Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Fungus Among Us

We have been getting a lot of rain where I live lately.  After the severe winter that we had, I had really been looking forward to the sunny days of summer.  While we certainly have had a few hot and sunny days around here, we have also had more than our share of rainfall over the last several weeks.  While this has been nice that I haven’t really needed to water my garden much, and some things are growing really well, other things in my garden have been slow to establish, or have not established at all.  In fact, I haven’t had much success in establishing my native wildflower garden using seeds, I believe due to all of the wet conditions that we have had this year.  Unfortunately, I may even need to buy some native plant transplants so that I don’t have to worry about fighting the weather to have them grow.  Sadly, I may need to do the same with a few tomato plants that haven’t survived in my garden.

Despite some of these frustrations with my garden, what have grown really well are different varieties of wild mushrooms that have been popping up in my yard.  I have found mushrooms really fascinating ever since I listened to a podcast where Paul Stamets was a guest speaker.  Paul is a world famous mycologist (a scientist who studies mushrooms, for those of you who aren’t familiar with the term).  He wrote a book called Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World, which I am hoping to read in the near future.  He is a huge advocate for all things mushrooms, including the critical ecological roles that they play in natural ecosystems, and for how important they are for not only the health of plants, but for our own health as well. 

Paul has been doing a lot of research on medicinal mushrooms, particularly the Turkey Tail mushroom for its healing role in various types of cancer.  His own mother recovered from Stage 4 Breast Cancer while taking Turkey Tail mushrooms.  I am unsure what other therapies that she was using at the time for her cancer, but it seems clear that the Turkey Tail mushrooms played a huge role in her recovery.  I am a believer that when it comes to cancer, we need to tackle why someone has a bodily imbalance in the first place that led to the cancer development.  Just as with many other major health conditions, unless our bodily imbalances are addressed, other negative health conditions will develop, or the cancer can even reoccur.   That is why I believe that the solutions to many of these conditions lie in diet, lifestyle, emotional balance, detoxification, etc., and why we must all be proactive in prevention and not wait until we get some sort of diagnosis. 

What wonderful things like Turkey Tail and other medicinal mushrooms such as Chaga and Reishi do is to help our bodies heal themselves naturally and bring us back into balance.  One of the key properties of the medicinal mushrooms that help us to do this is the special sugars that the mushrooms contain, polysaccharides.  These polysaccharides are especially important for supporting our immune system.  Even incorporating some of the culinary mushrooms regularly into our diets can be a great strategy to add some of this immune support into our lives.  

Here is a video of the TED Talk that Paul did in 2011, discussing how important mushrooms are for our health:

If you want to learn more about Paul and his work, check out his website, Fungi Perfecti at

In natural ecosystems, fungi are extremely important.  Most of us are already aware that they help to break down dead organic matter and return it to the soil.  Many gardeners have also likely heard of how mychorrhizal fungi works in concert with the roots of plants to help them grow.  This is a symbiotic relationship, where the fungi help the plants to absorb water and nutrients, and the fungi in turn get sugars from the plants as food.  This mutualistic relationship between fungi and plants is less apt to occur when we disturb soil (tillage agriculture) or spray chemicals on it, both of which disrupt important soil ecology. 

Once we understand the importance of this relationship of fungi and plants in our gardens, we can then understand how mychorrizal fungi plays an even more important role in natural ecosystems, especially well-established forest ecosystems.  Mychorrizal fungi grow to form huge networks within the soil throughout these ecosystems.  In fact, it has been stated that some of these networks can extend for many miles, composed of a single mychorrizal fungi organism.   Now, I don’t know about you, but I think that that is really amazing!

Fungi are also currently being used for the remediation of polluted land sites, as the fungi literally “eats up” the chemicals and cleans things up.  This technique is being used even to clean up oil spills.  Pretty awesome, huh?

I never used to appreciate mushrooms, and it wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I even started eating them and using them medicinally (I like to make tea with Chaga and Reishi mushrooms for immune support when I come down with a cold or the flu to help with a faster recovery, and I also like to use the cooled tea of these mushrooms as a liquid base when I make fruit and veggie smoothies).  However, the more I learn about mushrooms, the more respectful of them I become.  I even hope to start cultivating some of my own culinary or medicinal mushrooms in the future on my urban homestead.  I have a lot to learn about mushroom identification, but for now, I can still appreciate them for all of the important things that they do for our world and for us.

I hope that after reading this that you will gain a new appreciation for these extremely important organisms in our world.  One thing that I bet you didn’t know is that mushrooms have more in common with the animal kingdom than the plant kingdom!  Check it out!

Here are some pictures of the mushrooms that have been popping up around my yard over the last couple of weeks:

These are the same mushrooms that were growing in the first picture only one day later!  They were huge!

This post is shared at Healthy, Happy, Green & Natural Party Hop


  1. My wife and I were just reading this post together and found it very interesting. My wife just started eating mushrooms a couple of years ago as well because she read about how healthy they are for you. I love mushrooms! Like you, we have a ton in our yard (but also read that's an indication of awesome soil). Tons of rain here, so we haven't had to use the drip irrigation system much which isn't so bad either!

    1. Glad you enjoyed the post! I am learning to love mushrooms too.

  2. Very interesting, I going to research mushrooms further.

  3. Hi Rebecca,
    I have always enjoyed learning about the healing benefits of mushrooms and I try to include a few of them in my diet regularly. Thank you so much for sharing the benefits of medicinal mushrooms that contain immune-system supporting polysaccharides on the Healthy Happy Green and Natural Party Blog Hop! This information is so valuable! I appreciate it!

  4. I love mushrooms. They're so cute. Even the poisonous ones. Thanks for sharing. Hello from the Healthy Happy Green and Natural Party Hop!

  5. I studied with mushroom and found that the medicinal mushroom has some natural herbal qualities which helps to remedy from various diseases. Thanks for your post where you discussed about the mushroom.

    1. You are most welcome, Cordyceps Mycelium (good name, by the way! I've heard that Cordyceps mushrooms are awesome as well). Glad that you enjoyed this post!