Paul Stamets is a mushroom evangelist, scientist and entrepreneur. He is also a gifted writer, I realized when I started reading his masterpiece “Mycelium Running”. The book is a celebration to all living mushrooms and mycelia, describing the multitude of useful functions that the mycelia perform in our soils.
Little did I know about the potent medicinal powers of ubiquitous forest mushrooms, or the versatile water-filtering and water-cleaning possibilities.
Mycelium is the network of white threads that is the main organism living in the ground. The mycelium is something between a slowly moving animal and an underground tree, living off debris and wood, inhaling oxygen and exhaling carbon dioxide.
When conditions are right, the mycelium channels energy, sugars, fat, proteins to the surface and out comes a mushroom full of spores for reproduction.
(see mycelium at Wikipedia)
A large part of the book is devoted to wood-eating (saprophytic) mushrooms, which are the most common cultivated species. I got completely inspired and bought an Oyster mushroom kit (sawdust and mycelium). After two weeks, out came the first flush of delicious khaki-coloured mushrooms. [Read more here.] Oysters seem to be the easiest to grow, thanks to a voracious appetite for anything fibrous, so it is considered a good “beginners’ mushroom”. I took part of the mycelium and inoculated some wood chips in a jar, and I think that it will continue to live and hopefully fruit generously in the coming years if I just remember to feed it. (In many ways it is similar to a sourdough, also a fungal friend.)
In 2008, Paul Stamets gave a TED presentation about mushrooms, where he shows among other things the amazing capability of mushrooms to break down toxic wastes like crude oil. There is a whole chapter in the book devoted to using mushrooms for eco-remediation and restoration.
This hefty volume is very readable thanks to a well-edited prose and hundreds of photos and illustrations that explain what is going on in the fascinating world of fungus. The numerous references to a growing body of scientific publications do not distract from the main message of the value of mushrooms for Earth and mankind.