Episode Information

CMS: Mushrooms are Mysterious
Share this Content

In this episode:

Even some of the most basic questions about mushrooms remain unanswered.


Episode Audio

49:29 minutes (23.76 MB)
Download this Episode

Mushrooms and fungi: these have to be the creepiest things we eat.

They're not really fruits or vegetables. There's the whole thing where they grow on dead stuff. Some of them are flat out lethal poison. Others will make you see a balrog waving its flaming sword over Waterbury.

Their whole world is dark and damp and woodsy. We don't really belong there, but we cannot stop ourselves from trespassing.

Well, some of us. As you'll see today, there are some people are who just not going to be happy eating sunny things like swiss chard and alpine strawberries their whole lives. Once they enter the world of the mushroom, they are called back, again and again.

By the end of today's show, we will have explored the mushroom and the fungus from their scientific, culinary and sociological angles. Come with me as we meet the people who walk among us, silently dreaming of fungus.

You can join the conversation. Leave your comments below or e-mail [email protected]

Related Content:

Listener E-mail from Tom

I’m really excited about your mushroom show.   

I could very easily talk with your guests for hours.  But I suspect that wouldn’t go over very well on your show so I will try to be brief and relatively specific.

1.       About 15 years ago, a founding member of the Kaw Valley Mycological Society named Bruce Horn distributed a recipe for growing Oyster mushrooms on a roll of paper towels or toilet paper.  I think he used it as a lab exercise for his Mycology 101 class.  Basically, you pour boiling water on a roll of unscented toilet paper, inject some Oyster Mushroom spawn into the tube, put it in a dark place for a couple of weeks, then shock it by putting it into the refrigerator.  It worked pretty well.

2.       Last Fall, I had a dead oak tree cut down, leaving a five foot tall stump.  Then, I bought some shitake mushrooms at the Willimantic Co-Op and mashed them into the tree.  I’m not sure I’m going to get any shitake mushrooms from it though.  Currently, There are a few really nasty looking Wood Ear and an orange gelatin thing. My question is: How do I take the most advantage of this tree.  I’d like to get some Oyster mushrooms growing on it and maybe some Velvet Foot mushrooms, and Hen of the Woods (Grifola Frondosa).  I’m afraid that with my luck, the only thing that will flourish will be Galerina Autumnalis (Deadly Galerina) that is sometimes confused for the Velvet foot – One reason that there are old mushroom pickers and bold mushroom pickers but no old-bold mushroom pickers.

3.       My favorite mushroom reference is David Aurora’s book “Mushrooms Demystified”.


I have a lot more questions but if you could address the issue of how best to make mycological use of this oak stump, I’d really appreciate it.

toilet paper and oak trees

Hi Tom, Yep, oyster mushrooms will grow on a roll of toilet paper or paper towel pretty happilly in just the way you describe. Keep the roll in a bag to keep the moisture levels up while the mycelium is growing. They're also pretty happy to eat used coffee grounds!

As for your oak stump: You can try to inoculate it with various mushroom species.  Whether or not they'll take depends on how they deal with the fungi already living in the wood (the jelly fungi you mentioned, and other fungi too). Shiitakes seem like a good bet, especially if you drill some holes and get either spawn or fresh mushrooms deep in there--the surface is probably already pretty well colonized by less yummy things.  No guarantees but it's worth a shot.

Listener E-mail from Shannon

Years ago on Maury or Montell or some goofy talk show (yeah, I know) I saw a man who lost half of his face to a fungus that got into his sinus cavities and started to destroy his face and almost his face. Can Cathy talk about this at all?

face-eating fungi

The man you saw on TV had a severe infection by a mold called Mucor.  Mucor species are pretty common in the environment, and yet fairly rarely cause human disease. But once they get in they can be astonishingly invasive. Being immune-compromised increases your risk of infection by Mucor and a small set of other human pathogenic fungi. Try not to worry--yeast infections and dermatophytes like athlete's foot are far, far more common, and far less damaging.  You can learn more about the nasty cast of fungi that cause human disease at doctorfungus.org.