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Mushroom Spawn 101: Your Ultimate Guide

Before you start exploring this blog about mushroom spawn, It will be really helpful if you are familiar with the basics of what mushrooms are and how they are cultivated. If you’re new to mushroom cultivation, please check out these blogs to know more about how mushrooms grow and the jargon used in mushroom cultivation:

Mushroom spawn is very critical if not the most important input in the mushroom cultivation process. We try to clarify the most commonly asked questions about mushroom spawn in this blog, in order to equip you with the right knowledge. Here is a look at the different questions that we will be addressing:

  • What is mushroom spawn?
  • Why can’t we cultivate from spores?
  • How is spawn made?
  • What is the difference between grain spawn and sawdust spawn?
  • What are the qualities of good spawn?
  • How do we store spawn properly?
  • How do we know if the spawn we have is good?

What is mushroom spawn?

Mushroom spawn is basically mycelium, the living fungal culture, grown onto a substrate. It is the most critical input in mushroom farming and is used by mushroom growers similar to how farmers and gardeners use seeds. Mushroom spawn, unlike seeds, is grown from selected genetics and cloned so that it is possible to consistently produce a particular cultivar (cultivated variety) of mushroom which exhibits desired traits. This is similar to how people grow fruit trees via grafting as opposed to planting their seeds. Grafting is done to make sure that the fruit tree consistently produces delicious fruits because of a particular set of genetics that are chosen. Spores (and seeds for that matter!) are a genetic lucky dip dependent on two individual sets of genetic material, whereas spawn is a single, unique genetic culture that can be indefinitely propagated from the same ‘mother’ culture. Our ‘mother’ cultures are kept in the laboratory on agar petri dishes and maintained at the optimal temperature.

 

Spawn production in laboratory

Spawn bags being prepped under sterile conditions in the lab

 

 

Why can’t we cultivate mushrooms from spores?

In the wild, mushrooms produce tens of thousands of spores (some even billions!) and get scattered across the forest by wind, rain, insects and other agents. They are on a quest to find the most suitable growing conditions but sadly the vast majority of spores will never grow into a mushroom fruit-body. As a cultivator this is not a risk that you can take, you want to ensure that you get consistent, reliable and repeatable results every time.

Another factor to consider is that spores are not sterile and growing using spores directly might lead to an increase in contamination rates which will affect your productivity drastically.

At Nuvedo we select productive strains of edible and medicinal fungi to make spawn which have been proven to give consistent results in the Indian setting, so that our cultivators can maximize their success.

How is spawn made?

All spawn start out their journey on a petri-plate as a pure fungal culture of mycelium. Once the mycelium has fully colonized the surface of the agar, a tiny piece of the mycelium is transferred to boiled grain. This mycelium is then allow to grow on the surface of the boiled grain for 3-4 weeks until it colonizes all of the grain. This myceliated grain is what is called grain spawn.

 

Infographic about myceliated agar plate

Step 1

 

Infographic about grain spawn

Step 2

Apart from different grains such as wheat, jowar (sorghum), millet, rice, etc. some spawn producers even use sawdust and wooden dowels as a substrate for making spawn. The substrate used to make spawn serves three functions-

  • Act as a surface for the mycelium to grow and spread on
  • Provide the mycelium with macro and micronutrients so that it stays alive and healthy till it is inoculated on the final substrate material
  • Act as multiple points for the mycelium to grow from and colonize the final substrate material at a faster rate from different parts of the substrate

We produce all of our spawn at our state-of-the-art facility in Bengaluru. NuvoSpawn is produced on sorghum grain in sterile lab conditions. We start by taking mushroom cultures from our culture bank and then growing them out on sterilized grain in a controlled environment, using our own standardized process and media, to ensure that our customers get the best quality time and again!

To ensure consistent results we grow our own mushrooms at regular intervals and keep track of the cultivation parameters of each and every strain. We do not sell spawn of any mushroom that we ourselves have not grown. If you’re buying spawn for the first time, make it a point to ensure that your spawn vendor grows their own mushrooms to ensure the variety is still performing consistently.

 

Spawn making in lab under sterile conditions

Nonabsorbent cotton plugs being inserted into the neck of the spawn bag inside a Laminar Air Flow

 

Spawn making in lab under sterile conditions

Inoculation of sterilized sorghum with a myceliated agar wedge

 

 

Spawn production in lab under sterile conditions

Final packing of spawn bag after inoculation under aseptic conditions

 

What is the difference between sawdust spawn and grain spawn?

