The Radical Mycology Convergence in Port Townsend on the 18th through the 22nd was pure magic. It was a weekend of perfect moments created by people coming together to empower and inspire each other in the sharing of knowledge. Best described by the event website, The convergence was a volunteer-run gathering of mycologists, fungal enthusiasts, and earth stewards sharing skills and information related to the numerous benefits of the fungal kingdom for humans as well as the planet. The Event included various remediation inspired projects (putting theory to practice) and offered a unique chance to build community with like-minded mycophiles (aka mushroom lovers) from around the world. It provided an opportunity to discuss ways to build the movement, collaborate on various projects and synthesize ideas for future work. This gathering was really valuable because it helped make information on the healing powers of fungi accessible to people from all walks of life. The affordable event provided workshops for all levels of experience, making it a very inclusive and encouraging space. The five-day event asked a 10-50 dollar donation per person and provided parking, camping and three meals a day. Everyone participated in maintaing the community whether it involved helping in the kitchen or cleaning up the compost toilets. Thank you to everyone who made this event possible.
I want to pause for a moment to apologize to any advanced mushroom enthusiasts reading this post. I am new at this, so everything I will be going over is quite basic. Similarly, please forgive me if I get any terminology mixed up and make myself sound silly. As a beginner, I was shocked to see how miseducated mainstream society has been about mushrooms. Mycophobia runs rampant, disguising the phenomenon of fungi and decomposition as something gross or dangerous. In reality, humans need to realize that biogeochemical processes have been interrupted and displaced to the point where seeking help from mycelium is imperative in re-establishing natural cycles. Certain strains of mycelium have even displayed promising results in decomposing plastic and transforming pollutants such as oil and pesticides back into organic matter. Some fungi can even survive anaerobic (without oxygen) environments such as landfills.
This excerpt called, “Why Radical?” from the RMC website is really important in understanding the vision of the gathering:
We see the use of fungal species for environmental betterment as an extension of “radical” or “deep” ecology, which considers all beings as having an inherent value and interdependence. Through the use of fungi to enact change, we are attempting to challenge assumptions about the importance of the fungal kingdom in our western culture in an effort to help shift our society’s relationship to the Earth toward greater harmony. One of the things that distinguishes the RMC from most of the other projects and activities going on in the world of mycology is that the kind of work we support is based on an anti-oppression analysis of the world’s problems and doesn’t rely as heavily on a globalized & industrial capitalist system. We also emphasize learning skills that help us live outside of that system and in better balance with the world via mycopermaculture, growing and foraging for our own food & medicine, and making mushroom paper and dyes.
Here is a 15 minute video offering a taste of the event:
If you think the environmental benefits of mushrooms are interesting, just wait until you hear about some of their medicinal properties. I had the pleasure of sitting in on a medicinal mushroom lecture from the lovely Linda Zurich. She had a whole table of sample mushrooms for us to look at and did a tea brewing demonstration. Mushrooms don’t have immune systems of their own, so they combat the bacteria they come into contact with by exuding antibacterial, antiviral, anti-fungal, anti-tumour, antihyperglycemic, anti-inflammatory, any many more properties. The coolest thing about medicinal mushrooms is that they are immune modulators; they interact with our bodies intelligently to recognize the imbalances. To put this into perspective, let’s compare it to taking a vitamin. Taking a vitamin boots your immune system, but taking medicinal mushrooms is bi-directional, targeting your immune system where you need it rather than using energy to overproduce. These medicinal substances are indigestible because they are trapped in chitin of the mushrooms. For those unfamiliar with the term, chitin is the same material that comprises the shells of shellfish or the exoskeletons of insects. To extract substances from the chitin one can either make a tea or a tincture, both of which are remarkably easy. To make a tea, you simply boil pieces of the mushroom until it is dark brown. To make a tincture, you put 100 proof alcohol with your mushroom of choice in a jar and shake the mixture up once a day for several weeks. There are plenty of tutorials on both of these processes on the internet, but here are two webpages to get you started:
A basic outline of tincture and tea making: http://www.willowharvestorganics.com/catalog.php?category=5
If you want to get a bit more complicated and make a double-extraction (a mix of tea and tincture) in order to maximize the benefit of the mushrooms check out this blog post:
Some of the most well-known mushrooms include:
Reishi- Reishi has been called an “immune potentiator.” Recent studies have indicated that Reishi can have a number of other effects: Analgesic, Anti-inflammatory, Antioxidant, Antiviral through inducing interferon production, Lowers blood pressure, Cardiotonic action through lowering serum cholesterol, Expectorant & Antitussive, Liver (Hepatitis)-protecting and detoxifying, protection against ionizing radiation, Antibacterial, and Anti-HIV activity. Reishi contains calcium, iron and phosphorus as well as vitamins C, D, and B – including pantothenic acid, which is essential to nerve function and the adrenal glands.
