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Sunday, May 03, 2009

mushrooms, mycelium & swine flu

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While trees are popping chartreuse leaves at the end of April, after a couple of rainy days and warm nights, we slide our farm clogs on and head into the two little woods behind us to scour the ground for morel mushrooms.



I have to wear my reading glasses so the dried leaves and mushrooms don't blur into one another. With clear vision, I can see how hideously brain-like they look. To one who detests mushrooms - disgusting! To one who adores them - tantalizing!


Don found these clusters of morels hidden beneath brush Friday;
I had gone over the same spot that morning and missed them.


We have never had the luck of some who fill bags and bags with morels. We know a lady who refuses to eat them but will hunt and pick for hours in her woods to harvest them, then give them away with a smile. The most we've found any given year is around 70. Don found the season's first six last week - the ones in the top photo, the biggest being around 2". Then Friday he found the clusters in the photo above.

The season lasts about two weeks, and there is much lore on where to find them (at the foot of an old apple tree, or around fallen elms among them) and how to pick them and not pick them. The clumps of morels Don found Friday were under the jagged edge of the old fallen apple tree. When we picked them, we broke them off and left the base in the ground so they'll continue to propagate.


You can tell real morels from poisonous imposters by their hollowness.

We soak morels in salty water to float out dirt and bugs, then dip them in milk, dredge in flour, and sauté in a little mixture of oil and butter (oil keeps the butter from burning), tossing on some salt and pepper. They are delicious and rival truffles, which sell for hundreds of dollars a pound. (Part of the problem with truffles is that being so expensive, you only get thrifty bits of them in a dish concocted by a clever chef who spreads them out, otherwise who could afford to eat them? And in such small samples, you don't get to really experience their flavor and texture.)

Did you know there are estimated to be one to two million species of fungi? Only about 150,000 of those form mushrooms. Of those, I don't know how many thousands are edible. And of those, only a fraction are cultivated and sold for consumption.

Like humans, fungi "breathe" oxygen and emit carbon dioxide. In fact animals, including humans of course, are closer to fungi in makeup than to plants, protozoa or bacteria.

Beneath these treasures of the ground is a lacy web of mycelium, the root system of fungi. These webs of fibers lie beneath forests and fields all over the planet, and some of them stretch for miles. The largest known living organism in the world is a fungus called honey mushroom, discovered in Oregon in 2000. It's 2,200 acres, that's 3.5 miles across - about 1,665 football fields, yet only one cell wall thick.

In an interview in The Sun magazine, Paul Stamets, author of Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World, and at fungi.com, explains from 30 years of research how mycelia are essential to the survival of our planet.

Stamets explains that mycelia quite naturally clean up pollutants in the soil. They also feed plants. And what is truly remarkable - when coupled with plants, they make them more resistant to heat and erosion. Grasses laced with mycelia are heat resistant up to 160 degrees fahrenheit, whereas without the fungus, they would wither above 120 degrees.

Stamets suggests we should couple mycelia with corn and other crops to make them "naturally" drought resistant, which sounds better than genetically modifying crops, but I wonder. If the fungi and plants aren't naturally coupled, are we messing with something that shouldn't be messed with? Maybe Stamets and other scientists have an answer.



I leave you with an exciting 18-minute YouTube video of Paul Stamets' TED talk almost exactly one year ago on May 8, 2008: 6 Ways Mushrooms can save the world. It is extraordinary and well worth your time to hear about the network of mycelia in the earth beneath you, and how these organisms benefit us, could help clean up our planet and even provide eco-fuel. There is a segment about their use against flu viruses, and I am very curious to find anything on the Internet connecting fungi with the current Swine H1N1 flu outbreak, since he mentions this strain specifically in the video. You'll get the feeling from his rapid speech that he is trying to tell as much as he possibly can about his favorite subject in too short a time.


49 comments:

dutchbaby said...

Another fantastic post chockful of information and beauty. I remember hunting for chanterelles with my mother in her home town of Lubeck, Germany. Delicious! Alas, I've developed an allergy to mushrooms in the past ten years. I miss the yummy meals with mushrooms, but I do not miss the migraines. The TED video was amazing.

shicat said...

Yum, very informative,and interesting. So much potential in nature. So much we just don't know.
Beautiful day today. I am going to garden and hopefully paint. We installed a new grill so let the grillin season begin. Enjoy may blog friend

*jean* said...

now you are officially my favorite blogger!! we have never been lucky enough to find morels but have eaten them on special occasions...i had a friend who took a mushroom therapy when he was fighting non-hodgkins lymphoma...a japanese mushroom was used...

lucky you to find such a cache!!!

