Molds, yeasts, rusts, smuts, bunts, toadstools, puffballs, stinkhorns, polypores… They can be venomous and even deadly. Or delicious and unbelievable healthy. But what do we really know about these extraordinary creatures and their business on this planet? Let’s spend a moment imagining that.
If you think about fungi, probably the first thing that pops into your head is an eatable mushroom with a cap and a stem. The kind you can find growing in forests or buy from a market. But, as a matter of fact, fungi don’t belong to the group of plants nor to the realm of animals. They can’t be compared to other eukaryotic life forms, thus they create their own group. And surprisingly, that group is much closer to animals than to plants. And when you take a closer look you may noticethat fungi have been living in this planet way longer than humans, and they are basically everywhere. Quietly shaping the planet earth to be as we experience it today. You could say that they are the masters of surviving on our planet, because that’s what they’ve been doing for millions of years. Solving every problem that comes on their way, finding solutions to survive and thrive.
They’ve been playing an important role in the evolution of land shaping by turning rocks into soil and creating symbiotic relationships with the earliest plants. Without fungi, we would have to wade our ways through needles and leaves fallen from the trees because nothing would be here decomposing it. We wouldn’t even know about bread, beer, wine or cheese. Because without fungi, we would have never been able to produce them.
The ancient civilizations have been using psychoactive mushrooms in their lives usually in ceremonial meanings for thousands of years, to connect with the gods or achieve spiritual consciousness. Nowadays, psychoactive mushrooms are classified as illegal in most places because of their intoxicating affects but researchers are finding out new positive sides from their affects in the human behavior year after another. There are studies that show great results from using psychoactive mushrooms as a treatment for different mental disorders such as depression for example. Longer lasting than what have been achieved by using current medications, so maybe, someday in the future fungi can help us with this also.
And the fantastic part, I believe all of us know, is the amazing food we can prepare from fungi or more commonly: mushrooms. At the same time you can enjoy their wonderful taste, they’re also full of healthy nutrition, good for everyone. I love it when the autumn comes in Finland and our forests start to fill up from yellowfoots. It’s one of the best things you can imagine yourself doing, when you can take your wellies and go into the forest to hunt mushrooms. After couple of hours spent in the woods discovering these delicious treasures you get to prepare a tasty dish out of them, after surviving from the vicious deerflies that you’ve collected on your way.
Not to forget about the mind-blowing medicines humans have discovered by studying different qualities of fungi. Probably the most well-known being penicillin, discovered by Alexander Fleming in 1928. Even today scientists are continually learning new useful qualities while investigating new species. And there is yet a lot to explore, considering how little we still know from these interesting creatures and their working mechanisms. It’s estimated that there might be millions of undiscovered species hiding in the nature from which we have discovered only a fraction until now.