Why We Love Mushrooms
Fungi are everywhere, communicating between themselves and other beings, aiding with the recycling of dead material and providing a home and food source. We’ve been told that mushrooms have even been known to “lie” to host trees. The parasitic Honey fungus (Armillaria spp.) can trick non-native tree species through chemical communication into thinking that it is a benign or even beneficial fungus to gain access to the tree’s resources.
In the UK, we have historically used very few mushrooms medicinally compared with other countries in Europe and far fewer than in China and further afield. In the 19th Century, Elizabeth Blackwell produced an illustrated herbal with many plants, but only two fungi. These were Jelly Ear (Auricularia auricula-judea) which has an affinity with the Elder tree and the Respiratory System and Agarica (Amanita muscaria) which is still used externally for pain relief. Since then, herbalists and foragers have been learning more about other fungi with medicinal properties, such as Birch Polypore; Turkey Tail and Artists’ Bracket
Edible vs Tasty & Poisonous vs Deadly
With fungi and plants, we often get asked what is safe / edible versus what is unsafe / poisonous. We like to think of it as a little more nuanced than that – some things are edible but not remotely tasty and some things have unsafe elements to them but are certainly not deadly. The key in most cases is to know how to confidently identify fungi or plants which are dangerous to eat, so that you can make sure to avoid them.
An example of this in the fungal arena is identifying Death Caps (Amanita phalloides) from other Amanitas such as Orange Grisette (Amanita crocea)
Features: swollen base sitting in sac that was part of the universal membrane. The mushroom emerges from the membrane and cracks show up as pattern on the cap – see A. muscaria
Orange Rosette has: tick marks on the cap; snake skin look on the stem. No pattern on cap; no ring indicating a secondary veil (deathcap has this)
So, once you can safely identify your mushrooms – or maybe buy them from a Grow Your Own Kit – our friends at Rhyze Mushrooms can help you out with that, you probably want to make some medicine. In some cases, you might eat the mushrooms, working with the principle that food is medicine. However, you definitely won’t be able to pick fresh mushrooms all year, so you’ll also want to either dry some or make a medicinal preparation from them.
To make a mushroom medicine, we like to slowly decoct dried mushrooms before soaking the same mushroom material in alcohol for 4 weeks and then combining the 2 liquids. We’ll have another post on the detailed method to make a medicinal mushroom medicine. If you’re looking to buy medicinal mushroom formulations, always look for those that are double extracted and if you can, check with the manufacturers as to how this is done. We’ve listed a couple of online suppliers below, they come recommended by our fungi walk expert, Mo Wilde.
Find Out More
Monica Wilde’s site has loads of excellent fungi and plant information, including her work on the wildbiome project: https://monicawilde.com/about/
Rhyze Mushrooms is a community mushroom farm based in Edinburgh: https://rhyzemushrooms.scot/
The Medicinal Mushroom Conference in November 2023 https://thewildsideoflife.co.uk/medicinal-mushrooms/medicinal-mushrooms-conference/
Hifas Da Terra: https://hifasdaterra.com/en/