A Radical Mycology Presentation and Field Experience
By Kathy Lundgren and Donna Cusano
Radical Mycology? What is mycology and how can it be radical? TTM’s event “Mushrooms Can Be Fun and Beneficial” gave us many insights. The Pacific Northwest group, Radical Mycology answered this question. After generously sharing their background and technical information, they led a large TTM group on a mushroom hunting walk through a stream valley in Rose Tree Park.
Mycology is the study of organisms made up of mycelium which, according to Merriam Webster dictionary are:
the mass of interwoven filamentous hyphae that forms especially the vegetative portion of the thallus of a fungus and is often submerged in another body (as of soil or organic matter or the tissues of a host)
In other words mycelium are the stringy white fibers in soil next to rotting wood and, when ready to multiply, these fibers send up mushrooms and other various fungal growths. What’s so radical about mycology? If you teach it the way Radical Mycology does, everything is radical. We have a lot to learn by studying the basics of fungal life forms, lessons that can be applied to create a more sustainable way of life. We learned some really fun facts; mushrooms are ancient, they were huge (really huge) way back before plants (or we) were on earth. Fungi are survivors.
The Radical Mycology group mission is to destigmatize these native organisms and to appreciate their role in life and as a model of community resilience. Fungi are grand stewards of the environment, constantly changing various dead life forms from waste to nutrients. They model a decentralized way of being. There is no boss or leader in the fungal world. Fungi provide sources of protein and many essential food elements. Mushrooms and mycelium “communicate” through chemical messages rapidly and across great distances. The largest organism on earth is a fungal mass of mycelium spread across twenty-five acres of area.
With a reputation for being mysterious, seductive, different, independent and elusive, fungi are actually very beneficial to our food system. One important group, the mycorrhizal fungi inhabit plant roots. According to BioOrganics.com: “Nearly all plants on earth rely on mycorrhizal fungi for nutrients and moisture.” These mycelium create shaggy blankets on roots that extend throughout the soil, locating nutrients and water beneficial to the plants and the fungus. This is a symbiotic relationship where each organism supports the other, enhancing both lives. The more familiar mycelium are saprotrophic ones: the decomposers. These are the familiar mushrooms of the grocery store including the oysters, portobello, and shitake.
Fungi have many nutritional properties. Mushrooms provide protein and are the only known non-animal source of vitamin D. Their cell structure contains chitin (similar to insect shells or to cellulose in trees). To get nutritional benefit, we must cook mushrooms. Their food value is otherwise untapped by our systems.
One easy way to grow your own nutrition is to cultivate mycelium on brown rice. Because of their amazing chemical properties and their earthy substance, mushrooms also provide dyes, can be made into paper and some can be felted into a wearable material.
Some fungi have potent chemical properties. Mushrooms can turn waste products into food and can bind heavy metals and thus clean toxic soil. They contain the musky, pungent fifth flavor called umami. And, as we all know, some mushrooms are so dangerous they will kill us.
As we transition from a consumer culture to producer culture, we need to relearn the ways of the naturalist: the ways of hunting and cultivating mushrooms for community sustainability and for community abundance. Radical Mycology provided background on how to find and identify mushrooms. That information, plus recommendations for field guides and trail gear will be considered in a separate blog post.
Consider this: we know of one million five hundred thousand different kinds of fungi. Of them, one hundred thousand are mushrooms. Of the one hundred thousand mushrooms, one thousand are edible, three hundred taste good, thirty taste really good, one thousand will make you feel bad (from sick to extremely sick) and twelve will kill you. So look for the next TTM Reskilling blog post with a few tips and recommendations for hunting mushrooms.
On a grand tour of North America, the group Radical Mycology is spreading the word about the mysterious powers of and the powerful potential offered by the world of fungal organisms.
I’m sure that all 50 of the adult and children participants in our workshop are grateful that RM made Media a stop on their Radical Mycology Tour. We invite them to visit again, perhaps next year during the Kennett Square Mushroom Festival, when we will entertain them with our enthusiasm for fungi.