Here for the two-day event replete with everything from grow-your-own workshops to lectures from mycologists and ethnobotanists on cutting-edge research into mushrooms for nutritional and medicinal purposes are luminaries from the rarified world of mushroom study, selection, cultivation and preservation.
Speaking tonight about "The Healing Magic of Mushrooms" is ethnobotanist Katherine Harrison, the director of Botanical Dimensions, the California-based nonprofit organization dedicated to exploring the human relationship to medicinal and shamanic plants, and a teacher elsewhere in California (at the California School of Herbal Studies, Sonoma State University, New College of California) and elsewhere) in the country with a particular focus on art, myth, ritual, and spirituality (Nugget Theatre, Friday, Aug. 18, 5-6 p.m.).
A Careful Observer of the Natural World
Harrison is a careful observer of the natural world, as is evident in such articles as her "Roads Where There Have Been Long Trails" that appeared in Terra Nova: Nature & Culture, following her visits to the northeastern corner of the state of Oaxaca, in southern Mexico, to the Mazatec people.
The Mazatecs, she writes, "see nature and interact with it, both in the field and ritually," so that observers "can understand something of the indigenous Mesoamerican concept of natural order, and of health and illness within that order."
Mushrooms are central to the Mazatec culture, and following a Mazatec mushroom ceremony, Harrison observes that in the Mazatec culture, where "nothing exists by itself," the mushroom collector's "intentions will be absorbed by the mushrooms, so it is crucial that he be a good soul. This year it was hot and dry during the height of the rainy season, so there were almost no mushrooms, and only one healing session had occurred in three weeks. When there are mushrooms, and all is well, two healing or blessing ceremonies per week might occur in this household. This is possible several months of the year, when there has been normal rainfall.
"At other times of year, the leaves and seeds of other species are the medicines. My friends became increasingly worried about the shift in weather, the blazing heat, the absence of medicine, and the man in a nearby town who had received only the first of two sessions necessary to cure him from hechecería, a bad spell that had been put on him. They were concerned about the health of the 70-year-old curandero himself, whom they call 'the chief of the wise ones.' He seems strong today, but he is now beginning to sing about his vulnerability. Only in the recent ceremony did they acknowledge aloud that someday he would be gone, like the deer, like the jaguar they have not seen in years. During the mushroom ceremony, he sang to us that his son, his wife, his grandson, and even I, his friend, must learn fast, before it is too late to learn."
Christopher Hobbs: 'Mushrooms as Herbs'
Herbalist Christopher Hobbs, a fourth generation clinical herbalist, botanist, author, and teacher, talks about "Mushrooms as Herbs" tonight at the Nugget Theatre (8-9 p.m.).
Hobbs, the author of Medicinal Mushrroms: An Exploration of Tradition, Healing and Culture, contends that these "flowers of the fall" may be "the perfect food for staying trim and healthy," and goes on to suggest that "because fats occur in mushrooms in minor amounts, especially compared with protein and carbohydrates, and the fatty fraction consists predominantly of unsaturated fatty acids such as linoleic acid, they may be the perfect food for losing weight and maintaining a healthy heart and cardiovascular system.
"When it comes to mushrooms, most Americans and inhabitants of the British Isles are rather ignorant."
Hobbs, who includes mushroom recipes in the book, cautions mushroom enthusiasts about consuming the store-bought "button mushrooms," which are, he writes, "the principal edible mushroom most Americans know."
Button mushrooms, he writes, have "little flavor and negligible medicinal value compared with other wild species" and may prove to be toxic, when consumed either uncooked or in large quantities.
Unlike Europeans, who "have always appreciated the gastronomic value of wild mushrooms," many Americans "have a distinct dislike, even a fear, of fungi a phenomenon that may be called 'fungophobia.'"
In Japan, he writes, "pushcart vendors on the streets still sell medicinal mushrooms to the average citizen who uses them to maintain health and promote longevity. Some Japanese people have even been said to travel hundreds of miles in order to collect wild mushrooms that only grow on very old plum trees such as the Reishi renowned as a cure for cancer and degenerative diseases. Likewise, for over 3,000 years the Chinese have used and revered many fungi for their health-giving properties, especially tonics for the immune system (Bo and Yun-sun, 1980; Yun-Chang, 1985). To the Yoruba of southwestern Nigeria a number of fungi became an important part of their mythology and medical practice."
