Why Mushrooms Are So Vital

The Power of Mushrooms to Heal the Land

I espouse the power of mushrooms in the plant kingdom as the connector of all plants. The intricate roots system of fungus and mushrooms forms the underground internet known as the mycelium, and it’s through the mycelium that plants can share information and nutrients. The properties of mushrooms do not end there either. Sure, they are delicious cooked in thyme and butter and possess the elusive 5th taste pleasure – Umami, but they can contribute to healing the earth’s wounds bought on by man-made actions. Before I get into the nuts and bolts of this, let us not forgot how intrinsically vital mushrooms are in the regeneration of vegetation and forests. The underground mesh helps not only plants to communicate through ‘hub’ or ‘mother’ trees but binds the earth and soil to combat erosion from poorly managed land. Mushroom and fungi occupy a staggering 25% of the earth’s biomass. So, a quarter of ALL living organisms on earth are mushroom or fungi and a great deal of this is due to the density of the subterranean mycelium. Given this is the case it offers an insight into the role and importance of mushrooms in the natural world.

How else can mushrooms help the planet?

Toxic Land Reclaim.

Mycelium can break down oil and diesel which has a multitude of benefits and applications, particularly in environments which have been damaged by spills or mismanagement. Carbon and hydrogen bonds (petroleum) are broken down and the mycelium absorbs the oil and becomes saturated giving birth to mushrooms.
On land that has become toxic through pollution, the mycelium and subsequent mushrooms offer a regenerative solution. The mushrooms which grow on the damaged land eventually spore and decay which encourage insects, the insects then lay eggs. The larvae attract birds bringing in seeds and in a relatively short space of time life returns to the land which was desolate and toxic 8 weeks ago. In this instance and for millions of years, mushrooms have been a gateway plant, one that allows other vegetative matter to flourish.

Sequestering carbon.

Sequestering carbon is a process whereby carbon is taken from the atmosphere and locked into the earth and therefore offering a counter to the current global climate change issue. Fungi produce a unique sticky protein called glomalin that helps with the integrity and quality of the soil. The glomalin acts like a binding agent within the soil helping to prevent soil erosion and degradation. This factor alone is huge for regeneration.

I discussed carbon sequestration when I was discussing the mob, mow, move livestock practice – Mobbing or herding livestock helps to keep grasses in a vegetative state which in turn helps to sequester carbon in the ground – again this is powerful in the fight against global warming. When trees photosynthesis the sugars and carbon travels down into the earth via roots and transfer to the trees’ fungi partners which then, in turn, bury the carbon in the earth via the mycelium. The carbon is sequestered for an indeterminate amount of time. Clearly, we need trees and vegetation for photosynthesis to occur but it’s the insane actions and pathway of the mycelium which makes mushrooms the sustainable powerhouses that they are.

Runoff from Farmland.

Just as mycelium is being used to regenerate toxic land from petroleum spills or land mismanagement it can also be used to intercept the toxic runoff from intensively farmed land. As I’ve discussed in my book in order for crop farmers to maximise yields whilst adopting a mono-crop approach there’s a need (and acceptance amongst intensive farmers) to use whatever means necessary including the use of nitrogen and phosphorus fertilisers as well as pesticides. The pesticides and excess fertilisers (beyond what the plant requires) will inevitably end up in the waterways close to the property. As seen on a mass scale in the Gulf of Mexico and its dead zones. Organic matter such as storm debris can be utilised along with mycelium and packed into porous bags downstream of the farm or on the farm itself to prevent the accumulative action of fertilisers and pesticides in waterways. Intercepting the contaminants with mycelium is a band-aid solution to the problem but a powerful one, nonetheless.

Biological Polystyrene.

If you have ever bought a new computer, TV or stereo system there’s a good chance that it was secured in the box by polystyrene commonly known as styrofoam – acting as a protective buffer for the valuable and/or delicate product inside. It’s a versatile product popping up in the construction industry, medical industry and hospitality. It’s a man-made product resembling plastic and is derived from a non-renewable resource – oil. As wonderful as it is in protecting your new laptop from bumps and knocks in transit it does not degrade once its single-use has been exploited. So it heads into our landfill – that’s the best-case scenario. The worst-case scenario is that it heads into the out waterway and joins all the other contaminants and floating plastics. Plastic in the ocean under the mechanical action of the waves eventually breakdown to microscopic-sized pieces but NEVER breakdown to nothing. I’m sure we’ve all seen the horrific images of sea life being cut open to reveal all manner of plastics inside from bottle tops to straws and our trusty polystyrene. The incredible nature of mycelium and its fast-growing network of roots means that it can be used to fill moulds. Organic matter and mycelium are packed into moulds and left in the dark for a number of days. During this time the mycelium ‘consumes’ the organic matter and grows/expands to occupy the mould with the density comparable to a household brick. So, when you receive your new laptop next time with the corners and edges protected by mycelium packaging don’t chuck it in the garbage – throw it on your garden instead.

‘Shroom Detergent.

Are you a hot or cold wash kinda person? Washing our clothes in hot water is a large contributor to climate change and a drain on non-renewable energy. So, switching to a cold wash will help to lower the energy demand of your wash, but I know what you’re thinking, a cold wash won’t get the kale smoothie stains out of my fair-trade tee-shirt – well here’s the magic. Global detergent companies are now combining their formulas with a mushroom enzyme which are tough on stains. Just another way that mushrooms have our back and mother nature.

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