Red-Belted Polypore

Part 2: Mushrooms for health and wealth

The Greenman talks about the folk lore and benefits of mushrooms

Wild and Cultured:  Musings from the Greenman

Mushrooms for health and wealth  Part 2

Disclaimer:  this article is meant to provoke insight into the many uses and mysteries of the mushrooms that live among us.  It is not an invitation to experiment into the potentially lethal ingestion of some of the mushrooms mentioned, including but not limited to the Amanita Muscaria mentioned in last week’s instalment.  Consult with a experienced guide, and not merely a book or website when attempting to identify species for consumption.

 

Anyone acquainted with J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings knows that Hobbits are especially fond of mushrooms.  In the book The Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo had a run-in with Farmer Maggot after trespassing on his mushroom-abundant land as a child.  Chased away by his hounds all the way to Bucklebury Ferry, Frodo quivers at the thought of stepping foot on old Maggot’s land again.  Long since over his grudge, Farmer Maggot gifts the hobbits with an ample supply of his famous mushrooms for their journey ahead.

Those who have experienced the mushroom madness has probably ventured forth beyond the pale of borders and fences to hunt the meaty mushrooms, which always seems to entail some kind of adventure or occasionally, misadventure.

This is perhaps one of the most exciting reasons to seek out the shroom afield (barring hounds and barb-wired fences).  Mushroom hunting gets us out of our comfort zone, when the gnarly wet weather hits full-tilt in the Fall, and opens us toward exploring our home rain forests and stream beds in anticipation of bounty.

A pan of butter-fried wild mushrooms is hard for the inner-Hobbit to resist. Edible mushrooms should always be cooked to make them digestible, palatable and safe.  They have thick cell walls that our digestive systems cannot easily break down in raw form.  Cooking also releases their beneficial nutrients and destroys  potentially harmful bacteria or toxic components that may be lurking in the mushroom or from the forest floor.  Pan-frying poisonous mushrooms does not make them any more palatable and should be left well-alone.

Imagine where human culture would be without the fungi kingdom, which includes the yeasts that give us wines, beers and breads, the molds that we craft our cheeses with, and medicines like penicillin.

Beyond edibility, we have some of the most potent forms of natural, wild medicine available to us in the apothecary of a dying tree.  Ötzi the Iceman, Europe’s oldest preserved mummy, was found with two species of bracket or Polypore mushrooms strung together with leather. One of them was a tinder fungus which was part of a sophisticated fire making kit. The other was a birch fungus which is known for its antibacterial properties.

One especially powerful Polypore, the Reishi or Ganoderma Lucidum, known as Lingzhi in Asian medicine is considered ‘the King of Herbs’.  It also goes by the praiseworthy names of “Mushroom of Immortality” and “Elixir of Life”.  The author of an old 1596 Taoist herbal medicine book claimed that “it positively affects the life-energy, or Qi of the heart, repairing the chest area and benefiting those with a knotted and tight chest. Taken over a long period of time, agility of the body will not cease, and the years are lengthened to those of the Immortal Fairies.”

Some of our own local medicinal polypores include our own ‘reishi’, Ganoderma oregonense, Turkey Tails, Artist Conks and Red-Belted Polypores.  These bracket funguses are claimed to be anti-bacterial, anti-tumour and are said to treat illness related to immune system recovery and cancer amongst other things.  They are usually taken in tea or tincture form.

A few species of the polypores are edible, such as the meaty sounding ‘Hen of the Woods’, Sheep Polypore, and the brightly coloured ‘Chicken of the Woods’, which grows in stacks of luminescent orange shelves that gather droplets of dew that taste like lemon juice. Dyers Polypore has been used to dye wool and other fabrics for centuries, in a wide range of rich colours.

One strange factoid is that fungi are more closely related to us and other species of the animal kingdom than are plants.  At some point in our collective evolutionary history, plants split from the path before fungi did. This can be seen in the chitin, the fibrous substance that composes the cell walls of fungi, which is also found in the exoskeletons of anthropods, such as insects and crabs.

Mushrooms are the decomposers and recyclers of nature and acquire their nutrients, not through photosynthesis like plants but in one of three ways.  Some are parasitic and feed off other living things, such as the Lobster mushroom.  Others are saprobes, like some polypores and breakdown organic matter such as dead trees, and poop, recycling nature’s waste.  And others still are mycorrhizal, which team up with plants to communicate and exchange nutrients.

Mycelium is akin to the root system of a plant, (as the mushroom is like the fruit) and it’s hairlike fibres are said to be intelligent.  According to mushroom master, Paul Stamets in his book Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World, “mycelium is the neurological network of nature. Interlacing mosaics of mycelium infuse habitats with information-sharing membranes. These membranes are aware, react to change, and collectively have the long-term health of the host environment in mind…I see the mycelium as the Earth’s natural Internet, a consciousness with which we might be able to communicate. Through cross-species interfacing, we may one day exchange information with these sentient cellular networks.”

Mushrooms can help save the world!?  Stay tuned for the final instalment of the mushroom series in Part 3.

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Royal Bay students are among the list of SD62 schools that will be trained by Pacific FC coaches and staff in a new soccer academy partnership. (Aaron Guillen/News Staff)
Pacific FC partners with Sooke School District soccer academies

Royal Bay, EMCS and Dunsmuir Middle students to receive professional training

Police closed McNeill Avenue after a workplace death Oct. 20, 2020. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)
Tree-pruning community gathers in Oak Bay after tragic death

Crews met in solidarity at site of Tuesday incident

Some 30 people including a dozen youth participated in North Saanich’s first ever Fridays for Future protest outside of municipal hall on Mills Road Friday, according to organizers. (Anne-Marie Daniel/Submitted)
Fridays for Future plans second event for North Saanich after inaugural protest

Some 30 people attended first protest on Oct. 9 with a second one scheduled for Oct. 23

A bear similar to this black bear was spotted on Elk Lake Drive again on Oct. 21 and is believed responsible for killing a llama in Saanich on Oct. 19. (Black Press Media file photo)
Search continues for bear wandering through Saanich

Bear spotted eating garbage near Elk Lake Wednesday, B.C. Conservation says

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry presents modelling of COVID-19 spread in B.C., March 25, 2020. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. sets another COVID-19 record with 203 new cases

up to 1,766 active cases in B.C., two more deaths

Advance polls are open from Oct. 15 to 21 with election day on Oct. 24. (Black Press Media file photo)
RCMP. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
British Columbia man dies during ski trip near glacier west of Calgary

Kananaskis Public Safety and Alpine Helicopters responded around 2:30 p.m.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, Oct. 19, 2020, following a week-long break for the House of Commons. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
One crisis after another for Trudeau since last federal election one year ago

It has been a year of unprecedented calamity and crisis

Members of the Sipekne’katik First Nation load lobster traps on the wharf in Saulnierville, N.S., after launching its own self-regulated fishery on Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
Vancouver Island First Nations back Nova Scotia’s Indigenous lobster fishermen

Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council calls for action before lives are lost

Skiers line up to start the Royal LePage Comox Valley Snow to Surf Adventure Relay Race. Photo by Tim Penney
Popular Comox Valley adventure race cancelled for 2021

COVID forces Comox Valley Royal LePage Snow to Surf Adventure Relay Race cancellation again

Reader’s Lens
Richard Ashton took this picturesque scene from Whiffin Spit looking toward the Salty Towers dock and East Sooke. To submit a photo to Reader’s Lens, please email editor@sookenewsmirror.com. (Contributed photo)
Reader’s Lens

Reader’s Lens Richard Ashton took this picturesque scene from Whiffin Spit looking… Continue reading

Most Read