On November 23rd we held a lesson in ‘Integral Mycology’. We learned about growing mushrooms at home, and why opting for an integral system is an important step towards deeper sustainable practices. The evening also taught us how magnificent mushrooms are: for example, they can help us remove pollutants from the ground. We’ve summed up the various characteristics below, so keep reading and find out how mushrooms may hold the key to a better world. Get inspired, spread the word, and start growing your own.
First of all, mushrooms are amazing organisms and a close relative of human beings if we look at our very first ancestors. They breath, consume other lifeforms, and then they search for companionship through their root systems in order to germinate and bear fruit. Not only do mushrooms act like loving and careful creatures, when they help other plants grow, they also function as nature’s very own unique communication system made up by mycelium: It works almost like the internet of the forest as well as being nature’s own recyclers. Depending on the species they love to eat different things from the ground. And since nature doesn’t have a wastebin to trash their leftovers into, mushrooms find their way to the nutrients that they need to flourish. Let’s see what mushrooms can be used for, when they’re not hanging out in the forests or sitting in your fridge.
- Mushroom spores from primary decomposers, like shiitake and oyster mushrooms, can be used to make insulation for houses. The kind of insulation we have in our houses at the moment needs a reality check. It’s not good for the environment, it has a bunch of chemicals in it, and fiberglas may cause breathing problems and skin-rashes. Ugh! Check out Mycofoam, a sustainable alternative to insulation. It’s fireproof, waterproof, healthy, and of course good for the environment. Even though it’s not yet been developed on a large scale, it could potentially revolutionize the way we build.
- Mycelium is the root system beneath the earth. It colonizes and helps the mushrooms grow and find food and water. These root systems can become quite large depending on the amount of nutrients the mushroom needs. The mycelium has an extra special ability to cleanse pollutants from soil and water. Since the mycelium is used to find nutrients and doesn’t stop until there is no more left, it can eat it’s way through systems that are bad for the environment. It can be put into a lake blooming with too much algae, where the mycelium will catch the bacteria, break down the particles and thereby filter the water. This solution is much cheaper and much more in sync with nature than any man-made machine that’s used to filter water.
- Filtering the water is not the only thing the mycelium can do. We have all seen horrible images of oil spills where it seems as if humans and big companies have just given up on cleaning the area, ruining just about every form of life around it. Well, mycelium can be our saviour! We know that it loves to eat bacteria and break down particles, and we know that it doesn’t stop until there is no more left to eat. The mycelium can break down hydrocarbons, which naturally occur in oil. Imagine that these delicious oyster mushrooms, which we are used to eating in soups, can help us from disasters like oil spills. At Agora Rollberg we think that’s pretty marvelous, so let’s start sharing this secret with the world! Research in this area are also spreading onto nuclear contaminated areas, opening up for yet another area where mushrooms could help save the planet.
- Researchers on bioluminescent mushrooms are starting to look into how they can be used in areas contaminated with leftover ammunition and landmines. Since these mushrooms live off phosphorus, they will glow in the dark once they have eaten the phosphorus, which is found in the ground around the land-mines and ammunition. Its a huge gamechanger for turning inaccessible places into useable areas again.
- Mushrooms can be used in micro forestry, where they can kill sickness in other plants, simply because they live off of the bacteria that makes other plants sick. So they can actually cure diseases and be natural doctors for the environment! Additionally the mycelia can help the plants grow bigger and stronger, by helping their roots reach water and nutrients further down in the soil. Research has shown that tomato plants grown with certain mushrooms makes the tomato-plants bigger and produce much more fruit.
- There are other places where mushrooms could become real game changers in the future: they can be processed into a product that looks and feels exactly like leather, they can be used to create plastic-like products or even eat plastics, and various researches has shown that they can be a vital tool to combat diseases like cancer and alzheimers.
Mushrooms have so many great possibilities and they are just waiting to be used! It is a new way of designing systems, but it is clear that they have endless possibilities that has yet to be examined. If you found these facts interesting and want to know more we highly recommend these articles and TEDtalks.