian scholar has been my idol for many years. She is a leader in the environmental activism space as it pertains to food justice and seed sovereignty. Beyond authoring over 20 books, Vandana is a woman that exudes power, grace and a deep connection with the Earth: all things I strive to uphold.
Perhaps cheesy, but I honestly envy my boss’s brain! The topics he has stored in his mind are incredible -- from the ins and outs of fungi knowledge to the history of heavy metal, you name it and Tero will have a fascinating point of view and depth of understanding on nearly any topic.
If I could be in anyone’s mind for a day, it would have to be my favorite fiction author, Tom Robbins. He creates masterpieces and pulls my mind in so many wild directions, all while making brilliant commentary on humanity and subtle hints wrapped in humor to stoke curiosity and a second look at the way we are programmed to view the world.
What is your first memory?
My earliest memories take place in my backyard growing up. My older sister would offer me lessons for 1 penny. I was ecstatic and would shuffle through drawers in our family home to find loose pennies. When paid, she would teach me all sorts of hilarious skills like rolly polly hunting and climbing trees to spy on the next door neighbors.
Four Sigmatic Mushroom Coffee with Lion’s Mane French pressed and then blended with oat milk, ghee, cinnamon, cardamom, maca, cacao, vanilla and a date. Depending on what I have in store for the day, I’ll add an additional mushroom elixir like Reishi or Cordyceps.
What have you forgotten that you’ve been trying to remember?
I lived in Southeast Asia for several years with my home base in Thailand. I spoke fluent Thai while out there and actually learned to read and write Thai at the same time as speaking which greatly helped me pick it up. I haven’t been back in nearly 7 years and it’s slipping away. Sometimes I try to turn the English switch off in my mind and think in Thai. When a word begets me, I scramble to try and bring it back.
What’s on tap for 2020?
So many exciting things on tap for 2020! I’ve found that the chaos of this year has brought many people to remember the simple things like diet, stress, sleep, exercise, drinking water, and fueling our bodies and minds properly for optimal health. Without quick fixes for many of the things so many people are dealing with this year, there’s been a surge in my life of people coming to me with questions about ways to support their immune and nervous systems long term. This is where my passion has always been, but it’s much less sexy to talk about doing something daily for weeks to months and having a subtle building effect on the body rather than an instant feeling that you can put your finger on. Yet, we are being called to remember-- the herbs, the mushrooms, the ancient medicine, the rituals -- and revive them. I’ve been spending my time finding creative ways to bring this knowledge to this eager to hear it...from podcasts and video shoots and perhaps even working on a book. ;)
Feed Your Brain Menu Picks
Cucumber Avocado Soup (with persian cucumber, avocado, basil, chive, lemon)
I choose this recipe for 3 reasons:
- It is plant-based. It’s almost indisputable at this point that we all could use more plants in our diet! This cold soup is simple and clean in ingredients while incorporating a range of flavors, textures, and nutrient diverse ingredients.
- Avocado is one of my favorite brain foods! One of the most nutrient dense plants, it’s loaded with healthy fat (monounsaturated fat) and a powerhouse of brain supporting nutrients like potassium and folate.
- Herbs galore! Basil, chive and lemon are all culinary additions but also traditional herbal medicines with deep folklore and traditions that support the body in numerous ways.
Walnut Pesto Sweet Potatoes (with sweet potato, parsley, walnut, lemon)
Also plant-based, this root based dish would be a great winter meal to bring grounding and nourishment into the physical and emotional body. I primarily choose this meal due to walnuts, which are rich in anti-inflammatory Omega 3’s (often difficult to find in a plant-forward diet), antioxidant properties, and vitamin E!
Purples & Greens (with red cabbage, swiss chard, scallion, spinach, lemon)
While perhaps outdated, I love the phrase “eat the rainbow.” There is increasing research coming out about how the health of our gut microbiome is connected to our mental health, the brain-gut connection, and the more diverse and colorful our diets are, the healthier our microbiome. Purple, green, and yellow are all checked off in this recipe!
King Oyster Mushrooms & Spinach (with mushroom, spinach, calabrian chile, walnut, lemon)
Mushrooms are incredibly underutilized in plant-based cooking. Perhaps because they are not plants at all, but Fungi, their own Kingdom entirely. The important thing to ensure when consuming mushrooms is that you are using a variety that also has functional properties, which is the case with oysters (and some other culinary favorites like shiitake and maitake). Mushrooms are incredible allies to the immune system, and over 90% of our immune cells are located in our gut. This means gut health and immune health are interconnected. And if you read the above, gut health and brain health are also interconnected. This is the holistic approach to wellness.
Pineapple & Persimmons (with persimmon, pineapple, brazil nut)
Brazil nuts are rich in a mineral that is often difficult to find in many foods, selenium, which acts as a powerful antioxidant. With insufficient antioxidants, oxidative stress takes a toll on our bodies, including our mental health. There is promising research about supplementing with selenium for various neurodegenerative diseases.
Chocolate Pudding (with avocado, cocoa powder, agave, pecan, urfa)
Avocado is of course a brain food. Chocolate, rich in magnesium, supports cellular relaxation, allowing our bodies to unwind and destress. Only when we are out of stress and in a state of calm, can we truly expect our bodies and brains to function optimally.
Thank you to Danielle for providing the beautiful photo.