Wednesday, February 8, 2012

What I'm Reading Now-Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World (part II)

and I told you about my shudder-inducing incentive to post a review about a book I didn't finish reading a year ago. By the time I got done with that, the post had already gotten a bit lengthy, and I figured no one would stick around for the review, so I thought I'd give you all a break and put the review in a separate post.

So, back to the book: First of all, fungi, mushrooms, mycelium...what's the difference? Mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of fungi, and mycelium is the network of filaments that connect fungi (you can see an example at 00:55 in the video above).  Secondly, the book is dense, and it is not all easy reading.  There is a lot of really fascinating stuff in it about all the things that mycelium does, but it's also full of a lot of scientific jargon.  I didn't even get through half of the book, and I have three pages of notes from my reading.  The first page is mostly me just trying to keep my vocabulary straight, and the rest is all interesting facts or things that I want to know more about or questions that I came up with while reading. To me, that's often the sign of a good read.

Stamets talks about mycelium's ability to transfer nutrients between plants to help keep balance in an ecosystem, its water purification abilities and how it can help build good soil in no-till farming situations. Fungi has medicinal properties and potential as a natural pesticide against things like carpenter ants, fire ants, and many crop pests. Along with oil spills, there is good evidence that fungi might also be able to reclaim environments compromised by radiation and heavy metals. (This part left me with a lot of questions. The mushrooms seem to sequester and concentrate the undesireable material (for this reason, it's important to know where your mushrooms are coming from--just outside of Chernobyl or Fukushima? might want to pass), but then what? Are the harmful materials somehow metabolized over several generations, or is the area always just full of toxic mushrooms? Stamets suggests harvesting the mushrooms and disposing of them at toxic waste sites, but then we're still left with the toxic sites.) Questions aside, the possibilities seem almost endless, and I think that Hawaii is a place that could benefit greatly from some of the solutions set forth by Stamets.       

Stamets' book is also a how-to guide for growing and using mushrooms.  This was mostly the part of the book that I didn't get to, so I can't really say much about it, but, just from flipping through it, it seems pretty exhaustive. 

I highly recommend this book. In my notes, I wrote that I thought this would be a good companion read to The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollen (which I reviewed in 2008) and The Earth Moved by Amy Stewart (which I read and then didn't review last April). 

I'm a huge fan of all the cool things that nature does. It has figured out solutions to things that we have been struggling with for years.  Fungi is one of those cool solutions, and it's neat to see how entwined it is with the rest of the natural world. If, like me, you think nature is cool, you might also enjoy these TED talks:


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