by Sayer Ji
February 20, 2012
“I believe that mycelium is the neurological network of nature.
Interlacing mosaics of mycelium infuse habitats with
information-sharing membranes. These membranes are aware, react
to change, and collectively have the long-term health of the
host environment in mind.
The mycelium stays in constant
molecular communication with its environment, devising diverse
enzymatic and chemical responses to complex challenges.”
- Paul Stamets
How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World
The mycelium is the part of the mushroom you usually do not see.
Most of it is found distributed throughout
the soil, consisting of a mass of branching, thread-like structures
(known as hyphae) which absorb nutrients and decompose organic
The mycelium can be exceedingly small or may form a
colony of massive proportions.
Is this the largest organism in the
world? This 2,400-acre (9.7 km2) site in eastern Oregon had a
contiguous growth of mycelium before logging roads cut through
Estimated at 1,665 football fields in size and 2,200 years
old, this one fungus has killed the forest above it several
times over, and in so doing has built deeper soil layers that
allow the growth of ever-larger stands of trees.
Mushroom-forming forest fungi are unique in that their mycelial
mats can achieve such massive proportions.
- Paul Stamets
The mycelium has extraordinary
properties suitable for bioremediation.
It is capable of degrading
pesticides and plastics, and has been shown to break down petroleum
in a matter of weeks:
This, however, is only the physio-chemical
dimension of the mycelium.
According to Paul Stamets, it also has
information/consciousness associated properties:
“I see the mycelium as the Earth's
natural Internet, a consciousness with which we might be able to
communicate. Through cross-species interfacing, we may one day
exchange information with these sentient cellular networks.
Because these externalized neurological nets sense any
impression upon them, from footsteps to falling tree branches,
they could relay enormous amounts of data regarding the
movements of all organisms through the landscape.”
- Paul Stamets
The notion that fungi may participate in
some form of planetary interspecies communication and/or
consciousness through their mycelium may seam a bit 'far out,' but
consider that mushrooms have been used to expand consciousness for
Even beyond the well-known psychedelic
(literally "soul showing") properties of some species (particularly
Lion's Mane) are their
neuritogenic properties; that is, their
ability to promote new neural cell growth and the enhancement of
communication between them. The resemblance between the filamentous
structures within the brain (axons; dendrites) and the fungi within
the soil (mycelium) may therefore be more than accidental.
Our relationship to fungi is in fact closer than most think.
According to David McLaughlin, professor of plant biology at the
University of Minnesota in the College of Biological Sciences, human
cells are surprisingly similar to fungal cells.
In a 2006 Science
Daily article the topic is explored further:
In 1998 scientists discovered that
fungi split from animals about 1.538 billion years ago, whereas
plants split from animals about 1.547 billion years ago.
means fungi split from animals 9 million years after plants did,
in which case fungi are actually more closely related to animals
than to plants. The fact that fungi had motile cells propelled
by flagella that are more like those in animals than those in
plants, supports that.
Could this filial bond also be why many
species of fungi have such profound medicinal properties in humans?
Mushrooms, and their components, have in fact been some of the most
extensively studied natural medicines in existence, with a number of
human clinical trials proving their anti-cancer properties.
Prepare yourself for an intellectual
'trip' into the profound potential that mushrooms have to 'save the
world' in Paul Stamet's inspiring video below:
- Book Review -
How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World
by Teri Lee
March 07, 2008
If you enjoy eating exotic mushrooms,
are interested in their nutritional and medicinal value and if you
would like to learn how to establish mushrooms in your yard, garden
Mycelium Running - How Mushrooms Can Help Save
the World by Paul Stamets will not disappoint you.
If the subtitle How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World
intrigues you, it should.
Paul Stamets' thirty years of experience
in "engaging fungi", his original theories and research will reveal
a world that many of us never knew existed.
He calls Mycelium
"A mycological manual for rescuing ecosystems".
The text is divided into three parts with a foreword by the author's
long time friend Dr. Andrew Weil. 360 high quality photos and
concise, useful graphs and charts enrich the text. You will see
mushrooms the likes of which you never imagined.
Mr. Stamets has a wonderful writing style; friendly, funny and
scientific all at the same time. He describes fungi as the "grand
recyclers" of nature, their cobweb like growth under logs as "mycomagicians".
