"My mother was very afraid of mushrooms when I was growing up. She told me if there were any growing on our lawn I wasn't to touch them because they could be poisonous. I think that sparked my interest," Dr. Weil tells us. In his 20s he spent time in the Pacific Northwest, a wild mushroom paradise. "I began to meet mushroom foragers and learn about different species. This was also the year magic mushrooms were coming to people's attention and I became interested in them."
Magic mushrooms contain an active component called psilocybin, which causes hallucinogenic effects when they're consumed. Although they're often taken recreationally, a 2017 study at Imperial College London also found they had a positive effect on people suffering from depression and scientists continue to research them as a legitimate treatment. If you've tuned into The Goop Lab with Gwyneth Paltrow on Netflix this year, you'll have been privy to the effects.
While integrative medicine remains a contentious subject, the proven benefits of mushrooms are hard to ignore. You won't find them alongside the button or Portobello in a British supermarket, but species such as Reishi and Cordyceps are used medicinally in Asia to improve physical health.
"They have tremendous benefits and most people in the West don't know about them," says Dr. Weil. "They've long been used in traditional Chinese medicine, especially for their immune-modulating functions". Benefits include increased resistance to both viral and bacterial infections, improved nerve growth and improved cognitive function.
In 2004, the former president of Origins, Daria Myers, visited Dr. Weil and asked if he would be interested in collaborating on the development of new skincare products. "I really didn't know anything about skincare," he says. "I didn't use it myself, but I had suggestions on the ingredients and my first was that they explore mushrooms. I gave a list of about a dozen species to investigate and we went back and forth over formulations until the first Mega-Mushroom line began."
Using mushrooms in skincare was revolutionary in the early 2000s, and Origins was the first brand to commercially do so. They blended Reishi, Sea Buckthorn and Fermented Chaga to create the Mega-Mushroom Complex. While initially it may not be as appealing as the likes of rose or saffron, the benefits include anti-inflammatory properties, redness reduction, and healing the skin's protective barrier. The range is now a bestseller.
So does former skincare novice Dr. Weil use the products himself? "I use the Mega-Mushroom products everyday," he tells us. "I use the Treatment Lotion first, then I apply the serum. I use one of the moisturising products, either the Soothing Cream or the new Hydraburst Gel."