The other day I was talking to a friend who’s recently got into growing shiitake mushrooms at home, the week before that, a colleague shared a podcast about psychedelics and their untapped potential in medicine. I caught myself thinking how out of nowhere mushrooms are on everyone's radar... to the point that people are farming them in their tiny flats. So, I wanted to understand how the humble fungi are shaping a new world of sustainable and medicinal goods.
Let’s go back to basics: mushrooms are the flora of mycelium and just a small visible part of the organism. Mycelium is a complex underground structure that lives inside the substrate (wood, straw, grain) and is key to regenerative agriculture and carbon absorption.
All types of edible mushrooms contain varying degrees of protein and fibre. They also contain immune-supporting nutrients, B vitamins and a powerful antioxidant called selenium. Perhaps that's one of the reasons why mushroom cultivation has become so popular over the past few years – from farms sprouting in Paris's empty car parks to life-changing mushroom farming in Africa.
Ever since consumers started paying more attention to the health and sustainable benefits of fungi, the mushroom product category has boomed across industries; from sustainable packaging, building materials, to fungi-based engineered meat. The year 2020 saw mushrooms become a star ingredient in beauty products, while the fashion industry was raving about mycelium leather handbags, shoes, and sofas. With new advancements, the mushroom-based biomaterial will grow beyond the experimental stage and advance rapidly. Many brands such as adidas, Stella McCartney, and Lululemon have teamed up to invest in the novel biomaterial Mylo – to scale up production and create a supply chain for the leather alternative.
A different type of mushrooms, known as psychedelics, are blooming their way into revolutionising the mental health industry, with clinical promise to cure depression, anxiety, and addiction. A recent discovery by a North Carolina lab revealed how psychedelics bind to serotonin receptors on brain cells, setting the stage for the discovery of new kinds of antidepressants, anti-anxiety drugs and treatments for substance use disorders. While research in psychedelics is slowly advancing, we are well underway to seeing more development now that psilocybin is the latest legalised drug in Oregon, USA.
Could it be that mycelium is the answer to many problems that humankind is currently facing? If this magical fungus allows us to create everything from clothing to building materials, what's waiting for us on the horizon? My guess is that, with clued-up consumers and a climate crisis on our hands, brands will continue to innovate and find new solutions to impossible problems. I, for one, am excited to see the magic of mycelium spread like… well, mushrooms.
Image credit: Dezeen