First published online for The Sound, October 16, 2019
If you read my column on the regular you know I am crazy passionate about saving our planet, and with the Global Climate Strike and the powerful images that came with it still on the top of everyone’s mind, you would think another planetary rant was on the way. However, I got my anger out in my article last month, and in previous articles have given you tips and tricks on how to be a better steward for Planet Earth. Instead, I would like to talk about one of the true miracles that our planet has to offer in true hippie fashion, and address the magic of mushrooms.
The term mushroom refers to the fruiting body of fungi, and typically grows above ground in soil or on its food source, such as a tree. There are, in fact, so many species of fungi and they have such an important impact on our planet that fungi is one of the six recognized kingdoms of living organisms on Earth. In addition to mushrooms, fungi include some molds like the ones found on cheese and those used for medicine like penicillin, and yeasts like those to make bread and beer. Fungi also have the human-like need of nutrition from other organisms, which is only one of the many human-type behaviours that fungi have.
Underneath these fairy-tail like little beings is an impressive network of roots that are almost mythical themselves in what they are capable of. This root system of mushrooms, known as the mycelium, expands far beyond where the mushrooms are growing, and chances are if you are out and about in nature you are standing on such a network without realizing it. In fact, in Eastern Oregon there is a honey mushroom mycelium that is considered to be the world’s largest living organism that spans just under 2000 football fields and is between two and eight thousand years old. Isn’t that wild (well, quite literally)?!
The truly astounding ability that this underground system has is the ability to communicate. And not just with other fungi, but with almost all plants. 90% of all land plants are connected through this network and talk to each other through it. You can essentially think of this network as that friend we all have that is really good at keeping the group talking and getting everyone together. It has been termed Earth’s natural internet. The mycelium has the ability to warn other plants of danger coming such as an invasive species. It can help plants flourish and become more resistant to disease by improving their “immune” systems. How cool is it to think that there is a whole community of roots underneath us helping each other out?
In addition to the incredible power mushrooms have to communicate and help the plant world stay in touch, they also have a wide variety of healing properties, and is why they are termed medicinal mushrooms. Fun fact: approximately 40% of existing pharmaceuticals contain fungi in some form! Some mushrooms, including holy basil (my fave), cordyceps and reishi have adaptogenic properties, meaning they can help your body adapt to stresses, keep you calm, and really help with anxiety. In fact, I drink holy basil tea almost daily to help with my personal anxiety issues, and cannot believe the difference it has made for me. Almost all medicinal mushrooms work as immunomodulators, which exactly like they sound, boost your immune system. Mushrooms like chaga and Lion’s Mane can help you concentrate and focus. Mushrooms also contain terpenoids that are antiviral, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory. Some mushrooms are even able to cleanse the air of DDT, pesticides, and plastic, so just imagine what they can do for us and the harmful toxins we face every day. Even “magic” mushrooms, the illegal/poisonous kind that cause hallucinations, are being studied for the psychedelic properties of the active ingredient psilocybin and its ability to help with depression. And for those suffering from this often debilitating mental health disorder, the thought of an all-natural way to experience relief is truly magical.
So how can you experience all of the awesomeness that mushrooms have to offer? Eat more mushrooms. Head to your health food store and buy yourself some holy basil tea, or some mushroom powders to add to your coffee. Cook with mushrooms; dehydrated versions often pack a stronger flavour punch, and fresh varieties are great raw or cooked to up the ante on your nutrient intake. Replace meat in a pasta sauce with finely chopped creminis. Sauté some mushrooms and serve warm on a salad. Shred raw mushrooms by hand and cook up with BBQ sauce for a vegan-friendly pulled “pork”. Make a creamy nourishing soup. The possibilities of increasing your ‘shroom intake are literally endless, and can help you connect with the true magic of Mother Earth.