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How Mushrooms Can Save the Planet & Civilization

mushrooms on earth

Paul Stamets, one of the world’s leading mycologists and innovators has stated numerous times there are a variety of ways that mushrooms can benefit humanity on an incredible scale. From natural pesticides that could replace harmful chemicals to beneficial medicinal uses, mushrooms have essentially enabled life on this planet and build the very scaffold from which everything is made from.

How Mushrooms can Help Solve Food Scarcity

mushrooms as food

While mushrooms can help regenerate soil (which I talk about further below) mushrooms themselves are incredibly nutrition rich with great flavor. I’m willing to bet that most (if not all restaurants where you can order wine) serves a dish that has mushrooms in it. Mushrooms can be complimentary to meat dishes or even act as replacement for meat in some cases given their texture. The lions mane mushroom when grilled in a pan with butter tastes a lot like lobster. Portobello mushrooms, which are big enough to be their own dish, can be made to taste a lot like a burger. Now while they are not a direct replacement for meat and nutrition provided by meat they do grow way faster, use up a lot less resources to grow and can literally be grown anywhere in the world both indoors and outdoors. There’s been some interesting research showing that if you grow oyster mushrooms on specific growing mediums you can get them to produce amino acids that are typically found in meats.

An important thing to note here is that mushrooms are not geography dependent (some mushrooms do only grow on specific mediums) but most mushrooms that are used commonly as food like oyster mushrooms can be grown anywhere in the world. Mushrooms grow faster than any crop like wheat, corn or rice and use up a fraction of the resources. This reduces time, reduces resources and reduces costs dramatically when compared to just about anything else we grow for food.

Mushrooms can Help Solve the Plastic and Oil Spill Problems

growing oyster mushrooms

Plastic, which is one of the oil industry’s biggest money makers next to fuel, is also one of the planet’s biggest problems. Both plants and mushrooms have the potential to replace this completely. Mushrooms so far don’t seem to have the ability to make plastic like materials but do have the ability to make packaging that would replace certain types of plastic packaging like foam.

When it comes to creating very “plastic like” packaging, that will most likely come from plants where plant cellulose seems to have the most promising ability to create a variety of plastics. Keep in mind that hemp was once used to make the strongest car plastic body in the world back in 1941 by Henry Ford. So with the abundant amount of hemp cellulose we have it seems like that could work. But lets get back to mushrooms.

Mushrooms can also be made into a leather like fabric which can replace synthetic, plastic leather as well as many other synthetic fabrics which are all oil based. Many high end companies are already producing concepts made from mushroom leather like Lululemon and Adidas. Startup companies like Mycoworks and Mylo are already producing leather materials made from mushrooms.

So mushrooms can help us produce materials that are way more natural and biodegradable in order to replace plastics. So what else can mushrooms do? Turns out mushrooms can be used as a very effective “cleanup crew” for oil spills.

Oyster mushrooms have been shown to have the ability to break down oil. The way they do this is essentially the exact same way that mushrooms decompose everything else. The mycelium create enzymes that break down hydrogen and carbon bonds (hydrocarbons) and produce sugars that act as energy for both plants and mushrooms. Once plants move in, this sets the stage for creating an ecosystem. Plants grow, then insects move in, once insects move in birds come to eat the insects. Bird leave behind seeds, more plants grow. Plants inevitably die which the mycelium decomposes and mycelium of course creates the fruiting bodies we call mushrooms. Its a really neat cycle once mycelium moves in and does its thing. This cycle happens over and over again until any trace of oil is basically undetectable.

Since we know oyster mushrooms have the ability to help clean up oils spills, its more like a “tool to keep in our back pockets” if we need it. We will inevitably have oil spills as society transitions away from oil dependency. So its good to know we have a cleanup crew to help us get there.

How Mushrooms Have an Important Role in Medicine

turkey tail medicinal mushrooms

Mushrooms like Turkey Tail, Rieshi and Agarikon are widely know to have an array of medicinal benefits associated with them. Benefits of medicinal mushrooms include things like antiviral activity, immune boosting, antioxidants and DNA protection. Agarikon in particular is very rare yet has some of the most potent medicinal compounds. Had Paul Stamets other mycologists not discovered the medicinal capabilities of mushrooms like this and where they are found, we would not have known how endangered certain mushrooms like these are. As far as we know, Agarikon now only grows in 1 place on the planet, our endangered old growth forests in the Pacific Northwest.

Lions Mane is another medicinal mushroom that has been known to help with specific neuro degenerative disorders and nerve damage. Its commonly used as a nootropic to help enhance brain function. Thankfully, Lions Mane can be found growing all over the world so more people have access to is benefits. With mushrooms like these, and mushrooms general, I think we are just beginning to understand their true benefits to society and potential.

The important role mushrooms play in medicine is one of the key reasons we should be protecting the forests and habitats that mushrooms like these grow in. In places like the Amazon where we are seeing large portions of deforested and burned away on a daily basis… there may be (and most likely are) mushrooms and fungi in the Amazon that we will never know exist simply because of how we treat Nature. By this fact alone, forests (especially old growth and Amazonian) should be protected as sanctuaries not cut down for profit and making more farmland we don’t need. The farmland we do have need to be regenerated and brought back to life.

