Why My Daughter Needed Mushrooms Instead of an EpiPen

*Note: This is a summary of our experience only and should in no way be taken as medical advice. If you suspect someone is having allergy symptoms, please seek care from a licensed physician. Anaphylactic reactions should be taken very seriously, call 911 or get to the hospital immediately.

A couple of months ago Sawyer came down with a cold and peaked a fever of 102 one evening. She wasn't under the weather for more than 48 hours, particularly, I believe, because she was able to get ample rest and avoid fever reducing medication. She was very quickly symptom-free and feeling great for two days, however, after her recovery, she woke with severe itchy feet.

She cried and clawed at her feet but I couldn’t see any topical irritant. She thrashed in her bed and I tried to calm the itch with oils, creams and ointments with no success.

Why My Daughter Needed Mushrooms Instead of an EpiPen | janny: organically.

It was 2 in the morning and I was scrambling just to help relieve her pain. I thought was perhaps it was athlete's foot or scabies, so I soaked her feet in apple cider vinegar and water while I stripped her bed and changed the sheets.

Nothing helped, but at some point, she was able to fall back asleep.

When she awoke that morning, she was itch-free…for about 15 minutes. Soon her face was covered in bumpy rash, then hives appeared on her feet. Slowly her entire body became covered in splotches of rashes and hives.

I actually don’t have photos of how bad the rashes got because during those times I was trying to calm Sawyer and/or on phone asking for opinions, googling everything

My mind jumped to various viruses that include a similar rash, but nothing added up. We saw her pediatrician later that day who said it was Roseola, which I protested. Roseola shouldn’t itch and is pretty rare in those over the age of two. Also, a rash from Roseola appears once high fever breaks, which she hadn’t had. Whatever it was, her doctor believed she should take more viral fighting supplements like olive leaf extract.

The rest of the day and through the night she was covered in a painful rash that wouldn't subside. I knew in my gut it wasn’t viral, but I took her to the store to grab every itch cream available in hopes that one might at least help calm the itch. While at the store, I noticed her little hands had swollen up like sausages about to burst. I threw her into the car to stage a drop-in for my doctor to take a look, but by the time we arrived, her swelling, rashes and hives were gone!

The EpiPen Prescription

After my doctor looked her over, she felt fairly certain there was some food or environmental factor playing a role in her rash/hives. Particularly because we pieced together the rash and hives were appearing within seconds to minutes of eating anything.

She gave me a prescription for an EpiPen, just in case it escalated to anaphylaxis and I scheduled a skin prick test with an allergist.

I should note that I was emotionally distressed. This isn't something most people prepare for, and I was thankful the pharmacist didn't give me the EpiPen demonstration because I would have broken down in tears.

Why My Daughter Needed Mushrooms Instead of an EpiPen | janny: organically.

This still doesn’t make sense

After she went to bed that second night, my husband and I spitballed ideas and I threw her "case" out to a few medically-sound friends while we chewed over the details.

It was particularly baffling to me because it wasn’t a food-specific reaction; she was reacting to everything in a waxing and waning effect. I kept going back to the fact this had started with an invisible itch of the feet.

What was I missing?

  • Maybe it was a histamine intolerance, but I'm familiar with high-histamine foods, histamine-releasing foods and low-histamine foods, and she reacted to even the low histamine foods

  • Perhaps it was a liver or kidney malfunction. Perhaps she's not detoxing properly (totally reasonable) and was revolting to the addition more food processing to the current load

One of the friends I reached out to was Olivia, from Organic Olivia, my herbalist go-to and someone who also prioritizes getting to the root of the problem. Her instinct was, because of Sawyer's earlier fever, her immune system was on high alert and then possibly reacting to the amount of stimulates she’d been given. Her suggestion was to focus on calming down her immune system.

Of course! Olivia and I had just talked about immune-stimulating vs. immune-modulating herbs!

