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Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World (Book Review)

Friday, March 07, 2008 by: Teri Lee Gruss
Tags: mushrooms, health news, Natural News

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(NaturalNews) 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 or woods, 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 Running "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 One, The Mycelial Mind, contains four chapters:

* Mycelium as Nature's Internet

* The Mushroom Life Cycle

* Mushrooms in Their Natural Habitat

* 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 planet".

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 animal world.

Mycorrhizal fungi are vital to the health of forests because it transports nutrients to different species of trees.

The chapter 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 Fomitopsis officinalis "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 hepatitis B, herpes simplex, HIV, influenza, pox, and 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 resource.

Part II - Mycorestoration

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 ailing planet. In this fascinating section of the book, the author presents the reader with "fungal opportunities underfoot".

These original concepts are presented in four forms: Mycofiltration, Mycoforestry,Mycoremediation and Mycopesticides.

Mycorestoration is defined as the selective use of fungi to repair or restore the weakened immune systems of environments.

Mycofiltration 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 of soil".

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.

Mycoforestry 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.

Mycoremediation 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 organophosphates.

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".

Mycopesticides 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 and stumps

* Gardening with Gourmet and medicinal mushrooms

* Magnificent Mushrooms: The Cast of Species

* Nutritional properties of mushrooms

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 nutrient needs.

Stamets explains that "Your job is to become embedded into the mind-set of this digestive cellular membrane, to run with mycelium".

Using fungi in the garden builds soil, improves yield and decreases fertilizer requirements. Photos illustrate the increased size of vegetables grown in mycelium rich soil.

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 Pennsylvania.

Pages 198-199 provide a very useful chart listing the nutritional properties of 16 edible mushrooms.

Mushrooms are rich sources of enzymes including cellulose, lignan peroxidases, laccases, manganese superoxide dismutases, 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.

The final 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 morels.

This is valuable, useful information for anyone interested in utilizing the benefits of mushrooms for health, both human and planetary.

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, Mycelium 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 the environment.

As Dr. Andrew Weil said in the introduction "I find this book exciting and optimistic because it suggests new, nonharmful possibilities for solving serious problems that affect our health and the health of our environment".

Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World by Paul Stamets - Ten Speed Press, 2005. 339 pp 360 color photos

Other books by Paul Stamets:

* Growing Gourmet and Medicinal Mushrooms (2000)

* The Mushroom Cultivator with coauthor Jeff Chilton (1983)

Founder of fungiperfecti @ (http://www.fungi.com/) and (http://fungi.com/mycomeds/info.html)

About the author

Teri Lee Gruss, MS Human Nutrition

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