What Are Fungi, and What Do They Have to Do with…Everything?

Every few years, Americans seem to collectively “discover” mushrooms — again. In the ‘90s mycologist Paul Stamets began alerting us to mycoremediation, the power of fungi to clean up oil spills and pathogen-contaminated soils. There was Michael Pollan in 2006 in “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”, foraging for chanterelles and morels and explaining how fungi regenerate forests after fires. A swell of enthusiasm for mushrooms of the psychedelic variety that kicked off in the 1960s is currently renewed, with ongoing research teasing out the ways they might mitigate depression and anxiety, reduce OCD, and help smokers quit. Research continues, too, into medicinal and adaptogenic uses for mushrooms — ways that certain species may help the body fight off disease or adapt to stress. Each wave of interest is accompanied by a flurry of new books (see our roundup, below).