Forests of Fungi: Medicine & Meals from Mushrooms

“Protecting the health of the environment is directly related to our understanding of complex fungal populations. Our bodies and our environs are habitats with immune systems; fungi are a common bridge between the two.”- Paul Stamets author of Mycelium Running

My focus has shifted since I last wrote. While there are still loads of flowers and veggies to harvest at the farm, my hands are foraging from damp forests. My interest in mushrooms was inoculated the day before hurricane Irene.

“Lets make homemade pasta with a black trumpet mushroom sauce,” said my friend Laura one afternoon in Vermont. That meal began my love affair with fungi.

laura & chanterelles

Mushrooms ask to be slowly cooked in butter and cream. Life is better with butter, so finding a new ingredient that compliments its rich coating is blissful.

coral (probably not edible)

Obviously one has to very careful and know what they are doing when foraging for shrooms because many are inedible and toxic. Find a knowledgeable friend you can trust, buy a good identification book, and seek out a workshop.

hannah & mitaki, photo by ruthie oland

Since the seven inches of rain we got from the hurricane and another few inches the next week, the forest floor is covered in all kinds of treasures. Last week while walking by a river, it was almost impossible not to step on the colorful caps.

Bright orange chanterelles call out along trail-sides smelling of apricots.

chanterelles & fall foliage

Black trumpets can be hard to find as they blend in with dead leaves, but we spotted over five pounds while walking to a swimming spot.

black trumpet chanterelles

Lion’s mane, a type of coral, grow on decaying logs.

lion's mane

Puffballs pop up on mossy logs, not to be confused with the poisonous puffballs that emit dust when you step on them.


Mitaki, or hen of the woods, grow under red oaks trees. They are very medicinal, high in vitamins, and boost the immune system. My mom spotted one growing on our front lawn beneath our ancient oak.

mitaki- hens of the woods

Cordyceps can be made into a tincture and used to replenish tired muscles after physical exertion.


Yellow footed chanterelles are not as tasty as other kinds, but edible.Like I said, many are toxic and just look really spectacular. Some are as big as my head and way more mysterious than growing annual vegetables. All mushrooms have a purpose, so admire their beauty and walk on.

In Paul Stamets book, Mycelium Running: How mushrooms can help save the world, he writes about mushroom’s many medicinal uses such as anticancer, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and cholesterol lowering properties.

Another example of mutual beneficial relationships between animals and mushrooms is how termites and leaf cutter ants construct their nests with organic matter to cultivate mycelium. Certain fungi act as natural bactericides and fungicides, therefore ants, snails, and other insects have figured out how to eat them and share them with their larvae. This partnering has allowed lineages of ants to survive more than 50 million years and establish massive colonies.

Not only does fungus have partnerships with insects and humans, it also has mutual beneficial relationships with plants and trees.  A specific fungi called ectomycorrhizal mycelium grows beyond plant roots and is able to bring distant nutrients (such as phosphorus, copper, zinc) and moisture to the host plant.

Bottom line: mushrooms are incredible and I strongly urge you to learn about them because they hold more power than we may ever know. Mushrooms are only 10% of the fungi family. And fungi outnumber plants at a ratio of 6 to 1. Only 10% of the mushroom species have been identified.

Each cubic inch of topsoil contains enough fungal cells to stretch more than 8 miles if placed end to end. They restore soil by decomposing and recycling plant debris, which is essentially how life-sustaining soil is created, according to Stamets. Composting is our version of what happens out in the woods when a tree falls and decomposes.


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2 responses to “Forests of Fungi: Medicine & Meals from Mushrooms

  1. Jess Murphy

    You are the coolest!

  2. Hannah, we’re up to our ears in mushrooms, too. Lots of maitake (hen-of-the-woods) and black trumpets–but not 5 pounds! I’m jealous!! The lion’s mane is delicious, btw, as is the chicken mushroom, also found on oak and other fallen logs. xo

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