At TwentyTwo, we are obsessed with the power of Mushrooms.
They truly are the unappreciated little helpers of the world. We run on fungi-fuelled products, like penicillin, bread, chocolate and even laundry detergent. So how come we don’t know more about fungi already?
As a species, we’ve been using fungi in a variety of ways since our ancestors could first say ‘ooga ooga’ (that’s caveman for mushroom).
Not only are fungi handy for making tasty bakes and life-saving medicines, there is also a fairly well-known group of mushrooms that have otherworldly powers. Not all mushrooms are psychedelic - but the ones that are can trigger unforgettable and emotional experiences.
As you can see, mushrooms have been a key aspect in the growth of modern-day humans, and there’s so much we still don’t know about them. Yet their importance is still not widely recognised.
In fact, it wasn’t until 1969 that a fun-guy who loved fungi got mushrooms under official classification. Even back then Forest Harding Whittaker saw how much potential fungi held for the human race.
Today, it’s estimated that there are around 6 million species of fungi, and we haven’t even identified a million of them.
Just imagine what the future of fungi could be if our scientists gave them a little more attention.
What are fungi? Well, we are glad you asked.
Fungi is unlike anything else. It’s not a plant and it’s not an animal - it’s a kingdom entirely of its own.
If you’ve ever been in a damp room and seen some green or black stuff growing on the walls, that’s mould or mildew, which are both fungi.
Ever made bread and added a packet of weird-smelling powder to make the mixture rise? That’s yeast, which is fungi!
But here’s the mic drop moment… Fungi isn’t always a mushroom.
Mushrooms are like the sexy outfit of fungi. Put simply, mushrooms are the reproductive organs of a greater fungal network. This can be confusing because most often you’ll hear people use the terms fungi and mushroom interchangeably (including us), which is ok.
There’s actually one more word that’s important to know when talking about fungi, and that’s mycelium (or mycelia). You can think of mycelia as the first growth of the fungi - you’ve probably seen it growing in white, fluffy splotches in woods and gardens.
Typically mushrooms (the sex organs) will emit spores and once these spores find a nice place to feed and grow they turn into mycelium. You’re most likely to see mycelia when they’re getting ready to sprout mushrooms, like the common puffball. Which then puffs out more of those spores!
As you can tell, fungi have one primary purpose in life and that’s continuing a cycle of reproduction on and on.
That being said, remember that there’s so much more to fungi than their mushroom sexy parts. Saying that fungi are nothing more than a mushroom would be in "spore" taste.
How Mycelium Talks
What if we told you that fungi talks?
When you walk into a forest, you’re not just wandering between picturesque trees, you’re standing on top of an expansive, highly complex super highway of communication and trade.
If you imagine the roots of the trees all twisting together under the soil, try adding an extensive mycelium network to that image. Wherever there is a mass of plant networks, in woodlands, fields and grasslands, you will also find mycelium joining in with the underground talks.
Both plants and fungi use these connections to share information, support each other, steal from each other and trade resources. Of course, this isn’t done the way humans communicate; there’s no conscious thought involved, just natural chemical exchanges.
The depth of this connection - and the enormous scale of it - is just another astounding thing that fungi can do in their mycelium state. Dr Suzanne Simard, professor of forest ecology, first suggested that trees can share the carbon they produce throughout their attached mycelium networks.
The intricacy of mycelia connections is proof that fungi are capable of unbelievable feats we’re only just now revealing.
Mushrooms For Food
Fungi can do more than just decorate the top of your pizza. Gourmet mushrooms abound; from portobellos and oyster to Lion’s mane and shiitake, there’s a mushroom with a list of health benefits, delicious recipe ideas or supplements.
Mushrooms are low fat, low sugar, low calorie and gluten free. And, depending on your mushroom of choice, you’ll also enjoy a surprising array of anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting effects by consuming them.
Our ancestors developed through generations of foragers. We are the product of centuries upon centuries of mushroom eaters. Far from the processed food of today, mushrooms tie us to those that came before.
Mushrooms are interesting and cool, but they’re a valuable food source too. So go on, give mushrooms a try…they might just grow on you.
Mushrooms For Health
Little ol’ fungi have been sitting around defending themselves for millennia. They didn’t learn to use tools, they didn’t grow teeth. Nope, mushrooms learned to defend themselves from enemy pathogens with chemical compounds.
We’re not talking mustard gas here, more like antifungal, antibacterial and antiviral molecules. During World War II, the discovery of Penicillin from the Penicillium chrysogenum mould variety (shout out to mould) became a life-saving drug.
Now, because of its powerful beta-glucan content, medicinal fungi are widely used in the Western world to treat sclerosis, immune diseases and high cholesterol.
Is there anything mushrooms can’t do?!
Well, we’re still finding that out, but in the modern world, you can benefit from medicinal mushrooms in the form of powders, capsules, coffees and creams. With over 20,000 studies published on the efficacy of mushrooms, it looks like humanity is about to find even more ways that mushrooms can support our health naturally.
Mushrooms For Psychedelic Experiences
You can’t talk about mushrooms without talking about shrooms. While most fungi are not psychoactive, like Lion’s mane, there are strains that provide psychedelic effects.
A psychedelic mushroom trip is caused by naturally occurring chemical compounds called psilocybin and LSD. The altered state of consciousness that the shrooms can give means that many people report experiencing bizarre visual and auditory hallucinations.
Some who have tried psyilocybin have noted feeling compassion and connection with the world around them, while others found a sense of healing from trauma, depression or addiction.
Because of these positive results, medicinal psychedelics are starting to receive the attention they deserve. With new studies into the benefits of taking psychedelics in a medical setting, the future of fungi is looking bright.
Mushrooms For Science
So what’s next for fungi? Fungi’s food, health and medicinal benefits are obviously useful for us humans, but what else can mushrooms offer us?
From what researchers have learned about mushrooms so far, people are figuring out other ways to make use of fantastical fungi. Due to their natural makeup, mushrooms are highly recyclable and eco-friendly.
Because of this, mushrooms can be used to create a sustainable and durable material. Did you know that you can already buy handbags, shoes, jackets and trousers made from mushroom material? And the innovation doesn’t stop there.
If you’ve never heard of mycodesign you’re not alone. Mycodesign is a new movement dedicated to utilising mycelia structures to create more natural products, like recyclable packaging and compostable building materials.
The Fun-gi Goes On
There won’t be mush-room (get it?) in the future for unsustainable and unhealthy compounds. The world is moving toward a more natural, probably fungus-filled, way of living. So, don’t get left behind. We’re here to help you learn more about the benefits of Lion’s mane, the difference between mushrooms and shrooms and to answer any questions you want to ask.
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