Most people do not think much about mushrooms. However, they have a myriad of uses as food, medicine and in environmental remediation. Ava Arvest, who works at the MycoUprrhizal stand at the Olympia Farmers Market, is committed to teaching the community about the benefits of mushrooms.

Ava’s interest in mushrooms began in 2010, the same year that she first attended the Radical Mycology Convergence. It was then that she decided she wanted to educate people about mushrooms to show that they are not scary and have incredible benefits. She and a group of like-minded folks started the Olympia Mycelial Network, a volunteer organization dedicated to bettering the world by educating the community about fungi.

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Mushrooms Demystified, displayed at MycoUprrhizal’s stand, is a popular mushroom field and identification guide by David Arora. Photo credit: Gannon Walsh

The Olympia Mycelial Network has been providing free workshops for over five years and installs free mushroom gardens in Olympia with aspirations of starting a series of cultivation courses. They work with other organizations such as GruB, Eastside Urban Farm & Garden, Partners in Prevention Education, Fertile Grounds and The Evergreen State College. It was through the Olympia Mycelial Network that Ava first learned how to cultivate mushrooms, and she has been doing so for the past seven years.

Ava started MycoUprrhizal approximately a year ago. MycoUprrhizal makes mushrooms more accessible to the public by selling fresh mushrooms, mycelium produce on grain, grow kits and mushroom growing supplies. They sell on Etsy and at the Olympia Farmers Market, with the potential of expanding their vending to the West Olympia Farmers’ Market as well. MycoUprrhizal recently moved its mushroom farm to Rochester to expand. According to Ava, their biggest issue is a great one to have: high demand. With more and more people becoming interested in mushrooms, there is a large amount of support for MycoUprrhizal from the community of Olympia.

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Ava Arvest poses with a grow kit for edible Lion’s Mane mushrooms. Photo credit: Gannon Walsh

Mushrooms are in the fungi kingdom, which makes them neither plants nor animals. In fact, they are genetically more like animals than plants. Many mushrooms have incredible benefits that are widely unknown to the public due to many people’s fears. While it is true that there are some poisonous ones, mushrooms are just as easy to identify as plants.

Edible mushrooms are often grouped with vegetables because they have similar nutritional value and cooking uses. Mushrooms are naturally low in calories and sodium and are free of cholesterol and fat. They are high in B vitamins, vitamin D, potassium, riboflavin, niacin and more essential nutrients. Most people are only familiar with the most common types of edible mushrooms: cremini, white, and portabella. These mushrooms, commonly seen in supermarkets, are actually all the same type. White mushrooms are simply a colorless variation of creminis, and portabella mushrooms are just cremini mushrooms left to grow longer. The world of edible mushrooms includes much more variety than one would initially think from shopping at a supermarket. Many less common edible mushrooms, such as oyster mushrooms or shiitakes, are more flavorful and hold the same health benefits as the more common edible mushrooms. There are even gourmet edible mushrooms such as lobster mushrooms, which taste remarkably like their namesake.

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Artist’s conk is known for its porous surface, which when scratched or rubbed, reveals dark brown tissue, making it possible to draw on this type of fungus. Photo credit: Gannon Walsh

Even mushrooms that are not pleasant tasting have incredible health benefits, often more so than their edible counterparts. Many mushrooms have properties that boost the immune system and fight cancer along with offering health benefits such as antioxidants and liver support. Medicinal mushrooms also often have anti-inflammatory and cholesterol-lowering properties and provide their health benefits without any side effects.

Reishi, a mushroom commonly known for its medicinal properties, is an adaptogen, meaning that it helps the adrenal system regulate hormones and manage stress. Reishi mushrooms also have properties that fight tumor production and help with modulating the immune system and lowering blood pressure. Many other medicinal mushrooms have similar effects, such as turkey tail, which fights tumors by stimulating apoptosis, or cell death, in them, and lion’s mane mushroom, which is known for repairing nerve tissue and helping to improve memory. The pharmaceutical industry has recently been considering integrating the health benefits of mushrooms into their products.

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MycoUprrhizal sells oyster mushrooms, a popular edible mushroom. Photo credit: Gannon Walsh

Aside from the health benefits for people, mushrooms are also capable of greatly improving the health of the environment. Mushrooms break down hydrocarbon chains such as herbicides in soil and bond with heavy metals in soil and water. In the Pacific Northwest, copper in the water is a threat to Coho salmon, and the use of certain mushrooms can make the waters safer for them here. The Olympia Mycelium Network has been working with Sarika Igoloi of the Bird and Butterfly Garden at the Eastside Olympia Food Co-op. Together, they have been developing what they call a “Doggie-Doo Digester,” which is made with fungi that will manage pet waste by neutralizing pathogens such as E. Coli. The Olympia Mycelium Network has also been designing storm water filtration systems using the environmental remediation properties of fungi and has been working with the city concerning the possibility of implementing other more sustainable methods of environmental protection.

If you are interested in exploring the culinary and health benefits of mushrooms, the MycoUprrhizal stand carries kits to easily grow your own, including edible mushrooms such as oysters, shiitakes and trumpets and medicinal mushrooms such as reishis and turkey tails. Alternatively, check out a workshop from the Olympia Mycelium Network.

The MycoUprrhizal stand can be found at the Olympia Farmers Market at 700 Capitol Way North on Thursdays and Sundays. Check out MycoUprrhizal’s website or Etsy shop to learn more or to order online.

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