What if a brighter future is built on mushrooms?

Lion's mane mushrooms have been used in Chinese Medicine for centuries.

Lion's mane mushrooms have been used in Chinese Medicine for centuries.

MEDICINAL MUSHROOMS + BIOHACKING:

Amid all the interest in biohacking, last winter I consumed medicinal mushrooms every day for 30 days, and I never stopped...now, most days, I consume them on more than one occasion.  Certain types of mushrooms work instantly, like lion's mane (which I swear improves my brain function, supplying me with the mental energy some seek in stimulants) and reishi, which instantly relaxes me and brings me into a peaceful, confident feeling. I'm totally obsessed with medicinal mushrooms to the point of sometimes being afraid I come off as an evangelist. But the effects are so real, once I get started talking it's hard to stop!

To read about my 30 day mushroom experiment (and some info on what mushrooms can do for you), check out my article on mindbodygreen. I also have an affiliate code for one of my favorite mushroom brands, Four Sigmatic — use code "mabelsmushrooms" for 10% off! (I highly recommend the Reishi Hot Cacaocoffee with chaga and lion's mane and 10-mushroom blend for smoothies.)

Mushrooms are a macro trend because they’re everywhere. My interest was originally piqued when I saw a lecture several years prior by "mushroom guru" Paul Stamets, whose captivating presentation covered not only the health-promoting and anti-cancer effects of mushrooms but also info on mushrooms’ ability to reverse serious environmental damage previously thought to be irreversible such as oil spills and the effects of nuclear waste. I learned that certain species of mushrooms can even digest plastic. 

So it makes sense to start with:

PAUL STAMETS: GENIUS LEADING THE PACK.

I highly recommend watching these two lectures by Paul Stamets: How Mushrooms Can Change the World and this one which is slightly longer. Stamets is currently working with Eric Rasmussen, an influential environmental researcher and head of INSTEDD, a Google-funded nonprofit that develops technology to control disease outbreaks, to decontaminate the zone around Fukushima's nuclear zone using mushrooms.

Rasmussen describes Stamets as "a modern example of the amateur scientist from the 17th and 18th century who made wonderful contributions with only their native curiosity and keen sense of observation...He's listened to in a lot of unexpected corners." 

According to Kenneth Miller in this Discover Magazine article, those "unexpected corners" have expanded to include "mainstream scientists, environmental engineers, federal officials and Silicon Valley investors." If associating Stamets with Silicon Valley lends him any credibility, according to Miller [Stamets' brilliance] has granted him recent invitations to brainstorming sessions with Bill Gates, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and the guys who run Google.

Like Stamets, mushrooms have a way of popping up in unexpected places. 

SUSTAINABLE INNOVATION + TEXTURAL VERSATILITY:

Sophia Wang, CEO and co-founder of MycoWorks [photo courtesy of MycoWorks]

Sophia Wang, CEO and co-founder of MycoWorks [photo courtesy of MycoWorks]

Mycelium is a fascinating eco-friendly substance with many possible applications with regard to texture, application, look and feel.  In the past few years, materia.nl has written numerous times on the vast potential and manifold applications of mycelium for artists and designers.

One of the many forms mycelium can take is a durable building material which can be used to make actual buildings that are resistant to fire and mold. 

Along with Ecovative, Mycoworks is one of the leading mycelium start-ups, founded on that idea by artist Philip Ross.  After 20 years of experimentation using fungi and mycelium in his artwork, Ross created Mycotectural Alpha, an installation consisting of a structure Ross built out of Reishi bricks which he then boiled down into Reishi tea for the guests of his installation. It was this installation that inspired him to obtain a patent and found MycoWorks. For more on MycoWorks and that super cool story click here

Here are some of the other places I've been seen mycelium popping up lately. 

FASHION + TEXTILE:

[Photo courtesy of Mycoworks]

[Photo courtesy of Mycoworks]

Li Edelkoort was right...the future of fashion is in textile!

...And perhaps the future of textile is in mushrooms.

For the past few years, the fashion industry has been going through a crisis, which Edelkoort believes is due to a fundamental neglect and misunderstanding of textile, combined with a dysfunctional and highly unsustainable fast-fashion model that is fundamentally damaging the planet and all who are involved in its propagation.