Grain contains a lot more nutrition as compared to sawdust. This can lead to contamination or increased chances of attack by pests if used to make outdoor beds or logs. When the cultivator wants to grow in an outdoor environment where there could be pests or where the chances of contamination are higher, sawdust spawn is a much better option. Using sawdust spawn for conventional cultivation can lead to lower yields and slower colonization as compared to grain spawn.

What are the qualities of good spawn?

The most critical parameters for good spawn from a cultivator’s point of view is:

  • It should be free from contamination

    1. The spawn has to be made under aseptic conditions preferably under a Laminar Air Flow to ensure the best results
    2. All materials used must be of the highest quality. Using low-quality or broken grain can lead to increased chances of contamination post inoculation.
    3. Grain used has to be boiled to the right consistency to ensure that it doesn’t break or get squished post inoculation. This is really important in ensuring low contamination rates.
    4. Grains/sawdust needs to be sterilized in an autoclave at 121 degrees Celsius and 15 PSI pressure to make sure that no microbial life persists
  • It should be fast colonizing

    1. Genetics that are old or not maintained well undergo “senescence” or deterioration, leading to slow growth and poor yields
  • It should give good yields

    1. Strains are one of the most critical factors which determine yield so spawn manufacturers should use commercial cultures which give high yields
    2. If cultures are not maintained well, the fungus can lose its virility over time leading to poor yields
  • It should be free from toxic chemicals, antibiotics, and pesticides

    1. Some spawn manufacturers have been seen using hazardous chemicals such as formaldehyde to fumigate their labs and some even add antibiotics such as gentamycin to their media to keep it free from microbial contamination
    2. Over time, exposure to these chemicals can cause detrimental health issues to the cultivator who handles these materials
    3. Fungi can bioaccumulate complex molecules and the resulting mushrooms may contain trace amounts of these chemicals which will eventually affect the health and wellbeing of the consumer.
  • It should give consistent results every time

    1. Some genetics are prone to mutation more than others and this can lead to variation in cultivation parameters such as speed of colonization, physical characteristics of the mushroom itself, and even yields.

 

Qualities of good spawn infographic

Qualities of Good Spawn

We take pride in saying that NuvoSpawn is not just another bag of spawn. It is a technically superior product guaranteed to maximize your success by giving you consistent results time and again. We document the optimal growing conditions of our cultures to ensure that our customers can make the best use of our product.

NuvoSpawn:

  • Is enriched with first-quality grain which ensures vigorous colonization and healthy growth.
  • Is completely dry, pure fungus without wet patches to eliminate chances of bacterial contamination.
  • Has been proven to give higher yields due to greater bio-efficiency because of our genetics and unique media.
  • Is manufactured in a sterile environment which leads to a healthier growth of fungus.
  • Uses disinfected nonabsorbent cotton to reduce chances of contamination.

 

How do we store spawn properly?

Your mushroom spawn is alive!! Yes, it is a living, breathing organism. In order to keep it healthy, happy, and strong we need to make sure that it is stored properly. A question we keep hearing is “how long can I store my spawn?” How long you can store your spawn depends on 3 things mainly:

  • Cultivated variety or cultivar
  • Storage Temperature
  • Storage Conditions

 

Infographic on Qualities of Good Spawn

Factors Affecting Spawn Storage

 

Let’s take a look at the factors one at a time:

  • Cultivated variety:

It has been observed that varieties in which the mycelia grow slowly tend to have the longest shelf-life. To put it simply, the slower the growth of the variety the longer you can store it.

There are some basic signs to look for to understand if your mycelia are undergoing senescence or biological aging. The following are signs of the aging process of mycelia, in their order of appearance:

  • The mycelia become more compacted
  • The appearance of hard-looking crusts or lumps
  • Formation of foul-smelling, colored liquid
  • Self-digestion or autolysis of mycelium and degradation of mushroom spawn

 

4 Stages of Spawn Ageing Infographic

4 Stages of Spawn Ageing

 

The mycelium is perfectly healthy and usable in stages 1 & 2 through the spawn might not feel as crumbly as it does when it is fresh. Self-digestion or autolysis starts happening at the end of stage 3, hence it is strongly recommended that you use your mushroom spawn before it happens. The mycelium has reached the end of its life in stage 4 and therefore the spawn should be discarded at this stage.

 

  • Storage Temperature:

The ideal temperature for the storage of spawn is 0 to 4 degrees Celsius. At this temperature, spawn can be stored for anywhere from 2 months to 4 months. However, there are a few exceptions to this, for example, Pink Oyster mushroom spawn or Milky mushroom spawn tend to degrade if refrigerated since they are both tropical varieties.

