As some of the first dwellers on planet earth, reaching twenty feet in height over 60 million years ago, mushrooms remain the more mysterious cousins to our plant allies. They make their homes in the hollows of trees and at the foot of woodland springs, sometimes popping up and retreating to the cool tilthy soil as if by magic. From deep in the South American rainforests to the immortal mountains of China they have secured their place in folklore, fairy tales, and medicine cabinets alike. Perhaps the potency of their healing qualities goes hand in hand with the strong superstitions and rituals that follow them around the world.
In ancient Slavic religions, mushrooms were considered the fingers of a god of the dead named Velnias, reaching out from the underworld to feed the poor. A children’s tale in Central America tells of woodland spirits that carry mushrooms as umbrellas to shelter from the rain and left behind at dawn. In Europe, the appearance of mushrooms growing in circles, or fairy rings, marks the place where the Fae come to dance and frolic after a rainstorm. Those who dare enter a ring may find themselves whisked off to the land of the wee folk forever.
Whatever realm these fruiting bodies reign from, we are learning more about their healing properties than ever before. There is now research being done to show the effectiveness of bird’s nest fungi (Nidulariaceae family) against pancreatic cancer, cordyceps (Ophiocordyceps sinensis) in the reversal of Alzheimers, lion’s mane (Hericium erinaceus) for the treatment of Parkinsons, reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) for streptococcus (strep), shiitake (Lentinula edodes) versus Escherichia coli (e-coli), and chicken of the woods (Laetiporus sulphureus) against drug-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (staph).
The mycologists at Mushroom Mountain, a world class laboratory and research facility, are the leaders of this mushroom healing movement. Of course big pharmaceutical companies stand in the way of some of their progress, as their findings may jeopardize the industry as a whole. As you can see, the main mushrooms they have experimented with are well-known culinary and medicinal mushrooms. To bypass this blockade, they do their research on mushrooms the government has banned at a healing center called The Blue Portal in Jamaica instead. Here they experiment with different mushrooms containing Psilocybin, a hallucinogenic compound. They have found impressive results in its treatment of common ailments such as depression and anxiety to more serious diseases such as Lyme with this compound thus far.
The wonderful world of fungi is just as elusive to us today as in the days of the ancient Slavs. In fact we are just discovering that there are microscopic fungi on all plants called endophytes. The combination of these endophytes with the plant itself is what produces the medicinal qualities we are familiar with. Although it is easy to go down the rabbit hole with the staggering potential of the millions of mushrooms that exist, it is also important to remember that they are our elders, perhaps more than any other plant or animal on Earth. We need to tell their stories as much as their research to continue to learn from these magical teachers.
Check out The Alchemist’s Kitchen mushroom health collection here!