Part I - The
Mycelium as Nature's Internet
The Mushroom Life Cycle
Mushrooms in Their Natural
The Medicinal Mushroom Forest
Stamets describes mycelium as,
"the neurological network of nature"
that can "expand to thousands of acres in size in cellular mats
achieving the greatest mass of any individual organism on this
Mycelium is a single-celled organism
that travels several inches a day.
That means there is only one cell wall
that protects this organism from pathogens, yet it thrives more
prolifically that any plant or animal on the planet.
In fact, it is mycelium's vast structural network that is
responsible for decomposing plant debris, at the same time providing
nutrients to the plant and animal kingdoms. In other words, mycelium
is earth's life support system and should be understood, respected
and protected as such.
A mushroom is the fruit of mycelium. They produce spores capable of
traveling great distances on the wind, on clothing, in animal feces
and even on envelopes and packages in our mail.
There are four types of fungi: saprophytes, parasites, mycorrhizal
and endophytes. The saprophyte subtype is largely responsible for
recycling organic debris and providing nutrients to the plant and
Mycorrhizal fungi are vital to the health of forests because it
transports nutrients to different species of trees.
The Medicinal Mushroom Forest discusses the ancient
knowledge of the value of mushrooms to both the human body and the
forest ecosystem with useful charts of commonly collected wild
edible mushrooms from NW North America including chanterelles, matsutake and hedgehogs.
Various mushroom varieties possess potent anti-microbial properties.
The author notes that a,
"moldy cantaloupe sent to an army
research lab in 1941",
...led to the identification and
extraction of strains of penicillium chrysogenum that led to the
commercial synthesis of penicillin.
Mr. Stamets' own research led to the discovery that the extract of
mycelium from the mushroom
"protects human blood cells from
infection by orthopox viruses including the family of viruses
that includes smallpox."
Specific varieties of mushrooms possess
antiviral activity against such viruses as,
tobacco mosaic virus
A useful table lists various mushrooms
and their antiviral activities.
Several varieties of mushrooms are sources of other medicinal
compounds including triterpenoids and glycoproteins. Pages 38-39
provide a cross index of Mushrooms and Targeted Therapeutic Effects
including mushroom activity against specific cancers.
Mr. Stamets presents strong evidence that fungi from old growth
forests have potential as sources for new and vital medicines. And
he emphasizes the essential importance of preserving this priceless
Part II -
In Mycorestoration the author presents his original thought,
theories and research into how mycelium and their fruit, mushrooms,
can be harnessed for uses that support the health of humans and our
In this fascinating section of the book,
the author presents the reader with "fungal opportunities
These original concepts are presented in four forms:
is defined as the selective use of
fungi to repair or restore the weakened immune systems of
uses mycelium as a membrane to catch
and filter upstream contaminants including microorganisms,
pollutants and silt. Talk about filtration capacity, Mr. Stamets
says that "more than a mile of mycelial cells can infuse a gram
The text illustrates how we can use mycelium on farms, in our
own urban and suburban environments, in watershed districts, in
factories, on roads and other stressed habitats to filter
protozoa, bacteria, viruses, bacteria, silt and chemical toxins.
Mycelial mats, called "bunker spawn" mature in months and can be
used for years to prevent downstream pollution. Mr. Stamets
discusses his own research in microfiltration and presents
directions for building and installing mycelium microfilters.
is the use of fungi to sustain
forest communities by preserving natural forests, recycling
woodland debris, sustaining replanted trees with the goal of
strengthening the forest ecosystem.
Mr. Stamets emphasizes that contrary to conventional thought our
forests are not "renewable" resources and discusses how carbon
cycles that fuel the food chain can take centuries, if not
thousands of years to establish.
For example, in Oregon a honey mushroom mat found on a
mountaintop covered over 2400 acres and is thought to be about
2200 years old. "Nurse" logs in this forest increase soil depth
and enrich the habitat for the fungi, plant and animal kingdoms.
The reader must wonder how many
regions like this exist on planet earth today.
According to the author, acceleration of this process is
possible by using wood chips as a spawning medium for fungi.
This method has the potential to prevent forest fires because as
mycelium grows on the wood chips they draw moisture to the
forest floor in a sponge like way.
Mr. Stamets urges forest pathologists to develop strategies that
utilize mycelium to improve forest health.
is the use of fungi to degrade or
remove toxins from the environment.
