Top 9 Fascinating (and Weird) Mushroom Facts!

By Melissa Carr, Dr. TCM

Oct 16, 2020

Stocked up on notebooks, backpacks, and every other supply under the sun? Well, don't forget to add mushrooms to that list. Yup, you read that right. Fantastic fungi should be a part of any school preparation plan. Keeping your kids – and you – strong and healthy should be a top priority for any parent this time of year.

Think you know all there is to know about mushrooms? You might be surprised. In the spirit of back-to-school season and all the learning that goes along with it, now is the perfect time to share some cool facts about mushrooms.

Mushrooms are not plants. Contrary to popular belief, mushrooms are not vegetative organisms; they are part of their own Kingdom, called fungi. Believe it or not, fungi are more closely related to humans than plants. By examining the genetic relationship of different species, scientists have discovered that mushrooms and animals share a common ancestor. Bet you'll never look at a mushroom the same way again.

Mushrooms can taste like fried chicken. There are a lot of foods that taste like chicken – turns out mushrooms can too. Known as the "chicken of the woods," a genus of edible mushrooms called Laetiporus sulphureus taste like fried chicken. The brightly coloured mushroom is found in clusters, growing on oak, eucalyptus, yew, cherry wood, sweet chestnut, and willow trees. But I definitely wouldn't recommend you eat any mushrooms you find growing in the wild, unless you know for sure what species it is. Many are also poisonous. Or hallucinogenic.

Many species of mushrooms can glow in the dark. Did you know that there are more than 70 species of mushrooms that glow in the dark? Bioluminescent fungi like the Panellus pusillus, Armillaria melleam, and Mycena chlorophos create a bright bluish-green hue, generating dazzling lights in forests all over the world.

Some mushrooms can generate their own wind. When Mother Nature fails to produce enough wind, some species of mushrooms take matters into their own hands (or gills). As it turns out, fungi can create wind to help reproduce. By changing the temperature around their gills, these amazing organisms generate jets of localized air stream to spread their seeds.

You can train mushrooms to eat flesh. Wait, what? Yes, a company is working on creating a burial suit that is made of microorganisms, including mushrooms, to assist in decomposition, neutralize toxins, and help transfer nutrients for plants to grow. Whoa.

Mushrooms may help us undo some of our environmental damage. Mycoremediation is a term used to define how mushrooms remove or get rid of toxins form the environment. "Myco" is a prefix often used for mushrooms, and mycoremediation is part of a larger category of study, bioremediation, being done to help us repair our anguished planet.

Packing materials can be made of mushrooms. On the note of environmentalism, you know how shippers have to use those sheets of plastic bubblewrap, piles of paper, or Styrofoam peanuts to prevent items from shifting in the box and possibly becoming damaged during shipping? Well, some companies are investigating the use of mushroom packing materials that will biodegrade quickly and easily. I wonder if I could sauté them up in my kitchen.

Mushrooms can boost the immune system. Your immune system is constantly working to protect you from harmful pathogens. To keep your immunity in prime condition, medicinal fungi like Japanese red reishi mushrooms can help. Hailed as "The Great Protector," these mighty miracle workers have been shown to contain adaptogenic and immune-boosting properties, producing a greater response to fending off infections and disease.

Mushrooms are high in antioxidants. Think only blueberries, goji berries, and other brightly-coloured foods are high in antioxidants? Despite the thought that "white foods" are not as healthy for you, mushrooms are a grand exception. Mushrooms are higher in antioxidants than most vegetables. Even the simple button mushroom can help protect your cells from oxidative damage. But some mushrooms are particularly powerful, including chaga, maitake, turkey's tail, and reishi mushrooms, which can help prevent or even treat cancer.

All mushrooms are amazing! But some are extra special when it comes to your health. Japanese red reishi mushrooms don't taste like fried chicken or glow in the dark, but as one of Traditional Chinese Medicine's top herbs, they can help you lead a healthier, and possibly longer, life so that you can have more time to study more about this fungi Kingdom.

Dr. Melissa Carr is a registered Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine with a B.Sc. in Kinesiology. In practice since 2001, Dr. Carr has a passion for sharing health information. She has been a nutrition instructor and a health consultant, lecturer, and writer for 24 Hours Vancouver newspaper, Fraser Health Authority, UBC, and the David Suzuki Foundation, amongst others.

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