Mushrooms are the coolest things on earth. The Egyptians even called them the “food of the gods”. They have captivated human imagination for centuries, and culinary delights are just the tip of the fungal iceberg. Aside from taking centre stage in gourmet kitchens, mushrooms boast incredible potential, from altering states of consciousness to solving climate change.
A Silent Network Beneath our World
Underneath the ground we walk on lies an intricately woven silent communication system. Fungi have tiny thread-like structures called mycelium, which web together connecting plants and trees and transmitting chemical messages in their underground labyrinth. Not only do fungi sustain ecosystems, but they also establish harmony in forests allowing seemingly inanimate organisms to ‘talk’ to one another.
The Magic of Mushrooms
Populating many mediaeval stories and folklore, mushrooms used for ‘magic’ were first recorded in 1799. Published in ‘The Medical and Physical Journal,’ a family's dinner containing foraged mushrooms produced strange symptoms like laughter, dilated pupils and fluttering pulses. At the time, this was an unknown phenomenon, though it would soon be known as hallucinogenic.
Shrooms have the power to alter states of consciousness and have been used for centuries both scientifically and spiritually. The precise action in the brain remains unknown, though many users report mystical experiences with the divine. Shrooms have been ignored by the scientific community since the 60s, however they have gained legitimacy in recent years.
Mushrooms are nutrient-packed powerhouses in healing humans. From boosting the immune system to healing hearts to promoting gut health to potentially fighting cancer to micro-dosing to reducing stress, mushrooms have it all.
These fungal wonders are not a new discovery. Mushrooms as medicine have been used for centuries and have an extensive cultural history, from Hippocrates discovering amadou mushrooms' anti-inflammatory properties to the puffball being used for wounds by North Americans. It was even a mushroom that led to the discovery of penicillin, the first-ever antibiotic.
In the realm of naturopathy, one mushroom gaining prominence is Lion's Mane. This big, white mushroom vaguely resembles a tree's beard and is mainly used in Asia. Research indicates Lion’s Mane’s potential for dementia prevention, relieving anxiety and depression symptoms, healing the nervous system, and various digestive benefits.
Mushrooms are packed with essential ingredients for human health and their treasure trove of therapeutic benefits is now being rediscovered.
Saving the World
Mushrooms saving the world might sound like a dramatic statement, but the potential is in the papers. Fungi have gained traction in recent years for their ability to contribute significantly to environmental sustainability. Sustainable materials like packaging, sustainable agriculture improving soil health, increasing crop yields, alternative protein sources, waste management and removing greenhouse gases in the air through bioremediation are just a few ways fungi can help the environment.
One of the most exciting findings in fungi research is the possibility of ‘eating’ plastic. The ocean is now populated with millions of tonnes of plastic and millions more on land. We are now facing the repercussions of our plastic past, with harmful microplastic toxins being identified in the vast majority of our products and depleting wildlife. However, many fungal and bacterial strains have been identified as capable of breaking down plastics. This has incredible implications for plastic clean-up and saving our homes.
So, it's becoming clear that mushrooms are the unsung heroes of our ecosystems. From silent communication systems to ground-breaking discoveries, mushrooms will continue to educate and inspire for years to come.
Words + Image: Ellen Knox, she/her