Why We Need Mushrooms

Mycologist Paul Stamets explains how those fabulous fungi can protect our health and heal the planet.

| Jan. 13, 2009

Paul Stamets with Agarikon

Paul Stamets with an Agarikon mushroom (Fomitopsis officinalis), a rare species with great medicinal potential because of its antimicrobial properties.


For the last 30 years Paul Stamets has collected, cultivated, studied and written about mushrooms. He’s the founder of Fungi Perfecti, a company that sells a variety of mushroom-related products, including kits for growing edible mushrooms. He’s also written several books, including Growing Gourmet and Medicinal Mushrooms, and Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World.  

Yep, you read that right: Stamets’ new book tells us how mushrooms can help save the world. If that idea sounds like a stretch, prepare to have your mind expanded. Stamets has done extensive research on the practical ways people can use mushrooms to heal ourselves and protect the planet. That includes studying mushrooms’ nutritional properties (many types are a great source of Vitamin D, among other vital nutrients), and their potential for developing new medicines (some species show promising antibacterial and antiviral properties) and cleaning up the environment (fungi can be used to help clean up oil spills and other types of soil and water contamination).

Stamets took the time to answer our questions about the health and environmental benefits of mushrooms. Here’s what he had to say about the fantastic world of fungi.

Mushrooms, Mycelium and the Planet

Your latest book is called Mycelium Running. First, what is mycelium exactly?

Mycelium is a network of fungal cells threaded together to form long, forking chains, creating a complex fabric of cells permeating virtually all land masses of Earth, from the tundra to the tropical rainforests.

How is mycelium related to mushrooms?

Karen Tipsword
11/26/2013 8:24:54 AM

As a producer of log grown shiitake mushrooms, I am always pleased to see knowledgeable information about the health benefits of mushrooms. Your article was interesting and thought provoking. I will certainly purchase Mr. Stamet's book, and look forward to reading it. Persimmon Creek Campground Murphy, NC

Jon Anderholm
9/14/2009 11:12:52 AM

Always interesting your journal... Best, Jon Anderholm Xun Biosphere Project Cazadero, CA

Stuart Lubin
9/12/2009 3:28:31 PM

I have read your article thoroughly, and people may eat mushrooms if they wish. It is not my desire to change anyone's opinion or eating habits, but to me, mushrooms are mycotoxins, and I would never ingest any. Fungi are a parasite that feeds off the body and requires the host to eat a lot of sugar to feed it and therefore makes the host fat, just as yeast makes flour rise.

Bob Brown_2
1/22/2009 3:03:57 PM

I read an article in the NY Times in April 2008 documenting Mr. Stamets being hired to use mycelium to remediate dioxin on the site of an old sawmill in Ft. Bragg, CA. I would be very interested to know how this experiment is going. The prospects are very exciting.

1/19/2009 8:25:31 PM

This IS fascinating stuff! To learn more about ALL aspects of mushrooms and other fungi, check out Fungi magazine and subscribe www.fungimag.com!

1/19/2009 12:32:47 PM

Another question---I'm sure organic mushrooms are the way to go, because I wonder how much fire retardant and weed killer wild mushrooms absorb due to logging practices. Maybe we should not collect wild mushrooms near former logging sites, which usually provide good hunting sites. Anyone know more about this?

1/19/2009 12:30:10 PM

This is the most fascinating information, about vitamin D and mushrooms. I'm wondering if I can use my tanning bed to irradiate some fresh mushrooms right now? It's pretty cloudy here in western Oregon.

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