Crooked Run Valley
Humans and Mushrooms
Mushrooms are used extensively in cooking, in many cuisines (notably Chinese, Korean, European, and Japanese). Though neither meat nor vegetable, mushrooms are known as the "meat" of the vegetable world.
Most mushrooms sold in supermarkets have been commercially grown on mushroom farms. The most popular of these, Agaricus bisporus, is considered safe for most people to eat because it is grown in controlled, sterilized environments. Several varieties of Agaricus bisporus are grown commercially, including whites, crimini, and portobello. Other cultivated species now available at many grocers include shiitake, maitake or hen-of-the-woods, oyster, and enoki. In recent years, increasing affluence in developing countries has led to a considerable growth in interest in mushroom cultivation, which is now seen as a potentially important economic activity for small farmers.
A number of species of mushrooms are poisonous; although some resemble certain edible species, consuming them could be fatal. Eating mushrooms gathered in the wild is risky and should only be undertaken by individuals knowledgeable in mushroom identification. Common best practice is for wild mushroom pickers to focus on collecting a small number of visually distinctive, edible mushroom species that cannot be easily confused with poisonous varieties. Agaricus bisporus contains carcinogens called hydrazines, the most abundant of which is agaritine. However, the carcinogens are destroyed by moderate heat when cooking.
More generally, and particularly with gilled mushrooms, separating edible from poisonous species requires meticulous attention to detail; there is no single trait by which all toxic mushrooms can be identified, nor one by which all edible mushrooms can be identified. Additionally, even edible mushrooms may produce allergic reactions in susceptible individuals, from a mild asthmatic response to severe anaphylactic shock.
People who collect mushrooms for consumption are known as mycophagists, and the act of collecting them for such is known as mushroom hunting, or simply "mushrooming".
China is the world's largest edible mushroom producer. The country produces about half of all cultivated mushrooms, and around 2.7 kilograms (6.0 lb) of mushrooms are consumed per person per year by over a billion people.
Many mushroom species produce secondary metabolites that can be toxic, mind-altering, antibiotic, antiviral, or bioluminescent. Although there are only a small number of deadly species, several others can cause particularly severe and unpleasant symptoms. Toxicity likely plays a role in protecting the function of the basidiocarp: the mycelium has expended considerable energy and protoplasmic material to develop a structure to efficiently distribute its spores. One defense against consumption and premature destruction is the evolution of chemicals that render the mushroom inedible, either causing the consumer to vomit the meal (see emetics), or to learn to avoid consumption altogether. In addition, due to the propensity of mushrooms to absorb heavy metals, including those that are radioactive, European mushrooms may, to date, include toxicity from the 1986 Chernobyl disaster and continue to be studied.
Mushrooms with psychoactive properties have long played a role in various native medicine traditions in cultures all around the world. They have been used as sacrament in rituals aimed at mental and physical healing, and to facilitate visionary states. One such ritual is the velada ceremony. A practitioner of traditional mushroom use is the shaman or curandera (priest-healer).
Psilocybin mushrooms possess psychedelic properties. Commonly known as "magic mushrooms" or "'shrooms," they are openly available in smart shops in many parts of the world, or on the black market in those countries that have outlawed their sale. Psilocybin mushrooms have been reported as facilitating profound and life-changing insights often described as mystical experiences. Recent scientific work has supported these claims, as well as the long-lasting effects of such induced spiritual experiences.
Psilocybin, a naturally occurring chemical in certain psychedelic mushrooms such as Psilocybe cubensis, is being studied for its ability to help people suffering from psychological disorders, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder. Minute amounts have been reported to stop cluster and migraine headaches. A double-blind study, done by the Johns Hopkins Hospital, showed psychedelic mushrooms could provide people an experience with substantial personal meaning and spiritual significance. In the study, one third of the subjects reported ingestion of psychedelic mushrooms was the single most spiritually significant event of their lives. Over two-thirds reported it among their five most meaningful and spiritually significant events. On the other hand, one-third of the subjects reported extreme anxiety. However, the anxiety went away after a short period of time. Psilocybin mushrooms have also shown to be successful in treating addiction, specifically with alcohol and cigarettes.
A few species in the Amanita genus, most recognizably Amanita muscaria, but also Ammanita pantherina, among others, contain the psychoactive compound muscimol. The muscimol-containing chemotaxonomic group of Amanitas contains no amatoxins or phallotoxins, and as such are not hepatoxic, though if not properly cured will be non-lethally neurotoxic due to the presence of ibotenic acid. The Amanita intoxication is similar to Z-drugs in that it includes CNS depressant and sedative-hypnotic effects, but also dissociation and delirium in high doses.
Some mushrooms or extracts are used or studied as possible treatments for diseases, such as cardiovascular disorders. Some mushroom materials, including polysaccharides, glycoproteins and proteoglycans are under basic research for their potential to modulate immune system responses and inhibit tumor growth, whereas other isolates show potential antiviral, antibacterial, antiparasitic, anti-inflammatory, and antidiabetic properties in preliminary studies. Currently, several extracts have widespread use in Japan, Korea and China, as adjuncts to radiation treatments and chemotherapy, even though clinical evidence of efficacy in humans has not been confirmed.
Historically, mushrooms have long been thought to hold medicinal value, especially in traditional Chinese medicine. They have been studied in modern medical research since the 1960s, where most studies use extracts, rather than whole mushrooms. Only a few specific extracts have been tested for efficacy in laboratory research. Polysaccharide-K and lentinan are among extracts best understood from in vitro research, animal models such as mice, or early-stage human pilot studies.
Preliminary experiments show glucan-containing mushroom extracts may affect function of the innate and adaptive immune systems, functioning as bioresponse modulators. In some countries, extracts of polysaccharide-K, schizophyllan, polysaccharide peptide, or lentinan are government-registered adjuvant cancer therapies.
As of June 2014, whole mushrooms or mushroom ingredients are being studied in 32 human clinical trials registered with the US National Institutes of Health for their potential effects on a variety of diseases and normal physiological conditions, including vitamin D deficiency, cancer, bone metabolism, glaucoma, immune functions and inflammatory bowel disease.
Mushrooms can be used for dyeing wool and other natural fibers. The chromophores of mushroom dyes are organic compounds and produce strong and vivid colors, and all colors of the spectrum can be achieved with mushroom dyes. Before the invention of synthetic dyes, mushrooms were the source of many textile dyes.
Some fungi, types of polypores loosely called mushrooms, have been used as fire starters (known as tinder fungi).
Mushrooms and other fungi play a role in the development of new biological remediation techniques (e.g., using mycorrhizae to spur plant growth) and filtration technologies (e.g. using fungi to lower bacterial levels in contaminated water).