The fungi kingdom holds vast treasures and secrets that we are only just now starting to truly explore. Could mushrooms save the planet? — this is still yet to be discovered, but we do know they are an essential element of nature, the ecosystem, and possibly our own survival.
Of course, we shouldn’t overstate it. There is no miracle cure or method here – mushrooms aren’t the be-all and end-all. But, they possess many components that can improve our world, lessen human impact on the natural world, and possibly keep us healthy.
The possibilities seem limitless, from reducing the side effects of cancer to cleaning up oil spills and providing essential nutrition along the way. At the very least, the possibilities are intriguing!
Mushrooms That Clean Up Oil Spills and Decontaminate Water
Using mycoremediation (a term coined by Paul Stamets, which means “fungi-based bioremediation methods used to decontaminate the environment“), mushrooms are increasingly considered feasible components in cleaning up pollution. You can see the potential for fungi in this role in everyday growth.
Mushrooms can grow through plastic, floorboards, and around cement; they’re tough, resilient, and aren’t phased by many human creations. However, it is what they do in the process of growing that makes the most significant difference.
Mushrooms naturally use and take nutrition from many materials. They use natural enzymes to break down these substances and turn them into bioavailable fungi food.
In fact, fungi have a unique superpower in that they can break down hydrocarbons, including oil and plastic hydrocarbons. There are 120 identified enzymes that work to break down the toxins, but it doesn’t end there. When soil is treated with fungi, it is renewed and reinvigorated in addition to being cleaned. Therefore, it isn’t just being remediated; it is also available to use for other purposes.
Here are some current and past projects researching the ability of fungi to combat pollution:
- Oyster mushrooms were used to treat soil after the 2017 California wildfires.
- Oyster mushrooms were used to compost hazardous waste after an oil tanker spilled into the San Francisco harbor.
- Oyster mushrooms used to treat diesel-contaminated polluted soil.
- Oyster mushrooms used to clean up fuel spills in a Denmark harbor.
- Local fungi are used to clean up toxic waste pools in the Amazon.
- Oyster mushrooms are used to remove pesticides from the soil in New Zealand.
- Oyster mushrooms are used to break down dirty diapers so they won’t go into the landfill.
- Removal of heavy metals from polluted water aims to make the water usable again.
- Researching methods to use fungi to break down plastic waste. Preliminary trials show significant progress.
A Nutritious Food Source With a Low Environmental Impact
Mushrooms are yummy food, but there is more to them than just flavor. Mushrooms are high in nutrients, too. And now that there are such accessible options for cultivating them, mushrooms can truly revolutionize our current food system. Will mushrooms save the planet by providing an economical, low-impact food source for our ever-growing populations?
- between 3.3-2.2 grams of protein per ½ cup serving
- significant amounts of niacin, iron, riboflavin, potassium, Vitamin D, and fiber.
- lots of antioxidants.
Mushroom growing uses far fewer resources (land, water, processing) than most meat sources. A harvest of oyster mushrooms can be ready in as little as 12-14 weeks from the initial inoculation. Additionally, they quickly go from harvest to table without additional processing or resource use. This is vastly different from meat sources that require slaughterhouses.
Interesting fact: Germany cultivated oyster mushrooms during WWII for food. They were used for subsistence because rationing was in full effect. Oyster mushrooms provided incredible nutritional value and grew quickly and easily.
Can oyster mushrooms save the planet on their own? It’s seems like they’re the star to the wood chain and mycoremdiation processes!
Can Medicinal Mushrooms Save The People?
Mushrooms have been a staple part of traditional and Eastern medicinal practices for centuries. Only recently have western countries and researchers started investigating certain mushroom species’ medicinal potential.
So far, current research shows:
- Shiitake mushrooms contain a compound called AHCC, which demonstrates effectiveness in fighting liver cancer and liver disease. AHCC improved the overall liver function and demonstrated tumor-fighting abilities in the research subjects. It also might be able to reduce the side effects of chemotherapy.
- Turkey Tail mushroom research shows it improves the life expectancy of cancer patients and reduces the chances of the cancer returning. Turkey Tail extracts, containing the naturally occurring PSK (the main active component), are an officially approved cancer treatment in Japan.
- Reishi mushrooms are being studied for their immunomodulatory properties. Immune modulators work with the body to boost or suppress the immune system as needed. Our immune system responses are essential to our health and recovery from many diseases, specifically cancer. Case studies show that Reishi may help boost immune system responses to gastrointestinal and liver cancers.
The potential of mushrooms is incredible. There are over 10,000 species of mushrooms around the world, and there are likely many more to be discovered. The mushrooms’ importance as a food source, medicinal, and earth cleaner is only now being recognized.
Will mushrooms save the planet through one of these functions, or something we haven’t discovered just yet? We can’t wait to see what else the fungi kingdom has in store for us…as long as it’s not zombie parasitization!
Can Mushrooms Save The Planet Common Questions
Where can I learn more about medicinal mushrooms?
I highly suggest doing thorough research before assuming any mushroom can solve medicinal issues. There is a LOT of pseudoscience out there there. OR, more often, hopeful science.
Yes, there is a long history of using mushrooms as medicine. We also used to have cocaine in CocaCola and prescribe bloodletting for every ailment. Just because a practice is old, does not mean it is effective!!
Be responsible for your own choices; be skeptical of miracles. And don’t let people in positions of power in the fungi world lead you to accept their hypothesis as facts :-). Some people talk and teach medicinal mushrooms with a cultish enthusiasm that is suspect, to say the very least.
Try starting here https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/cam/hp/mushrooms-pdq and read the cited articles.