The Building Blocks of Life

Exploring Mycology with the Southern Idaho Mushroom Club

Article by Chelsea Chambers

Photography by Lorna Mitson, Krista Willmorth, Mickey Myrhe, Kathi Wilson

Originally published in Boise Lifestyle

What do the phrases pink disco, club foot, drab tooth, and the dewdrop dapperling have in common? Aside from possibly being a great Indie band name, they are all types of fungi! With tens of thousands of identified species and a greater estimation in the millions, fungi remain one of the most incredible mysteries of our planet. With miles and miles of mycelial networks living underfoot at this very moment, it’s no wonder that some people are drawn to the magic of mycology.

As Dr. Mickey Myhre, President of the Southern Idaho Mushroom Club explains, “I became interested in fungi about five years ago when I attended a workshop led by Peter McCoy, a Portland mycologist who piqued my interest when he pointed out that out of the over one million species of fungi believed to inhabit the Earth, fewer than 5% have even been identified.” He continues, “My interest was further spurred by my wife’s astoundingly positive response to drinking turkey tail mushroom tea after testing positive for West Nile virus at the Red Cross; her response was quite dramatic - her nightly headaches ceased, and her malaise/feeling of being sick pretty much vanished.”

The story of Dr. Myhre’s wife is just one of the thousands of similar experiences with mushrooms across the globe. Even the National Institute of Health praises mushrooms for their abilities to help prevent and treat Parkinson’s, hypertension, and reduce the risk of stroke. Their health components have been frequently synthesized into medicine and have been used as antibacterial agents, antibiotics, and so much more.

As their uses increase and the desire to harvest and forage becomes more popular, Dr. Myhre has some advice before you decide to go out on your own.

“Rule number one in eating mushrooms you forage,” he says is, “Never ever, ever eat any mushroom unless you are absolutely sure of what it is. There are many, many subtle means of identifying mushrooms, and you never want to eat anything you are not absolutely sure of.”

This is not to be taken lightly. While mushrooms are full of magic, medicine, and mystery, they can also be incredibly poisonous and lethal. To complicate matters even further, a safe mushroom can look eerily similar to its toxic counterparts, so always exercise extreme caution when foraging. If you’re unsure: don’t eat it. Always consult an expert. “One of the benefits of belonging to a mushroom club like ours is getting to know the people who really know the mushrooms and can teach newcomers how to proceed safely.”

“I would add that, because the resources of academic mycology are few, the numbers of people studying these organisms tiny, and the funding nonexistent, the task of uncovering the mysteries of these fascinating organisms—which by the way, may be the largest biomass on the planet since 90% of all plants rely on their fungal partners for nutrients and water—the task of studying these organisms falls to the citizen scientist. This represents a huge opportunity for those like me interested in science to make a contribution,” Dr. Myhre shares enthusiastically.

For more information on mushrooms and the Southern Idaho Mushroom Club, visit them online at idahomushroomclub.org.

Common Fungi Found in Idaho (there are many more than just this list!)

  • Turkey-tail MushroomTrametes versicolor

  • Common Greenshield LichenFlavoparmelia caperata

  • Fly AgaricAmanita muscaria

  • Dryad’s SaddleCerioporus squamosus

  • Splitgill MushroomSchizophyllum commune

  • Pear-shaped PuffballApioperdon pyriforme

  • Violet-toothed PolyporeTrichaptum biforme

  • Oyster MushroomsPleurotus ostreatus

  • Honey MushroomArmillaria mellea

  • Shaggy ManeCoprinus comatus

  • Hairy Curtain CrustStereum hirsutum

  • Witch’s ButterTremella mesenterica

  • Mica CapCoprinellus micaceus

  • Common PuffballLycoperdon perlatum

  • Dyer’s PolyporePhaeolus schweinitzii

  • Orange Jelly SpotDacrymyces chrysospermus

  • Artist’s BracketGanoderma applanatum

  • Sulphur TuftHypholoma fasciculare

  • Candleflame LichenCandelaria concolor

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