Cordyceps Mushroom - Can be a powerful stimulant for macrophage activity, strengthening your immune system’s ability to fight against bacterial and viral infection. Human clinical studies indicate that Cordyceps can be effective for treatment of high cholesterol, poor libido/impotence, arrhythmia, lung cancer, and chronic kidney failure. It is also reported that Cordyceps causes smooth muscle relaxation. This can make it especially helpful for treating chronic coughs, asthma, and other bronchial conditions.
Chaga- The primary active ingredients of Chaga are special mushroom carbohydrates, also known as polysaccharides/beta-glucans. These substances can enhance the feel-good chemicals in the brain. They can also benefit the intestine, slow down digestion, boost liver function and increase energy.There is also a chemical substance called betuli/betulinic acid which can only be found in this mushroom specie. Research shows that betulinic acid can kill cancer cells without damaging normal cells. It was discovered recently that this substance has an inhibition effect on topoisomerase – the enzyme that regulates the over winding or under winding of our DNA strands. Combined with the actions of polysaccharides, Chaga is indeed a very potent agent that can be used as a dietary supplement to promote good health. Aside from these main active ingredients, Chaga also contains several phystosterols (mainly inotodiol and lanostero). This mushroom also contains high amounts of melanin which is a natural antioxidant. Melanin is also responsible for the black color, as well as giving it the highest antioxidant levels of all natural foods.
Shitake-Shiitake (for centuries called “Elixir of Life” ) has been licensed as a anti-cancer drug by the Japanese FDA. Lentinan has shown some effect on bowel cancer, liver cancer, stomach cancer, ovarian cancer and lung cancer. Lentinan stimulates the production of T lymphocytes and natural killer cells and can potentiate the effect of AZT in the anti-viral treatment of A.I.D.S. Shiitake is rich in several anti-oxidants (Selenium, Uric acid & Vitamin A, E, & C) as well as Vitamin D. Shiitake mushrooms may also lower blood pressure in those with hypertension, lower serum cholesterol levels, increase libido, stimulate the production of Interferon which has anti-viral effects, and has proven effective against Hepatitis in some cases.
Turkey Tail- These mushrooms are one of the most researched and respected of the medicinal mushrooms. Its main effects are to strengthen the immune system, particularly by enhancing the workings of one of the most critical cells, known as T helper cells. T helper cells tell all the other cells in the immune system what to do and to what degree, and when to stop.In cancer, the runaway cells often secrete compounds known as cytokines that give false signals to immune cells to stop working. This further enhances the ability of the cancer to survive. An unfortunate side effect of chemotherapy and radiation therapy is that they further damage the immune system, in part by inadvertently killing T helper cells.Turkey tail mushrooms have been the subject of a large number of controlled clinical trials in Asia showing that it can help rebuild the immune system in people with a wide range of cancers.
I have some information on mushroom and lichen dyes, as well as some pictures that I am getting developed from my film camera to share in my next post in a couple of days. Stay tuned!