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A Mushroom a Day Keeps the Doctor Away?

Student Co-founds Company Exploring the Health Benefits of Fungi

By Lucy Hubbard ’24

BaltiSpore products

A UMD undergrad, Harriet Harris '25 (below) is one of the founders of BaltiSpore, a Baltimore company that markets "functional" mushroom products that users say can bring a broad range of health benefits, from anxiety relief to helping to enhance chemotherapy treatments.

Photos courtesy of BaltiSpore

You’ve seen them spring up on your grass after a rain and in your salad, but could mushrooms be more than that?

Studies indicate turkey tail mushrooms might help chemotherapy patients by improving immune health, while the lion’s mane variety appears to support certain cognitive functions. A University of Maryland undergrad’s Baltimore company is working to demystify public perceptions of mushrooms while showing their holistic benefits through products such as a preformulated tincture and a grow kit for basement gardening of sorts.

Harriet Harris poses with dog

Harriet Harris ’25, cofounder of BaltiSpore, was introduced to fungi by a botany course at Washington State University. Their interest grew when they started hiking in the area and noticed the wide variety of fungi endemic to the West.

“I was going through a hard time there I was dealing with some PTSD,” said the agricultural science and technology major. “I started going out and hiking to break out of that and get myself familiar with unfamiliar surroundings … and mushrooms brought me so much joy.”

The native of Frederick, Md., returned to Maryland in 2020, working at an agricultural company for a few months before a high school friend connected them with Mike Holcomb, knowing both had a deep interest in plants. Holcomb owns a heating and air conditioning company in Baltimore, but after a major business slowdown during the pandemic, he opened Cultivated Creations, a decorative plant store in Baltimore’s Fells Point neighborhood.

“We realized we kind of had this mutual passion for mushrooms,” Harris said, leading them to wonder about a joint business venture. “And so I was like, ‘Well, what about mushrooms?’ And he's like, ‘Ah, maybe I'm really busy right now.’ And I think that night I got a text [and] he [said], ‘I'm in, let’s do this.’ And it just grew from there.”

Holcomb’s interest in mushrooms bloomed a decade earlier while he was grappling with a cancer diagnosis and subsequent mental health issues. Looking for a way to ease the physical and mental pain, he began using mushrooms to help him through his cancer treatment and recovery.

“I had 22 tumors in my lungs and had lost my job because of this and I started diving deep into things that would help me out during this health crisis,” Holcomb said. “And just dealing with all the depression anxiety that comes along with [it] and everything pointed me toward holistic medicine and functional mushrooms.”

He and Harris founded BaltiSpore in 2020 (two years before Harris enrolled at UMD) largely as an online business; its products are sold in Cultivated Creations. Its online sales span the United States, grossing $12,000 in just the last month. BaltiSpore specializes on functional mushrooms, or mushrooms that are thought to have medicinal benefits outside of their nutritional value. By far their most popular product is a lion’s mane tincture, which may help cognitive functions and immune health and act as an anti-inflammatory.

BaltiSpore aims to educate the community on the benefits of functional mushrooms, especially for those undergoing cancer treatment. Over Thanksgiving, the company donated 50 turkey tail tinctures to cancer patients in Baltimore.

One testimonial that sticks out to Holcomb came from a woman who was staying in Baltimore while her daughter received treatment at Johns Hopkins Hospital reached out to Holcomb over Instagram. After hearing that the daughter was having trouble sleeping, Holcomb took action.

“I gifted them a reishi tincture because I thought reishi [mushrooms] may be of benefit with the calming effects,” Holcomb said. “We got a message like the next day that said, ‘Hey, my daughter slept through the night for the first time and has been sleeping great, and the only thing that's changed is the mushroom tincture.’”

BaltiSpore also offers workshops covering topics ranging from teaching students at local high schools how to grow mushrooms to baking mushroom infused crab cakes. The company aims to disprove common misconceptions about mushrooms, which range from concerns about mushroom spores making you sick to causing a “Last of Us”-esque zombie apocalypse.

“I like the saying ‘demystifying mushrooms,’” CEO of BaltiSpore Chris Ellis said. “People aren't really sure about these things, and we need to make sure that people do know that [mushrooms] aren't that scary and not only that, that they're our friends, our allies. We need to harness their nutritional value [and] medicinal values.”



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