Mycology is the branch of biology that studies fungi. There are up to 14,000 species.
Fungi are neither plant nor human but more evolutionary similar to man than plants.
In fact, a mushroom isn't even something that grows independently. It's just the fruiting part of a hidden organism called a mycelium. The mycelium is a web-like structure that grows underground or inside the pores of decaying wood, and it can grow very large. A mycelium that grows in the Blue Mountains in Oregon measures 2.4 miles across and is arguably the largest living organism on Earth.
Given the right conditions and sufficient moisture, a mycelium sprouts its fruiting bodies, which pierce the surface of the growing medium and grow into structures characteristic of the species. The structures vary, but they typically include the following components:
Cap – This may be parasol- or cup- shaped, conical or round, and it may be mottled, smooth or covered with small nibs. It may or may not have a skin that is easy to peel off.
Stem – The stem reaches from the cap to the growing medium. It can be long and slender or short and fat. It may or may not be hollow. Not all mushrooms have a stem. Those that grow on decayed wood often don't, nor do puffballs, which are large, round and mostly edible (although some poisonous mushrooms look like puffballs when they're younger, so you can't assume that puffy thing on the ground is safe to eat).
Gills – The gills are the spore-producing part of the mushroom. They are on the underside of the cap and may be ribbed or consist of a large number of small holes. Some mushrooms have protuberances called teeth instead of gills, and some, such as chanterelles, have veins.
Ring or Annulus – When a ring is present, it's usually wrapped around the stem just underneath the cap. It's a vestige of the universal veil the mushroom had to break through as it sprouted.
Volva – The volva is a bulging section at the base of the stem. It's often underground. The presence of a volva, especially one with a ring around it, is often an indication that the species is poisonous.
(This info is copied from the sciencing.com resource, as provided below)
Fungi are fundamental for life on earth in their roles as symbionts...Many fungi are able to break down complex organic biomolecules such as lignin, the more durable component of wood, and pollutants such as xenobiotics, petroleum, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. By decomposing these molecules, fungi play a critical role in the global carbon cycle. (wikipedia)
The word mycologycomes from the Greek: μύκης (mukēs), meaning "fungus" and the suffix-λογία(-logia), meaning "study". Thus Mycotherapy, is the use of fungi as a resource for nutritional & medicinal purposes.
They can be used as a food, medicine or resource. Many fungi produce toxins, antibiotics, and other secondary metabolites.
It seems that humans have been collecting mushrooms, as food, since pre-historic times and the classification thereof dates back BC.
They preserve well when dried, frozen or canned, can be eaten cooked or raw, are a super alternative to meat, giving a similar beefy taste & satiety factors, and are low in calories but yet high in complex carbohydrates (polysaccharides) and water content.
As an edible fungus, the mushroom can provide many important nutrients. Each kind of fungi have different offerings nutritionally. Mushrooms contain
proteins - building and repair
vitamins - contribute towards operating processes e.g. B complex, Vit D, vitamin C and a whole bunch more.
minerals - contain essential elements for chemical processing e.g. magnesium and potassium.
antioxidants (the things that help 'fight' free radicals from the enzymatic process of oxidation) from glutathione to selenium
immune system supporters e.g. beta-glucans.
fibre - natural roughage that your gut biome feast off.
Some of the types of mushrooms suitable for cuisine are, click on mushroom name/type to see specific nutritional values and benefits for each:
white, or “button”
shiitake - also see medicinal benefits, below
Mushrooms make a fine meal on their own, or a compliment to many recipes. Other than raw, they can be fried, baked, sautéed, pureed, and preserved in various ways.
As a food source, they offer much value, but then we add the contribution of medicinal benefits, and it becomes a superfood.
After we use food as a primary focus, in the Compass to Wellness, we can begin to look at ways to gain more health benefits, from fungi.
Mushrooms have been used for centuries in China, Japan & Russia, as a folk medicine. are examples of drugs that have been isolated from molds or other fungi.
Medicinal fungi research has lead to the development of many 'drug treatments'.
These are some examples of drugs that have been isolated from molds or other fungi:
Penicillin - anti-biotic for bacterial infections,
Ciclosporin - anti-inflammatory for aches & pains,
Griseofulvin - anti-fungal for athletes foot, ringworm, 'jock itch' etc.,
Cephalosporin - antibiotic to treat bacterial infections
Mushrooms produce large amounts of vitamin D (read this blog to see benefits) when exposed to ultraviolet (UV) light. Low levels of this vital nutrient can lead to many issues e.g. stubborn weigh loss, low energy levels, loss of bone density, compromised immune functionality, etc. Many fungi act as adaptogens (a natural substance considered to help the body adapt to stress) and have a great benefit as a tool/resource in stress management.
