When we think of mushrooms, some of us think immediately of rich earth in dark and moist environments from which little white caps mysteriously emerge. Others imagine green pastures or rice paddies populated by large animals, from whose dung mushrooms spring forth. Lush, multicoloured forests with dense leaf litter and an abundance of moss might be your picture of a mushroom’s paradise. While the presence of water for the growth of fruiting bodies might seem obvious, considering that in some cases water comprises nearly 90% of their weight, have you ever given thought to how much mushrooms rely on air?
Rather than producing seeds like a plant, fungi release microscopic spores to the air, relying on the breeze to carry the stuff of their next generations to new places. In stagnant environments populated by a large number of fruiting fungi, some people experience breathing difficulty due to the high volume of spores produced, or by characteristics specific to certain species (some molds, for example).
The flip side to this is that like humans, mushrooms take in oxygen and expel carbon dioxide; if submerged in water with no escape a mycelial culture will, essentially, drown. With these things in common between our species it’s no surprise that some mushrooms contain the building blocks for healthy breathing!
Reishi mushrooms are one of the world’s most famous wild (and cultivated) medicinal fungi. Although there are some localized differences between species, many mycologists consider the family of “varnish shelf” mushrooms (which includes Ganoderma lucidum, G. resinaceum, G. oregonese, and G. tsugae) medicinally similar. DNA analysis has suggested a very close relation between the Hemlock Reishi (G. tsugae) which is the most common member of this group found in the forests of eastern Turtle Island (and is the wild mushroom we use in our health-promoting tinctures) and the G. lucidum mushroom commonly used in Traditional Chinese Medicine.
According to Robert Rogers, author of “The Fungal Pharmacy”, reishi has a “special affinity” for the lungs. He notes that reishi is very effective in treating chronic bronchitis, bronchial asthma, and other allergy-related respiratory conditions.
Dr. Cass Ingram remarks that among its wide range of health benefits, Chaga (Inonotus obliquus) it is well known in Eastern Europe for being effective in treating bronchitis and lung disease.
Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor) mushrooms are also traditionally used to treat infection and inflammation of the upper respiratory tract. We’ve received feedback that our turkey tail tincture is especially effective in clearing sinus congestion, allowing for improved breathing through the nose.
Speaking of noses — taking deep breaths while hiking in the woods can sometimes reveal a particularly “mushroomy”-smelling locale, in which we may be lucky to discover them in abundance. Some among us are even attuned to the scents of particular mushroom species, and can successfully forage edible and medicinal wild fungi using these cues (animals with even more sensitive schnozes, like dogs and pigs, have been known to snuffle out truffle fungi even through layers of soil!).
So you see, breathing helps us find mushrooms, and mushrooms can help us breathe — just another example of inter-species mutual aid, on a growing list of the fabulous features of fungi!
Does the thought of finding interesting, useful mushrooms put a spring in your step? Contact us to organize a guided mushroom excursion on your woodlot or locally-accessible public forest (rates vary).