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The magic of mushrooms

If there’s one food and nutrient source that is exploding right now, it is the magnificent mushroom. Mushrooms are delicious, unique, healthy and often just plain weird. We look at the fascinating world of our spore-driven friends.
By Ben Raworth


Scientists are studying Cordyceps militaris for its ability to reducefatigue, boost energy and improve athletic performance. Thanks to its high concentration of beta-glucans, it may also help support your immune system, and is said to improve libido.


Lion’s mane is a mushroom with a history of both medicinal and culinaryuses in Asia and Europe. Medicinal mushroom use dates back to 450 BCE when Greek physician Hippocrates discovered the potential anti-inflammatory properties of fungi as well as their role in wound cauterization.


The lion’s mane mushroom is now being used to help a variety of ailments, including anxiety, Alzheimer’s, depression, high cholesterol and Parkinson’s. This wonder-fungus is calming, balancing, relaxing and supports good sleep.


In the past, scientists considered fungi to be plants, but now we know better. Discoveries show that fungi are more closely related to animals, including humans, than to plants. 


Mushrooms absorb nutrients from organic matter – unlike plants, which produce their food through photosynthesis. Like animals, fungi have a fibrous substance called chitin in their cell walls – plants do not. The same as us, fungi need food, water and oxygen to survive. 


Mushrooms are the largest living organisms on Earth! Fungal mycelium can grow and expand for miles underground in search of food. The largest living organism on the planet right now is a single honey mushroom (Armillaria ostoyae) in Oregon, USA. It is 5.6km (3.5 miles) wide and occupies an area of 965 hectares (2,385 acres). It is thought to be at least 2,400 years old.


Mycorrhizal fungi have a symbiotic relationship with host trees and plants. The fungi interact with the plant’s roots and provide nutrients, getting simple sugars in return. But the fungi’s mycelial network also facilitates the sharing of nutrients and information between plants and trees of different species. 


In 1997 Prof Suzanne Simard realized that trees were talking to each other using mycorrhizal networks and came up with the term ‘Wood Wide Web.’ The vast networks of mycelium allow trees to share nutrients and warn each other about droughts, pests and diseases.


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