Updated: Jan 12
They're in your yard lying dormant beneath the soil, they're in the air traveling with the autumn breezes, they're in the miso soup so many of us enjoy. We're talking about fungi! Many of us are familiar with the phallic shaped fruiting bodies that pop up in our yards, gardens, or forest also known as a mushroom. They come in all shapes, sizes, and colors and most are powerhouses of nutrients, and healing constituents. The kingdom of Fungi is a close relative of the past, almost like a mixture of plantae and animalia, these peculiar species have so much to tell us. Are you ready to dive briefly into The Fungus Among Us?
The earliest Fungi fossils date back 2,400 million years ago, and its estimated that over 2.2-3.8 million species exist although only around 120,000 species have been classified. This means there a millions waiting to be discovered. Of all kingdoms the fungi have the least known about them. Still these delicious yet sometimes terrifying creatures have so much to offer us. Especially in this time of environmental calamity.
Fungi offer solutions for a sustainable future for both our external and internal worlds.
Although we often see mushrooms (fruiting bodies) popping up and disappearing in our yard or the woods. Most of the species of fungi lies underground as something we call mycelium.
Mycelium are a colony of hyphae ( long, branching filamentous structure) that branch off into the soil and spread. Imagine your nerves spread into the soil like a root system. These colonies form networks with the trees and plants to transmit information and nutrients through their environment. You could say they're the nervous system of the forest that surround us. You can often find amended soil that contain beneficial mycorrhizal for ensuring optimal nutrient uptake from garden beds, and containers. Without this network forest as we know them wouldn't be able to sustain themselves.
Another aspect to the fungi are that mushrooms are saprophytes. That means they decompose matter that would otherwise build up in nature such as fallen trees and decaying materials. In fact mushrooms can break down anything that contains carbon. They have been demonstrated to decompose cigarette butts and oil through a process called mycoremediation! This makes them a excellent solution to some of our current waste issues! (https://fungi.com/blogs/articles/the-petroleum-problem) You can learn more in Paul Stamets book "Mycelium Running, How mushrooms can save the future" A company has even begun using mushrooms as a form of packaging to replace things such as Styrofoam and cardboard.(https://mushroompackaging.com)
One of the most fascinating things to about fungi to me is that mushrooms spores can travel endlessly using us as courier. Mushrooms spores can cling to articles of clothing and travel from cities, states, even continents. After it makes its way to a new location it makes its way to the dinner plate or the medicine cabinet of every almost every culture. The most notable ones are categorized as medicinal, or gourmet mushrooms! Medicinal mushrooms contain medical constituents not found anywhere else in the natural world and may assist in relieving a plethora of diseases. Gourmet mushrooms are mushrooms that contain beneficial vitamins and nutrients that can replace other maybe not so easily digestible or obtainable food sources. Mushrooms exist all around us and can bring medicine right to our doorstep. For instance in the state of Georgia and most of the east coast, where I reside you can find...
Also known as the mushroom of immortality. This mushroom is native to Asia originally. Yet it has made its way to a forest near you. This beautiful deeply colored mushroom has been considered a medicinal mushroom for over 2000 years in Chinese medicine. Culturally it was considered to have tonifying effects, enhancing vital energy, strengthening cardiac function, increasing memory, and antiaging effect. Energetically speaking Reishi was said to replenish your Qi. Science has been able to confirm some of this ancient wisdom with modern test. Experiments have shown results positive results for its potential use to aid in cancer treatment or as a potential immunomodulator, antioxidant, antimicrobial, and hepaprotective (liver)
This mushrooms can be found throughout most of the northern hemisphere and it's use dates back. 2,000+ years. Although not as renown as the reishi, it is in the Chinese Materia medica. Traditionally this herb was prepared as a tea, but can also me made as a potent tincture! In Chinese medicine turkey tails are said help replenish spirit. In western medicine studies have been done to test the efficacy of Turkey tails as a supplemental additive to cancer treatments, it is also a potential potent antioxidant. Another example of how ancient medicine parallels modern medicines findings just with slightly different translations of the vocabulary of their time.
