Fungi Fun Facts
A guest blog by medical herbalist, Joseph Nolan
It’s Medicinal Mushroom Month - the cause of great excitement in natural medicine circles - so, to continue the riotous celebrations, medical herbalist, Joe Nolan, has unearthed some fun and fascinating fungus facts for your entertainment...
Reishi is the most highly prized of all medicinal mushrooms. It has a shiny, almost waxy, surface with a rather lovely curved shape. In fact, so attractive is this mushroom, its comely symmetrical curves can be found throughout the Forbidden City in Bejing as a decorative motif on buildings and furniture. It was even found on clothing intended for the emperor’s use, a fact that indicates the esteem in which it was held.
Cordyceps, a singularly famous mushroom, used for cancer, immune problems, liver and kidney disease, is unique among such fungi as it grows on caterpillars. The parasitic fungus causes the caterpillar’s body to harden and the fruiting body - the “mushroom” part - shoots out of the insect’s head like some kind of B-movie nightmare. The best ones are to be found on the Tibetan plateau where, come cordyceps season, young men head into the mountains with large baskets to sell their harvests for a relative fortune in cities like Kathmandu.
Fly Agaric, the red and white spotted mushroom of fairytales was, at one time, filtered through reindeer to reduce its toxicity thus allowing herdspeople to enjoy drams of hallucinogenic, but less poisonous, reindeer urine in their quest for occult knowledge. This practice is believed to have led to the enduring tradition of a fat (vaguely mushroom-shaped) man in a red and white suit drawn through the night sky by flying reindeer!
Chaga, a strange name for an odd-looking organism, is traditionally used for many types of cancer, its efficacy having been borne out by much research. It is also used for fighting serious viral infections like HIV and Herpes. It looks like a burnt lump on a tree trunk and, when the blackened outside is chipped or flaked off, the inside is a rather curious ochre colour. Eventually, the chaga fungus will kill the tree, too, which is rather a shame. But here’s a curious thing: only chaga growing on birch is medicinal.
Did you know that the largest organism on earth is a fungus? There is a honey mushroom fungus, living quietly in a forest in Oregon State in the US, which measures just under 2.5 miles across! And it’s old as well as big, having been estimated at being somewhere between 2 and 8.5 thousand years old. The organism was first discovered when the forest service was investigating the cause of large-scale tree die offs in the Blue Mountains. They discovered that the cause of death or fatal disease in hundreds of trees over a large area (about 2.5 square miles) was due to infection by the same fungus - and not only the same species but actually the same individual fungus!
Delicious and healthy items to enjoy this Mushroom Month include Shiitake, Maitake (Hen of the Woods), Porcini (Ceps or Penny Buns), Oyster, King Oyster, Portabella, Black Fungus and even the prosaic white or brown Button mushroom, which boast a 40% protein content with a good hit of B-vitamins and very little fat or carbohydrates. Bon appetit!