Many mushrooms can be used to make paper, especially the tougher inedible species that are often overlooked. Polypores are often used since they have a high fiber content, persist a long time in the environment, and are usually available year-round. Infusing mushroom particles into a recycled cardboard slurry can also create a living packaging system, an upgrade to traditional packaging systems.
Spored ink can literally make paper come to life
To make paper you will need a few supplies:
- Mushrooms. You can use dried or old mushrooms, but extremely fresh polypores are best.
- A screen and deckle. This is basic papermaking equipment. The screen and deckle are two wood frames, hinged together on one side. The deckle is open, while the screen has a wire mesh stapled to it.
- A high-speed, large-volume grinder or blender. Since the mushrooms may be leathery and hard, make sure it is not expensive or one that you will be using for anything else.
- A tub for floating the slurry. The size of the tub depends on the size of paper you want to make. It must be larger than your framed screen. A shallow plastic tub, about 2 feet square, is plenty large enough for a deckle that is 1 foot square.
- Towels and a stack of newspapers. These are used for drainage, for wicking extra moisture away from the screens, and for stacking with the paper to help it dry.
- Sponge. You’ll use a sponge to wipe the back of the screen, helping to remove the newly formed sheet of paper.
- Weights. These are used to press the paper between layers of towels or newspapers, speeding the drying process. You can use anything heavy.
- Clothesline or string. This is used to hang the paper for drying. Don’t forget the clothespins!
Step-by-Step Mushroom Paper
Step 1. Process the polypores in the blender with enough water to make a homogeneous slurry. If they are large, break them or hammer them into pieces before adding them.
Step 2. Fill the shallow tub with a few inches of water. Lay a towel down on a table or other hard surface, and stack about 1 / 4 inch of dry newspaper on it.
Step 3. Slowly pour the slurry into the shallow tub. The slurry should float on the water. Add enough slurry to make an even layer; if it seems thin or if you can see through it in spots, add more.
Step 4. Hold the screen and deckle with the screened frame on the bottom and the empty deckle on top. Dip them in at an angle to slide them underneath the floating slurry, then lift up and gently shake to smooth the mixture over the screen as the water drains through back into the tub.
Step 5. Carefully flip the settled slurry onto the prepared layers of newspaper, facedown. With a wet sponge gently wipe the back of the screen as you lift it slowly. This will separate the paper layer from the screen. Top the newly formed sheet of paper with additional dry newspaper and another towel.
Step 6. Repeat the papermaking process until you have used up all your mushrooms. Then cover the stack of paper with a final layer of newspaper, and stack weights on top to press out any moisture.
Step 7. After six to twelve hours, remove the weights and separate the layers, leaving the mushroom paper sheets on their base of newspaper but with their tops exposed to the air. After about one hour of air exposure, they can be removed and dried.
Step 8. Peel the mushroom papers off their newspaper bases, slowly and carefully to prevent tearing, and hang them on a clothesline or drying rack to dry completely.
Mushroom Inks and Dyes
A microscopic view of the ink on paper. The spores are perfectly aligned and adhering to the plant fibers
We have been experimenting with using spores as ink and infusing ink with viable spores to create a biologically active printing product. The ink has viable spores that not only create the images we see and read, but are also capable of germinating and colonizing the product once they are discarded and wet, speeding composting and decomposition. We have had success using colored spores of various species fermented in culture to produce a solution suitable for use as dyes and inks. We have also had success adding dried spores to commercial inks and dyes; since chemical solvents can damage these spores, we add them just prior to printing to keep them viable. It is unclear whether or not spore-based inks will develop into a marketable product, but this feels like a major accomplishment. I encourage readers who are skilled in chemical engineering or product design to help develop mushroom-based inks that can be used to create biologically active packaging—and thus promote a hastier decomposition of consumer product packaging.
More from Organic Mushroom Farming and Mycoremediation
This excerpt is from Tradd Cotter’s book Organic Mushroom Farming and Mycoremediation: Simple to Advanced and Experimental Techniques for Indoor and Outdoor Cultivation (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2014) and is reprinted with permission from the publisher