Tibetan Milk Fungus - The natural (and free!) probiotic similar to kefir

We all now know that probiotics are the daily health essential, sorting out both gut and mind in one expensive bacteria filled pill, but the cost of popping one daily for the rest of our lives could pay for a deposit on a retirement home for our final years! But what if there was a natural alternative, every bit as good - in fact, far better - that was free for yourself, and indeed for all your family and friends?

I was sitting on the beach last week, chatting to a Russian lady, when she asked me if I had heard of the Tibetan milk fungus? I had to confess I hadn’t, and she promptly disappeared off into her apartment and came back with a small plastic pot that she kindly presented me with. Inside it was a milky concoction with some odd whiteish grey lumps floating around. This it seemed was the Russian panacea for many of the everyday ailments affecting the human race. She told me that she drank the liquid daily, and that it had reduced her cholesterol levels dramatically. A friend of hers did the same and attributed her recovery from lung cancer to its healing properties.

I have to say it didn’t look particularly prepossessing but I carried it carefully home and googled whether everything she said could possibly be true.

What is Tibetan Milk Fungus?

The first thing I found, which made the thought of drinking it somewhat more palatable, was that it’s not technically a fungus at all, but, as one of the scientific studies more appealingly put it, ‘a fermented beverage composed by a dozen of bacteria and yeasts living together into polysaccharide grains secreted by them.’ Slightly gobbledy-gook, but seemingly then rather similar to kefir, the now popularized commercially produced probiotic drink.

Tibetan Milk Fungus is its ‘natural’ cousin and a very much more inexpensive option for what sounds like excellent results. So let’s call it my Tibetan grain from now on. It sounds a happier thing to drink.

Tibetan milk fungus health facts

Don’t take my word, or my Russian friend’s word, for it. I looked for some science to back up her claims, and found it.

This fermented Tibetan grain is officially (because there are actually some proper studies on it) anti-bacterial, anti-mould and immune boosting, all at the same time.

It contains health enhancing quantities of vitamins A, D, and E, zinc, iron, copper, selenium and molybdenum.

There are studies showing that it lowers your ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol levels, as well as controlling blood sugar levels and reducing inflammation.

There are also other claims made for it which have anecdotal evidence but no definitive research. It apparently dissolves kidney and gall stones; repopulates your gut with ‘good’ bacteria; heals stomach ulcers and removes heavy metals from the tissues and organs of the body; it helps normalise blood pressure and reduces plaque build up on the arteries. It clears up candida, keeps eczema and psoriasis under control and helps with depression.

If even half of it is true, this is one fungus you don’t want to start the day without!

How to make Tibetan Milk Fungus

Having a Tibetan grain of your very own is rather like having a pet. You are entirely responsible for its existence - and it lives and dies according to the amount and quality of care you give it.

If you are as lucky as me and randomly (though is there such a thing as random really?) get given a Tibetan milk fungus present, the first thing to know is that it must never touch metal - no sink, no teaspoon, no dish. It will die. Stick to plastic and glass where you can, however, and your fungus will flourish.

  1. So, first things first. Find a glass jar to house it in. Start by rinsing your fungus under the tap (no chlorinated water here or it will also give up the ghost). I use a small plastic fine mesh sieve.

  2. Pour organic whole or semi-skimmed milk into your jar, perhaps about a third of the way full, carefully place your grains in it and let it all sit peacefully in your kitchen for 24 hrs to ferment.

  3. Next morning, carefully strain the resulting somewhat thickened liquid into a glass, leaving your Tibetan grain behind in the sieve, and drink. It’s that simple.

  4. Repeat every day - strain and drink, rinse the fungus grains and put them back into a freshly filled jar of milk. Always drink on an empty stomach first thing in the morning, for 20 days in a row followed by a 10 day break.

Hey presto! Perfect health from that moment on.

(If you go off somewhere for a few days, just put your fungus in a bigger pot so it takes much longer to ferment or put it in the fridge, which will also slow the process.)

So what does Tibetan Milk Fungus taste like?

Basically, rather like sour milk. It’s bearable but not exactly delicious. I thought I would drink a glass a day, but quickly learnt that would not start me off on a happy note each morning. Now, I pour a couple of tablespoons over some sweet berries which makes it taste much nicer. It feels healthy - an unprocessed (and much less expensive) way of getting your daily probiotic dose and repopulating your gut bacteria.

Most fascinating of all, however, is to watch it growing each day. It’s a weird little blob, sitting in its jar of rapidly thickening liquid, dividing from time to time. Definitely a living organism - like having an off the planet being sitting in your fridge or on your kitchen sideboard. It changes shape and grows according to its environment; you can track it almost hour by hour. Put it in the cold and it slows, but on a hot day left indoors it rapidly multiplies. You can split it in two and start whole colonies of fungi filled jam jars.

It’s like a sci-fi game - will the Tibetan milk fungus take over the world, or can you stop it in its tracks?

This may be the closest you will ever get to playing superhero vs alien in real time!


Read more on gut health in my mini series:

An introduction to the microbiome

Microbes and the Microbiome 

How to feed your gut

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Make this year the year you ‘Reboot Your Health’.

You have only got one body.  If you don’t take care of it, who else is going to? 

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Written by health advocate Sara Davenport, founder of one of the UK's leading breast cancer charities, Breast Cancer Haven. With over twenty years' experience in holistic health, Sara's digital dose of wellness teaches you to listen to your body, tweak your lifestyle and improve your health. 

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