Why Are Mushrooms Important to the Food Chain?

A mushroom is the fleshy, spore-bearing fruiting body of a fungus, typically produced above ground on soil or on its food source. Mushrooms are important to the food chain because they can extract nutrients from the soil, break down dead wood, and co-exist with other plants. This frees up nutrients to be used by plants and animals in the eco-system. 

Mushrooms also play a powerful role in breaking down toxins into inert reusable substances. There are many new approaches and studies that suggest we will be able to use mushrooms and mycilium to remediate and eliminate oil spills, plastic waste, and more. 

How Do Mushrooms Get Their Nutrients?

fruiting mushrooms

Mushrooms like to get their nutrients from the soil where they grow, and the more they are exposed to the air, the more nutrients they are able to absorb. Mushroom compost is a great way for home gardeners to add nutrients back to their soil, as it can be made from sawdust, wood shavings, and other organic matter. The best way to compost mushrooms is to simply add them to the pile as you would any other plant. While the finished compost may not be as nutrient-rich as your typical mushroom growing medium, it is still a great way to raise mushrooms and create a nutrient-rich soil.

The History Of Mushroom Cultivation

medicinal mushrooms

Mushrooms have been around for thousands of years, having been used medicinally and in ceremonial practices for many reasons. In the last couple of years however, there has been a huge surge in the popularity of fungi as edible food and medicine.

The first mushrooms were cultivated in ancient China over 5,000 years ago. At the time, the bamboo grass that grows on top of the earth was used to produce the first mushrooms. The Chinese then began to cultivate more mushrooms, including shiitake, which grows in China and Japan. To do this, they stuck bamboo shoots to a stalk, and then planted the stalks in the ground to grow. The mushrooms were then harvested at a certain time. This style of mushroom cultivation was carried further by the Japanese when they began to use more than bamboo grass.

The Aztecs and Mayans both used them as medicine; the Iroquois used them as food and dyes. The Yakuts and Xavante Indians used them as both food and medicine. In the 21st century, mushrooms are most popularly used as a food source. 

Health Benefits of Mushrooms

mushrooms on a log

Mushrooms are one of the most nutritious foods on the planet. They contain an incredible amount of vitamins- A, Vitamin C, B vitamins, and folic acid, as well as minerals like calcium, zinc, magnesium, and iron. They’re also a great source of immune-boosting vitamins like Vitamin D and E, as well as Omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for brain and eye health. In fact, a serving of mushrooms contains almost 20% of the daily recommended value of Vitamin D.

Where to Find Mushrooms

foraging mushrooms

The purveyors of edible mushrooms in North America are in the midst of a mushroom boom. In recent years, foragers have discovered that wild mushrooms are not only delicious but can be harvested in quantities that dwarf the commercial availability of cultivated mushrooms. The sheer number of wild mushrooms available in North America would make a typical forager’s bucket list, but many people are unaware of the methods and techniques necessary to get started. 

Learn more about how to forage mushrooms, which poisonous varieties to avoid, and how to identify the most common edible varieties here.

The mushroom will grow in a wide variety of weather conditions. However, they tend to grow best in a climate that is cool and moist. In ideal conditions, mushrooms require a dark, damp environment with a temperature of 65 degrees F and a relative humidity of 90%. Mushrooms have limited growing seasons and can only be harvested in certain months.

How to Grow Mushrooms At Home

Growing edible or medicinal mushrooms at home is a wonderful blend of the benefits of store-bought and foraged options. You’ll be able to choose the specific types of mushrooms you want. You’ll also have control over where you source your mushrooms from. 

You can grow mushrooms at home by obtaining mushroom spores and following a few simple steps. There are several ways to grow mushrooms at home, from the more traditional such as wood chips and straw, to the more unusual such as compost. The most popular method is to start with a casing of whole-grain wheat, rye, or oat, and then inoculate the casing with a mushroom spore (Mycobiont) solution.

An easy way to get started with growing mushrooms is by using a mushroom growing kit. Mushroom kits can simplify the growing process by providing step-by-step guidance. With a kit, there is no need to buy spores, substrates, growing needles, or containers. Each kit will be designed for the specific needs of the type of mushroom you are trying to cultivate, which can help you to focus and learn about one variant at a time. 

Summary

When learning about why mushrooms are important to the food chain, you may realize the larger role they play in the environment as well as in human society. The potential use of mycology as a remediation tool is vast and we have only begun to scratch the surface as we study the biochemical potential that this field of science has. 

Leave a comment below sharing your wisdom and findings in regards to the importance of mushrooms!

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