On top of a booming 100% TomatoMeter rating on Rotten Tomatoes®, the mushroom documentary FANTASTIC FUNGI is without question an inspiring introduction to the world of gorgeous rotters and mesmerizing decay-machines basking in their time-lapse magic. Director Louie Schwartzberg captures so well Nature's ritualistic art display of death and transformation, as networks of mycelium convert raw matter into new forms of energy and move nutrients back into the ecosystem cycle. All around us, mushroom spores are in each breath of air and every ounce of topsoil, let them open a window into the invisible landscape just underneath our feet.
For us, the fascination with fungi begins with the realization that mushrooms are neither animal nor plant, and so by their very nature defy our accustomed reality. They rule their own kingdom. While most Americans have been raised in a fearful “mycophobic” food culture, this closed mindset need not persist beyond a single viewing of the mushroom doc, a narrative led mostly by the life’s work of renowned mycologist Paul Stamets.
In the film he offers up the language problem that philosophically binds cultures to inaction on matters of Nature, conservation and climate change: “The task that we face today is to understand the language of nature. My mission is to discover the language of nature, of the fungal networks that communicate with the ecosystem. And I believe that nature is intelligent. The fact that we lack the language skills to communicate with nature … it speaks to our inadequacy of communication.”
IMG >>> Fantastic Fungi Film – "There are over 1.5 million species of fungi ... and about 20,000 produce mushrooms with an incredible amount of diversity, including bioluminescent mushrooms." – Eugenia Bone, Food Journalist & Author
So What Exactly Are Mushrooms?
Most simply, mushrooms are a fruiting body of mycelium mass of threads found throughout all forms of soil that feeds on decaying plant matter and tree mulch. These threads form an interconnected underground web of branching fungal networks that provide energy to living plant systems underground and also serve as a sort of biological communication system that’s constantly exchanging information about water and nutrition. The essence of its design leads to a highly cooperative system that functions like Nature’s internet. (Read more on Biomimicry & Design)
More than just supporting life in the soil, fungi are also a critical tool in our collective efforts to minimize the impacts of increasing carbon in our atmosphere and the climate change that comes with it. Plants sink 70% of absorbed carbon below ground and then they trade this carbon for nutrients from fungal mycelium, which solves issues getting good, stable carbon deep in the earth. A healthy plant system can only exist with a healthy fungal network supporting it.
“The core concept of evolution is that through natural selection, the strongest and fittest survive. But moreover, the communities survive better than individuals. Communities rely upon cooperation, and I think that’s the power of goodness,” Stamets points out. “Evolution is based on a concept of mutual benefit and the extension of generosity ... We are not individuals. We are a vast network of molecules, energies and wavelengths. The interconnectedness of being is who we are.”
Mushrooms and fungi have been found to help humans survive in so many ways beyond the delicious beers, wines, chocolates and cheeses we all love. Fungi led to the creation of penicillin that helped the U.S. and Allied forces win World War II – it can just as easily be used to save the planet’s ecosystems by protecting our bees from nasty viruses that cause disastrous forms of hive syndrome. Studies have shown oyster mushrooms are able to clean up oil spills (resource links below), as Stamets tells of what happened next:
“While noting the oyster mushrooms in the oil spill study grew very healthy and large amid the toxic site ... Something else happened which is an epiphany in my life: They sporulated. The spores attracted insects. The birds then came bringing in seeds, and our pile became an oasis of life.”
The long tradition of using mushrooms like reishi and chaga for healing in Asian medicine makes for an effective model when contextualizing foods and natural supplements as core to all preventative forms of healthcare. Sadly, in the American medical system, people get treatment only after they are sick, which is a large part of why the U.S. leads the world in chronic disease related to obesity, inflammation and immune dysfunction. Mushrooms have had to compete for space and defend against viruses and bacteria for many aeons, so they certainly hold more answers than we know for better immune-defense systems.
If an illness has gotten the better of our bodies, that does not mean mushrooms don’t have a role to play in your transformation of mind and soul. Many studies have revealed psychedelic mushrooms to offer a deep, transcendental experience often compared to a variety of mystical and religious ideas around connectedness, oneness, unity and the state of psychological flow or "being in the zone". Psilocybin for example has been proven to ease much of the anxiety around death and dying, as well as mental health issues like addiction, anxiety, depression and overcoming traumatic memories (see resources below).
After a treatment session, patients often report a feeling an overwhelming sense of gratitude and love for the gift of life, as well as being more connected with Nature and the Cosmos. Psychologists have seen minds transform dramatically after a single session – certainly a welcome relief compared to a lifetime of costly prescriptions. Maybe they have something to teach the world about itself.
Throughout the film, Stamets does an artful job of weaving between fair warning of the future, and more notably, hope in the form of a mushroom renaissance – “If we don’t get our act together in common commonality in understanding of the organisms that sustain us today, not only will we destroy those organisms, but we will also destroy ourselves….Mushrooms represent rebirth. Rejuvenation. Regeneration.”
And for us, Re-Creation.
+ Mycologists and natural scientists estimate millions of mushrooms species likely exist, and we’re finding new ones almost daily. Yes, even in your area there are mushroom species needing discovering - so get out there and explore this summer and let us know what you find!
MUSHROOM RESOURCES >>> LEARN + GROW