Mushrooms and Malnutrition

Mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of fungi that are visible to the naked eye. It is like a flower or a fruit of the plant. Mushrooms produce the next generation of tiny spores which are similar to pollen grains of a flower or seeds of a fruit. All mushrooms are fungi, but not all fungi are mushrooms. All of them form a distinct classification as part of the Fungal Kingdom in the Kingdoms of Life.[1]

Mushrooms usually grow in rich organic substrates. They play a vital role in every ecosystem, but apparently, they are absent in the aquatic ecosystem. Mushrooms grow in forests, gardens, lawns, meadows, pastures etc. they grow on any nutrient rich soil excluding clay soil and sand.

1. History and Folklore

Mushrooms have a history of medicinal use spanning millennia. Rigveda (Hindu) and Avesta (Zorasters) reported a plant called Soma or Haoma, believed to have hallucinogenic properties and used in religious ceremonies. The description in the Rigveda depicted Soma as a small, leafless plant with a fleshy stalk. Gordon Wasson put forth the concept of mushroom Amanita muscaria that was referred to as Soma, in "Soma, Divine Mushroom of Immortality". Soma was utilized in religious ceremonies, over 4000 years ago, before the beginning of Christian era. It is also believed that the hallucinogenic properties of the A. muscaria to be the cause of the "ecstasy" described in the Rigveda, the holy book of the Hindu[1].

Ancient Egyptians believed mushrooms are "plants of immortality" and considered them as food for royalty since no commoner was allowed to eat them. In countries like China, Russia, Greece and Mexico, people practiced mushroom rituals[2]. Mushrooms were used for recreational hallucination, as medicines, and as food. The ancient Egyptians called mushrooms "sons of the gods" and "plants of immortality" and thought that the storm god Set created them by hurling lightning bolts coated in mushroom-seed to earth. Consuming mushrooms was the exclusive privilege of the pharaoh and his dining companions.

Figure 1: Mushroom stones of approximately 1000 BC to 500 AD
The Greeks clearly appreciated the culinary value of fungi even though wild mushrooms were sometimes risky meals. Anthropological and literary evidence suggest that Greeks cultivated Agrocybe aeregita on a small scale (commonly called the pioppino, a wood-decomposer that’s common in European markets today), as did the Romans after the Greeks[3]. The Psilocybe genus of mushroom has a long history of use within Mesoamerica. The members of the Aztec upper class would often consume mushrooms at festivals and other large gatherings. Mushrooms were quite costly as well as very difficult to locate, requiring all-night searches. The Aztecs would drink chocolate and eat the mushrooms with honey. Those partaking in the mushroom ceremonies would fast before ingesting the sacrament which would lead to psychedelic experiences. The act of taking mushrooms was known as monanacahuia, meaning to "mushroom oneself"[4].

At the archaeological site of Kaminaljuyú, Guatemala, miniature mushroom stones (Figure 1) are found buried together in a Maya tomb, along with nine miniature stone metates and manos (Soma stones[5]) used in the preparation of a ritual mushroom beverage [6].

2. Magic Mushrooms

According to ancient Egyptians, mushrooms as they appear overnight are considered as magic organisms[7]. Fly Agaric mushrooms contain a psychoactive chemical which causes illusions and that objects around you look larger or smaller than they actually are. Reindeers knowingly eat psychedelic mushrooms (Psilocybin mushrooms containing compounds psilocybin and psilocin) in order to amuse themselves and escape the monotony of dreary during long winters. The side effect of the man eating magic mushrooms is the feeling of flying which is also applicable to reindeers. This explains the origin of the flying Santa's reindeer myth[8].

Figure 2 (Click image to zoom)

3. Largest Spread of Mushroom Mycelium

A parasitic mushroom Armillaria ostoyae commonly known as honey fungus is a small to medium sized fruit body growing on tree trunks cause severe diseases. This mushroom is found in the Blue Mountains of Oregon and is believed to be the world's largest known organism. It is more than 2,400 years old and covers an estimated 2,200 acres (Figure 2). The fruit bodies are short-lived however, mycelium remains in the ground to produce new fruit bodies. It is slowly killing off the trees in the forest [9,10,11,12].


4. Glowing Mushrooms

Figure 3: Bioluminescent mushroom. A. Fruit bodies during day time. B. Fruit bodies during night time

Bioluminescence is the production and emission of light or fluorescence by living organism. It is formed due to a chemical reaction. Many marine organisms like jelly fish, lantern fish, algae as well as terrestrial organisms like fire fly and some fungi. Bioluminescence usually helps the organism in finding the food, protection or attracting the mate[13].

There are mushrooms which glow at night (fox fire). (Figure 3 A & B). More than 70 species of bioluminescent mushrooms are present on Earth[14]. People have been known to use these fungi to light their way through the wood.

5. Fairy Rings

Some of the oldest living mushroom colonizes as fairy rings (Figure 4) around Stonehenge ruins in England. The rings are so large that they can best be seen from airplanes [15,16&17].

6. Giant Puff Ball

Calvatia gigantea (Figure 5) found on October 23, 2006 is the largest ever recorded giant puffball was eight feet eight inches in diameter and weighed forty-eight pounds. A single ten-inch giant puffball has as many as 7 trillion (7,000,000,000,000) spores. If each of those spores grow and yield a ten-inch puffball, the combined puffball mass would be 800 times that of the earth[18&19].

7. Mushrooms as a Natural Dye

Many mushroom species like Agaricus spp., Coriolopsis spp., Daedalea sterioides, Ganoderma applanatum, G. curtissi, G. spruci, G. resupinacium, Hexagonia hirta, H. tenicis, Laetiporus sulphureus, Lenzites betulina, Lycoperdon imbricatum, Oxiporus corticola, Phaeolus schwenitzi, Polyporus alveolus, P. brumalis, and Schizopora spp. are used to make natural dyes. For production of dyes mushrooms can simply be boiled in water[21,22]. To obtain the natural color wool and silk threads can be used.[23]

TERI has collected few colored mushrooms among which Omphalotus sp. is pigment producing and shows production of yellow dye.

Figure 4: Mushrooms growing as fairy rings (Source: TERI's picture)
Figure 5: Calvatia gigantea a giant mushroom found by Christian Therrien from British Columbia[20]
Figure 6: Threads dyed using mushroom pigments[24]


[24] Handbook of natural colorants

Mushroom cultivation for household consumption

Mushroom cultivation is considered as an eco-friendly method. It doesn’t require access to land and significant capital investment. It can be carried out using any clean agricultural waste and mushrooms can be produced at home with little maintenance . Since it is carried out indoors, it may be regarded as a family activity where the children could also be actively involved. It is also beneficial as a Women empowerment strategy. Mushroom cultivation is widely accepted as good source of income and can generate employment for rural women. Also, it is a women friendly profession which can be pursued along with all household activities1. In general it is observed that mushroom cultivation has helped people in improving their health, life style and also brought a positive impact on different aspects of livelihood.

Presentation on "Mushrooms Cultivation for Household"

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