Mushrooms Have Primary Role in Soil and Habitat Regeneration

soil regenerating mushrooms

Mushrooms are the very enablers of life on this planet. They broke down hard rock and extracted the nutrients and minerals within them which provided the fuel for the beginnings of plants and other cellular organisms to grow and reproduce. So if mushrooms and fungi can do something so incredibly powerful and fundamental to start life on this planet… it can probably help us fix our mistakes too.

In combination with regenerative farming, mushrooms can essentially re-create healthy soil. Even from the most toxic and polluted soils as I mentioned earlier. But where we need to heal our soils the most is where we already have farmland that’s been used for generations. And this is where regenerative farming comes in. Regenerative farming by itself is immensely beneficial to farmland and seems like a very diverse way to farm. But by adding mycelium to the process, farmers can supercharge those results by introducing an organism that’s been making healthy soil for millions of years.

By adding mycelium to farmland, it can help breathe life back into an area that is basically void of any nutrients and microscopic life that’s required to create an ecosystem within the soil. This is solid that we’ve destroyed through “archaic farming practices” like overloading farmland with chemical herbicides, pesticides and phosphorous all while extracting nutrients and minerals by harvesting the crops. By not replacing/regenerating anything we’ve taken and dumped chemical on the land we’ve basically “sanitized” the soil. Its amazing that mushrooms and mycelium, with a little bit of help, can come in and start to bring back the soil to how its suppose to be. Its going to be really interesting to see how farmers utilize these new discoveries. Like the discovery that fungi are more effective at killing pests than pesticides.

Mushrooms can Replace Insecticides and Aid Crop Growth

fungi growing in grass

Chemical pesticides have had a notorious reputation. While being generally effective these types of pesticides also do heavy damage the environment and human health. They have also been shown to be one of the primary causes of killing of bees. Chemical pesticides do not discriminate and they tend to kill whatever insect comes into contact with them. A particular class of pesticides call neonicotinoids used on farmland essentially wrecks the bees entire system and seems to be responsible for what scientists call “Colony Collapse Disorder” where millions of bees have been dying off all around the world.

Paul Stamets has stated numerous times that fungi can be used as a more effective pesticide and has multiple patents on using mushrooms as an effective insecticide. The mushrooms of course kill the insect and in the process break down the insect’s material and return it to the Earth. But what is so unique about Paul’s mycopesticide discovery is that he can train this particular type of fungi to target specific types of pests. Meaning this fungus is not harmful to bees. Better yet, this same type of fungus can be trained to target a mite called the Varroa mite which is taking advantage of the bee’s weakened immune system and sucking on them like tiny vampires… which is also killing the bees.

Bees will also seek out other species of mushrooms the same way we do to help them heal and improve their immune systems. Which is another amazing discovery made by Paul Stamets. So in combination with transitioning away from harmful chemical pesticides it seems we can use fungi to both replace these chemicals, protect bees and provide them medicine at the same time.

Mushrooms and Architecture

architectural structure of mushroom

Mushrooms can also help teach us more efficient ways to build structures, which is one of the cornerstones of human civilization. Since Nature has a few hundred million more years of experience in design and building, it only makes sense that we learn from the best.

At the core of fungi is mycelium, the underlying network that spans across the globe. When looking at mycelium microscopically, the network is a highly efficient structure that resembles many other structures found throughout the universe and here on Earth. We’ve attempted to build structures using dried mycelium bricks but they are more “proof of concept” and art than what we require for structural grade materials.

Dried mycelium bricks themselves aren’t great as a structural element because they don’t hold weight in the same way steel or concrete does. However, if you’ve ever noticed the structures that Artificial Intelligence designs and makes iterations of, they look a lot like a dried mycelium up close. Its because AI was taught to find the simplest path with the strongest structure… which is exactly what Nature has been perfecting for hundreds of millions of years. So its not wonder the structures AI designs look familiar.

The structure of mycelium bricks is of course really efficient but the material its made from wasn’t intended to hold up that kind of weight needed in architecture. So by learning from Nature’s design and applying this to stronger materials we can create better architecture that works in harmony with Nature.

In closing:

If we heal our minds, I think we can begin to heal our relationship with Earth.

Jacob Haust

Mushrooms are essentially the tool that we can both learn from and utilize. All of what was mentioned in this article are only some of the ways we can learn from mushrooms. As a tool, mushrooms are exactly what humanity needs to help heal civilization. By using mushrooms in combination with regenerative farming we can heal and replenish the soil of Earth that we’ve done damage to. We rely on soil for both food an habitat. In a similar way, we can use mushrooms to heal the minds of humanity. We’ve done damage to our minds and our ways of thinking in similar ways that we’ve done damage to the Earth. We know better now and have the ability to approach living life on this planet in a more holistic way. If we heal our minds and our ways of thinking I think we can begin to heal our relationship with Earth.

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Jacob Haust

With a passion for design, electric vehicles, engineering and the environment, Jacob is combining his interests to help make the world a more sustainable place for generations to come.

jacob haust

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