There are many species to choose from and each serves it's own health buffet of medicinal benefits:
Chaga mushrooms contain antioxidants that can help lower inflammation in the body. Mainly used to boost immunity and over-all health. Traditionally ground up into a powder and taken as a tea, but these days it's available in a variety of forms e.g. capsule. Good alternative to coffee.
Reishi mushrooms might improve heart health by lowering LDL cholesterol levels. Indicated to boost immune system, anti-cancer properties, reduce fatigue and depression, blood sugar benefits etc. Available in dried & capsulated form.
Cordyceps (one of my favourites!) can boost natural energy levels and oxygen intake by up to 15 percent, Tibetan sherpas take Cordyceps when climbing Mount Everest. This is because the mushroom helps the body to produce energy and utilise oxygen more efficiently. Imagine what it does for athletes and the elderly. You can find this mushroom growing at high altitudes in the mountains of China, Tibet and Nepal. It was first recorded in 2800 BC in the Pen Tsao, an ancient Chinese directory of medicinal plants. And it’s used to boost energy, immunity and stamina. It’s a supplement of choice for many world-class athletes because it contains
Vitamins B1, B2, B12, E, and K
Various minerals, including magnesium, iron, zinc, selenium and calcium
Protein and essential amino acids
A range of sugars and polysaccharides
Lion's Mane (Hericium erinaceus) might influence brain health by stimulating the Nerve Growth Factor (NGF) production in the body. Lion’s mane mushrooms contain bioactive substances that have beneficial effects on the body, especially the brain, heart and gut.
Agaricus blazei (Brazillian Sun Mushroom)
Contains more of the immune-stimulating polysaccharide, beta-glucan, than any other mushroom. Also helps reduce blood sugar, cholesterol and blood pressure levels. Found to have an anti-cancer effect – particularly in cancers of the breast and uterus. Thought to help the immune system resist and fight cancer effectively.
Turkey Tail (Coriolus versicolor)
Probably the most well-researched mushroom around – over 400 studies support its immuno-modulating action. Has anti-microbial, anti-viral and anti-tumour properties. Used to help treat respiratory, urinary and gastrointestinal infections, as well as hepatitis B and other liver diseases. Contains polysaccharide K (PSK), or Krestin, a potent compound responsible for its infection fighting talents.
Maitake (Grifola frondosa)
An “adaptogen” that helps balance various body system. Rich in amino acids, vitamins and minerals like potassium, calcium and magnesium. Used to help treat fatigue, hypertension and liver disease. Found to help regulate glucose, insulin, blood pressure and cholesterol levels
Reishi (Ganoderma species)
It’s an antioxidant and an analgesic. Used in the treatment of infections like bronchitis and hepatitis. Can help lower blood pressure and cholesterol. Shown to combat allergies, fatigue, altitude sickness and low libido
Shiitake (Lentinula edodes)
Strong anti-viral action. One of very few natural vegan sources of vitamin B12. Can help in the treatment of allergies, Candidiasis, arthritis, high cholesterol and immuno-suppressive conditions. Helps strengthen the liver and treat hepatitis. Contains Lenthionine, a compound that stops platelets from clumping together and clotting. Being investigated as a potential thrombosis treatment
Psilocybin a naturally occurring psychedelic prodrug compound with mind altering effects, used, with great benefit for depression, anxiety & additions. Works like SSRI anti-depressants, on a pharmacological level. Read more here and here, for current news on research and studies.
Not all fungi are safe for consumption. Some mushrooms are inedible due to being toxic to the body. Never ingest a fungi unless you are certain of it's type. Using a mushroom identifier app or book is recommended, see resources below.
"A number of factors enter into a positive identification. They include not just appearance, but also location, season and growing conditions. Even if you can't make a positive identification, some general characteristics can alert you to the likelihood of a dangerous species."
Mushrooms are being used in so many ways to help us live, over and above food & medicine, and dubbed Mycotecture. Follow links to read more on these items.
Construction materials that are compostable & completely organic e.g. bricks
Fungi are a sustainable resource - strong, durable, resilient and can be moulded, formed and manipulated.
The future is fun-guys!