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Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World

Mushrooms – not just for eating anymore. Ren Henry reviews Paul Stamets’ fascinating book about the value that mushrooms bring to the environment. It turns out that mushrooms can help the landscape in ways you probably have never thought about.

By Paul Stamets
Reviewed by Ren Henry

Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World

What do we use mushrooms for?  Mostly we eat them, and that’s about it.  Have you ever stopped to think about the other uses for mushrooms?  In Paul Stamets’ 2005 book, Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World, the celebrated mycologist explores the various ways mushrooms can be used in the landscape to help remediate various ecological settings.  This is what he terms “mycorestoration”.

The book is divided into three parts: first explaining how mushrooms grow, then how mycorestoration works, and finally how to grow specific types of mushrooms.  Mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of the mycelial mat, which intertwines within the soil.  Stamets’ view is that the mycelial mat can be used to provide additional nutrients to plants and to more quickly remediate soil after a forest fire.  He also provides evidence that some mushroom species are hyper-accumulators of heavy metals and could theoretically be used to clean up waste sites by inoculating the soil with mycelium and harvesting the mushrooms for incineration.  He also demonstrates that the use of mycelium when returning old roads to nature speeds up the process significantly.  In sum, Stamets’ main point is that the mycelial mat and the mushrooms it produces could be a tool for improving our landscape and remediating ecological disasters in a quick and cost-efficient manner.

The book, deals with some technical topics but is easy to read and understand.  While somewhat out of date, the website that the text often refers to is still accessible today, with current information.  Even sixteen years after publication, the book still has lots to teach about the value that mushrooms can bring to the landscape, even when they aren’t an edible variety.

Photo Credit: Ren Henry (1)

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