Do you ever think much about mushrooms, except as an ingredient in dinner? I never did until this year. After the summer when it started raining again here in Oregon, I noticed that there were a large variety of mushrooms growing on the farm.
I picked them, cut them in half and photographed them, tried to identify them and thought they were all very interesting. But then I started researching them on-line and found all sorts of fascinating things about them, almost in the realm of the supernatural.
Uses for Mushrooms
1. Enriching your diet with Vitamin D
In a 2012 Huffington Post article, Paul Stamets, founder of Fungi Perfecti, wrote about the ease of increasing the vitamin D in mushrooms simply by exposing them to sunlight. It doesn’t seem to matter if they are store bought or wild, fresh or dehydrated. Simply expose them to sunlight for a couple of hours and the high vitamin D levels will last for more than a year. 1 cup of diced mushrooms has 9 IU of Vitamin D. The same amount exposed to UV light has 313 IU of Vitamin D. Mushrooms treated with UV light or exposed to sunlight are the only whole food vegetable source of vitamin D.
2. Fighting pollutants
- Several newspapers have been bringing attention to the cleanup of Sequoia Creek in Corvallis, Oregon where volunteers with the Ocean Blue Project, an ecological restoration nonprofit, have been blending mushroom spawn with coffee grounds and straw, placing the resulting mixture in burlap bags, and then setting the containers so that water entering storm drains is filtered through them. How ingenious! The approach is seeking to take advantage of the mycelium’s natural ability to break down toxins (such as oil and pesticides) and to metabolize harmful bacteria (such as E. coli). More information on this project as well as future possibilities, which may include assisting in the cleanup of the Willamette River, can be found at http://www.oceanblueproject.org/
- May 23, 2014 is a day that about 700,000 citizens in Portland, Oregon may long remember (Sara does): they were instructed to boil their tap water before consuming it due the detection of a dangerous form of E. coli bacteria in the regional water supply. An article by James Trimarco of Yes Magazine online details research previously done by Paul Stamets, founder and owner at Fungi Perfecti, that considers “an out-of-the-box solution: running water through filters that contain fungi specially selected for their antibiotic abilities.” In his study, Mycologist Paul Stamets found that “the best-performing species turned out to be the species from the genus Stropharia, commonly known as the wine cap mushroom. The wine caps—which are not only edible but considered a delicacy—consistently removed more than 20 percent of E. Coli that flowed around it.”
3. Cleaning up radioactive contamination
- In the fall of 2014, diverse news sources, including www.Telegraph.co.uk and USA Today are reporting that Germany’s forests may be plagued by radioactive boars, thanks to the animal’s habit of scarfing down mushrooms and truffles that could be storing radiation from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of nearly 30 year ago. Saxony boar hunters are currently required to test the boar carcasses for radiation, and alarmingly “in a single year, 297 out of 752 boars tested … have exhibited high levels of radiation that make the meat unfit for human consumption. Sadly, experts believe that the radioactive boars could be roaming Germany for up to 50 more years. Similarly, it is believed that many mushrooms from the areas affected may also be unfit for human consumption. Saxony boars are particularly affected because of heavy rain in the region directly after the disaster, and “their diet of mushrooms and other plants that store radiation.” Wild boar dig up soil in search of food such as mushrooms and truffles. This is probably why these animals are so affected since the radiation that swept over from Chernobyl contaminated a lot of ground soil. Furthermore, mushrooms and truffles are known to store radiation, and many that are growing in the affected areas are also thought to be unfit for human consumption.
