When life first developed on Earth, it was not plants or animals, but fungi that first sprung to life.
It took several hundred million years before plants started to develop. And so, it comes as no surprise that reaching back to the earliest human civilizations we have used fungi as an ally to help our survival.
Amazingly, mushrooms have been able to survive previous extinction periods that the earth has gone through. When the earth was hit by an asteroid, 65 million years ago, a huge amount of debris was sent into the atmosphere and cut off sunlight. Because mushrooms do not thrive off of sunlight or photosynthesis, they were able to survive. The plants that had a symbiotic relationship with mushrooms were rewarded with nutrients they received through the mushrooms mycelial network.
But it gets a lot deeper than that! Human and animal DNA is more closely related to mushrooms than it is plants. Like animals, Fungi inhales oxygen and exhales CO2. Some scientists have even theorized that we evolved from fungus billions of years ago.
Mycologist believe there are 150,000 varieties of mushroom. But they have only identified less than 10% of them. Imagine the untapped potential! Yet, like all life on this planet, mushrooms are in danger of extinction due to deforestation, and other environmental issues. It seems crucial that humans continue to explore the powers of fungi to survive the current environmental crisis on Earth.
Here are 5 mushrooms that have been powerful aids to humans throughout the years.
Agarikon (Fomitopsis officinalis)
This member of the wood conk family grows exclusively in old growth forest and is nearing extinction. Agarikon is only found in the Pacific NorthWest – California, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia. It is a beehive-shaped mushroom that has been used for thousands of years by humans. This mushroom continues to show new potential for having even more uses in the future.
Agarikon was used by the Greeks in 65 AD to treat “consumption” – a condition we believe to be Tuberculosis. It also has anti-inflammatory properties and is both antibacterial and antiviral. Agarikon has also shown to be highly active against Pox viruses. It has served as a powerful tool for the US Defense Department in protecting us from biochemical attack. This also shows potential for fighting bird and swine flu, HPV, and herpes.
Amadou (Fomes fomentarius)
Amadou is another variety of wood conk that has aided in human survival throughout the ages. It was given the nickname “hoof fungus” due to their appearance. While many think of mushrooms as food, or poison, Amadou provided early humans the ability to carry embers from a fire. When hollowed out, this hard fungus can carry glowing embers for days at a time. This allows fire keepers to start start, handle and cook with fire.
When a well preserved natural mummy of an Ice Man was discovered in the 1990s, Amadou was one of the possessions he carried. Amadou has another interesting use with fire. when soaked in water and ashes and pounded out it can be turned into a fabric, which is a highly flammable. The fabric is a slow burning substance that was used as an early fuse. It was described by Hypocraties as an anti inflammatory and still shows potential for medicinal use.
Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor)
Recently, trials using Turkey Tail mushrooms have shows that they have powerful potential treating cancer in conjunction with modern medicine. Turkey Tail boosts the immune system and when a person is taking chemotherapy their immune system takes a large hit. It enhances beneficial bacteria in the GI tract while suppressing inflammatory ones.
Lions Mane (Hericium erinaceus)
Lion’s Mane is a shaggy white mushroom with cascading ‘hair’ that gives it its name. This mushroom is quite delicious and sold in many grocery stores but also has many potential medicinal benefits. Studies have found that Lion’s Mane could protect our brains against Alzheimer’s and dementia. It may also reduce memory loss and boost mental functioning, speed recovery from neurological injuries, and regenerate myelin on the nerves.
Cordyceps (Metarhizium anisopliae)
Much like the other mushrooms on this list, Cordyceps show strong medicinal benefits and have been used for these properties for hundreds of years. But what makes them unique is their potential to be used as a natural insecticide. Cordyceps are parasitic fungi known for killing insects. In its mold stage, Cordyceps are very infectious to insects.
Insects have learned to avoid them. But mycologist Paul Stamets found that when he used a pre-sporulating form of the mold, insects were unable to detect it. Not only were these undetectable to pests, but they were actually attracted to it When the cordycep kills the insect, a new cordycep is given life from it’s corpse. The now fully formed cordycep is then detectable to new insects. Meaning, not only was the current infestation killed, but future ones were warned away from the structure.
This method would fight against pests such as termites and carpenter ants. These pests are usually warded off with harsh chemicals that are bad for the environment and inhabitants of the house.
OK, so psilocybin isn’t actually a variety of fungi, but mushrooms are the origin of where this substance was discovered. For anyone doesn’t know, psilocybin is the major psychoactive ingredient in psychedelic mushrooms.
In the past few years, there have been several very interesting studies showing the potential of psilocybin in treatment. Dealing with depression, PTSD, end of life anxiety, cluster headaches, and more.
Psilocybin has a low potential for addiction or abuse. Something like 70% of people who have participated in studies have said it was beneficial. All described it as having a long lasting benefit.
However, of the remaining 30% who said it was a negative experience, when questioned 14 months – 2 years later, they said that the negativity didn’t extend beyond the experience itself. While not legal federally, we’ve started to see some municipalities decriminalize such as Denver.
Mind you this article just scratches the surface. There are tons more mushrooms with amazing properties, and each of the mushrooms mentioned have additional properties not discussed.
Please note, this article does not constitute medical advice. We are only reporting on interesting findings by the medical and scientific industries.