TEN SUPERPOWERS OF FUNGI
We at Fungi Academy understand that there is much wisdom to be learned from the fifth kingdom. Fungi have been healing and balancing life on earth for billions of years. Often referred to as “Nature’s Internet,“ fungi produce underground communication channels called mycelium that help plants and trees share chemical knowledge throughout an ecosystem. This subterranean “wood wide web” enables mature trees to pass nutrients on to younger plants of their own species. It allows infected trees to send warning of disease to its healthy neighbors. These networks allow for two-way communication between all species in the forest. In a healthy ecosystem, fungi serve as the platform for all beings to connect, support and thrive on this planet.
In an increasingly broken world, fungiculture is an opportunity. A chance to reconnect, rebuild and remediate our home planet. Here are a few ways they can help.
Illustrations by Fungi Academy
The fungal fruiting bodies known as mushrooms are a delicious, nutritious and sustainable food source that anyone can learn to cultivate. Mushrooms are rich in trace minerals, vitamins, calcium, and protein, making them a wonderful alternative for those that choose not to eat meat or animal products. Cultivating mushrooms is also dramatically less energy and space intensive than raising livestock, like cows. They can even be grown on “waste streams” such as straw, corn waste, spent coffee grounds, grain hulls, unbleached egg carton and more. One acre of corn used to grow mushrooms yields 7.5 times the crude protein than when fed directly to cattle for beef (Source: Developments in Industrial Microbiology, 1962).
Mycelium forms a dense web that can be used as a biological water filter in a process called mycofiltration. This membrane is able to trap microbes, pollutants and silt, making mycofiltration a promising solution for restoring the health of lakes and rivers, as well as cleaning and utilizing stormwater, greywater, agricultural runoff and more. Water flows through the mycelia membrane and the fungus traps and in most cases, digests the pollutants. Fungi are so good at breaking these compounds down, you can even eat the mushrooms when the filter begins fruiting, so long as there are no heavy metals present. Many species have specific antimicrobial abilities. For example, the fast-growing Pearl Oyster (Pleurotus ostreatus) is able to trap a diverse range of pathogens, including E. coli and Staphylococcus aureus (Source: Mycelium Running, Stamets).
Certain species of fruiting and non-fruiting fungi grown alongside plants dramatically increase the yield, appearance and overall health of your plants. While a few species such as King Stropharia (Stropharia rugoso-annulata) and Elm Oyster (Hypsizigus ulmarius) stand out as impressive companion planting mushrooms, there is still much to learn about this phenomenon. Many relationships are still unknown, as particular species of fungi have varying effects on different plant families. For example, a 1999 study conducted at the University of Innsbruck, Austria found that Elm Oysters planted with the Brassica family (including Brussels sprouts and broccoli) yielded 4 to 6 times as many vegetables as those planted without.
Fungi can heal our damaged ecosystems by breaking down dangerous environmental toxins including PCBs and petrochemicals. In 1998, a study conducted by Paul Stamets’ research team at Battelle Pacific Northwest Laboratories used mycoremediation techniques in order to restore a contaminated trucking maintenance yard. Nearly 2% of the total soil content was found to be made up of diesel and oil products. They layered oyster mycelium in piles of contaminated soil, covered with a tarp, and returned four weeks later to a flourishing flush. Hundreds of massive oyster mushrooms dotted the site, and the soil turned from malodorous black to a healthy light brown.
Alone these results are impressive, but then the mushrooms mature a few weeks later, attracting insects to feast and reproduce. Shortly after, the insects attracted birds, who then brought seeds to the once-lifeless site. Not only did the mycelium succeed in degrading toxins from the site, but it actually set the stage for the succession of an entire ecosystem.
It is no secret that abuse of plastics as “disposable” material has led to one of the largest ecological disasters of our lifetime. The global demand for plastic has increased from 1.5 million tons in 1950 to 322 million tons in 2015, with production still increasing at an alarming pace. What if we could take all that plastic and transform it into food? Pestalotiopsis microspora, heralding from the Amazonian rainforests of Ecuador, may be the answer. It is the first fungus found to be able to survive entirely on polyurethane. P. microspora is able to break down synthetic polymers into their basic components, giving the fungus all the nutrients it needs to build its own tasty, completely safe-for-human-consumption tissues.