Hobbs is especially enthusiastic about the "nutraceutical" properties to be found in mushrooms already, he writes in Medicinal Mushrooms, "Japanese products containing LEM, a polysaccharide-rich extract from the shiitake mushroom and similar extracts from maitake are currently undergoing trials in Japan and the U.S. to test their effectiveness in treating various forms of cancer," he writes. "They show promise for treating people suffering from various forms of cancer and AIDS and are currently in strong demand in Japan. Commercial shiitake cultivators in the U.S., Canada, and in parts of Asia are decidedly interested in this new potential market and are starting large cultivation efforts, hoping the demand will continue to grow as further scientific studies are conducted. At present, pharmaceutical and nutraceutical products from mushrooms may be worth more than $1.2 billion U.S."
Hobb's Virtual Herbal database covers everything from the History of Western Herbalism, a valuable resource spanning the New Stone Age transition "from a food-gathering to a food- producing economy" to the early mind-body medicine connection circa 2500 B.C. to commonly used herbs in 3000 B.C. Egypt to references to Ayurvedic medicine dating back to the early 19th century. He contends that Hippocrates may "have been the first 'nature doctor' in a more modern sense, for he utilized simple natural remedies such as vinegar, honey, herbs, and hydrotherapy in healing" and emphasized "prevention and healthful living," and touches briefly on the history of leeching, as well leech "was the collective English word for medical practitioners," Hobb tells visitors to Virtual Herbal, going on to describe "several Anglo-Saxon works from 480-1050 A.D. survive today that contain many formulas and herbal remedies in a fairly sophisticated system of therapeutics, but many superstitious notions about how to apply herbal treatments as well." (Nugget Theatre, Friday, Aug. 18, 8-9 p.m.)
Can Mushrooms Save the World?
Although Fungi Perfecti founder Paul Stamets cannot attend the festival this year, his coworker, Jim Gouin, will represent that organization, which is working to improve everything from mushroom cultivation to permaculture, ecoforestry, bioremediation and soil enhancement. It is Stamets's conviction that mushroom farms can be reinvented today as healing arts centers, steering ecological evolution for the benefit of humans living in harmony with its inhabitants. Four components of mycorestoration are described in detail. Gouin teams up with Mushroom Festival organizer Kris Holstrom for a special session about Mycelium Running (directions will be provided at check-in; 3:15-4:30 p.m.).
Mycelium Running sets the stage for the mycorestoration revolution, unveiling new methods for growing mushrooms, generating mycelium and implanting mushroom colonies into the environment. Capitalizing on the digestive power of mycelium, Stamets shows how to strengthen sustainability of habitats while providing a multitude of biological benefits. Based upon the premise that habitats and humans (animals) have immune systems, and that mushrooms are the beneficial bridges for both, Mycelium Running marks the dawn of a new era: the use of mycelial membranes for ecological health. Linking mushroom cultivation, permaculture, ecoforestry, bioremediation and soil enhancement, Stamets makes the case that mushroom farms can be reinvented as healing arts centers, steering ecological evolution for the benefit of humans living in harmony with its inhabitants. Four components of mycorestoration are described in detail:
• Mycofiltration: the filtration of biological and chemical pathogens as well as controlling erosion.
• Mycoforestry and mycogardening: the use of mycelium for companion cultivation for the benefit and protection of plants.
• Mycoremediation: the use of mycelium for decomposing toxic wastes and pollutants.
• Mycopesticides: the use of mycelium for attracting and controlling insect populations.
The Cortes Island Mycoforestry Research Project
Although Mushroom Festival stalwart Paul Stamets, whose most recent book, Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World, has been described as "a manual for the mycological rescue of the planet," is not attending this year's festival, his coworker Jim Gouin will be here in his stead, discussing "The Cortes Island Mycoforestry Research Project" (3-4 p.m. at the Nugget Theatre).
The presentation describes the 160 acres Stamets's family and friends have taken over, adjacent to Frabjous Bay on the southern reaches of Cortes Island, near Mary's Point, in British Columbia.