- Many people have asked more or less the same question: “What can be done to help heal the Japanese landscape around the failing nuclear reactors?” The enormity and unprecedented nature of this combined natural and human-made disaster will require a massive and completely novel approach to management and remediation. And with this comes a never before seen opportunity for collaboration, research and wisdom. The nuclear fallout will make continued human habitation in close proximity to the reactors untenable. The earthquake and tsunami created enormous debris fields near the nuclear reactors. Much of this debris is wood, and many fungi useful in mycoremediation are wood decomposers and build the foundation of forest ecosystems. By sampling other mushroom-forming fungi for their selective ability to hyper-accumulate radioactivity, we can learn a great deal while helping the ecosystem recover. Not only will some mushroom species hyper-accumulate radioactive compounds, but research has also shown that some mycorrhizal fungi bind and sequester radioactive elements so they remain immobilized for extended periods of time. Surprisingly, we learned from the Chernobyl disaster that many species of melanin-producing fungi have their growth stimulated by radiation. The knowledge gained through this collaborative process would not only benefit the areas affected by the current crisis, but would also help with preparedness and future remediation responses. http://www.permaculture.co.uk/articles/how-mushrooms-can-clean-radioactive-contamination-8-step-plan
4. Mushroom materials
What do you get when you combine agricultural waste with fungal mycelium? Mushroom materials, and the many products of Ecovative which are natural, renewable and biodegradable…they are grown products, not manufactured. Interestingly, the mushroom materials may end up as surfboard blanks, fins and handplanes as well as more ordinary products such as packaging and insulation. Ecovative uses agriculture waste products, including corn stalks and leaves, to grow biodegradable alternatives to foam and plastic products. A fungal material called mycelium is used as glue to hold the materials together. The company molds these products to make packaging for the computer manufacturer Dell and chair backs used by The Gunlocke Co., a furniture maker from Wayland, New York, among others. http://www.bizjournals.com/albany/news/2014/11/19/ecovative-designs-newest-product-encourages-diy.html?page=all
Mushrooms can be used for dying wool and other natural fibers. The chromophores of mushroom dyes are organic compounds and produce strong and vivid colors, and all colors of the spectrum can be achieved with mushroom dyes. Before the invention of synthetic dyes, mushrooms were the source of many textile dyes.
- There are 16 million spores contained in each mushroom.
- 90% of a mushroom is water.
- About 2,500 varieties of mushrooms are grown worldwide.
- The exact number of species of fungi will vary somewhat, depending upon which classification scheme is followed. Generally, however, it is estimated that there are about 60,000 valid species of fungi. Over 100 new species are described in the scientific literature each month, so the total number increases steadily. The British mycologist, David Hawksworth, however, has estimated that there may be as many as 1.5 million species of fungi. If true, this means that we have discovered only about 4% of the fungi that exist. http://naturalhistory.uga.edu/~GMNH/Mycoherb_Site/FAQeng.htm
- 80% of mushrooms are consumed by 20% of the population.
- The Mycena family of fungus contains more than 70 species of mushrooms that glow in the dark. These mushrooms produce light by a chemical reaction called bioluminescence. In the past, people illuminated their way through the woods using these glowing pieces of fungus-colonized wood.
- Some mushrooms are so rare that they only grow for one week during the year. In April of 2014, the English online version of The Asahi Shimbun published a brief article about a pair of small matsutake (with a combined weight of less than 5 ounces) that sold at auction within a second after the event opened with a winning bid of $1,170 at the famous Tsukiji wholesale market in Tokyo. http://ajw.asahi.com/article/behind_news/social_affairs/AJ201404220005
- Many of us tend to think that mushrooms are passive seed spreaders, releasing their spores and allowing the air currents to distribute them. But, how do some mushrooms seem to disperse their spores even when there doesn’t seem to be any breeze? The answer may be simple: they cool the air around them by releasing water vapor, creating convection currents strong enough to lift the spores into the air and even move them away from the mushroom, reports UCLA researcher Marcus Roper.
