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Magic mushrooms

The health and environmental benefits of fabulous fungi, from boosting our immune systems to providing an eco-friendly construction material.

By: High50

A 2014 project in New York provided a tantalising glimpse of this future. Hy-Fi, a 13-metre tall tower, was built using 10,000 bricks made from mycelium (fungus to you and me) fused with agricultural waste. It was used to host public cultural events for three months. The structure, said to be stronger than concrete, was then disassembled and composted, and the resulting soil returned to local community gardens.

This is just one example of the future possibilities provided by mushrooms in a new report published appropriately by The UK and Ireland Mushroom Producers.  Mushrooming’ the future of Mushrooms for Immunity: People and Planet describes the many ways in which mushrooms will play a role in boosting our immunity and solving important environmental challenges, from munching through waste plastic to replacing eco-damaging materials such as polystyrene and concrete.

Mushrooms have always been regarded as a superfood.  Research has shown how they convert light into vitamin D, an essential factor in our immune health.  Mushrooms are rich in selenium, required by the body for the normal functioning of the immune system and healthy thyroid function. Selenium also works as a powerful antioxidant, helping to protect against the damage caused by excess free radicals which can damage cells and increase the risk of disease.They can also help with weight management, managing cholesterol, oral health and potentially reducing our risk of developing cancer. Not surprisingly, this has led to their use as a nutritional supplement in food and drinks.

At the same time, mycelium (the body of most fungi) can be tough enough to be used in the construction of leather goods, furniture and even buildings.  The report’s writers describe how one company, Loop of Life, has created mycelium coffins that speed up the natural decomposition process. Given environmental harms caused by the production of most building materials, especially concrete, this natural and compostable material might be as good for the environment as it is for our bodies.

Mycorrhizal fungi, coined ‘ecosystem engineers’, have also been found to aid in the decomposition of organic matter, facilitating nutrient cycles and the storage of carbon. Researchers have even discovered bug-eating fungi, natural insecticides – protecting soil health and boosting biodiversity, while also removing the pests, or the few ‘bad’ microbes, from agriculture.

View the full report ‘Mushrooming’ the future of Mushrooms for Immunity: People and Planet by The UK and Ireland Mushroom Producers at www.mushroomsaremagic.co.uk.