Fungi have been orchestrating the succession of ecosystems on this planet since they arrived here over a billion years ago. Many fungi produce oxalic acid, which mineralizes uninhabitable rock and sequesters carbon dioxide. This process causes rock to crumble and create rich soil as the mycelia stretch out over their new home. Fungi can also be applied to restore nutrient-depleted soil, improve soil structure and stability, reduce erosion. Mycorrhizae are fungi that form symbiotic relationships with plant roots, increasing efficiency of plant nutrient use and thus decreasing the need for fertilizers. These mycorrhizal species also increase plant health and suppress pathogens, which decreases the need for pesticides.
Mycelium grown on what many consider to be “waste streams” (agricultural waste, discarded natural fiber, cardboard, egg carton and more) actually serves as a biodegradable, high performing material that can be shaped into almost any form. Eco-innovators from around the globe are finding a wide variety of exciting applications, from producing compostable packing material, to vegan leather, surfboards, furniture, building materials and more! Mycelium products are rapidly renewable, fire resistant, buoyant, home compostable, structurally sound and require no petrochemicals and nearly zero energy to produce (Source: Ecovative Design).
Medicinal mushrooms have been appreciated around the world for their incredible healing properties for thousands of years. From China and Japan to southwest Nigeria, mushrooms are an integral part of many ancient medicine traditions. These masters of transformation are unsurprisingly brilliant at transmuting metabolic waste and neutralize toxic accumulations in the body— without the eliminative catharsis of many pharmaceuticals. Mushrooms are powerful medicine for the human body, from boosting overall immunity and mental acuity, to offering treatments for more critical conditions including cancer, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, and more.
On a physical level, Lion’s Mane (Hericium erinaceus) is an incredible medicine for the human brain. The fungus produces a compound called erinacine, an anticonvulsant that helps protect those susceptible to epilepsy, stroke, brain and spinal injuries. Lion’s Mane also synthesizes Nerve Growth Factor, which is required for developing brains, as well as patients with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, multiple sclerosis and other degenerative nerve diseases. Even those without critical conditions report increased cognitive function when taking Lion’s Mane.
From unity experiences at high doses to the fast-growing trend of microdosing, psychedelics are quickly gaining mainstream recognition for their consciousness-expanding abilities. In terms of mental health, more and more people are finding relief through the regular use of magic mushrooms. Microdosing, or psycholytic dosing, refers to integrating sub-perceptual doses of psychedelics into your daily routine. A true microdose is around one-tenth of what one might take to experience a full journey, (around 0.2-0.5 grams dried mushrooms, 6-25 micrograms LSD, 50-75 micrograms mescaline).
While results are primarily anecdotal, those who have invited microdosing into their lives report levels of increased creativity and flow, more focus and energy, and improved interpersonal skills. Many have experienced alleviation of symptoms associated with mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsion, ADHD, post-traumatic stress disorder, and more.
We are on the cusp of a new era of psychedelic use. The formerly taboo topic of tripping has been rapidly infiltrating the mainstream for the last few years. Silicon Valley professionals are microdosing LSD to get a creative edge. Spiritual seekers from the Western world are flocking to Peru to have a “life changing experience” with Mother Ayahuasca. Stay-at-home moms are finding more relief using magic mushrooms than with SSRIs in treating persistent depression.
The psychedelic experience is deeply personal, and yet many universal truths seem to emerge. Direct divinity experiences and a deep, seemingly inseparable connection to the natural world are among the most common and profound takeaways. Some even experience an “ego death,” allowing them to view their lives with clarity and enlightened detachment.
Western culture is only just catching on to what other civilizations have been doing for at least nine thousand years. Entheogens, which literally translates to “generating the divine within,” are used traditionally around the world as sacrament in religious ceremonies, as divination tools, and to foster healing. As a culture of consumers, however, we must be conscious about how we are using or abusing our plant teachers. As global demand increases, these plants are being harvested in unsustainable ways. From the cultural and environmental impact of the ever-growing ayahuasca tourism industry in the Amazon, to the deforestation of iboga to near extinction in Africa, to the ripping up of mature mimosa trees for their root bark in Brazil, to the destruction of what remains of the shrinking North American peyote population, it is ironic that our search for experiences that connect us to Mother Nature, we have been tearing her apart.
The solution? Growing your own medicine.
Cultivating your own psychedelic mushrooms is the most natural, sustainable, accessible, yet supremely powerful entheogenic door to understanding the self in all its forms.