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