Fomes fomentarius is the Swiss army knife of the mushroom world: it has a variety of uses that are important in many different contexts. It is used by survivalists, fly fishermen, and even some hat makers. Although it isn’t edible, the mushroom is considered medicinal. Humans have used F. fomentarius for well over 5,000 years (more about that later) and probably much longer than that. The polypore grows from dead or dying trees and is shaped like a slightly irregular horse’s hoof. It has a variety of common names, which is not surprising when you consider its many uses. The two most widely used names are “Tinder Polypore” and “Hoof Fungus.”
fungi purported to have health benefits
Chaga (produced by the fungus Inonotus obliquus) is considered by many to be the most potent medicinal mushroom. Its popularity is on the rise and a quick internet search returns mostly websites offering to sell Chaga or sites touting its medicinal benefits. Chaga purportedly has cancer-fighting properties, stimulates the immune system, reduces inflammation, and prevents aging. The part of the fungus that people use is not quite a mushroom. Instead, it is a sterile conk that looks like a large block of charcoal stuck to a birch tree. This structure can be chopped off the tree, ground up, and steeped in hot water to make a tea. Chaga tea is the usual way to take advantage of the fungus’s medicinal properties.
This fungus parasitizes caterpillars in the Himalayas and produces small, spike-like mushrooms. These mushrooms are highly prized for their supposed medicinal properties and have brought a lot of new wealth and new problems to the people living in the Himalayas. Ophiocordyceps sinensis fruiting bodies are known as “Yartsa Gunbu” in Tibetan and “Dōng Chóng Xià Cǎo” in Chinese, both of which translate to “winter worm, summer grass.” The English names for the fungus are much less colorful: “Caterpillar Fungus” or (more recently) “Himalayan Viagra.” sinensis (Fungi, Ascomycota, Sordariomycetes, Hypocreales, Ophiocordycipitaceae) is native to the meadows of the Himalayas and Tibetan plateau and can be found from 3,000m to 5,000m above sea level. The parasitic fungus infects a variety of species of ghost moth larvae that live underground. It initially infects the caterpillars in the late summer. By winter, the fungus is ready to kill its host. At that time, it...
It is easy to see how this mushroom got its common name: the upper surface of the fan-shaped fruiting body sports rings of color that vary from gray to brown to reddish orange. In fresh specimens, the edge of the mushroom is white, making it look remarkably like the displayed tail of a wild turkey.
Because of their resilient nature, lichens are able to grow in almost any climate. Their primary environmental role is initial soil creation, but they also provide food and shelter for animals and are used in a variety of ways by humans. In case you missed last week, here is a recap. Lichens are composite organisms that contain a few different species living in a mutualistic relationship. All lichens contain a mycobiont (a fungus) and a photobiont (a green alga and/or a cyanobacerium). The mycobiont provides structure while the photobiont provides sugar through photosynthesis.
Cordyceps militaris is a fascinating fungus that infects caterpillar and moth larvae. What’s the creepiest thing about this fungus? It mummifies its insect victims. I’ve been told that it also makes its subterranean victims crawl to the surface so that it can more effectively release its spores, but I can’t find anything online to back that up. Instead, everyone seems to want me to buy militaris (more on that later). The Scarlet Caterpillar Club infects the larvae and pupae of a variety of caterpillars and moths. Before they emerge as adults, the host insects live either underground or in decaying wood, so C. militaris mushrooms often look like a generic club fungus or earth tongue look-alike. If you dig beneath the surface, however, you will find the mummified remains of the host insect, which provide the nutrients that C. militaris needs to produce spores. Like other members of the Cordyceps...