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Understanding what Mycelium is crucial to learning how to propagate it, and is the first thing any new Mycologist will learn.  It is a common misconception to think one is growing mushrooms, when it is in fact its the Mycelium we should concern ourselves with.  Understanding the different stages of growth the mycelium goes through and trying to replicate the right conditions and nutrients it has in nature is the key to success in creating a healthy living organism and ultimately healthy mushrooms. The mushrooms are but a phase in the Mycelium's life in when it gets to a certain age, it wants to reproduce.  Mushrooms are a physical manifestation of that desire. If compared to an apple tree, the mycelium would be the roots, trunk, and branches of the tree while the mushrooms would be the apple.  It is nothing more than a fruit and why mushrooms are referred to as the "fruiting body" of mycelium.

The more we learned we learned about mycelium and its part it plays in nature; the more we fell in love with it.  It is a highly intelligent, single -cell organism, that can adapt to plant life, and whose main focus was to create efficiency by within the system.  We could start to understand the reasoning behind the wisdom of the Eastern Philosophies and started to believe in the power of mushrooms as an answer to our health problems.

What is mycelium?


Mycelium is the root-like part of a fungus and is made up of tiny thread-like structures called hyphae.  Hyphae are microscopic and branching filaments that extend and weave together, forming a complex web.  it is usually white in color and take on a wispy like appearance. Almost like a cotton ball pulled apart.  Most of its life is spent just under the forest floor for it has the perfect conditions to help it to spread.  It is Natures greatest behind-the-scene-worker and an integral part of any healthy ecosystem

As the mycelium spreads through the forest floor, it grows around the tips of all the plant roots it comes into contact with. As it fuses with the roots, it forms a symbiotic relationship with each organism. The mycelium relies on the byproduct of trees and plants for nutrients, and in turn provides nutrients back.  A prefect example of this is the exchange of Oxygen and Carbon Dioxide.  Like us, the mycelium takes in Oxygen and releases Carbon Dioxide; while the plants takes in CO2 and releases O2. Most of the nutrients the mycelium needs in order to survive come from the plants.  In return the mycelium passes enough nutrients back to feed 90% of all plant life it is connected to. As it spreads, the mycelium create a massive, underground, interconnected web with the plants of the forest, creating a vast communication network, facilitating interactions between organisms. Trees, plants, and mycelium can communicate and interact by exchanging information and resources, such as nutrients, hormones, and defense signals!  It is often referred to as the Wood Wide Web and is a crucial part to the health and well being of the forest.

pic of mycelium.jpg

Besides creating great tasting mushrooms for us to eat, Mycelium has the unique ability to break down hydrocarbons and other organic material.  It is one of nature’s greatest decomposers, disassemblers, and are far better than and more powerful than bacteria, animals, and plants.  Mycelium is a magical living organism that can absorb dead, rotting materials, convert them into energy and nutrients and produce life.  There aren't much things on the Earth that can take death and turn it into life like mycelium and one of the main reasons why Ancient Eastern Medicinal practices put a high value on mushrooms.  They understood that the mushrooms were the byproduct of this amazing process and believed that they contained a little bit of the magic within the fruits.  Turns out they might be right!  Even though mushrooms have been used for thousands of years, it has been just recently that it has gained popularity in the West.  Now more than ever people are beginning to test the capabilities of mycelium and are finding wonderous applications of this organism.

One project worth mentioning is a pilot project in which Paul Stamets, uses the oyster mushroom mycelium's to absorb the hazardous chemicals of an oil spill.  Its unique ability to break down hydrocarbons allowed it to successfully contain the oil, as well as absorb it and neutralized its harmful effect on the environment.  All the while producing a healthy crop of oyster mushrooms!  It is truly amazing to see companies moving forward in this space by utilizing this organism to help manage a major ecological disasters like an oil spill. This groundbreaking work truly fascinates us here at Medicinal Mushrooms Hawaii and hope to contribute to this arena in the near future with some of our ideas of our own!

Mycelium absorbing oil

Pouring oil onto a mycelium block

converting oil into mushrooms

oil spill.jpg

containing an oil spill

To see the full article for more information visit Written by Paul Stamets on June 03, 2010

Step One:

From Spores to Mycelium

Growing Mycelium

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