"About 60 acres of the land was clear cut by the previous owner," Stamets writes. "From this devastated landscape, we saw an opportunity for demonstrating novel mycoforestry strategies, with the end-goal of re-establishing the old growth forest.
"Traditional foresters prescribe burning the debris on a clear cut," writes Stamets, on the Cortes Island Ecoforestry website, going on to add that he for the most part opposes burning "as a management policy for reforestation and propose a new, combined strategy.
"Our land will become the experimental theatre for testing these hypotheses" on the island, part of a "multi-lifetime long experiment [that] will compare the effects of introducing mycorrhizae and the effects of a top-dressing of wood chips as a source of delayed release nutrients and to help retain moisture."
Thanks to the volunteer workers' "labor of love," Stamets writes, "the data showed a net 9-10 percent increase in height and girth" not quite one year into the project. Incentivized, the volunteers "plan to return yearly to continue measurements, and expand the data base to include thousands of trees throughout the years to come." One lesson Stamets has gleaned from the experience: "Logging companies could chip wood debris, leave it in the cut forestland, and disperse [the] nutrient-fragments over the ground to help refuel the carbon cycle," adding that communities seeking long-term sustainable practices "may want to incentivize land owners to make an investment whose returns will benefit generations to come.
The festival kicks off with an Introduction to the Conference Friday, 8:30- 9 a.m. at the Nugget Theatre, from longtime organizer Art Goodtimes, followed by festival stalwart Gary Lincoff with the weekend's first program: "The Mushrooms of Telluride: The Good, The Bad and the Choice Edibles" (Nugget Theatre, 9-10 a.m.). Bring-your-own-lunch forays follow, 10 a.m.-2 p.m., led by Lincoff, John Sir Jesse and Bill Adams (meet at Elks Park, 10 a.m.).
Festival stalwart John Corbin will teach a "Growing Mushrooms on Straw" workshop today (Elks Park, 12-1 p.m.), after which Lincoff, Bill Adams, Linnea Gillman and festival staff's "Display, Identification and Cleaning of Foray Collections" will be held (Elks Park, 2-3 p.m.).
A "Cleaning, Preserving and Preparing Mushrooms" workshop will be held at the Elks Lodge (5:15-6:15 p.m.), followed by a "Chef Cook-off Sampling" (Elks Lodge, 6:30-7:45 p.m.). Wrapping up Friday's events: A screening of mushroom movies (Nugget Theatre, 9-11 p.m.).
Saturday kicks off with a presentation from Lincoff, "The Mushrooms That Connect the Plants to the Earth and Ourselves to the Cosmos" (Nugget Theatre, 8:30-9:30 a.m.), followed by forays with John Sir Jesse, Lincoff and Adams (participants meet at Elks Park, 9:30-1:30 p.m.).
"Growing Mushrooms on Straw: Workshop 2" with John Corbin will be held at Elks Park (10:30-11:30 a.m.), after which more "Cooking Demonstrations" will be held (Elks Lodge, 12-1 p.m.), followed, once again, by a "Display, Identification and Cleaning of Foray Collections" (Elks Park, 1:30-2:30 p.m.).
Fungi Perfecti's Jim Goin will offer a workshop in "Growing Mushrooms: Plug Spawn" (2:30-3:15 p.m. at the Nugget); after that will be a Mushroom Growing Demo in Elks Park, using a host of media, from coffee to grain (Elks Park, 3:30-5 p.m.) Back at the Nugget, Gouin teams up with festival organizer Kris Holstrom (4:15-4:30 p.m.) for a discussion of Mycellium Running, the most recent book from Paul Stamets of Fungi Perfecti.
Late afternoon brings the Mushroom Parade winding its way along Colorado Ave. (start-time is 5 p.m.).
One last "Cook and Taste" (Town Park, 6-7:30 p.m.) is followed by one last discussion, this one a panel discussion about "How to Clean Up Mushrooms' Image" with Hobbs, Gouin, Harrison, Sir Jesse and Goodtimes (Nugget Theatre, 8-9 p.m.).
The event wraps up with more mushroom movies at the Nugget Theatre (9-11:30 p.m.).