The mighty Lions Mane mushroom is one of peculiarity. Belonging to a group of known as tooth fungus meaning it produces spores on tooth like projections. Native to North America, Europe, Asia. It also has a history in Chinese medicine as a tonic and longevity mushroom. Traditionally Native Americans also used the powder of this fungus to treat open wounds. Current research is showing the possibility for Lions Mane to assist with neurodegenerative disorders. In one experiment "The pre-clinical and clinical studies have demonstrated that H. erinaceus significantly ameliorates depressive disorder through monoaminergic modulation, neurogenic/neurotrophic, and anti-inflammatory pathways, indicating the potential role of H. erinaceus as complementary and alternative medicine for the treatment of depression." (Chong, P. S., Fung, M. L., Wong, K. H., & Lim, L. W. (2019). Therapeutic Potential of Hericium erinaceus for Depressive Disorder. International journal of molecular sciences, 21(1), 163. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms21010163) Oddly enough Lions Mane slightly resembles a brain, perhaps that is natures way of displaying its intricate design and benefits.
A yearly prized fungus to forage in the northern hemisphere. In fact commercial harvesting of morels is a multi-million dollar industry. Much confusion lies in the amount of species that lie in this genus. It's taxonomy is still currently being clarified. The ecology of Morels is also a bit varietal, as many species display different environmental conditions to be present in. Still these funky sac like fungus is a culinary delicacy. DO NOT consume them raw as they contain thermolabile toxins that must be cooked out.
Psciiocybe Willi is Georgia's only known "native" magic mushroom and named after profound Dr. Andrew Weils. Magic mushrooms typically contain the compound known as Psilocybin and others. Psilocybin is a psychedelic compound that was made illegal in the late 1970's. Before becoming illegal Psilocybin was the subject of many psychological studies and recently thanks to modern activist. The DEA has approved for scientific studies to resume in certain areas. Data is compiling on its potential effects on improving stress related disorders and neurogenerative regrowth. Acceptance is growing so widely that cities are beginning to decriminalize possession of personal doses of magic mushrooms!
You may be seeing these in mushroom kits at your local stores or in a local farmers market! Oyster mushrooms are becoming quite popular, partially due to their size, consistency and how easy they are to grow. Native to Europe, north Africa and the middle east. You may also find this mushroom under the names King Trumpet, French Horn, or King Brown mushroom.
King Oyster mushrooms have a thick and fleshy stem almost like meat, making them a great alternative to your standard meat protein. When cooked they produce a delicious umami flavor. Their consistency can be compared to that of scallops or shrimp.
One of the most commonly wild foraged mushrooms in north America and other places around the world, Chanterelle is the common name for many in the family Cantharellus. Chanterelles first began to pop up in French cuisine during the 18th century and remained a delicacy for nobles for many years. Prized for their rich flavors,
Hen of the Woods/Maitake
Maitake is another medicinal mushroom in eastern medicine. "Mai" means to dance, "take" means mushrooms, thus is known as the dancing mushroom in Japan. They say that during feudal times maitake rivaled the cost of silver, mostly due to the fact it's rarely found wildly in japan. In North America it is more abundantly found, and we call in by the name Hen of the Woods. Maitake not only make a delicious addition to your daily meals but provide many potential medicinal effects. A Japanese scientist studied the polysaccharides in Maitake and determined that their structure was not only unique but they could be some of the most powerful studied to date. In animal studies Maitake displayed amazing antitumoral effects. Others studies have shown that this fun guy may be helpful with managing hypertension, liver ailments, weight control, and HIV.
Chicken of the woods
The name of this mushroom speaks for itself. Most foragers and connoisseurs claim this mushroom taste exactly like the texture of chicken. After recently having this mushroom I can attest they are telling the truth. When preparing this mushroom gently wash it then boil it in water for up to an hour to bring in more moisture and release chitin. Chitin is a polysaccharide that makes up the cell wall of mushrooms giving it a firmer structure. Boiling the water will make the mushroom have more of a chicken breast texture and make it more digestible. You can prepare this mushroom anyway you would prepare chicken!
Ratto, D., Corana, F., Mannucci, B., Priori, E. C., Cobelli, F., Roda, E., Ferrari, B., Occhinegro, A., Di Iorio, C., De Luca, F., Cesaroni, V., Girometta, C., Bottone, M. G., Savino, E., Kawagishi, H., & Rossi, P. (2019). Hericium erinaceus Improves Recognition Memory and Induces Hippocampal and Cerebellar Neurogenesis in Frail Mice during Aging. Nutrients, 11(4), 715. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11040715
Wachtel-Galor S, Yuen J, Buswell JA, et al. Ganoderma lucidum (Lingzhi or Reishi): A Medicinal Mushroom. In: Benzie IFF, Wachtel-Galor S, editors. Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects. 2nd edition. Boca Raton (FL): CRC Press/Taylor & Francis; 2011. Chapter 9. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK92757/
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