ONfungi http://onfungi.com Fungal explorations through art, research and insight. Fri, 15 Dec 2017 15:39:45 +0000 en-CA hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.0.1 Winter Mushrooms – Chaga Season is Here! http://onfungi.com/winter-mushrooms-chaga-season-is-here/ http://onfungi.com/winter-mushrooms-chaga-season-is-here/#respond Tue, 05 Dec 2017 21:39:07 +0000 http://onfungi.com/?p=562 Winter, she is near. The trees have lost their leaves, a shallow frost penetrates the topsoil, and a delightful blanket of snow will soon cover the forests and trails (and driveways). For some, this time of year means human hibernation – hunkering down, evenings with family and friends, having a few warm beverages, and getting hygge in general (the Danish quality of coziness).

While I LOVE winter – cozy things, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, apple cider and of course, Christmas – the busyness, extra financial burden, and stress in general of the holiday season makes this year a tough one. After our first solid summer of mushroom foraging, it’s hard to say if it’s the time of year, lack of sunlight, or mushrooms, that makes this pre-holiday season seem a bit grey. More than likely, it’s a combination of all of the aforementioned.

While this time of year doesn’t bring boletes and chanterelles to fight the blues, there is one type of mushroom that is ideally harvested in this off-season – chaga, inonotus obliquus, clinker polypore, or as we like to say, the king of the woods.

Cast your eyes up from the forest floor and look for black growths on birch trees that look like charred masses (or petrified sasquatch s**t). Despite its adverse appearance, chaga is becoming widely known in the health food world for it’s immune-boosting benefits (but that’s another blog post).

In the fall, after a solid stretch of nights below 5°c or below the birch trees will have gone dormant for the winter and chaga reaches it’s peak in nutrient density. Until the sap starts to run, the chaga hunt is on.

Winter IS the season for harvesting. As the trees lose their leaves you can see much further into the bush (one of the reasons why some game hunters prefer a blanket of snow and a lack of foliage). You can also cover a lot more ground if you’ve got some backcountry skis for exploring.

It’s not the best to harvest chaga in the summer or spring months when the sap is running. In the warm months, chaga has up to 80% water content and some of the nutrients are flushed out of the mushroom. Since chaga is extremely difficult to cultivate and grows very slowly on trees few and far between, it is important if harvesting, to maximize the nutritional output and minimize the amount harvested.

According to Paul Stamets, a mycologist in favour of cultivation over foraging stated “Chaga is rapidly becoming scarce. Its ability to recover, given the onslaught of commercial harvesters, places its availability and recovery in doubt”

While it doesn’t seem to be quite at this dire state in our area at least, there are definitely more signs of harvesters out there on the hunt (and not always following sustainable practices).

There is no standard (yet) for sustainable chaga harvest. Some say never take more than half of the growth, others like Paul (arguably the expert) say don’t harvest at all. We like to err on the side of caution, without completely ruling out this fungus completely. When we are lucky enough to find it – we harvest less than 25% from one growth in areas where it is growing plentifully. Always from large growths (think larger than a grapefruit). This means more time out in the bush, and a lot of tempting chaga passed up. If it is growing out of our reach or the reach of a hatchet, we take it as a sign that this one was not meant for consumption.

Luckily for us, this means more encouragement to get outside when the call to hibernate is strong.

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On Fungi: The Shroomvolution http://onfungi.com/on-fungi-the-shroomvolution/ http://onfungi.com/on-fungi-the-shroomvolution/#respond Tue, 28 Nov 2017 00:30:07 +0000 http://onfungi.com/?p=1 From the evidence, it seems, the sound of happiness is 30 amateur mushroom hunters, stumbling awkwardly though the forest in search of their first wild edible fungi. It’s an overcast, typical Fall day, otherwise the perfect for curling up with a giant mug of tea and a good book (or Netflix marathon). A local organization, The Friends of the Ferguson Forest in Kemptville Ontario, dedicated to preserving their local woodland and promoting community access to their natural trails organized a Mushroom Foray in celebration of the fall season. 30 aspiring foragers young and old blissfully listening, sharing information, and (yes) beaming at the prospect of fungi.

