Note: “Merman” Jay Fickess continues the series we started about “Food as Medicine,” focusing on the incredible mushroom.
In our post “Food As Medicine,” I wrote about why we eat the foods we do and the choices we make in light of the perspective that food provides nutrients that either help or hinder the functioning of our bodies’ cells.
Good food sustains us by keeping our cells in a state of balance so that they in turn keep us in balance.
Mushrooms can play a vital role in this homeostasis as they provide key nourishment that isn’t often found in other food, at least not in the quantities that it is in mushrooms. So they’re delicious and healthy. Sometimes abundant. Why aren’t we eating more of them? I would like to go over a little bit of the history of the mushroom and reasons why it isn’t always thought of when we think about what to eat.
Let’s start with the most obvious thing first: the word fungus. It denotes rot and decay and slimy stuff. It grows in dank corners. We attack it with buckets of bleach and a stiff brush. Take a walk in the woods and you’re sure to run across a rotting tree, halfway succumbed to the earth, covered with mushrooms. It’s certainly interesting and sometimes beautiful, but it doesn’t necessarily spark the appetite. A friend of mine used to object to eating mushrooms, saying, “Why would I eat a fungus?” You wouldn’t and shouldn’t. Eat the mushrooms instead; they’re not the same thing. We don’t eat the apple tree, just the apple. Same with mushrooms because they aren’t the actual fungus, just the fruiting body produced by it.
The next reason that many people don’t eat more mushrooms is the fear of eating a toxic one. True, there are a few species of mushroom that are toxic. They can cause all kinds of allergic reactions and in some cases, death. But they are very few, just a handful, compared to the thousands of mushroom varieties that are edible and healthy. There are also the conditionally edible species of mushroom, the ones you can’t eat raw but when cooked are tasty and good for you.1
Many of us will forego the risk of eating a mushroom unless it’s from a trusted source like the grocery store where we can get white button mushrooms or portabellas. Maybe a friend you know has a good source of morels in the spring.
One way to branch out is to visit an Asian market or specialty food store. There, you can find all kinds of mushrooms that are safe, tasty and good — Reishi, chaga, lion’s mane, shiitake, and more.
One of the more interesting things about mushrooms is the folklore and mysticism around them. Some of them are known for their mind-altering qualities, such as Psilocybin cubensis, which has definite psychoactive chemicals and is known as the grounding point for wisdom and connection in many cultures, including our own.2
Archeological evidence does show that many cultures around the world used these fungi for ritualistic and sacred practices. The earliest depiction of entheogenic mushroom consumption might be a cave painting found in the upper Tassili platueu of northern Algeria that dates to at least 5,000 B.C., if not older.3
Besides that, however, mushrooms have inhabited the realm of fantasy for a long time. Lore about fairy rings includes stories such as the place where the devil placed his milk urn, a place of general decay (not entirely inaccurate), a place where fairies danced and a portal to another mad world- a mushroom rabbit hole. Some cultures see fairy rings as an appearance of good luck, offering prosperity to crops and livestock.4 Depending on where you’re from or which stories you follow, a fairy ring means a different thing
Aside from the folklore and the presence of a few varieties of mushroom that you might want to avoid, there are thousands of species that offer incredible nutritional and medicinal values. In upcoming posts, I’ll talk more about some specific kinds of mushrooms and the benefits they provide.
– Jay “Merman” Fickess
- “Edible Mushroom.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 7 Feb. 2019, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edible_mushroom#Conditionally-edible_species.
- Kleiman, Mark. “Mushrooms and Mysticism.” The Huffington Post, TheHuffingtonPost.com, 25 May 2011, www.huffingtonpost.com/mark-kleiman/mushrooms-and-mysticism_b_39881.html.
- “Mushrooms as Spiritual Teachers.” Radicalmycology.com, Radical Mycology, 11 Feb. 2015, radicalmycology.com/educational-tools/human-uses-of-mushrooms/the-sacred-fungi-as-spiritual-teachers/.
- “Fairy Ring.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 28 Jan. 2019, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fairy_ring#Oral_tradition_and_folklore.