A Fungus Among Us

A walk through the woods around the farm this time of year, is sure to reveal some other-worldly shaped organisms poking up from the ground or growing on a dead tree. Wild mushrooms -take center stage these days and I love to head out with my mushroom basket, a brush and a knife and my dog eared mushroom field guide in my back pocket.
The eye-catching shapes of spikes and jellies and globes, dressed in purple and crimson, or electric pink and hot yellow, are incredible.

The mushrooms you find in the woods and fields are really the fruiting body of the actual fungus that’s underground. They’re the rough equivalent of the fruit on a plant. I know for some, the word “fungus” is a disgusting, slimy thing that we’re better off without. But the health of all forests in the world is directly related to these fungi.

Nearly every square inch of forest soil is populated with them. And almost all forest and jungle plants depend on them. In fact, a single colony of one of the best-known edible mushrooms has been found in Michigan covering 37 acres, with an estimated weight of over 100 tons and it maybe 1,500 years old!

In Washington state, they’ve found another colony covering over 2,200 acres and is at least 2,400 years old. North America alone boasts over 3,000 varieties of mushrooms, and while there are many delicious edibles we’re actually just beginning to recognize the medicinal importance of this barely explored genome a fact much older civilizations have known for millennia.

Still don’t feel like adding mushrooms to your dinner? You may not have to actually eat them to reap their benefits. There’s a relatively new species of fungus that produces minute quantities of a potent anticarcinogen used to treat breast cancer. And another fungus found in the Congo duplicates the effect of insulin but can be taken orally.

So, the next time you’re in the woods and spot this alien-looking lifeform growing on a tree or sprouting up through the leaves, pause a minute to appreciate that member of one of the most important living organisms on earth.

Cheers from the farm,