When we first learned about mushrooms, my teacher talked about something called “post-infection syndrome” which is what happens when the body has cleared an infection but does not seem to register that it’s safe and the threat is gone. This can lead to debilitating allergies, immune system imbalance (i.e. autoimmunity) and everything from inflammation to skin rashes and more. The solution for those with post-infection syndrome? Calming the body to make it feel safe again… and mushrooms, of course!
— Organic Olivia

In fact, here's a good summary from Olivia’s notes from one of her classes:

Immune Stimulating vs. Immune Modulating

Immune-Stimulating Herbs: Stimulate the immune response to ACT NOW

  • Echinacea

  • Boneset

  • Wild Indigo

  • Myrrh

  • Spilanthes

  • Elderberry (though it has been shown that the pectin in elderberry is immune-modulating)

Immune-Modulating Herbs: Bring the immune system response up or down based on what the body needs

  • Reishi

  • Shiitake

  • Maitake

  • Codonopsis

  • Codyceps

  • Licorice Root (contraindicated for those with high blood pressure)

  • Astragalus (best for building up an immune system from a depleted state)

Because of the cold, I had given Sawyer extra vitamins and supplements in hopes that would assist her immune system to kick it faster. I kept giving them all to her even after she was symptom free, and it would seem it was too much for her body to handle with this particular bug,

After talking to Olivia, I discovered bag of dried Reishi and Maitake mushrooms in my kitchen (which is weird because I had never bought mushrooms prior to this) so, for breakfast, my daughter had an adaptogenic immune-modulating mushroom broth and chamomile tea. While she lodged a formal complaint with the chef about the yuck-factor associated with the broth, we had a happy, non-itchy girl.

I gave her one food item after another, spaced about 45 minutes apart. She got through the entire day without itching, rashes or hives.

*Cue the collective sigh of relief coming from my household.

We began each day with broth for a few days until, instead I began to use mushroom powder mixed in with a morning drink, like matcha or a cacao “hot chocolate” beverage. It’s been smooth sailing ever since.

Adaptogenic Shrooms for the win

Because certain mushrooms modulate the immune system, they may be categorized as adaptogens. I’m fascinated by adaptogens because they have the ability to normalize parts of the body based on what it needs. One of the best descriptors I've heard is that of a thermostat; when the temperature is too high, it gets brought down, when it's too low, it gets brought up. In this way, adaptogens can do the same by regulating the body's endocrine and immune functionality.

Because of their impact on the hormonal, immune and central nervous systems, one might find an adaptogen's effect on their life improving energy, mood, mental awareness, sexual vitality and so on. 

Adaptogens can be taken in the form of tea, broth, extract or powder in capsules or added to food or drink. They can help regulate the immune system function depending on an individual’s specific need. The chamomile tea helps calm the nervous system to regulate the HPA axis, which help regulate the immune system.

Please visit Organic Olivia’s recent post about Mushrooms; why they work and even a broth recipe!

What we take

  • Our whole family is loving Organic Olivia’s Immune Shroom. Charlie and I take two per day and I add a half capsule to Sawyer’s morning matcha, cacao drink or oatmeal if she’s eating it

I’ve always hated the taste of mushrooms, but because of this story, I’m a little mushroom-obsessed. This is the power of addressing the root problem instead of treating the symptoms!

final note: Trust your gut

Ever since my daughter’s rash appeared, nothing I’d read or been told about the situation felt right with my mama-intuition until the moment Olivia mentioned immune stimulation. Many of you know what I’m talking about; your instinct, intuition, gut, whatever you want to call it, isn’t satisfied and begs you to keep digging for the right answer.

A lot of people may tell you to trust your doctor since they are the experts, but you know what? Sometimes they aren’t! Sawyer’s pediatrician is an integrative M.D. and tend to treat more holistically, which I appreciate, but even she couldn’t look beyond the surface level of the rash. She was so sure it was Roseola until she couldn’t answer any of my objections or come up with a single case of she’d seen of Roseola presenting itself in such a severe manner in someone over the age of 2 without a high fever.

I have a lot of respect for Sawyer’s pediatrician, but the truth was she didn’t know what it was or what to do. The olive leaf extract would have made her worse. It would have further stimulated her over-stimulated immune system.

It is so important to be your own (and your children’s) advocate for health and wellness. Your doctors are hired by you and work for you (which also means you can fire them). Their answers/explanations should make sense or they should be humble enough to say when they are guessing. Do not be afraid to have them repeat themselves, explain it another way, consider another option, run more tests until your mama gut is settled. This might mean you need more than one opinion. In this case, it took at least three!