Fungi Kingdom Rising: Mushrooms & "Mycelium Micro-Factories"
Fungi Kingdom Rising: Mushrooms & "Mycelium Micro-Factories"
We now use mushrooms and mycelia to produce everything from plastics to plant-based meat to scaffolding for growing human organs. Medicinal mushrooms are used in natural medicine therapies, in a discipline known as Mycotherapy.
By Mark Zuleger-Thyss
Part One | Mushrooms in the Forest and in Industry
A container, knife, brush, magnifying glass, notebook, camera, and compass. Aside from a field guide, what else should you take on a mushroom-hunting expedition? Apparently, you don't need much in the way of equipment to find and pick mushrooms. Instead, you need to keep yourself safe from accidental poisoning and getting lost in unfamiliar terrain.
Fomes Fomentarius to the Rescue
Mushrooms have played a role in all human cultures throughout history, from folklore to medicine to pop culture. They are fascinating from a biological perspective. Mushrooms are more closely related to humans and animals than plants, and their biochemistry is exceptionally complex.
Traditional Eastern and Western medicine have used fungi for ages. For example, the Greek physician Hippocrates used a mushroom named Fomes Fomentarius to reduce inflammation and assist in cauterizing wounds.
F. fomentarius is a species of fungal plant pathogen and is one example of how complex and fruitful mycelia and mushrooms can be. It has a variety of uses that are important in many different contexts, and humans have used it for well over 5,000 years. The fruiting body is generally inedible, but it is not poisonous or toxic, and yet this mushroom has many medicinal applications.
It also has economic significance as it removes any timber value of infected trees. This gives it the essential and valuable role of advantageously decomposing unusable timber.
Fungi overall play crucial roles in their ecosystems:
- They break down and recycle decaying matter
- They form a variety of symbiotic and parasitic relationships with trees
- They create vast underground colonial networks
- They play a role in cleaning up pollutants
There are from 50,000 to over 100,000 species of fungi, and the actual number is likely in the millions.
Likening a Mushroom to a Flower
Mycelium is the vegetative body for fungi that produces a mushroom. If we compare the makeup of fungi to a plant, mycelia are the root systems, and the mushrooms are the flowers.
Single-celled bacteria and yeast are sugar-powered micro-factories that can synthesize novel compounds. This is one of the powerful discoveries of the past 100 years. Mycelia are like yeast - both are fungi - but unlike most yeast cells, Mycelia are multicellular and can grow into macro-size structures.
Mycelium produces small molecules, and with supreme precision, they can assemble these molecules into complex structures so small they are practically invisible.
Science has devoted itself to understanding, cultivating, and ultimately reprogramming single-celled organisms to solve more significant needs. Using yeast, bacteria, and algae, we've made many things. Drugs, bio-based fuels such as corn ethanol, and even fragrances.
Taking advantage of the unique properties of Mycelium also provides a cruelty-free way to create meat-like structures with a more negligible environmental impact than traditional livestock. This reduces greenhouse gas emissions, food crops for feed, and land-use conversion. Growing Mycelium results in limited waste and requires minimal energy consumption. And the cost of all these benefits is relatively small.
Our planet is an ecosystem maintained by self-assembling organisms. Humankind needs to find ways to get out of the mess we've created, and an excellent place to start seems to be digging through the dirt.
Part Two | Mushrooms as Medicine
Mycotherapy | Healing with Mushrooms
Mycotherapy is one of the oldest and most effective natural medicine therapies. Mycotherapy is an integrative healthcare discipline and a branch of phytotherapy. It uses plants from the fungus family and their derivatives - medicinal mushrooms - to improve and restore the health and balance of one's body.
The discipline has been used for millennia in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), one of the oldest healing practices globally. Medicinal mushrooms also have been used by diverse cultures, such as in the Indian healing arts in South America.
Therapeutic and Curative Properties
Ayurvedic practices revere mushrooms for their holistic nutrition and health benefits. Mushrooms are rich in valuable substances, but certain compounds are not always harmless. Eating a single death cap mushroom can be fatal. But mushrooms can also have healing properties and, as such, are used medicinally.
Ganoderma has been used as a tonic and treatment for various pathologies, including hypertension, anxiety, insomnia, bronchitis, gastric ulcer, diabetes, and cancer in many Asian countries for over 2,000 years.
Today, much scientific evidence is emerging about the efficacy of these traditional medicines, which are, in fact, natural nutrients. These studies demonstrate that mushrooms are indeed potent producers of bioactive substances that can support health and well-being. For example, a single species of medicinal fungus can contain hundreds of bioactive compounds, with immunomodulatory and even anti-tumor activities.
Many doctors and naturopaths now prescribe mushroom powders and extracts in capsules as they are considered a dietary supplement and can be bought without a prescription.
Medicinal mushrooms are commonly prescribed as natural anticancer products. Data from controlled clinical trials suggest possible benefits in cancer treatment. Maitake mushrooms are among those used; medicinal mushrooms contain polysaccharides known as beta-glucans that promote anti-tumor immunity.
Pink oyster mushrooms (and others from the Pleurotus genus) have been cherished for their nutritional value and delicious taste. In TCM, oyster mushrooms are prescribed for muscle, joint, and tendon relaxation to strengthen circulation and increase kidney function.
These benefits are due to their striking nutritional profile; oyster mushrooms contain a variety of valuable constituents, including proteins, amino acids, antioxidants, minerals, and vitamins.
Medicinal Mushrooms | Adaptogens
Adaptogens can be herbs or mushrooms and are thought to have health benefits. The theory behind them says they help your body adjust to physical, chemical, or biological stresses. They help body systems return to a balanced state called "homeostasis."
Mushrooms are adaptogenic, meaning their substances do not cause further stress and have no side effects. Furthermore, mushrooms are nutritionally rich because they contain vitamins and minerals but at the same time have low-calorie content. Manufacturers use adaptogens in products sold as teas, tinctures, powders you add to food, and capsules.
Adaptogens mainly serve to
- Strengthen the immune system and overall well-being by naturally supporting the body's defenses
- Combat fatigue
- Enhance mental performance and ease depression and anxiety
- Absorb toxic substances since they are highly chelating
- Detoxify organs
- Supporting and supporting therapies for degenerative and cancer diseases
- Help you thrive rather than just muddle through existence
Six popular adaptogenic mushrooms and their health benefits
- Chaga mushrooms are used for immune health, reducing inflammation, lowering blood sugar, reducing blood pressure, alleviating arthritis
- Reishi mushrooms are used for immune health, relieving stress and anxiety, and improving sleep
- Cordyceps mushrooms are used for increasing energy, improving stamina, and immune health
- Shiitake mushrooms are used for immune health, antioxidants, anti-aging, heart, and liver health
- Lion's Mane mushrooms are used for cognitive and brain health, reducing anxiety and depressive symptoms
- Turkey Tail mushrooms are used for immune health, cellular regeneration, and digestive health
Mushrooms must be consumed consistently in mild to moderate doses.
Always talk to your doctor before adding medicinal mushrooms to your diet, especially if you’re using certain medications or are pregnant.
© 2005-2022, Mark Zuleger-Thyss, Garden of Healing, LLC. All rights reserved.