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The dead in the ground

Granted Life under the oak

A Mushroom stands there!

Life after Death Haiku by S.E.H.

Clockwise from top: 1. An elder tree whose mycorrhizal fungi relationships has served him well! 2. Psylicybe fungi devour the decaying mind and removes the anxious or depressed state. 3. If we are to love fungi we have to see decay as a beautiful thing. We need to embrace the changing forest. 4. honey Mushrooms are parasitic decomposers who work very fast in huge colonies to clean up an area. 5. Orange Mycena work hard to devour the stump.

BLOG 45 By Colleen Hulett:

I have been observing the nature of fungi since 2016. Stalking them weekly, actually, because the Funga Kingdom is fascinating to me. Fungi are everywhere and have played the starring role in bringing back life to Earth after every major catastrophe since the palaeolithic era. We humans would not exist if it wasn’t for these symbionts and I find it humbling to walk among them in a forest world they created.

So maybe you can understand when I say it surprises me just how many people are repulsed by the lowly misunderstood fungi. The thought of touching or consuming mushrooms is daunting to most Canadians. We have all watched how mould fungi devours a rotting tomato. Not pretty. I get it. The Canadian diet rarely includes mushrooms as the main course and many think canned mushroom soup is a ‘gourmet’ sauce which is a bit embarrassing if you compare us to ‘mycophilic’ diets in other countries. Canadians are mycophobes. Picking wild mushrooms is considered a ‘gross’ death risk they don't want to take. It’s the ultimate omnivore's dilemma, right? Please trust me when I tell you, mycophobes are misguided. Hunting gourmet mushrooms is pretty safe and easy if you study the basics of fungi identification. There are more plants that can kill you than mushrooms and there are 6 times more mushrooms than plants by the way. You do the math..

I find it sad we export most of our wild gourmet mushrooms out of the country due to our phobia. We should be eating them. Nonetheless, however morbid, mushrooms respond readily to death and decay. It’s their thing. Lets face it, one of a mushroom’s key responsibilities is to decompose dead or dying organic matter and it’s an easy subject to get queasy over. I assure you the ability to break down and decompose tough materials is a talent. Death is very mysterious to many but let's face it, anything in organic form eventually dies. Fungi then come to recycle the debris and restore balance to the ecosystem. Just imagine if fungi weren’t here we could probably walk to the moon on the backs of fallen logs and plant debris, lol.

Incidentally, consuming psilocybe cubensis mushrooms can ease the unexpected dying process (for example-given 8 months to live) making it mentally acceptable and joyful. Patients live their last days in joy and lose their fear of dying by becoming more comfortable with it. This is a godsend and a huge study is underway at John Hopkins with fascinating results in each and every case. The study is so fascinating that magic mushroom (psilocybe) dispensaries are popping up everywhere in North America. There are three such new dispensaries in Ottawa serving those with PTSD, depression, anxiety and the dying. It's as if the magic mushroom cleans out the cobwebs of the brain and rewires it back to a happy slate. The ability of fungi to break down and decompose is a talent we should be fascinated by even if we don't understand it.

Like humans, fungi have to hunt for their food in order to consume it. We go to the grocery store but fungi cannot and have adapted accordingly. They consume food with enzymes like humans do except we break down our nutrients in our stomach internally. Fungi excrete their enzymes externally and dissolve their food first before reabsorbing it. The Flora kingdom on the other hand gets their food energy from the sun through photosynthesis and this is quite different from the Fauna and Funga Kingdoms. This is why animals and fungi are closely related as opposed to plants even though we are quite different in every other sense.

Fungal enzymes are incredible. They can dissolve anything…things like wood, plant debris, plastics, oil spills and even rock for example. The waste industry uses for fungi is limitless but what’s really fascinating is how fungi break down materials and retrieve minerals and other nutrients to share with other species, like trees and plants. Not all fungi make a living by breaking down living things that are already dead. The different strategies fungi have adapted for acquiring food are surprisingly varied and cool. Some fungi (mycorrhizal fungi) wrap their mycelium around the roots of plants and trees and enjoy a food exchange economy. Simply put, Fungi exchange minerals and nutrients for sugars. This cycling of elements from dead organic matter is essential for nutrient turnover and energy transfer in land ecosystems. Mycorrhizal fungi are attached to 90% of the tree and plant roots on earth and if fungi were not present the whole ecosystem would collapse. Humans would die. This is new knowledge as we are just getting to understand a smidgen of the fundamental role of fungi in Nature. What we do know is how important they are for both life and death and how important it is to save our forests and their fungi.

Fungi are present at the end of life but they are also present at the beginning of life too. They make a mycelial mat in the soil's rhizosphere and house the forest plants for which it feeds on to grow. The mycelial mat also stores 70% of each plant or tree's carbon. That's right, we used to believe that trees were the big carbon sequesters for earth but as it turns out they give 70% of that carbon to their mycelium friends to store for thousands of years underground. We have 300 miles of mycelium under every footstep we take so the mycelial mat is basically a natural engine storing carbon under the ground. We know trees are important for our survival in many ways but everyday we realise more how fungi are the big sequesters and greatly instrumental in helping to reduce global warming. Fungi are so widespread and numerous that they make up a large proportion of the biomass in any given ecosystem. We need to keep it that way.

Humans breathe in mushroom spores at any given time and have our own mycobiome (fungi) in our gut responsible for helping to balance our immune system. New research confirms that gourmet mushrooms like Lion’s Mane and many tree conks like Chaga are instrumental in fortifying and balancing our gut biome and immune function as they contain prebiotics. Mushrooms also have quality proteins, B-complex vitamins, antioxidants and vit D to name a few. How they balance our complex immune system is their best gift to us and to the forest.

If smart we will consume foods that are beneficial to our gut mycobiome so they may fortify our immune system. I think it's the missing link in a lot of people's health. Astonishingly, a healthy gut mycobiome helps us adapt to our surroundings too, reducing stress and anxiety. Consume foods with probiotics (like unsweetened greek yogurt) and prebiotics (like asparagus or mushrooms) and remember to eat a varied diet. Unfortunately, having a varied diet these days is difficult due to the fact that our Western diets are too high in sugar and fat. Shockingly 75% of the world's food is produced from only 12 plants and 5 animal species according to researchers Heinman and Greenway. Mushrooms in the grocery store account for 5 out of 1.5 million choices. Now there is a solid case for getting out to forage in your local forest to obtain food diversity.

Plants and fungi are social beings just like humans and we need to hangout with them in order for our soul to connect with its ‘place’. Our deep soulful connections will help us stand up for our forests and ultimately save our Funga Kingdom and ourselves. Fungi have an incredible capacity for making change quickly and we need to harness their intelligence as we don’t have much time to save the planet. We too, need to respect the cycle of life, know it is beautiful whether it's in decay or growth. We need to celebrate our births and to celebrate our deaths. Both are extremely important for living and balance in any community.



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