We live in a unique era of human-fungal relations, one in which, for the first time in history, a clear awareness of the profound ecological importance of fungi is paired with consistent, accessible, and inexpensive techniques for cultivating these organisms. The combination of these two areas of research lay at the foundation of the neo-ethnomycological movement of today and the yet-to-be-realized areas of social and environmental innovation the future of fungi seems to offer.
Fungi are undeniably of central importance to all ecological cycles and innovative research in applied mycology continues to demonstrate that fungi offer many unique solutions to a range of social and environmental issues. And yet, mycology is considered a “neglected megascience” by professionals in the field – a field that is ironically of profound importance and at the same time grossly misunderstood and overlooked outside of mycology-centric circles.
We at Radical Mycology believe in the power of our fungi allies to help humans address many global challenges, but only if awareness is built around this forgotten aspect of the natural world. Throughout nature, fungi act as the primary (re)generators of life and we see our work with fungi as a unique means for learning from these organisms in the search for new paradigms for regenerative human-ecological relations.
The world of mycology is always expanding and the practical, appropriate integration of fungi into human life is constantly taking new forms. But, in sum, here is a short of list of some of the more inspiring ways to work with fungi:
- Mushrooms are a nutritious, nutrient-dense whole food that can be grown off many invasive plants and agricultural or urban waste products that have no other practical or market value (e.g. coffee grounds, brewery grains, corn cobs, cotton seed hulls, sugar cane bagasse, kudzu, water hyacinth, and scotch broom). A global familiarity with mushroom cultivation could easily address food shortages by providing protein- and mineral-rich foods to malnourished people anywhere in the world.
- Many fungi are potent natural medicines that have been shown in hundreds of studies to stimulate and enhance immune function, reduce the spread and recurrence of cancer, suppress the viruses, and even mitigate neurological disorders, to give just a few examples.
- Some fungi create ferment foods that are more nutritious and easier to digest and preserve than their parent ingredients. Creating these foods not only increases self-autonomy, but also helps maintain traditional food ways and the transmission of ancient homesteading practices.
- The identification and wild harvesting of mushrooms and lichens hones one’s awareness and understanding of ecological systems, while simultaneously providing sustenance and medicine.
- Psychoactive fungi can dramatically influence one’s relationship with themself, their society, and the environment. For some, beneficial perspectives arise from these experiences that encourage a greater valuing of and protection for the environment and all life.
- As one of the youngest natural sciences, mycology is one of the few areas of science that anyone can actively contribute to, potentially with a significant impact. The ability to be a true “citizen scientist” and add to the knowledge of future generations is a profound and empowering act that is not readily available in most other studies.
- Fungal mycelium has been called the “plastic of the future,” as its novel combination of properties offer an untapped potential for replacing many wood- and plastics-based materials with products that are biodegradable, natural, low-cost, and easy for anyone to grow and replace.
- Various types of fungi produce alternative fuel sources (e.g. ethanol, diesel-like mixtures, or hydrogen gas) through their digestion and metabolism processes.
- Many mushrooms and lichens produce natural dyes, papers, and pigments that can be harnessed to both increase self-sufficiency while reducing one’s reliance on environmentally-harmful industrial products.
- Increased cultivation of edible and medicinal mushrooms and their mycelium offers a range of novel economic sectors and the potential to help revitalize depressed economies through the creation of jobs for people of all backgrounds and physical abilities.
- Mushrooms and other fungi readily integrate into sustainable and regenerative food systems to make the system more efficient and productive over time. Fungi are often largely absent from such perpetual food systems, despite the abilities of fungi to close loops and make use of waste streams and return nutrients to and through the soil.
For the Environment
- Various types of fungi can help regenerate landscape vitality by breaking down toxic and persistent chemicals, cleaning polluted water, removing heavy metals from contaminated water and soil systems, and even breaking down plastic. These practices have the potential to be very cost-effective compared to other industrial remediation efforts.
- Mycorrhizal fungi can be cultivated to strengthen soil webs, support plant health, reduce fertilizer and pesticide inputs, and reduce or reverse many of the negative impacts that come with industrial agricultural practices.
- The identification of endangered fungi and lichens can also help protect areas of land from deforestation or other forms of habitat destruction.
Beyond all this, when one works with fungi the possibility also arises to develop a fungal-influenced perspective on the interdependence of natural systems and human systems – to see through the mycelial lens and apply that insight to one’s relationship with the world.
Considering all the above, one should ask themselves why are we so often taught to ignore and even fear fungi and why fungi are essentially absent from school curricula at all grades levels.