According to the author
fungi can be used to degrade heavy metals including lead, and
mercury, industrial toxins including chlorine, dioxin, PCBs and
This potential is viewed in the perspective of the hierarchy of
organisms in the fungi, plant, bacterium and animal kingdoms, a
hierarchy which begins and ends with fungi.
Photos in this chapter illustrate
diesel contaminated soil "under attack" by oyster mushrooms
which thrive on the contaminated soil and regenerate it by
neutralizing the contaminant. When they die and rot they provide
a healthy environment for new plant growth. The contaminated
soil in which mushroom growth was not introduced remained just
that, barren and contaminated.
The goal of mycorestoration is to match fungi species to
contaminants to enable the "destruction of toxins that enable
other restoration strategies".
involve the use of fungi to control
pest populations, including carpenter ants and termites. Mr.
Stamets relates a personal story of how he used mycelium as a
natural pesticide to rid his house of carpenter ants.
He has applied for patents to use this biotechnology which
protect groundwater and habitats from damage by conventional
toxic pesticides, as a natural method of eliminating termites,
ants and flies.
He calls the technology "green mycotechnology".
Part III - Growing
Mycelia and Mushrooms includes six chapters
Inoculation Methods: Spores,
spawns and stem butts
Cultivating Mushrooms on Straw
and Leached Cow Manure
Cultivating Mushrooms on logs
Gardening with Gourmet and
Magnificent Mushrooms: The Cast
Nutritional properties of
This section introduces readers to
methods for inoculation, cultivation and gardening with mushrooms.
Excellent photos, graphs and charts help the reader to visualize and
practically apply the processes.
Mr. Stamets says that the key to growing mushrooms is to first grow
mycelium and that the most important technique is learning how to
use wild, or natural spawn because it has the advantage of being
acclimated to its habitat.
The mycelium grower is described as a "herdsman" and the mycomotto
is "move it or lose it". The author explains that no matter how
successful you may be at getting mycelium to grow it will "consume
its habitat" and will move on, if not supplemented with its basic
Stamets explains that,
"Your job is to become embedded into
the mind-set of this digestive cellular membrane, to run with
Using fungi in the garden builds soil,
improves yield and decreases fertilizer requirements. Photos
illustrate the increased size of vegetables grown in mycelium rich
Edible mushrooms are good sources of protein, are very low in simple
carbohydrates and fats and are high in antioxidants, selenium,
potassium, copper, B vitamins and fiber.
Nutritional content of mushrooms depends on variety and where they
are grown. For example, button mushrooms grown in Texas and Oklahoma
contain higher levels of selenium than those grown in Florida and
Pages 198-199 provide a very useful chart listing the nutritional
properties of 16 edible mushrooms.
Mushrooms are rich sources of enzymes including,
...enzymes known for their ability to
decompose plant fiber.
According to the author, enzyme
inhibitors in mushrooms are protective against breast and prostate
cancer. Aromatase inhibitors that interrupt the conversion of
androgens to estrogens are significant to those at risk for breast
cancer. 5 alpha reductase inhibitors are significant to those at
risk for enlarged prostate and prostate cancer.
Graphs provide additional information on mushroom variety and
content of these valuable nutritional compounds.
chapter of the book is Magnificent Mushrooms
The Cast of Species
This section provides in-depth descriptions, distribution, habitat,
harvesting hints, nutritional profile, medicinal properties, flavor,
preparation and cooking tips, mycorestoration potential and comments
for a long list of mushrooms including shiitakes, oyster, and
This is valuable, useful information for anyone interested in
utilizing the benefits of mushrooms for health, both human and
Certainly Paul Stamets book Mycelium Running - How Mushrooms Can Save the
World will grow the ranks of mycophiles world wide.
Because the science of mycorestoration is in its infancy,
Running will likely inspire a new generation of mycologists to
implement the author's original discoveries and make future
discoveries of their own, discoveries that benefit both mankind and
As Dr. Andrew Weil said in the introduction,
"I find this book exciting and
optimistic because it suggests new, non-harmful possibilities
for solving serious problems that affect our health and the
health of our environment".
Others by Paul
Growing Gourmet and
Medicinal Mushrooms (2000)
The Mushroom Cultivator
with coauthor Jeff Chilton (1983)
Founder of fungiperfecti: