Enjoy this article from my column at the Press Democrat.
All Photos: ©John Burgess/The Press Democrat
Mushrooms are one of the most interesting foods that we consume. Delicious, deadly, mysterious, intoxicating, enigmatic. Throughout history mushrooms have varying reputations, considered both food and foe. Today it is easy to find safe, delicious mushrooms in the market, but it wasn’t always that way. In the past reckless wild mushroom hunters threw caution to the wind with sometimes fatal results, often giving culinary mushrooms a bad reputation.
Mushrooms were long considered part of the plant kingdom. It wasn’t until the mid-20th century that they were recognized as belonging to their own kingdom: Fungus (plural Fungi) and distinct from plants or animals. Fungi are among the most widely distributed organisms on Earth and are of great environmental and medical importance. Many are free-living in soil or water; others form parasitic or symbiotic relationships with plants or animals. Fungus contains more than 144,000 known species which includes yeasts, rusts, smuts, mildews, molds and our interest here – – mushrooms of which there are reportedly at least 38,000 species.
We are lucky in Sonoma county because we have access to a wide range of both cultivated and wild culinary mushrooms. Re the latter be cautious of course. Many wild mushrooms are poisonous and can be life-threatening. Best to buy your wild mushrooms from a reputable grower or grocer than hunting them yourself. If however, after that warning, you are still interested in foraging mushrooms yourself, the Sonoma County Mycological Society http://www.somamushrooms.org/ is the place to start. They offer classes and forays including their SOMA Wild Mushroom Camp in January which is taught by very knowledgeable foragers including the legendary David Arora: http://www.davidarora.com/ who has written two of the most important field guides for wild mushrooms and is a real hoot!
Up until the last few years mushrooms were considered nutritionally “deficient”. We know now that this is not the case. They are one of those “super foods” (stand aside blueberries!). Mushrooms are one of the few natural sources of vitamin D, which is essential for healthy bones and teeth. They are also a great source for B-vitamins, Riboflavin (B 2) which helps maintain healthy red blood cells plus Niacin, Pantothenic Acid (which plays a number of metabolic roles) as well as Biotin and Folate (which we know is important for pregnant women). Mushrooms are one of the richest, natural sources of selenium, an essential mineral which strengthens the immune system and may help reduce the risk of cancer and other chronic illnesses. Mushrooms are also a good source of zinc, another essential mineral which helps boost your immune system as well as your libido! A 100g serving of mushrooms contains more dietary fiber (2.5g) than 100g of celery (1.8g) or a slice of whole-wheat bread (2.0g).
Our own Gourmet Mushrooms in Sebastopol http://www.mycopia.com/, who cultivate several exotic culinary mushrooms, also make and sell what they call “ Mycobiotic Nutraceuticals” which have many healthful properties including reportedly significantly boosting the immune system.