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“Fungi are the grand recyclers of the planet and the vanguard species in habitat restoration.”
– Paul Stamets
Fungi are critical to plant life and the overall health of a forest. They break down dead matter and help life to spring anew. They are at once some of largest organisms on the planet and among the smallest.
Fungi are diverse and can eat a wide range toxic materials. Some consume heavy metals, plastic, and toxic waste. After the tragic nuclear fallout in Chernobyl radiotrophic fungi began to restore the environment. They used their pigment melanin to convert radiation into chemical energy.
Fungi are capable or restoring order in ways we are just beginning to understand. They are among the more chemically active substances on our planet. The right fungi can serve as medicines, while having the wrong ones can make you hallucinate or even prove to be fatal. They are powerful and prolific. Their spores are everywhere.
You can’t control the spores in the air, but you can influence the growing conditions within your body. The types of fungi you grow will depend on the overall growing conditions in your gut. To understand how to cultivate fungi inside of yourself, it’s good to go foraging for mushrooms. If you have the opportunity, it is not only a great way to get fresh air, food and exercise, it can teach you an incredible amount about the living context of decay and renewal.
My sister Ann is brilliant at hunting and foraging. If she wants mushrooms, she can head straight for them. It’s as if there are huge red arrows pointing right at them. By contrast, I wander aimlessly only to find a “mushroom” which inevitably turns out to be a dry leaf. When we go looking for them, I come up short. By the time I manage to find a mushroom, her bags are brimming. She still considers it a team effort, which is very gracious of her.
I asked her what her secret was. She said something about luck to make me feel better. It didn’t. I knew she was trying to be nice, but I felt that my problem was one of perspective. I asked her about it. She looked at me perplexed that I could be so oblivious to the world around me. Then she explained it slowly so I could understand. My problem was that I went looking for the mushroom, while she was looking for where the conditions were right for the mushrooms to exist. The fungi spores are everywhere, but they can only grow where the conditions are right. Where pine needles fall, the soil becomes acidic. This becomes an ideal microclimate for the King Bolete mushroom. Oak trees provide an altogether different environment nourishing to truffles, maitakes, and chanterelles. She was looking at the context of the forest, while I was looking for a dot in a panorama of camouflage.
As we went on later mushroom expeditions I began to notice that every kind of rotting plant seemed to host its own variety of fungi. If you pile up dead blackberry bushes, they have these little mushrooms on them that don’t seem to grow on other plants. As I saw the different plants, each with their own kinds of fungi. It reminded me to an article I saw in a medical journal. It concluded that the wider the variety of vegetables people consume, the more diverse their microbiome becomes. It was one thing to read on paper, but it was another to experience in real life. As I ducked under low bows and avoided thorns, I found myself not only exploring the forest, but understanding the human body at a deeper level.
Trying to look for “bad bacteria” or “good bacteria” is like trying to hunt for mushrooms one at a time. It is ultimately a fools errand. Instead it is wiser to look at the overall growing conditions to determine what is capable of developing. The types of life you nurture will depend upon the growing conditions within.
You are a microclimate of life. Encourage biodiversity by eating a variety of textures, flavors and colors. As they break down, they will harbor an even greater variety of microbiota. This biodiversity of microbiota can give you a stronger immune system, greater strength and peace of mind.
St George’s mushrooms by Andrew
Oyster mushrooms by Steve Leitkam
What Fungi Can Teach You about Diet by Andrew Miles & Xuelan Qiu is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at enlightenweight.com.