Mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of certain types of fungi, many of which can play highly beneficial roles in forest ecosystems. Many of these fungi have unique abilities to break down wood, leaves, and other organic matter and recycle nutrients back into the system. Most plants depend on symbiotic relationships with certain types of fungi such as mycorrhizae (see Overstory #8). Other types of fungi support plants indirectly by releasing enzymes into the environment, making nutrients available, and performing many other functions. Fungi can be a great asset to a farm system, both for their ecological services and for their valuable edible and medicinal products.
Special guest author Paul Stamets describes here a number of important edible and medicinal mushrooms, and how they can be integrated into permaculture and agroforestry systems. Paul is the author of The Mushroom Cultivator and Growing Gourmet and Medicinal Mushrooms. He operates Fungi Perfecti, a company serving mushroom cultivators throughout the world.
Permaculture with a Mycological Twist
When edible and medicinal mushrooms are involved as key organisms in agriculture and forestry, the productivity of these agricultural systems can soar to extraordinary levels. Not only are mushrooms a protein-rich food source for humans but the byproducts of mushroom cultivation unlock nutrients for other members of the ecological community. The rapid return of nutrients to the ecosystem by mushrooms boosts the life cycles of plants, animals, insects (bees), and soil microflora.