Of the Zombie fungus and its delicious relatives🍄

There’s a mushroom🍄 that is parasitic and can control the host’s mind, can even make it kill itself. If you’ve seen the hit HBO series – “The Last of Us”, you would know what I am talking about. Cordyceps militaris, the so-called “zombie fungus” is a real fungus that infects insects and ants and literally controls their minds. It makes them climb up a tree, go near an ant nest and wait to die. The fungus then takes over and releases spores that will affect the ants nearby leading to more zombie ants 🐜🐜🐜🐜😲

Luckily it doesn’t work the same way on humans as we have complex immune systems. In the series ‘The Last of Us’, they show how Cordyceps takes over humans and makes them zombies. Not possible, which is why it is a science fiction series.

However, another species of Cordyceps, Cordyceps sinensis 🍄 is probably the costliest mushroom on earth selling at 1 lakh to 17 Lakhs per kg and it is found in Arunachal and parts of Tibet. In fact it has been suggested that several incursions by the Chinese PLA into the Indian territory and the skirmishes in Tawang in the northeast have been to collect the rare Himalayan caterpillar fungus Cordyceps. Cordyceps sinensis is actually half mushroom 🍄 and half caterpillar as the fungus is a parasite that takes over and mummifies the caterpillar. Cordyceps is used in chinese medicine to cure everything from kidney illness to fatigue and it is used for improving energy, stamina, endurance, appetite and libido. Cordyceps sinensis came into the limelight when the sporting world was amazed by the multiple world records🏅 set by Chinese female athletes 🏃🏃during the Chinese National Athletic Championship and other Olympic Athletes Wang Junxia, Qu Junxia, and Zhang Linli who broke the Fifth World Running records at the 1993. The drug testing showed no any traces of illegal substances and when they were asked about the secret of their victory, it was attributed to the Cordyceps mushroom extracts they were consuming.

Cordyceps – Mummified caterpillar mushrooms

Some more such mind-blowing mushrooms:

  1. ☠️The Death Cap: The most poisonous mushroom ever. Half of a mushroom can kill an adult human if consumed. White to creamish in color, normal harmless looking mushroom – the theory that coloured mushrooms are the more poisonous ones, just went out of the window 🤷🏽
  2. 🧚🏼Glow in the dark mushrooms: There are around 100 species of mushrooms 🍄 which are bioluminescent. Found in Meghalaya, locals use these as torches. In the monsoons the woods are full of these eerie glowing mushrooms.
  3. 🔥Tinder mushrooms: The tinder fungus has been used for thousands of years as kindling for fire. So you keep one of these mushrooms in a bag, light it up and it keeps smouldering for hours. You can take it out and use it to warm yourself or light a fire. The oldest preserved human – Otzi the iceman, had a tinder mushroom in his bag.
Glow in the dark Mushrooms

Please watch the movie – Fantastic Fungi on Netflix for more such fascinating info.

So, the point of this article is not just to talk about intriguing mushrooms but it is to also to raise awareness about the nutritional content in mushrooms and the great business model it is.

Mushrooms are superfoods and are excellent sources of Vitamin D, whole range of anti-oxidants, minerals, immunity and energy boosters and have so many medicinal and carcinogenic properties. We as Indians under utilise mushrooms in our diet – the most we would consume is mushroom masala or mushroom pepper dry made of button mushrooms. As a majority, we are oblivious to the wide varieties that are there like Crimini, Portabella, Shiitake, Oyster, Beech, Maitake, King Trumpet, Lion’s Mane, Porcini, Gucchi (expensive – obviously with a name like that) extremely tasty mushroom from Kashmir), and there are 200 such edible varieties we know and are still discovering new ones.

Mushrooms just take 3 weeks to 3 months from spawn to harvest and don’t need sunlight, much water or nutrition to grow. In fact, Mushroom cultivation can be an excellent option for farmers with small land holdings or just a basic shed to make enough money. Both edible and medicinal mushroom farming is highly profitable.

The mushroom market worldwide is dominated by China. China produces 93% of the world’s mushrooms, whereas India is sixth with just 0.55% of world produce. There’s a huge potential to do more in this space and with very low investment. An ecosystem needs to be built out for mushroom cultivation – easy access to good quality spawn of different varieties, certain quality of hay/sawdust or such substrate etc, processing centres, ease of export and certifications, which are just not there right now. The fact that mushrooms can be grown in any Indian state and any agro climatic zone with a basic set up is something that we should capitalise on. Read this article about how a Manipur entrepreneur is breaking records with her mushroom business.

The ‘shrooms thank you 🍄🙏🏽 for reading till the end and they hope you had ‘fun’gi 😶


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