This weekend I spent the most excellent two days in the company of the wonderful Fred Gillam and his partner Natascha, at the very first UK Medicinal Mushrooms Conference, and what a stunning, surprising, educating and illuminating weekend it was! The day began with a talk by the redoubtable and renowned Roger Phillips (in a rather funky yellow mushroom shirt!), author of the most clear and concise book on mushroom identification I have yet come across (‘Mushrooms’ by Rodger Phillips). The talk covered the two different rough categories of shrooms we have in this country – plant feeders and rubbish removers, to boil it down into a very brief outline – and went on to discuss some of the many mushroom families we have in this country, from the agaricus family (to which the infamous Fly Agaric belongs) to the Amanita, Inonotus and Ganoderma families, to name just a few, and many others besides, all accompanied by beautiful and very clear photographs. Roger provided the first building blocks on just how vitally important fungi are to the world, and all the plants and animals on it.
After this, Martin Powell, author of two books on medicinal mushrooms, gave a talk on the medicinal uses of an assortment of different mushrooms, a fair chunk of which covered the phytochemistry, which I am embarrassed to admit has never been my strong point, but which also included more information on an assortment of fascinating and very useful fungi we have growing in this country, including Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor) and Chaga (Inonotus obliquus) to name but two. I’ve held off on using medicinal mushrooms as part of my practice until recently, but having learned about the symbiotic relationship between plants and fungi and between fungi and humans, I am going to start using the mushrooms more – I’m wondering if using the fungi as a good base for at least some of my prescriptions will make them more effective, as perhaps the fungi will act like an intermediary between the plants and the body, something I intend to do a lot more thinking about and working with.
After lunch on Saturday was a wonderful discussion on practical methods of making medicines using mushrooms, ranging from simple and deep decoctions to full spectrum extracts. I’m now very excited about having a go at making my own extracts, and will be writing about this as I experiment with it! The last talk of the day was with biodynamic mushroom grower Matthew Rooney (who has had a strain of Reishi mushroom named after him by Kew Gardens!) on the benefits of and skills needed to grow medicinal mushrooms yourself, something which I intend to have a go at in the next few years. In the mean time, the day gave me a lot of new ideas and thoughts to come home and mull over, after a freezing and slightly nerve wracking drive in the rain and darkness.
Sunday brought a much milder morning and a walk in the woods, hunting for mushrooms. We found Tinder Hoof, Turkey Tail and an assortment of other fungi, some medicinal, some poisonous, which just confirmed all over again that I don’t know nearly enough about the ground growing fungi just yet to be gathering them! The brackets are beautiful, hanging in elegant drapes from trees and fallen branches, striped in shades of brown and ivory in some cases, rich tawny and palest buff shades in others. When the last leaves have fallen, it is time to go and look for treasure in the leaf mould and along tree trunks and branches! Autumn and winter just makes me pay closer attention to the landscape, because instead of being almost saturated by the amount of plants around to look at, the landscape pares itself back down to the bone and reveals startling fungi in an array of beautiful shapes and colours. It is enchanting how swiftly they emerge and then vanish again from sight, and I have been deeply bitten by the bug!
The talks after lunch were by Fred Gillam himself, on mushrooms as medicine, which was very interesting and enlightening (apparently we should all be eating more mushrooms, as they are extremely good for us!) giving more information on the various sorts of medicinal mushrooms and how they work in our bodies to strengthen immune systems, as well as act in a variety of other ways to tone our bodies.
The last talk of the weekend was by Cristina Cromer and perhaps provided the final pieces of a puzzle I have been pondering for a while, one which will be the subject of much further musings as it descends down a very twisty, turny rabbit hole. Cristina discussed the resemblance between the mycelium layer under the earth and the immune system itself, and how this can be applied to a more holistic view of practice. She posited that the immune system is where mind, body and spirit intersect, which is a theory I think holds a lot of merit and which I intend to do a lot more thinking about over the coming weeks. It was the perfect end to a wonderful weekend.
I shall be attending the Medicinal Mushroom Conference again next year, and look forward to it already! Now it is time for me to go back over my notes and get my thoughts into order, to see how I can use the information I have gained to benefit my friends, family, loved ones and anyone who comes through the door of my practice in need of whatever help I can offer them.