Sunday, April 17, 2016

Eating Trees

"The Far-East traditional pharmacopeia is filled with remedies made from humble saprophytes on the forest floor."

Toko Hosoya, 8 Bored Mushroom People, Solo Exhibition
Climate in Crisis: The Greenhouse Effect and What We Can Do  was not our first book — it was our fourth — but it was the first time our publisher at The Farm, the Book Publishing Company, asked us along on their annual junket to one of the world’s most lavish trade shows.

The venue for the American Booksellers Association that year was Las Vegas, and we traveled in the company of several other Farm authors, including Stephen Gaskin, who was actually there as part of an Electric Kool-Aid reunion outing, with Random House fronting the tab for a picture-perfect replica of Further, the Merry Prankster bus. (In November 2005 the original 1964 Further was dragged out of the swamp with a tractor and now resides in a warehouse at Kesey's farm in Oregon, alongside the 1990 Further).

Bill Walton
That 1990 weekend was the first time in more than 20 years that Stephen had dropped acid, and as far as we know also the last time. He found himself in a bar crawl on the Vegas Strip with Ken Kesey, Timothy Leary, Grateful Dead’s Robert Hunter and Mickey Hart, basketball legend Bill Walton, Hunter S. Thompson, John Perry Barlow and High Times editor Steven Hager and when the tablets passed around, in a disco called The Shark Club, he did not abstain. We recall him taking us to the Wee Kirk of The Heather, where, straight from the Marine Corps and the Korean Conflict, “Spider” Gaskin had celebrated his first marriage, a short lived affair that lasted only one night.
That was before he met and married the cactus and mushroom abuelas in ceremonies before a fire in Mexico.

It was in Las Vegas that 1990 weekend that we first met Bob Harris, proprietor of Mushroompeople. Bob was a serious mycologist and scholar, a former professor at Evergreen State College, where, in the early 70’s, he guided a bright student named Paul Stamets towards a career in research that would make him famous. Paul bought Bob’s small mail order spore business but Bob decided to keep his lab equipment so he could grow shiitake spawn. Bob and his partner, Jennifer Snyder, traveled to Japan where they tracked down the best available strains and then for many years produced the finest shiitake spawn for sale in North America.


By 1990 Harris was ready to move on. He was doing well with other enterprises, thinking of moving to Hawaii, and wanted to sell Mushroompeople. When he approached us in Las Vegas, he asked whether such a business might do well at The Farm. Personally, at that time, we were having a bit of a personal crisis. Spending the better part of a decade writing the Climate book had unseated our faith in the future. Our practice of public interest appellate law, as celebrated as we had become, was paling in comparison to the big picture. We had high blood pressure, our marriage was unraveling, we did not get to see our children much, and life was taking on a diminishing quality. We were even experimenting with antidepressants, although that didn’t last long.

So we said okay.

Mushroompeople moved to The Farm in 1991. We gradually wrapped up our caseload of atomic veterans, Native American religious liberty claims, toxic waste dumps, the MX missile deployment and the rest, and shuttered the Natural Rights Center.  We refitted The Farm’s recycling center, formerly our potato, apple and onion barn, into a distribution office, lab and laying yard, and printed colorful catalogs with little mushroom characters modeled on Gary Trudeau’s talking cigarettes from Doonesbury.


One of the things that Bob Harris said that sealed the deal was that shiitake could make our hypertension go away. One gram per day, a small dried mushroom, was enough to balance our  blood pressure. If it was too high it would bring it down. If it was too low it would bring it up. We don’t think, in retrospect, that was really true, but it definitely captured our imagination. Anyway our depression went away.

These kinds of mushrooms as winter crops are not a new thing, and an enterprising farmer with a few acres of forest can turn a six-figure income on a few hours of work per week. During the Sung Dynasty (960-1127) Chinese researcher Wu Sang Kwuang first reported shiitake mushrooms fruit when logs are “soaked and striked.” In 1904 the Japanese agronomist Shozaburo Miura published studies of a technique for inoculating logs with cultured mycelium. After that the business was off and running.

Shittake, and other gourmet forest mushrooms from China, Korea and Japan, have medicinal as well as nutritive properties. Both shiitake and reishi produce interleukin-2 in the blood, and that has known abilities to reduce inflammation and tumors and boost immune response. The Far-East traditional pharmacopeia is filled with remedies made from humble saprophytes on the forest floor.


Lion's Mane (Hericium erinaceus) a.k.a. Pom-pom, Shaggy Tooth, Goat’s Beard contains polysaccharides and polypeptides which tend to enhance immune function. Cooked, it is used to treat indigestion and gastritis. Researchers have found it has a significant inhibitory effect on sarcoma 180 in white mice. In China, the mycelium is commonly taken in pill form to cure ulcers and cancers of the digestive tract. It is usually dried for storage, then softened in water, cut into thin slices and added to stir-fry dishes, soups, rice, etc. In China, the water decoction is drunk twice daily, added to millet wine, for treatment of ulcers, cancers, and general debility.


