We speak with Simon Salter, co-founder of mushroom brand, DIRTEA, about his journey to discovering the power of mushrooms, natural ways to care for your mind and body, and tools you can harness to improve your sleep. We found many synergies between our two brands, aside from our love for mushrooms and all their possible health benefits, we also have a huge appreciation for the power of the natural, and the need for looking after yourself in this fast-paced world.
Can you tell us a little bit about your journey to launching Dirtea?
Finding mushrooms was actually accidental. Around six years ago, my brother and I were building our business, which was proving successful, but disregarding our physical and mental wellbeing, we were accumulating a panoply of chronic symptoms from stress and sleep deprivation. We’d become dishevelled from burnout and we were looking for some answers other than going to see the doctor. We found ourselves going to see a tea master who was in town for a couple of weeks serving mushroom tea. Being candid, I thought we were going to be drinking a psychedelic mushroom brew, but the reality was that this was a very different form of magic.
We sat in a dark, dimly lit room, with the smell of Palo Santo and lovely music playing in the background. For each of the different types of mushroom (Reishi, Lions Mane and Chaga) she shared a narrative with each one being so steeped in history, we were going back around 2000 years to the Tao dynasty. They came in a powder form, steeped in hot water, and handed to us as a sacrament. At first, I was under the impression that what I experienced was a placebo effect, of which I’m a big supporter, but after looking into the history and science behind mushrooms, I quickly realised the lasting effect they could have.
To be a part of that experience blew our tired minds, and we knew we wanted to share it. We bought a couple of months' supply of mushrooms from her and we built them into our lifestyle. Remarkably, we noticed our sleep improve, no anxiety, no panic attacks and a greater sense of presence. We began creating salons on a Friday night in our living room, unearthing all this knowledge and offering it to our friends. We spoke about how they had healed us. They, too, felt amazing and that amazingness carried on. We asked ourselves - how many more people can be healed by these mushrooms? So that’s how it kind of started. We made jars and filled them with mushrooms, and we were accidentally building a business.
How do you care for your body & mind?
I believe we need to become the CEO of our own bodies, which means really looking after, and looking into what you put into your body and how you treat it. I mentioned before about the first answer to any kind of issue usually being to see a doctor - our trusted source - but really the bandwidth of what they can offer is so limited, and normally it results in being handed a pill. So I looked at the alternative areas of prevention, and everything was leading towards traditional Chinese medicine, a remarkable area to look into, which has also, I think, been dismissed by my generation to some capacity. I’ve never looked back, and haven’t seen a GP in four to five years thanks to mushrooms.
Growing up I was never educated about the mind. We started asking ourselves, how can we rebuild what’s within? The miracle that we have within. There are so many natural tools that we can adopt and harness to quiet the mind down and suppress those external factors, such as anxiety.
I think also, to wake in the mornings with a deep and meaningful purpose is a must, as this has dictated my day ahead. The way I see things, whatever the challenge may be on the front line, there’s a greater kind of excitement with what I’m doing daily, even against those challenges.
You mentioned natural tools that you use, do you have any non-negotiables in your wellness routine?
I've adopted many tools over the years, very simple tools, such as using our most powerful tool - breath. You can shift the body chemistry in remarkable ways that no other medicine can do so instantaneously. Dr Andrew Weil, who's a naturopath and lover of mushrooms, devised a technique called the 4-7-8. It uses these calm breath holds which puts the body into the parasympathetic state before sleep, and is also incredible before going into a stressful situation.
There’s also something called box breathing which was coined by ex Navy seal Mark Divine. When entering a stressful state or if you become anxious about sleep, controlling the breath with the box breathing in turn helps calm the nervous system. All of this, by the way, is through nasal breathing. I recently learnt that humans are the worst breathers in the animal kingdom, and if we didn’t breathe so much through our mouths we would be exposed to so many chronic symptoms.
As well as utilising the power of breath, I love reishi, it has a compound that can instantly calm the nervous system. The science is remarkable but the experiences, certainly from those we know that drink it, are incredible. It has a very calming effect.
I also like the extremities of heat and cold. I’ve always swam at the Serpentine lake in the mornings, I then follow it up with a sauna. The idea is you can integrate the fear of anxiety and stress in the cold, by doing so, you can then pivot that into other general stressors. The extremity of the heat from the sauna is also great for the body both mentally and physically, it’s actually similar to the same thing that lion’s mane does; activating the BDNF (brain derived neurotrophic factor) and increasing brain cells. I’ve loved integrating these natural principles over a quick fix, like a pill.
Just like we have sleep cycles, we have cycles in life where sleep comes more easily than others. Do you use any tools to help you sleep when you struggle?
It’s been a trial and error for about five years, all natural as well. My bedroom is my sanctuary, that's my mantra. All indicators from smell, touch, temperature, sound. - 16 degrees is my bedroom temperature. It puts your body into deep recovery and increases your deep sleep. Your mornings are dictated by how you spend your evenings, so I make sure I limit or add in certain things in the evenings, to make the next day better.
I use a Whoop device to monitor certain aspects, it’s ubiquitous now, but it was actually coined for the NHL - the players weren’t on point like they should be, and this monitors sleep strain, breath per minute, heart rate variability and you could look at these measurements and make the best decision for your body. It’s almost become my beacon of choice.
When it comes to sound I love brain.fm. These two neuroscientists in San Diego have patented this incredible sound - a frequency of these waves that manipulates your brain waves, which I find allows me to slow down. Brain.FM can also put you in a quick state of meditation allowing you to switch off quickly when you have an active mind.
The great challenge is to keep the phone away from you - there’s a company called RA optics which is the leading company for blue eye blockers. They suppress about 98% of all blue light, and as it’s very easy for the circadian rhythm to be jolted slightly if you have too much blue light from screens and artificial lights, this is really important for me.
The response to the breathing techniques have been really incredible in regards to sleep. Also, where we don’t have much sun here in the UK, there is red light therapy, which we have here in the office. I guess in some capacity we’re deficient in this light, and there’s lots of studies on red light therapy and better sleep.
What’s been the most fascinating part of your journey?
Learning the science that’s come out about mushrooms in the last 20-25 years. It’s allowing us to rediscover why our ancestors were stepping into mushrooms. The medicinal properties in reishi for instance were revered as a sacred offering from the Gods as they calmed the nervous system, suppressed illness and increased longevity (hence its name the mushroom of longevity). Lion’s Mane and its impact on brain health. Chaga and it being the highest source of antioxidants compared to anything else that nature has to offer. We share a special symbiosis with mushrooms and as much as they heal us, they are also the future of the planet.
The DIRTEA tribe evolved, as part of my morning Serpentine ritual. I posted online and it kind of commenced the disciple effect. A lot of those that come along to the swims have dispelled anxiety and have incredible sleep. I love that through what I am doing in my own life, it’s allowed me to spread open other opportunities and tools that we naturally own, that if harnessed in the right way, can improve our wellbeing.