Healing with Medicinal Mushrooms: An Introduction [Part 1]

healing with medicinal mushrooms: an introduction [part 1]

Right so what are mushrooms? They aren’t animals and they aren’t plants either. Crikey. What’s going here, people?!

Mushrooms actually have their own kingdom, aka the Fungi Kingdom. You can pronounce “Fungi” in any way that tickles your fancy: Funguy, Funjie, Fungee, or Fenjee. However it rolls off your tongue is right.

Why is it called “fungus” (singular - “fungi” is plural), you ask? Well the fungus is the entire organism that includes the mycelium (roots) and the mushroom (fruit). Just to throw a little spanner in the works, some fungi don’t produce fruiting bodies. So while all mushrooms are fungi, not all fungi produce mushrooms.

To further clarify, mushrooms are all about reproduction; they are the fungal architecture for creating and releasing spores. Willoughby Arevalo, author of DIY Mushroom Cultivation: Growing Mushrooms at Home for Food, Medicine and Soil, refers to them as: "temples of sex". So in comparison with plants, mushrooms are somewhat similar in function to flowers.

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If you remember learning about mushrooms at school, you probably recall them lumped into the plant kingdom because, well, they don’t move and they grow out of the ground. Must be plants right? Wrong. They probably are more similar to animals physiologically and genetically, in the sense that they aren’t producers like plants and must use external food sources for energy. They also have chitin which forms part of the cell walls, similar to the exoskeletons of insects. The plot thickens (or should we say hardens, in the case of exoskeletons, or chewier in the land of mushrooms).

There are 5.1 million species of fungi which is just crazy talk. But it’s also real talk. And now time for some more real talk. Did you know that humans share the same DNA - about 30% - with fungi, which is far more than what we share with plants? We’re basically cousins.

We. Are. A. Quarter. Mushroom. OMG. I’m beyond thrilled.

If you had to name your mushroom cousin, what would you name it? There are some hilarious mushroom names out there Gem-Studded Puffball, The Devil’s Cigar, Hairy Parachute, Hairy Nuts Disco, Fingered Candlesnuff and Hot Lips.

I am you. You are me. We’re all part of the mushroom family.

I am you. You are me. We’re all part of the mushroom family.

When we see shrooms sticking out of the ground, we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg, for essentially all that is exposed is the fruiting body (ie. the mushroom). What goes down under the soil is a whole other world of communication between mushrooms, bacteria and trees. Woven through the soil are the mycelia which extend out from their mushrooms and hunt for the water and nutrients they require to thrive. Lacing through the soil, mycelium creates vast networks found everywhere in the ground.

FYI: The largest organism in the world is a mycelial mat. It covers 2400 acres in Oregon and is 2200 years old. All connected. All sharing the same root system. And it’s only one-cell wall thick.

Underground there is a whole communication structure whereby the mycelia are not only in communication with one another but they also chinwag and share food with trees and bacteria. For example, sugar is given to the fungi from the trees, while the fungi offer water and minerals in return.

Can’t all humans be as generous?

What did the mushroom say to the tree?

What did the mushroom say to the tree?

So why all this talk on mushrooms?

Over the last two years, my interest in mushrooms has steadily peaked after a few personal experiences with psilocybin mushrooms (aka magic mushrooms) and how they assisted a great deal in helping me heal parts of my eating disorder. I then started looking into medicinal, non-psycoactive mushrooms, like lions mane, reishi, shiitake and cordyceps to support and improve my overall well-being. I wanted to learn, experiment and experience the adaptogenic powers of the shroom.

And when I came across Harmonic Mycology, a fungi-loving duo from Cape Town, South Africa, I knew I had met the right people to learn from. So I messaged and was like, “hey, want to to collaborate? I wanna learn about the complex complexities of fungi.” They were keen. And off we went.

This post marks the first of many. I will be sharing my experiences over the coming months as I try out various medicinal mushrooms from Harmonic Mycology’s product range, share the history of our shroom cousins and anything else that I find interesting along the way.

I hope you join me for the ride.

To read how magic shrooms have helped me recover from my eating disorder, head here.

Read about my hilarious experience with lions mane.


Photoes by Atik sulianami, Nico Benedickt, Greg Rosenke on Unsplash