By Colleen Hulett
BLOG 34: The two last weeks with rainfall were a blessing. Fancy fungi edibles popped up everywhere along the trails to celebrate and procreate. My brother brought me to an Aspen-Birch forest that he's been talking about since the tornado went through last year and was certain the conditions were perfect for fungi. He was right and I was able to forage three choice edible mushroom species fairly quickly. Chanterelles, Boletes and Oysters. The week before I brought him to my neck of the woods and we foraged some Chicken of the Woods mushrooms. I prepared them in separate meals on different days so I could savor each one. Mushrooms cooked properly can have a meaty texture and be substituted for meat in a lot of your favorite common meals. One should dry pan fry the mushrooms until all its water has almost evaporated from the mushroom and then, only then, add a little butter and brown the mushroom till slightly crispy. Fungi perfecti as they say...
As I sit here and write about my bounty I realise how much I also enjoy the serenity of the forested trails. This environment really does shut down annoying mind chatter and I am grateful. Mushroom hunting heals the mind, body, and soul. I can see why it can become addictive. Wild mushrooms matter in my life. If I may quote from the lovable host of the Mushroom Hour Podcast, I have "been inoculated and there is no turning back". There are so many mysteries to unravel about fungi. I feel good knowing that at the very least my immune system is measurably stronger than it was before I ingested these wild treasures. A strong immune system is key to fighting viruses in these trying times so I say bring on the mushrooms!
Mushrooms are very nutritious in their own right and good source of many vitamins and minerals They have Vit D2, Ergothioneine, iron, Fiber and Vit Bs, especially B3, B5 & B12, among other nutrients. I noticed I consumed animal meat only once that week because of my alternative bounty. Mushrooms have about 2 - 3 grams of protein but some fungi have higher amounts like the impressive Chicken of the Woods. Since there may not be enough protein in mushrooms to replace meat ounce per ounce please make sure you include other plant proteins like nut butters to help raise the protein amount in your dish. The good news is that mushrooms have comparable vitamins and minerals similar to meat. According to Adam Haritan from " Learn Your Land" that amino acid Ergothioneine found in mushrooms is rarely found elsewhere on the planet and humans cannot produce it in their body and therefore have to eat it for its value. Scientists have found unique receptors for ergothioneine in our human cells but they don't really know why we need them. Scientists know that this amino acid hangs out in our bone marrow, liver, kidney and eyes among other important places. Sigh, such a misunderstood little creatures fungi are... Scientists have shown though that eating mushrooms even as little as only twice a week has measurable benefits to human health. Wow, I hope you already do this.
As I mentioned earlier I only ate meat once last week and I feel a bounce in my step. A meaty meal after 8 hours of labor always knocks me onto the couch but last week I was full of energy and went kayaking almost every night after work. Always remember a good balanced meal is suppose to give you energy and mushroom meals always deliver for me.
Did you know that if you switch completely to a plant-based diet ( this includes mushrooms ) then you are not only contributing to your 'personal health' (as a multitude of cancer studies confirm) but you are also contributing to our 'Planetary health'. Just ask Canadian Environmental researcher Nicholas Carter. Or follow him on social media...a very cool dude using sound scientific studies to refute all greenwashing that pops up into the media. A hero for our planet's health.
Nicholas Carter has been serious about our planet's health for many years. He originally began examining how climate change could be helped with businesses using alternative energy technology (electric cars, solar panels and wind turbines, etc.) and discovered that this route, although beneficial and necessary for planetary health is too slow to get us off fossil fuels and save us. So Mr. Carter looked for quicker and immediate ways to stop climate change in its tracks and found his nose in the agriculture sector. Since 2010 he has been researching the detrimental practices of the agriculture sector and how they impact planetary health. I urge you to listen to Plant Proof podcast #104 and the conversation between interviewer Simon Hill and Nicholas Carter to get the in depth scientific details and source notes but basically Mr Carter said that he discovered through research that the major way to planet health is through land use, especially the use of trees to sequester greenhouse gasses. Presently 46% of the earth's trees have already disappeared. The biggest user of land is agriculture. Agriculture uses 50% of the earth's ice free land and 80% of that land is for livestock. To grow livestock is very inefficient with 90% wasted product. Trees are being cut at an alarming rate in order to create graze lands for livestock who themselves create methane gasses that contribute significantly to climate change and poor planet health. So Nick tells Simon that the most significant way to lower one's footprint is to switch to a plant-based diet and less land will be used for grazing and more land will be available for our sequestering trees. So I looked the study up. A plant-based diet ( which includes mushrooms and excludes meat and dairy ) lowers one's carbon footprint by 73% (Science 2018;360:987-992) ! Dang, if everyone did that it would be fast. Of course it's a long shot to turn us all vegan overnight but we can definitely become ½ vegan, right. Now lower your footprint down the nearest trail and go forage some plants and mushrooms. Have a meatless meal, even if it's only on Mondays, and contribute to our planetary health. If you get to know your mushrooms then you will also get to know the trees they live on. Understanding trees and how they are key to our survival is big. Understanding how mushrooms build forests so they can share mutualistic relationships with them is big. Understanding that every footprint counts is even bigger. So turn off the light, fix that leaking tap, travel less and forage plants and mushrooms. Be good. Teach your children well.
(First published in The Madawaska Highlander Aug-Sept 2020 edition)