8 Unusual Uses for Mushrooms (and Other Fungi)
Surprisingly, some mushrooms can be used for certain illegal mind expanding effects, but those aren't the sort of unusual uses we're discussing today. No, we're going for the really far out uses, the ones we poverty-stricken writers bet – all our best pocket lint and lost buttons - you haven't heard of before. Hold onto your hats, or get ready to make your own, as we delve into the mysterious world of obscure fungi.
No, not dying, although you can use mushrooms for that too, such as the Destroying Angel, Amanita Virosa, which will either kill you or make you wish it had. Trust us on this. Unless you want to learn all about gastrointestinal double trouble, the worst kind of double trouble outside of an old Olsen twins flick.
Strangely, mushrooms are a valuable source of pigment for dyeing clothes. One student at Cornell University was able to extract a “rich brown” and a “manila yellow” from some shroomy samples. Some half algae, half fungi freak – lichen – is potentially able to yield a purple hue. Our favorite student then goes on to proudly state that his class “opted not to use urine”. However, we say that you are free to use as much urine as you like to dye your clothes, but we aren't going to tell you how to create your own golden brown color.
“The complexity of lichen partnerships has caused lichens to be described as "small ecosystems". They are classified as members of the Fungus Kingdom by systematists because the fungus partner is always the major partner."
Arousing a Pig
Now I'm not telling you that you should arouse a pig using mushrooms, just that you can. Why? Because this is a free country, that's why! Actually, be careful about that, I'm pretty sure that it could get you arrested. Anyways... yes you can indeed arouse a pig with fungi, truffles to be precise. Truffles exude a pheromone – which is science talk for sexy funk – that make pigs go 'hog wild' with lust. So while you might think a truffle pig is hunting for food, it's actually out looking for love.
Make a Jaunty Hat
So the princess is in another castle? Your hat fell off when you got bitten by the nine-foot bipedal tortoise, and now some mushroom dude tells you that it was all for nothing. What do you do? Tear his freaking head off and wear it as a hat, that's what you do! It wouldn't be the worst thing Mario has ever done, but thankfully you don't have to go that far.
By carefully manipulating the Tinder Fungus, Fomes Fomentarius, you can obtain a soft material called Amadou that feels like some sort of magical hybrid between suede and velvet. With effort it can be worked into soft but delicate clothing. Like the aforementioned jaunty hat.
Imagine, if you will, the perfect romantic climate: a hot muggy apartment lit ever so dimly by the eerie green light of, you guessed it, bioluminescent mushrooms such as Panellus Stipticus. All this can be yours at the cost of a few occasional scoops of manure and the balance of the resale value of your property. As much fun as a snoot full of weird spores in the face might be, we'll pass on this one. Maybe you can, like, stick them in a lantern or something?
Entomophaga Maimagi aptly lives up to the 'maim' component of its name by going all psycho killer on some poor unsuspecting gypsy moth caterpillars, eating them alive. As if this that wasn't bad enough, the now half-eaten caterpillar becomes a vector for this horrifying, internal organ munching parasite, developing “white structures called 'condidiophores'” which fire spores into the air, infecting yet more hapless moths. Kind of gross.
“The gypsy moth quickly became a pest … E. maimaiga was released … years since then, and is has spread through northeastern gypsy moth populations. … fungus has eaten away the inside of the caterpillar and will now send out white structures called conidiophores, from which its spores are shot into the air. ... spores ... now infect other caterpillars.”
Making a Stink
Imagine taking a walk through the woods. You happen upon a mushroom. Probably the first thing that comes to mind is an inoffensive looking toadstool with either a pleasant smell or perhaps an astringent, don't-eat-me sort of smell. Unfortunately reality doesn't always mesh with our expectations; the stinkhorn is one such example. People lucky enough to encounter this vile little fungi reported it has the distinct aroma of either feces or rotting flesh. Talk about a way to rout a picnic.
Thankfully, since Mother Nature is into that whole balance thing, there are also some mushrooms that 'stink good', such as Haploporus Odorus. Which might as well be some sort of super soldier serum, as it was supposedly used to bandage bleeding wounds, cure dysentery and bestow spiritual power/authority to the Northern Plains Indians who used it. Adding to the awesome is the fact that it smells just like licorice, intensely so. Presumably to block the smell of the Indian braves' enemies crapping themselves - we're starting to believe that this stuff is magic too.
“Haploporus odorus … found above 52 degrees latitude in Canada and Northwestern Europe … have a strong odor of anise, kind of like licorice. … Northern Plains Indians … used H. odorus as a spiritual symbol, a decoration of sacred objects and a healing tool. The fungus was used to stop wounds from bleeding, made into an infusion to treat diarrhea and dysentery, … used it as an adornment on sacred war robes and scalp necklaces. It’s clear that it was associated with protection and power.”
Waste Site Land Reclamation
Waste site land reclamation is a polite Canadian term for: cleaning up a disgusting example of desecrated nature. Back in 1990, while figuring out ways to mop up after the massive ongoing –and immensely profitable – mess that is the Athabasca tar sands, researchers Leahy and Colwell noticed that mushrooms were absorbing and breaking down hydrocarbons in the surrounding environment, cleaning up the mess for them. You might think that there isn't anything funny to say about oil spills, but that's because you haven't tried to mop off an oily duck with a mushroom.
“Leahy and Colwell (1990) looked at the fungal populations in areas contaminated with hydrocarbons, such as the Athabasca Oil Sands of Canada, and found the populations in these areas were much better at degrading hydrocarbons.”
Normally eating a mushroom wouldn't be considered an unusual application, but the fact is that Laetiporus sulpureus, or Chicken of the Woods, has such a “succulent” chicken-like flavor profile that it can actually be used as a substitute for real chicken in recipes. It's also a big producer, with yields of up to 50 pounds per tree. It can't all be good news though, as they only taste good when they are young and become sour and crumbly as they age – just like the lunch lady serving you your chicken substitute.
Well folks, I hope you've all enjoyed a peek into the strange world of mushroomology. It's been a slice. If you enjoyed this article please rate, comment and/or leave hurtful remarks.