By Lexi Conners
In today’s world, sustainability remains important as a means to understand and adapt to our changing environment. Many resources can contribute to goals of sustainability, whether they are naturally occurring, artificial, or captured as sources of energy. Amongst those are mushrooms! These are naturally occurring, extremely versatile, and beneficial to many as a sustainable resource. Here, we will discuss the uses and benefits of mushrooms as well as a brief guide to DIY cultivation and incorporating into your diet.
Mushrooms belong to a kingdom called fungi and are responsible for much of life that exists on land today. Fungi are most commonly known for their capacity to decompose plant and animal debris, enriching nearby soils and facilitating nitrogen fixation. Mushrooms in particular have over 14,000 varieties, ranging in their abilities from having symbiotic relationships with tree roots to protecting plants from parasites. Further, their role in carbon sequestration is particularly interesting with regards to environmental sustainability. Mushrooms can help mitigate climate change though capturing excess carbon in the atmosphere.
The Endless Uses of Mycelium
Mycelium is a network of fungal threads that often grow underground or in rotting tree trunks. Recently, this part of the mushroom is being harvested and manufactured as a sustainable alternative to traditional materials. For instance, mycelium has been used to create faux leather, packaging foam, and building materials like textiles or insulation. As mushrooms are a natural resource easy to farm, mycelium's potential in the development of biodegradable products is also being explored.
Mycoremediation explains how fungi is used to degrade or isolate contaminants in soil that are biological, chemical, or industrial. Since enzymes produced by mushrooms are efficient in breaking down a lot of different pollutants, they can be highly beneficial in remediating polluted soils. In one example, oyster mushroom spores were used by geologists to clear toxic debris caused by forest fires in San Francisco, CA.
DIY Mushroom Cultivation
As mushrooms are highly versatile and beneficial to several realms of sustainability, many people across the world are practicing cultivating their own at home. To do this, growers can purchase a simplified box kit or cultivate their fungi using the bucket method. The bucket method is a bit more involved, requiring growers to prepare a substrate for the mushrooms to spawn in. Either way, the mushrooms take about three weeks to grow with consistent humidity and temperatures. Home cultivation is beneficial to making mushroom farming even more sustainable and gets growers involved with this miraculous fungi!
Mushrooms are sometimes considered to be an acquired taste -- but with so many varieties and methods to prepare them -- they can make for a tasty treat for nearly everyone! Loaded with many health-boosting vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, they’ve long been recognized as an important part of any diet. Mushrooms exposed to ultraviolet light are a good source of vitamin D, an important component for bone and immune health. Consider trying the following recipes to introduce some more mushroom into your diet:
Blended Mushroom Burger - This dish is great for those just dipping their toes into trying mushrooms. By mixing beef with cremini mushrooms, you can pack a ton of umami flavor into your meal and also reduce the amount of meat you consume!
Creamy Mushroom Pasta -- this super simple dish allows you to use any mushrooms on hand for an elevated pasta dinner!
Bok Choy and Shiitake Stirfry -- No fresh mushrooms available - not to worry! Try buying dried mushrooms, soak in warm water for a few minutes before using, and they’ll taste just as great! This easy stirfry is a great side dish.