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Much Love for Mushrooms

By Nick Hodgson, Phase I Fellow

One of the things that I looked forward to the most when coming to AMI was the weekly workshops. I was eager to learn from experts and professionals in a broad range of fields that included many of my own passions and interests, such as beekeeping, herbalism, animal husbandry, composting, masonry, and much more. Perhaps the one I was most excited for was our workshop on mycology and mushroom cultivation. I had just recently entered the fascinating realm of the fungal kingdom before joining the Fellowship. Sure, I knew about their role as decomposers and have eaten my fair share of Shitake and Portabello, but I was just starting to learn the sophistication and abundance of these organisms.

Our instructor for the workshop was Charlie Aller, founder of MushLuv Mushrooms in Charlottesville, VA. He was also an AMI Fellow in 2012 and it was during his time on the mountain when he discovered his passion for mushrooms. It’s easy to see why it was here at AMI where he became fascinated with mushrooms. The season is early, but fruiting bodies are emerging everywhere from the soil and downed logs. These forests are teeming with life.

Fellow Ariel drills a log

The morning started in the Timber Frame with a presentation. Charlie taught us all sorts of interesting facts about mushrooms, many that I had never heard of before. He discussed the anatomy of mushrooms, their ecological value, and medicinal properties. His passion and enthusiasm for mushrooms was infectious. In the afternoon, we began our hands-on portion of the workshop and got to inoculate logs with Shitake and Oyster mycelium. The mycelium is a white threadlike network of fungal cells, which you may see on the underside of a rotting log. We injected the mycelium-rich substrate into the logs so that eventually, they could spread their threads throughout the entire log. Eventually a primordium will bud out of the log and become a mushroom, which we will then get to harvest. This is also a natural form of reproduction, because that same mushroom then releases spores to allow for new fungal growth elsewhere.

Fruiting Shiitakes

We broke off into three stations to inoculate the logs. The first station involved using a power drill and a four to six foot log. We drilled lines of holes four inches apart and an inch and a half deep all the way around the log. The second station used a plunger-like device to insert the mycelium into the freshly drilled holes. The final group then applied a hot wax seal, which protects the mycelium from getting too dry or too wet, or from becoming contaminated with other fungal species. These logs will sit for at least six months to allow the mycelium to spread throughout the log and then they will be water-shocked and leaned upright. Hopefully, after all that, they will begin fruiting in 3-5 days. So, the next year’s cohort will get to enjoy the fruits our labor, which we are currently enjoying from last year’s cohort. Thanks guys!

As much as I enjoy cultivating culinary mushrooms, it isn’t what I am most passionate about. I am fascinated by the intelligence of the kingdom and its ability to heal, both us and the environment. We need this now more than ever! Their intelligence can be partially attributed to their elaborate form of communication, carried out through the mycelium. Nature is all about patterns and these create function and efficiency. Mycelium has a pattern of decentralized branching just like the neurons in our brain. This pattern is efficient at receiving, storing, and sending information.

What’s more, Mycorrhizal fungi and plants have a symbiotic relationship. Ectomycorrhizal fungi grows beyond the plants roots and can bring distant nutrients and moisture back to the host plant, sometimes as far as a mile away! Fungi benefit by consuming sugars that the plant secretes. Many mushrooms contain polysaccharides. These compounds have many medicinal properties such as anti-tumor, anti-diabetic, anti-microbial anti-parasitic.

Chaga growing on a yellow birch

Extensive epidemiological studies in Japan showed that a community of Enokitake growers in Nagano, Japan had unusually low cancer rates compared to the rest of the population. This was believed to be from their high consumption of these mushrooms. They contain a protein-bound polysaccharide called FVP (Flammulina Velutipes Polysaccharide) which has been shown to have anti-tumor properties. PSK is also found in Turkey Tail mushrooms and is used as an anti-cancer drug in Asia. Chaga Mushroom is shown to have anti-tumor, anti-parasitic, anti-viral, and immune modulating properties. Lion’s Mane mushroom (Herecium erinaceeus) is being researched as a treatment for Alzheimer’s and other degenerative brain disorders. In mice it has been shown to regrow neurons and rebuild myelin, which is often damaged in these conditions.

The life-saving drug Penicillin was created after a moldy cantaloupe was sent to a research lab. This discovery may have tipped World War II in our favor because our allies now had effective antibiotics and the Germans and Japanese didn’t. The possibility to create new medicines and healing therapies with these organisms is seemingly endless. Also the relatively new field of myco-remediation uses fungal species to filter toxins, build organic matter, control invasive plants and pests, and much more! I am excited to learn more about mushrooms during our time at AMI and also to become passionate about new things while here!

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