Oyster mushrooms (Pleurotis var.; e.g. Pleurotus ostreatus, P. sajor-caju, P. florida, P. sapidus, P. flabellatus, P. eryngii) are rich in Vitamin C and B complex and the protein content varies between 1.6 to 2.5 percent. It has most of the mineral salts required by the human body.  The niacin content is about ten times higher than any other vegetables. The folic acid present in oyster mushrooms helps to cure anemia. It is suitable for people with hyper-tension, obesity and diabetes due to its low sodium to potassium ratio, starch, fat and calorific value. Alkaline ash and high fibre content makes it suitable for consumption for those having hyperacidity and constipation. A polycyclic aromatic compound pleurotin has been isolated from P. griseus which possess antibiotic properties.

Coral Mushroom

It grows naturally in the temperate and tropical forests on dead and decaying wooden logs or sometimes on dying trunks of deciduous or coniferous woods. It may also grow on decaying organic matter, cardboard and newspaper, and various agro-wastes or forest wastes without composting. Last year we described a visit to a microenterprise in England that gathered the daily coffee grounds from all the local cafes and turned them into home oyster kits.
Oyster mushrooms require a temperature of 20°C to 30°C, both for its vegetative growth (spawn run) and reproductive phase, i.e. for formation of fruit bodies. The suitable cultivation period at high altitude - 1100-1500 meters above mean sea level – is March to October, mid altitude - 600-1100 meters above mean sea level – is February to May & September to November and at Low altitude - Below 600 meters above mean sea level – is October to March.


Hereabouts in May and June we will look for Chanterelles (Cantharellus cibarius) a fruity, flavorful delicacy containing all 8 essential amino acids in good proportion. The sporophore also contains Vitamin A. In China it is used to improve eyesight, reduce dry skin, and relieve certain infectious respiratory illnesses.


We are also blessed in Tennessee with a local variety of Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum). Reishi is the prince of the Chinese pharmacopeia, known variously as “the 10,000-year mushroom,” the “Sacred Mushroom,” “the Herb of Spiritual Potency,” and the “Lingzhi” (Emporer’s Chi). Japanese researchers have named the anti-allergic compounds discovered in reishi as various forms of "ganoderic acid." Ganoderic acid B and C lower high blood pressure. Ganoderic acid C is an active immune booster and scavenges free radicals, notably the superoxides in red cells. Ganoderic R and S are anti-toxicants that work in the liver. A very potent mushroom.


We can also find Maitake (Grifola frondosa), the “dancing mushroom” of known around here as Hen-of-the-Woods, Ram's Head or Sheep's Head. In Japan, the Maitake can grow to more than 50 pounds (20 kg). Maitake is one of the major culinary mushrooms used in Japan, often being a key ingredient in nabemono or cooked by itself in foil with butter. The sclerotia from which hen of the woods arises have been used in traditional Chinese and Japanese medicine to enhance the immune system. Researchers have also indicated that whole maitake has the ability to regulate blood pressure, glucose, insulin, and both serum and liver lipids, such as cholesterol, triglycerides, and phospholipids, and may also be useful for weight loss. Maitake is rich in minerals (such as potassium, calcium, and magnesium), various vitamins (B2, D2 and niacin), fibers and amino acids. Experiments with human cancer patients, have shown Maitake can stimulate immune system cells, reduce blood sugar and shrink tumors.

Shiitake, maitake and oysters are probably the easiest mushrooms to grow in North America, if you have a forest. If grown in a natural outdoor setting, sunshine and water are usually the only supplements. This produces superior quality mushrooms.

This time of year in the Northern Hemisphere, when the days are warm and the nights are cool, shiitake mushrooms emerge from the bark of decaying logs, expand in the rains, and then pull back from freezing, only to expand again when the sun comes up. They retreat from the dark and advance to the sun, like daffodils or spiderwort. This creates a crack and scarring effect on their caps, radial spokes of white lines that the Chinese call “dong-ho” and the Japanese “donko,” from the character for “many petaled flower.”


Donko is the highest grade of shiitake (“shii” - oak; “take” - fungus), a cut above Koshin (middle grade, with curled edges and white flecks) and Koko (low grade, flat brown pancake). The mushroom is rich in flavor and packed with antioxidants and healing compounds. It is second only to truffles in the number of flavonoid sensors triggered in your nose and tongue.


The Farm no longer produces shiitake for the green grocer market, although we sometimes take inoculated logs to Saturday market days and many households have their own logs in production close to the kitchen. Some here also grow oysters, lion’s mane, reishi and maitake, as well as foraging for chanterelles, chicken-of-the-woods, and coral mushrooms in season.

Frank Michael
We passed the mail order business of Mushroompeople to our neighbor and close friend, Frank Michael, when we began the Ecovillage Training Center as a full-time operation. With Frank’s pluck and perseverance, the business is having its best year ever. Apparently more people are learning about growing a forest shade crop that can turn the lignin and cellulose of a hardwood log into a complete protein, with all essential amino acids in better balance than bacon and for a lot less work than meat, milk or eggs.

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