California Girl said...

just want you to know I really enjoy your new "small" blog.

California Girl said...

Hi Ruth: you are now tagged. am paying this forward from Red Red Whine.

Lover of Life said...

Loved reading about this. Thank you so much. I stopped by from Women of a Certain Age, but will definitely be back.

Bob Johnson said...

Wow, very interesting Ruth, great food images again, for some reason I'm craving buttered mushrooms now,lol. The flu has got me concerned, I was driving somewhere last night and saw a family walking on a sidewalk with masks, have we come to a panic stage already, just hope my trip to China won't be canceled.

Jill of All Trades said...

Very, very interesting and I LOVE morrels. Haven't had any in many years.

Wrensong Farm said...

I would love to find morels! I know they are around here.

I went to a growing mushrooms course put on by WSU and the folks that work with Paul Stamets (I did a blog post on it). After listening to them talk about all the wonderful things that mushrooms can do for our earth and the inhabitants of it, I am a firm believer!! I have their catalog and there are so many things I'd like to order that I haven't ordered one thing yet. :)

Oliag said...

I wonder if they grow in RI?..my nephew and his fiance have been successfully morel hunting in VA the past few years...Great post and now I'm hungry for mushrooms!

ds said...

Ruth--Wow!! Aside from the fact that this household suffers from an acute case of (edible)mycophilia, this is a fascinating post. Stamets's presentation was the fastest 18 minutes that I have ever sat through. If he is correct, the implications are astounding. Thanks so much for this. Hope you are enjoying a shroomy feast!

Susan said...

Ruthie, I always know even before I look at your posts that I will learn something new from them. This is so fascinating! And David's mom and dad will be sooooo jealous. When they come up next month I'm going to show her this video. They hunt for morels and I think they found 25 this year so far.

Maybe morels and other fungi are the cure for the things that ail us. If nothing else, they sure are gooood eating!

CottageGirl said...

Who new that fungi might be an answer that could save us from ourselves.
Thank, Ruth. Fascinating!

Congrats on your morel find! My hubby is a definite "NO" on mushrooms, so I have never partaken in morels!

Barry said...

I love mushroom but can't say I've every had morels. They look ugly but I bet they taste delicious!

Ruth said...

How sad about the allergy, Dutchbaby.

I hope you'll watch other TED videos - there are some more incredible ones I've seen over the past few months. Thanks to rauf for introducing me.

Ruth said...

Installed a new grill. Cathy, that sounds serious. We had one built in bricks out back when I was growing up. I remember hot dogs on it.

The weekend was stupendous, wasn't it?

Ruth said...

Nice, Jean! Just because I love morels??

I wish we got bags and bags so we could be unselfish and share. We horde this cache - although we did take about 10 to the hostess of a dinner party last week. She took them and said, "shhh" and snuck them into the kitchen.

Ruth said...

California Girl, I'm enjoying small too. I'm glad I'm not the only one!

Thanks for the tag. This sounds hard though. Hmm. Reminds me of my son's question last night: What's your favorite movie? When someone asks a question like this, my mind goes blank.

Ruth said...

Hello, and welcome, Lover of Life.

Ruth said...

Bob, I can see why you'd be concerned, and at least the CDC doesn't sound panicked. I hope your China trip won't be affected a bit. It must be hard waiting.

Ruth said...

Jill, I had never tasted them before our first spring discovery at the farm a few years ago. I had wondered what all the fuss was about.

Ruth said...

Tammy, that must be the same as fungi.com? I think that is where he markets stuff. I am intrigued by his shoebox old growth forest at the end of the video.

Ruth said...

I don't know, Oliag, I would guess so? There is a great web site called mushroom hunting club that monitors morel hunting every spring around the country. Maybe you can find RI.

Ruth said...

DS, the world is overwhelmingly immense and troubled. At the moment I feel barely able to try to solve the problems of my sweet advisees and plan a wedding. I am glad someone like Stamets has undertaken these solutions to the dirty messes of pollution and other issues. I do my little part too.

Ruth said...

Susie, I am convinced there are fabulous solutions to our woes right at our fingertips. If scientists could have the resources, and if politicians didn't manipulate them. If only.

Ruth said...

CottageGirl, I can understand a distaste for mushrooms. Their texture is something you either love or hate. I'm grateful I enjoy them.