The fact that mycelium can be grown 3-dimensionally to custom fit a body suggests to me that its implications in fashion lend themselves well to couture, futurism, big shapes, and avant-garde sensibilities, but those are not the only ways mycelium can live within the fashion and garment industries. 

Aniela Hoitink's mycelium dress, created as part of MycoTEX, is currently on display at the Fungal Futures exhibition in Ulrich. [photo courtesy of MycoTEX]

Aniela Hoitink's mycelium dress, created as part of MycoTEX, is currently on display at the Fungal Futures exhibition in Ulrich. [photo courtesy of MycoTEX]

The diversity of textiles and textures that are possible with mycelium is astounding. So far, mycelium has been used to create surprisingly convincing vegan leathers (Mycoworks is a big player here) as well as much lighter, and more fluid materials, such as the ones created by MycoTEX, one of which was shown at the Dutch Sustainable Fashion Week in 2016 and reminds me of Japanese rice paper. 

Aniela Hoitink's MycoTEX [Photo courtesy of MycoTEX]

Aniela Hoitink's MycoTEX [Photo courtesy of MycoTEX]

FUNCTIONAL OBJECTS:

Companies like Krown design are using mycelium to build functional household objects such as lamps. Others, like Studio Eric Klarenbeek, are 3-D Printing mycelium chairs.

FOOD:

Mushrooms are having a culinary moment as well, and according to a recent projection it is believed that the global mushroom market is expected to exceed $59.48 billion by 2021. This was taking into account mushrooms used in a classical culinary setting as well as mushrooms with medicinal qualities such as Reishi. In the past 2 years, mushroom industries have been booming in Germany and across Asia. 

ECO-FRIENDLY PACKAGING:

Because it grows quickly into a dense material and requires little energy and water to do so, as well as being 100% biodegradable, mycelium holds promise in the creation of earth-friendly packaging options.  Even Ikea has signed on to use mushroom packaging

ZE ART WORLD:

Mycellium has been popping up in artists' circles as well, though artists have long been interested in mushrooms. In fact, John Cage founded the New York Mycological society which still functions today, leading mushroom walks and occasional mushroom banquets in NYC.

This past spring, experimental process-group and open-ended creative learning experiment School of the Apocalypse hosted a group called the "Mycological Research Playgroup." Artist and leader of the playgroup Chloe ZImmerman writes, 

Fungi secrete enzymes directly into the environment around them, breaking things down and making nutrients available for themselves and others. I love how Anna Tsing puts it, that “fungal eating is often generous: It makes worlds for others.” Part of my interest in starting this group was to see how we might learn both as a networked collective and as independent artists, digest for ourselves and for one another. What would that sort of learning and making look like?

The process produced a sort of experiential collage and collection of perspectives that was really interdependent and beautiful, and in a way that’s how I’d describe the experience of running this group. I was amazed at how open everyone was to joining something with no set outcome, and I’m so grateful for the curiosity and generosity of all who were involved.
— Chloe Zimmerman, artist and creator of the Mycological Research Playgroup

Fungal Futures is a futurist exhibition in Utrecht (currently home to the MycoTEX dress) which is conceived as is a "new "Living" Museum, filled with projects envisioning novel advancements and potentially near futures, while re-imagining the way in which our domestic and social life will morph during the next decades."

Zimmerman acknowledged that the School of the Apocalypse operates from a futurist vision with roots in sense of social responsibility. She noticed that "the school seems to attract artists of all sorts who care deeply about the world around them, who are questioning how to be in it and with it. I was amazed at how open everyone was to joining something with no set outcome."

John Cage, artist and founder of the New York Mycological Society.

John Cage, artist and founder of the New York Mycological Society.

John Cage's art practice, as well as his interest in mycelium were both inextricably tied to Zen Buddhism. In Zen, the question reveals more than the answer; and in many ways, the open-ended structure of The School of the Apocalypse seems to mirror the wide-open question marks that mycelium occupies today. Mycelium is a curious material, and while it has been attracting attention in many different corners, what seems to unite the people in those corners is hope, and a deeply felt sense of social and environmental responsibility. When it comes to building a better future, could mycelium be the question, as well as the answer?

I'd like to know...do you consume mushrooms? Have you ever tried Reishi? Do you believe a better future will begin with a bio-based economy? Please share in the comments :)