Monday, June 29, 2009 | 12:57 p.m.
A highly coveted medicinal fungus that only grows naturally on the heads of caterpillars living above 14,000 feet in the Himalaya mountains can also be found in Carson City, Nev.
John C. Holliday is to thank for that.
While many may not understand the significance behind Holliday’s ability to grow this unique fungus from tissue cultures, it’s noteworthy to mention that many people around the world are enjoying health benefits from his Northern Nevada organically grown products.
Holliday began his professional career as a mechanical engineer, spending some time building equipment for nuclear submarines in Hawaii. Cultivating mushrooms as a hobby since 1976, Holliday started Mushroom Maui in 1997. He sold the company to Aloha Medicinals in 2000 and became the president and head of research for the medicinal mushroom company with the move. Two years later, Holliday moved Aloha Medicinals to Santa Cruz, Calif., and then to Carson City 18 months ago.
“The business atmosphere is much more friendly here than in California,” he said. “The NNDA (Northern Nevada Development Authority) has been just a wonderful support. … I can honestly say the best thing I ever did was move my business to Nevada.”
Holliday leaned on his mechanical engineering background to build the equipment necessary to replicate the growth environment of the high Himalayas so that his company could produce Cordyceps, the earlier-mentioned fungus known around the world for its immune system-enhancing and infection-fighting properties in humans and animals. Holliday sells raw Cordyceps and mushroom medicinals to more than 700 drug and supplement companies around the world, in addition to selling some under the Aloha Medicinals name.
The company grows more than 75 percent of the world’s supply of Cordyceps and sells it and other medicinal mushroom products to more than 30 countries. With sales growing to $3.6 million in 2008, Holliday expects them to balloon to $50 million soon, with the completion of an agreement to sell the company’s Immune-Assist 247 product in Africa, where it has proven to be effective in helping HIV/AIDS sufferers.
Holliday, who is editor of the International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms, was awarded an honorary doctorate degree in mycology from the Chinese scientific community for his research work on the medicinal effects of mushrooms; and he has lectured in more than 20 countries on the topic.
While other countries consider mushroom formulations and some of Aloha Medicinals’ supplements actual drugs, gaining that title in America is difficult. But Holliday doesn’t allow the inability to get his products approved as drugs in America to keep him from marketing effective products around the world.
“In the U.S., a drug must be able to be described down to a single molecule. But nature isn’t that simple. It isn’t a single active molecule but rather an entire suite of compounds (that makes mushrooms medicinally effective),” Holliday said. “Things are looked at as dietary supplements in this country, where in other countries … those same things may be regarded as a mainstream treatment.”