Book Review

Fantastic Fungi: How Mushrooms Can Heal, Shift Consciousness, and Save the Planet

Publisher: Earth Aware Editions
Genre: Nonfiction, Ecology, Spirituality
Pages: 184
Format: Hardcover
Buy Local
My Rating: 5/5 stars

Summary

Can mushrooms change the world? Can they heal the planet? Can they repair your body? Can they realign your spirit?

Simply put, yes. In Fantastic Fungi, legendary mycologist Paul Stamets offers a beautiful collection of essays from the director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona Dr. Andrew Weil, food science journalist Michael Pollan, professor of Forest Ecology Suzanne Simard, and nature and food writer Eugenia Bone. Along with the essays are visually arresting photographs of fungi and mushrooms. Organized in three sections, these essays explore what mushrooms mean for the planet, our bodies, and our spirits. Reading the collection is a transformative experience where learning about issues like the mycelial internet, mushrooms as therapeutic intervention, and the stoned ape hypothesis will leave you seeing the world and your place in it from a totally new perspective.

Thoughts

That mushroom you see peeking up out of the mulchy forest floor? That’s only the tip of the fungal iceberg. A mushroom is only the fruiting body part of the organism, a way to release spores and reproduce when conditions are right. But below the surface? In the soil, branching out into a vast network of interconnection lies the vast entirety of the fungus, the mycelium stretching out—sometimes for miles. Mushrooms are much more complex than you may think.

Paul Stamets’ Fantastic Fungi accompanies a documentary of the same name. Both can be enjoyed alone or explored together in a complementary way. They are truly a fantastic journey into the big and tiny, micro and macro beautiful world of fungi, mushrooms, and our human relationships with them.

Did you know fungi are not plants? They’re not animals, either. Rather, they comprise their own kingdom. Stamets’ documentary suggests that perhaps fungi are the dominant species on earth. The biggest organism on earth is no whale, elephant, or giant squid, but a honey fungus that spans 2.4 miles in Oregon and is perhaps almost 9,000 years old. Fungi are the most common species on earth and are literally everywhere, “under every footstep that you take…all over the world.”

“Take a breath. You’ve just breathed in 10 fungal spores”

Grief, anger, and depression about climate change are normal, but at times reversing environmental destruction can seem hopeless. However, Fantastic Fungi is optimistic, and you can help. Become involved in fungi activism with organizations like The Radical Mycology Mycelial Network, which seeks to increase community resilience, support local ecologies, and recompose organic waste. The documentary and book offer a promise of hope about our environment. Mushrooms can save bees from extinction. Mushrooms can safely break down and recompose hazardous waste and industrial pollutants. Mushrooms can repair soil that has been over-tilled and damaged by pesticides. To quote Stamet: “Nothing lives alone in nature, and communities are more likely to survive than individuals. What a beautiful inspirational model for how human beings might live: in a shared economy based not on greed but on nurturing relationships and mutual cooperation.”

Fantastic Fungi calls us to action—as amateur mycologists, naturalists, and ecologists, citizen scientists, and change agents. Anyone can appreciate, learn from, and heal with mushrooms and fungi. We can—and should—work with fungi for the betterment of the planet.