Did you know that mushrooms existed on planet Earth before any other plant life form? Mushrooms arrived 1.3 million years ago, several hundred million years before anything else. 420 million years ago giant mushrooms called Prototaxites could be found dotting the landscape, standing at about three foot tall, dwarfing other plant life forms. Mushrooms are essential for maintaining the health of the planet, since their life cycle constantly enriches the soil that trees need to grow.
|Eden Bayer with mushroom packaging|
Visonary green scientist Paul Stamets became obsessed with fungi after working in the forests of North America. He has gone on to discover some extraordinary applications for fungi, which will have a significant impact on the future of the planet. He has identified six ways in which fungi can save the planet:
Mycofiltration – this process is used in the cleansing of polluted watercourses, such as those downstream of factories. Burlap sacks inoculated with fungi spores consume and cleanse the water of poisons and toxins, whilst providing protection against the erosion of river banks. The implications of this for those living in areas with low levels of clean drinking water can only be imagined at this stage. Experiments have been extremely successful so far. The ability of mycelium to ‘knit together’ soil and consolidate it, which Bayers utilised in his packaging idea, equally applies to eroding land, and Stamet’s mycelium mats have implications for land maintenance worldwide.
Mycopesticides - Paul noticed his house was infested with termites one day, and simply set to work to develop a fungi based solution, which proved 100% effective and chemical free.
Mycomedecines – one of the most significant areas of Stamet’s research is into medicines, specifically powerful antibiotics derived from fungi, and anti-viral treatments. The discoveries in this field are perhaps the most exciting, with very strong anti-viral, and anti-biological warfare properties being discovered which are many times the effectiveness of anything we have at present.
Mycoremediation - a process used to repair and rebuild damaged ecosystems, and purify polluted soil. Stamets has discovered that mycelium can purify and thrive on oil polluted land, which has major implications for global clean-up.
Mycoforestry – The use of mushrooms in managing forest land, the lungs of the planet, has potential long-term gains by improving the growth and sustainability of trees. Mushrooms have always thrived on the forest floor, and the constant growth and decay cycle helps to maintain the health of the soil over millennia.
The Way Forward
Scientists are only just beginning to understand the enormous potential of fungi in the preservation of the planet’s ecosystems and biosphere. It is somehow fitting that the first arrival on earth may hold the answers to planet survival we have been looking for for so long. With courageous and innovative eco-thinkers in the world of mycology this is subject to keep an eye on in future. Once you start reading Stamet’s work you will certainly never look at a mushroom in the same way again.