A General Intro to Mushrooms
What is fungus?
An initial Google search asking, “What is fungus?” will pull up only the negative aspects of this incredible species. Many perceive fungus as dirty or something to get rid of as fast as you can, but the majority of the fungus species is extremely beneficial for the health of the planet and for ourselves.
All mushrooms are fungi but not all fungi are mushrooms. While mushrooms are the most familiar part of fungi, most of their biomass is made up of a fine, white, thread-like fabric called mycelium. Mycelium is a network of cells that decompose plant and animal material. It stores nutrients and other essential compounds until it is ready to fruit, and that's what a mushroom really is. It's the fruiting body of the mycelium.
Mycelium is highly intelligent as it forms a symbiotic relationship with the roots of 90% of land plants. Some scientists are even calling it the Wood Wide Web. Mycologist, Paul Stamets has coined the phrase, “Earth’s Natural Internet”, since 1999 because of its ability to communicate information throughout its webs.
This natural internet is made up of what’s called mycorrhizal fungi. There are many different species of mycorrhizal fungi and most of them grow on the roots of plants, providing them with water and nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus in exchange for sugars from the plant. While the mycelium is a very thin, thread-like fabric it can reach the length of up to 1000 times the length of a tree root. This allows for the fungi to connect together all different species of plants.
It also allows for plants to transfer nutrients and send signals to each other in order for them to be healthy.
For instance, when paper birch trees lose their leaves in the fall months and can’t produce sugars, Douglas fir trees may shuttle them nutrients through the mycelium. In return during the summer months when Paper birch trees have lots of leaves, they will transfer sugars to young Douglas fir saplings in order to help them grow.
Through this network, they can also aware each other of potential danger. If a Douglas fir is attacked by budworms, it will communicate the danger through the network to neighboring trees, so they can have enough time to produce insect-repelling chemicals.
This underground internet is responsible for the health of soil, plants, and us. Humans can benefit tremendously from the power of medicinal mushrooms. There are highly medicinal species which we will be discussing, species that can make you very ill, or some that can take you on a spiritual journey.
What are medicinal mushrooms?
Medicinal mushrooms are specific strains of wild edible mushroom species that are mainly utilized internally for their health-enhancing compounds. They are a class of superfoods and many are also adaptogens, which help our bodies adapt to stress and lower cortisol levels. They have been used to treat cardiovascular diseases and can help ward off bacterial, viral, and fungal overgrowths. These mushrooms are antibacterial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, and antifungal in nature.
Fungi are actually responsible for a vast amount of pharmaceuticals that are used in western medicine. Several antibiotics and statin drugs were first derived from fungi. For instance, penicillin was derived from the fungus Penicillium notatum by a physician from London in 1928. The first statins to ever be discovered were also found from a fungus, Penicillium compactum.
Mushroom supplements can be produced from the actual fruiting body of the fungus as well as the mycelium biomass. The key compound found in fungi is polysaccharides and the primary polysaccharide you want is beta-D-glucans. Much of the present studies conducted on mushrooms are revolving around the beta-D-glucans content so it is very important when purchasing a supplement to be aware of not just the total polysaccharide content, but the individual beta-glucans as well.
The mushrooms to be featured like Reishi, Cordyceps, Chaga, and Turkey Tail are all revered as major tonics that have been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Ayurveda for thousands of years. Records even show that the earliest medicinal use of fungi was developed in 800 AD from China.
With a long history of tradition that is now backed by scientific evidence, these medicinal mushrooms are at the forefront of natural medicine, and for good reason.
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