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The Incredible Magic of Mushrooms

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The Incredible Magic of Mushrooms

By Linda Baker

Once you have heard “renaissance mycologist” Paul Stamets talk about mushrooms, you will never look at the world–not to mention your backyard–in the same way again. The author of two seminal textbooks, The Mushroom Cultivator and Growing Gourmet and Medicinal Mushrooms, Stamets runs Fungi Perfecti, a family-owned gourmet and medicinal mushroom business in Shelton, in Washington. His convictions about the expanding role that mushrooms will play in the development of earth-friendly technologies and medicines have led him to collect and clone more than 250 strains of wild mushrooms–which he stores in several on and off-site gene libraries.

Until recently, claims Stamets, mushrooms were largely ignored by the mainstream medical and environmental establishment. Or, as he puts it, “they suffered from biological racism.” But Stamets is about to thrust these higher fungi into the 21st century. In collaboration with several public and private agencies, he is pioneering the use of “mycoremediation” and “mycofiltration” technologies. These involve the cultivation of mushrooms to clean up toxic waste sites, improve ecological and human health, and in a particularly timely bit of experimentation, break down chemical warfare agents possessed by Saddam Hussein.

“Fungi are the grand recyclers of the planet and the vanguard species in habitat restoration,” says Stamets, who predicts that bioremediation using fungi will soon be a billion-dollar industry. “If we just stay at the crest of the mycelial wave, it will take us into heretofore unknown territories that will be just magnificent in their implications.”

A former logger turned scanning-electron microscopist, Stamets is not your typical scientist–a role he obviously relishes. “Some people think I’m a mycological heretic, some people think I’m a mycological revolutionary, and some just think I’m crazy,” he says cheerfully. His discussions of mushroom form and function are sprinkled with wide-ranging–and provocative–mycological metaphors, among them his belief that “fungal intelligence” provides a framework for understanding everything from string theory in modern physics to the structure of the Internet.

In a recent interview, Stamets also spoke mysteriously of a yet-to-be-unveiled project he calls the “life box,” his plan for “re-greening the planet” using fungi. “It’s totally fun, totally revolutionary. It’s going to put smiles on the faces of grandmothers and young children,” he says. “And it’s going to be the biggest story of the decade.”

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28 comments

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5:16PM PST on Dec 13, 2009


good idea fosforlu nevresimler

lida

8:51PM PDT on Jun 14, 2009

thanks...you...
Kabin
Konteyner

9:46PM PDT on May 4, 2009

Incredible article, thank you so much!

3:03AM PDT on Apr 15, 2009

Fascinating Captain! (If I may be so bold as to quote Spock, twas generally said to the Captain) No really! neat stuff. And the mushroom pictured at the beginning of the article. Tis right at the tip of my mind. I recall various tribes of the NW would throw it upon coals of the fire and inhale the smoke during religious ceremonies. Amanita perhaps. Such wonderful enthusiasm Stamets displays. Such stuff is worth investigating

9:43PM PDT on Apr 11, 2009

Hi, I'm rudy m. torres from Iloilo City, Philippines, I'm a mushroom grower oyster or abalone (plorutos)variety, and I'm amazed with the findings of Stamets on mycoremidiation, which I believe is true since we have noticed that the byproduct or used fruiting bags or planting media of mushrooms mixed with soils around our vicinity has become so new and fertile for other plants that we have, I'm not a scientist nor an agriculturist but in my layman point of view I can see the difference and effects. Well if this could save our planet as Stamet's said, then I'm doing my part in our place, hope I could benefit w/ that billion dollar Stamet was saying about mycoremidiation effects of mycilium in the mushroom plantation. my area of mushroom plantation is only 30 square meters(a backyard size plantation), but if planted full, I could produce 10 to 15 kilogram a day.

11:47PM PDT on Apr 9, 2009

Hericium erinaceus usually grows on live trees, but occasionally it may be found on a log. And I figure the only way to raise anyone's consciousness about edibility is to eat it myself, in front of them, with gusto, and let them see for themselves that it's harmless.

10:20AM PDT on Apr 9, 2009

Dear Richard -- sorry to hear this-- obviously you did not keel over, or did you? and reincarnated as a toadstool -- kidding..
anyway too bad for your family.
this Hericium erinaceus grows on tree bark yes? Don't have it in Colorado, but it looks delicious--
so now that you're not keeled over, how do you raise ppl's consciousness about edibility?

2:24AM PDT on Apr 9, 2009

One day in Autumn here in Toronto, Canada, I was trekking through a local ravine with a copy of The Mushroom Hunters Field Guide when I came across a log with a large Hericium erinaceus mushroom growing on it. Needless to say I picked it right away (after confirming it was edible, of course) and brought it home as a treat for my family. However, no one would touch it but me, so guess what I had for lunch that day? While I enjoyed its flavor and texture, my family waited for me to keel over.

11:49PM PDT on Apr 8, 2009

incredible article. i look forward to seeing both the ecological and medicinal use of mushrooms within the next few years :)

9:16PM PDT on Apr 7, 2009

we have the red Aminitas here in Colorado spruce forests and everyone I know gets pretty sick eating them--- the oyster ones are delicious here, sticking out of the sides of a rotting tree: gotta get 'em fresh tho

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