Ruth said...

Barry, they're very different from mushrooms I've had from the store, the texture is more rubbery.

Peter said...

Well, you needed time for this post, but it was worth it!! I read it all and listened to the TED talk and learnt a lot, a lot! Fascinating! Next time I will eat mushrooms, I will not be able not think about all this!

VioletSky said...

TED has the most fascinating information, doesn't it? I've been looking in there for a couple of years.

As for mushrooms I detest the things. I am also allergic (very handy as an excuse). BUT, they intrigue me no end.

rauf said...

Its the micro organisms that make a forest Ruth, we can't grow a forest, it grows by itself and various fungi are the essential part of it.
never heard of these Ruth, its all greek and latin to me and we are talking about only 30% life on land, the rest is under the sea.

is there anything called snake flu or a cow flu Ruth ? there are many left to choose from.

Akim said...

Hi there, such an interesting site, wanted to share it with others so I've tagged you on my site, hope you don't mind. Just a game hope you play along.

VaNeSsA said...

Wow. I literally always learn something when I visit you, and I often learn a great deal. Today was a great deal sort of day. First, let me just say that those morels look divine. I am a mushroom-lover myself, could literally eat mushrooms on/in/next to just about any savory dish. Living in Alaska and having been fairly poor growing up, I am afraid my mushroom palette is terribly underdeveloped, but I'm sure I'll get over that as I experience more varieties. What perfect little organisms they are. I will never stop being amazed by the Earth's ability to heal itself.

Ruth said...

Peter, thank you for taking the time and listening all the way through the video too. I hope this science will help us clean up our messes in the days ahead.

Ruth said...

Sanna, I see you have TED on your sidebar. Yes, ever since rauf sent me a link to a TED talk last year, I have heard several of them, and they are all fascinating and exciting. I guess they post a new one every week.

Ruth said...

True, rauf, and new species of life are discovered every day, and new fish and sea plants.

I don't know if there are other animal sources for the flu, could be. I hear the pig farmers are upset because some people think it's dangerous to eat pork because of this outbreak. They think the flu is bad PR for them. I suppose it is. Poor pigs.

Ruth said...

Thank you for the tag, Akim. I got this same tag first from California Girl. Now it's come around again from you! But I'm still trying to think of the six things . . .

Ruth said...

VaNeSsa, I've thought that if I were vegetarian, mushrooms would be my "meat."

I thought the ability of these organisms to grow so quickly and "heal" the pollutants was remarkable.

delphine said...

You know Ruth, I have never seen Morel mushrooms before- I have heard of the name though! Actually, we may have some growing in our woods here- I might even have trodden on them thinking they were poinonous!!! Help! So, thank you for your post today, we have learnt another new thing! Hooray for blogging!

photowannabe said...

Fascinating information and video clip. I learned much from them. We certainly live in a fascinating world. Wish my hubby liked mushrooms. I usually order them when we go out to eat. Don't know if I have ever had morels though. Love your blog always.

Ginnie said...

Very, very interesting stuff, Ruth. It makes sense to me!!

dutchbaby said...

Dear Ruth,
When you have some time, I would like to invite you to dutchbaby. I have a surprise waiting for you.

Moi said...

my head is buzzing with the information right now.......i love mushrooms......my biggest grief with them is they spoil so soon.. I mean the supermarket ones.....those are the only kinds I have ever eaten...:(((((

Ruth said...

Delphine, I hope you'll ask an expert to examine your mushrooms before you consume them! You can find a lot on the Web about them, so maybe you can figure it out yourselves too.

Do you have truffles in your woods I wonder?

Ruth said...

Thank you so much, Sue. I like morels much more than the mushrooms I buy at the store. But I love those too.

Ruth said...

Boots, I hope we'll see natural solutions take off in the days ahead.

Ruth said...

Dutchbaby - a bloggie dinner! Superb.

Ruth said...

Moi, now that you're in the Midwest, maybe morels are in your future. I wish them upon you.

shoreacres said...

Dredged in flour, butter and oil, salt and pepper. Yes. We found them every year in Iowa, during my youth, and I never realized one day they - or I - would be gone, together with the delicte sizzle in the pan.

Sometimes I feel twinges of envy, but just now I'm only feeling jealous. REALLY jealous. Purely jealous. But not so jealous I can't be glad you have such a treat!

Ruth said...

Well that is generous, Linda! Wish you could sit down with us and share.