7 Ways Mushrooms Can Solve the World's Problems

The real magic behind mushrooms.

Feb 4, 2015

Far beyond their usual status as a soup ingredient or a growth on a mossy rock, mushrooms might just be the magical ingredient to solving the world's problems. There are around 75,000 scientifically identified species of fungi, though scientists postulate that there may be as many as a million fungal species yet to be identified. In recent years, creative innovators are paying attention to what these magical fungi have to offer, using them to clean the planet, cure disease and maintain a healthy diet. 

1. MUSHROOMS CAN CLEAN UP OIL SPILLS

Using fungi to remove or neutralize environmental pollutants (like oil) is a technique called mycoremediation. Fungi can survive in toxic environments and when placed in oil spill zones, and have been shown to actually consume the oil.
The icing on the cake is that fungi can regenerate an ecosystem. That is to say, mushrooms can jump start the recovery of a formerly toxic zone as their spores attract insects that lay eggs, thereby attracting birds and fostering a thriving environment.

oil spill clean up

Mushrooms are an innovative solution to clean up harmful oil spills. [Shutterstock] 

2. MUSHROOMS CAN REPLACE PLASTIC

Plastic, Styrofoam and other synthetic materials have resulted in more trash being discarded into the world’s oceans and seas, or being chucked into a landfill - which will take millions of years to decompose. The company Ecovative has created insulation and foam-like packaging derived from mushrooms and mycelium (the vegetative part of a fungus that consists of a network of thread-like branches underneath the soil).  The award-winning team’s eco-friendly alternative is derived from plant-based farm waste that is fully compostable,  selling such items like: surfboards, packaging, home building materials and insulation.

ecovative mushroom surfboard

This mushroom made surfboard can handle the waves. [Screenshot

3. MUSHROOMS ARE NATURE’S RECYCLING SYSTEM

Without fungi, the earth would be ridden with tons of thick plant and animal remains, but together with bacteria, mushrooms return dead material to the soil in a form in which it can be reused.  
The social enterprise Grocycle is harnessing the recycling power of mushrooms to ecologically dispose of coffee grounds. They sell an easy-to-use kit that requires old coffee grounds and a bit of water to grow organic gourmet mushrooms at home. Scientists in Mexico City are using mushrooms to cleanly recycle and degrade used diapers which are the third largest consumer item in landfills, taking 500 years to decompose.

Grocycle mushroom kit

Mushrooms grow from discarded coffee grounds [Screenshot]

4. MUSHROOMS CAN CURE AND HEAL HUMANS

The healing properties of mushrooms have been long trusted in Eastern cultures, and their medicinal uses are now increasingly researched and widespread in the Western world. Mushrooms have a plethora of antiviral and antibacterial agents that have been shown to fight cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, influenza and smallpox.

Mushroom healing

Mushrooms are nature's medicine. [Shutterstock]

5. MUSHROOMS CAN PRODUCE BIOFUEL

There are many initiatives that are looking to reduce dependence on gas and oil, as they take a heavy toll on the planet and its inhabitants. Biofuels are produced from food crops like corn, grass and algae. But these food sources pose a problem as they require a lot of land, water and maintenance to flourish. In comes the beloved fungi, which does not need sunlight to grow and can thrive off food scraps and other natural debris.

Pumping gas

One day gas stations might supply fuel made from mushrooms. [Shutterstock]  

6. MUSHROOMS ARE TASTY AND HEALTHY

Mushrooms are grouped into the vegetable category but they are in a league of their own and classified as fungi. Mushrooms are low in calories, fat-free, gluten-free, cholesterol-free, low in sodium and one of the only food sources that provide vitamin D. Vitamin D enhances calcium absorption and bone strength and mushrooms can provide a day’s needs of vitamin D in a single serve. Start getting your mushroom fix on with this tasty vegan mushroom soup recipe from Blissful Basil.

vegan mushroom soup

A tasty mushroom soup - hearty and healthy! [Screenshot]

7. MUSHROOMS ARE A NONTOXIC PESTICIDE

Insects are usually eliminated by using pesticides – most often chemical-filled pesticides. The toxic nature of the pesticides not only gets rid of insects, but seeps into all other aspects of the ecosystem, posing a threat to a clean lifestyle.
Mushrooms have been discovered to serve as a natural nontoxic pesticide that keeps the insects at bay. The fungal spores kill and repel insects – without causing damage to other animals or the planet as seen in Tanzania when a fungal pesticide was used.

farmer spraying pesticide

A mushroom pesticide is an eco way to keeps inspects at bay. [Shutterstock]

Shoshana radiates doing good, driven by a love for people and community. Among many topics, she writes about friendship, creativity and healthy living.

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