Mushrooms.. they are everywhere these days.

Gwenyth Paltrow puts that shit in her smoothie, Shailene Woodley is on the Chaga Train, and companies like Four Sigmatic are taking over the health food world with their adaptogenic elixirs. Paul Stamets, the world’s leading Mycologist was just on the Joe Rogan Experience, the new series of Star Trek has an Astro-Mycologist inspired by and named after Paul, AND (spoiler alert) ships that travel using “Spore Drive” technology.

Maybe it’s my anxious brain, maybe it’s the “Dire warning” from 15,000 scientists about the state of the world, but this happy exchange in light of more serious topics is astonishing to me when we are united by the nerdiest of topics: fungi.

Google “Mushrooms” and you get 121 million hits. Yet, fungi were something we barely learned about in school beyond the very basics.  Social exposure, in my case at least, has been generally limited to warnings of their potential dangers (i.e. don’t eat the forest ‘shrooms) or on the other hand about wink wink THOSE kinda ‘shrooms. Mushrooms are the rising underdogs; once only associated with Mario Kart, and Alice In Wonderland and tripping teenagers. Now, the organism that predominantly grows in the shadows is having its moment in the spotlight.

The question is why.

For the Earth Warriors

The looming threat of the sixth mass planetary extinction is a big one. As nature’s regenerators and rejuvenators, mushrooms offer solutions for cleaning of oil spills and absorbing farm pollution to fighting diseases/pest insects and even saving the bees (6 Ways Mushrooms Can Save the World). There are fungi-related green alternatives for everything from building and packing materials to leathers and meat products. Saving the earth is a pretty dang good reason to love fungi.

For the Temple That is Your Body

There is no shortage of negative news and information either when it comes to lack of proper nutrition and poor health, even in the most developed of countries. Mushrooms are being increasingly researched for their medicinal and nutritional value. As we collectively get sicker and fill the earth with more and more waste and pollution, the solutions that the fungal kingdom offers need to be spread like spores around the world.

For the Foodies

On the other end of the fungal-enthusiast spectrum, (and more hedonistically motivated end) is the taste factor. Everyone and their brother is an Instagram foodie. Wild foraged or home/locally grown shrooms take the flavour and texture of everything they touch to another level. The world of wild mushrooms is still largely unexplored in the mainstream culinary world – so they are a rich source of new flavours and textures to be documented. Tastes vary from the richness of portabello that everybody knows, to the light and lemony (and less well-known) Chicken of the woods (that LITERALLY taste like chicken). There are even sweet (yes SWEET) tasting fungi like the maple-flavoured candy caps. The woody, bland, button mushrooms from the grocery store (grown somewhere halfway around the world, nowhere near a forest) are dry toast in comparison to the complexity of flavours from the forest.

While I could think of a litany of excuses as to why the pursuit of fungi (aka happiness) is a desirable one (HELLO saving the dang planet). The real reason deep-down why I love fungi is because they are just simply and childishly fun. Maybe I read too many stories as a kid, but there is a whimsical and otherworldly quality to fungal fruiting bodies, appearing as if they were planted with equal likelihood, by a gnome or alien. They fuel my imagination and my art and having an outlet for this fuels my sanity. Much like geocaching or bird watching, foraging adds an extra challenge and thrill when you’re out on a hike – the frog hunt of adulthood. Satisfying that primitive nature to chase or seek (and a healthy dose of dopamine with each find).

If you can walk, you can ‘shroom hunt. There is no need to be a fitness guru or extreme survivalist. With a good guidebook, a knowledgeable friend if you’ve got one (or the interweb at your discretion), a quick walk in the woods at a local trail or park on the right day can result in a bountiful harvest (if you’re lucky). But more so, it will make your time out there all the more rewarding as you start to explore the wonderful world of fungi.

So get out there and #getshroomywithit

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