- Armillaria solidipes or Honey Mushroom underlies 2200 acres east of the city in a remote corner of eastern Oregon’s Blue Mountains at an elevation of about 6500 feet in the Malheur National Forest near the Strawberry Mountain and Monument Rock wilderness areas according to the US Forest Service. Most people walking by would never know the fungus lurks just below the ground’s surface, occupying its time in the quiet business of sending out rhizomorphs and wrapping them around tree roots. It’s roughly the size of 1600 football fields, and Forest Service researcher Catherine Parks, who has spent 10 years studying it, suggests it could be 8000 years old and the total mass of the colony may be as much as 605 tons. The only obvious signs of its presence are the gaps created when it kills trees. If this colony is considered a single organism, then it is the largest known organism in the world by area. Oregonian Newspaper, June 10, 2007; Wikipedia
Mushrooms from our farm, and what we think they are:
A filamentous fungus that Bruce found growing in the vegetable garden. It became the primary organism of research of the Nobel laureate Max Delbruck starting in the 1950s for the variety and sensitivity of its responses to light and its reaction to a variety of environmental responses including gravity, touch, wind and presence of nearby objects. It has an avoidance response in which it avoids solid objects in its path, bending away from them without touching them and then continuing to grow upward again. This response is believed to be due to an unidentified “avoidance gas” emitted by the sporangi. Wikipedia; http://genome.jgi.doe.gov/Phybl2/Phybl2.home.html
We think these really oddball growths are false truffles. They are growing in the road that runs from the house to the mailbox, emerging from the ground.
Puffball, although I could be convinced it’s a bird egg.
More puffballs, I think.
Meadow Mushroom- Agaricus campestris These were growing all over the yard near the house and some were very large. They are edible and found in fields and pastures, lawns, especially those rich in manure, usually after a rain from late fall to early winter. They are one of the most common wild mushrooms that people eat and are closely related to button mushrooms.
Mycena is a large genus of small mushrooms, with the common name fairy bonnets. They are the most abundant mushrooms in the Pacific Northwest and are often produced in large numbers (troops) over large areas of forest floor, especially on conifer needles. Over 33 species are known to be bioluminescent, creating a glow called Foxfire, or “fairy fire”. It is a bluish-green glow that is the same yellow light that comes from fireflies. Notes from Aristotle, in 382 B.C., refer to a “light that, unlike fire, was cold to the touch”. Although generally very dim, in some cases it is bright enough to read by.
We went out one night to see if the ones near the house were the glowing Foxfire mushrooms, but they are not. Maybe there are some in other areas of the farm, but we really don’t want to be walking around in the woods at night.
Possibly a Vascellum pratense, or Meadow Puffball
Bolete; Some boletes are among the best-tasting mushrooms in the world. Virtually all boletes disseminate their spores through pores, tiny holes on the undersides of their caps. Spores travel down closely-packed, vertical tubes to reach the pores. If you look closely at the right-hand photo you can see the tubes. http://www.wildmanstevebrill.com/Mushrooms.Folder/Bolete%20Overview.html
“Gold and silver and dresses may be trusted to a messenger, but not a boletus, because it will be eaten on the way.” Martial, 1st C. A.D.
Besides finding out that mushrooms are multi-dimensionally interesting, I found out some other interesting facts from my handy mushroom guide, Mushrooms of the Pacific Northwest by Steve Trudell and Joe Ammirati:
- They are extremely difficult to identify, and should only be eaten if an expert tells you they are okay to eat–even then, be suspicious.
- On average, about one person per year dies of mushroom poisoning in North America.
- Touching mushrooms will not cause poisoning, but you may get contact dermatitis.
- You can taste any mushroom in order to identify it. You should nibble a small bit from the edge of the cap and chew it using your front teeth, then spit it out. In order to be poisoned you must swallow a much larger amount of mushroom.
- Mushrooms are classified into easily identified (usually) classes–Gilled mushrooms; Boletes; Spine-fungi, club-,coral-and fan-like fungi; Polyspores and crust-fungi; Puffballs, earthballs, and earthstars; Jelly-like fungi; Morels, false morels and elfin saddles; Cup-fungi; Truffles and false truffles. Finding a mushroom and fitting it into one of these categories is not too difficult–beyond that it takes a great deal of study.
There are two Truffle Festivals coming up next year. The first is in Portland on January 15-18 and the other is in Eugene on January 21-25. We are hoping to go to one or the other and taste some truffles at the marketplace event on Sunday. http://www.oregontrufflefestival.com/
And lastly, isn’t it strange that nuclear explosions are described as mushroom clouds and mushrooms are now being studied for use in cleaning up nuclear accidents?