Talking Mushrooms with Tonya Papanikolov of Rainbo
What does it mean to “do shrooms”? The phrase generally suggests images of otherworldly psychedelic trips—but what if it meant something else? What if it meant taking care of your body, of being more present and at home with yourself than before? Enter Rainbo.
Founded by holistic nutritionist Tonya Papanikolov in 2019, the company takes organic, non-GMO, and sustainably-grown mushrooms and turns them into all-natural tinctures for the body and mind. Forget what you’ve been told; these are the real magic mushrooms.
“It’s been a long, long love affair,” Papanikolov says of her experience as a self-professed fungi fanatic. She’s speaking via video, seated on the floor of her Toronto bedroom, and she exudes a comforting energy, even through the screen. Papanikolov first discovered the power of mushrooms in 2011, when she went to an alternative medicine talk put on at her university; she still has the notes on her phone from that day, a buried yet ever-present reminder of how it all began. “I was really captivated about hearing and learning about chaga,” she recalls, referencing one of the more popular fungi. “And then from there I started to forage for mushrooms in Canada and learn more about the traditional uses.”
Food as medicine: it’s a simple and seemingly obvious idea, yet it’s something the wider public is still warming up to. But age-old teachings in Traditional Chinese Medicine, ayurveda, and even Ancient Egypt have been promoting this way of living for a long, long time: suggesting to us that everything is connected, that we need to look at things holistically, that the answers to many of our problems have been in the earth all along.
“We’re really passionate about education and getting people healthier, and equipping people with more knowledge on this plant kingdom,” says Papanikolov. “Because there’s such a rich history of traditional use—and also a growing body of clinical research that is really only getting larger and larger year by year.”
Many medicinal mushrooms are adaptogens, meaning that they can help regulate the body and aid in its resistance to stress (which can in turn can assist with proper digestion, mental clarity, energy levels, and even immunity). More well-known fungi like the aforementioned chaga, along with lion’s mane and reishi, have started to seep from the wellness fringes into the mainstream, and Rainbo sells each of those in a tincture form that can be added to coffee, tea, or a smoothie (or taken by itself). But it’s the brand’s 11:11 that really shows Papanikolov’s understanding of these plants; a powerful blend of 11 different mushrooms, it’s essentially a fungi multivitamin, providing a potent hit of everything the body needs to operate at its optimal level.
Papanikolov is walking proof of the power of these plants. Prior to discovering medicinal mushrooms, she had long been suffering from health issues, most of them tied to stress. Once she started “doing shrooms” regularly, however, she began to notice profound physical and mental changes.
“I was experiencing, honestly everything from digestive imbalances—so constant bloating—to sleep issues, to memory issues and brain fog, cognitive things. And I had been going through that for quite a long period of time,” she acknowledges. “I had skin issues, rashes—not so much psoriasis, but actual hives that would come up during stressful periods. And so [taking mushrooms] was just the beginning of feeling: ‘Okay, whoa. My mind feels resilient. My body feels resilient.’”
Which is why she’s now on a mission to share her findings with everyone she can. Rainbo even leads mushroom foraging expeditions during the warmer months, allowing people in the Greater Toronto Area to learn about the plants that eventually turn into the brand’s happy little tinctures.
“I love being in the forest. It's probably one of my favorite places,” Papanikolov says. “I still forage. I always will; I have so much to learn from an identification standpoint.” She pauses briefly, continues: “And that’s where the mushrooms are at.”
Feature image by Nathan Legiehn.