 

  • Storage Conditions:

If you have ordered boxes of NuvoSpawn, make sure that you place the boxes on shelves or stack them in an alternative manner like bricks, always making sure that you leave around 10 cm space between the boxes for airflow. If spawn for mushrooms like oysters has to be stored for extended periods, then take out each bag from the box and put them separately on the shelves inside the refrigeration unit. The refrigeration unit will have to be opened on a daily basis to ensure there is enough circulation of fresh air for spawn survival.

We strongly recommend you not to order or store your spawn months before the actual date of use. Whatever money you may save on shipping will be compensated by an increased yield and lower chances of contamination losses using fresh spawn.

At Nuvedo we do not keep any spawn that has aged more than 3 weeks to ensure that our customers get the best results, so it becomes really difficult to entertain last-minute requests as we are almost always booked out. The best-case scenario for us would be if you let us know 14-21 days before you need your spawn so that we can ensure the availability of fresh spawn. We will ship it out to you exactly in time for your inoculation!

 

How do we know if the spawn we have is good?

So, you’re waiting on your first batch of NuvoSpawn from Nuvedo or have a batch of mushroom spawn that you’ve been storing for a while now?
Without testing, you might have to inoculate your substrate and then wait a few weeks to come to the realization that the spawn you used was too old or not strong enough. To save yourself all that trouble you now want a quick and easy method to see if you can proceed with inoculation without worrying if the spawn you used was good enough. Well, you’ve come to the right place, all you need to do is follow the instructions mentioned below!

There are 2 ways of doing this, the hard way (which gives you more reliable results) or the easy way (which is cheaper and requires a lot less effort)

Let’s start with the easy way:

  1. Take a sample of a few grams of spawn from each bag you wish to test.
  2. Take a clean plastic container and put a small pile of wet paper (tissue paper, toilet paper, cardboard) on it.
  3. Place the spawn on top of the paper.
  4. Place the container in a clean, cool place away from direct sunlight.

The mycelium should be growing visibly on the paper in less than a week. This method is not foolproof and can give you false results so we would recommend you to follow the technique mentioned below.

The hard but reliable way:

  1. Take a petri dish that has been prepared with PDA or MEA mixture.
  2. Open the dish under sterile conditions, preferably under a laminar airflow, to avoid contamination. (Contamination can give your false results)
  3. Using a sterile tool, such as a spoon sterilized under a naked flame, place a few kernels of mushroom spawn around the petri dish.
  4. Under the laminar air flow, roll the kernels around under the petri dish. Close and label the petri dish.
  5. Let the petri dish mature for 5 days to a week at a temperature beneficial for mycelium. We recommend around 20 Degrees for Oyster mushroom spawn or Shiitake mushroom spawn.

In a week you should observe mycelium growth from the place where the kernels were rolled over the agar medium and from the kernels themselves

The result: The strength of the spawn is indicated by the amount of mycelium growth present after a week. If the growth is fast and intense, your spawn is still very active. Old spawn also has a capacity to colonize the substrate like fresh spawn but the rate of growth will be much slower. So, the same applies to the kernels on your petri dish/paper towel. If you don’t see any growth in 5 days or so then that means that your spawn is too old and needs to be discarded. It is not that old spawn will not be active, it grows so slowly that contaminants get the upper hand and might take over your substrate. So, better safe than sorry.

Now that you have checked your spawn quality, you can confidently proceed with the next steps of mushroom cultivation if your test results came out well or order a fresh batch of NuvoSpawn in case your spawn is too old.

This brings us to the end of this blog, if you have any further questions or need any clarifications about spawn, feel free to reach out to us. We are more than happy to answer your queries.

A Culinary & Medicinal King – The King Tuber Oyster Mushroom

Before I get into the mushroom side of things, let’s take a look at 3 not-so-good statistics about the current state of affairs in India –

  1. 2022 was the hottest summer in India in the last 10 years with temperatures in parts reaching 49 degrees Celsius.
  2. According to the latest National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5), India witnessed a 62% increase in the number of overweight children from 2016 – 2020. This alarming statistic is an indication that if neglected, we might face an obesity crisis.
  3. Despite the blanket ban on plastics nationally, India still generates over 26,000 Tonnes of plastic every day with 60% of this ending up in landfills.

So, to put it simply- global warming is showing its true colors, our population is getting more obese by the day and our lands are being choked by plastic waste.

The million-dollar question on your mind now must be – what does all this have to do with mushrooms?!

Well, let’s find out!

As humans, we are drawn to mushrooms because of the unusual physical characteristics of their fruitbodies which magically appear after the first rains in fields and woodlands. Mycelium, which might not be visible, but is passively present within the ground below, waiting for favorable conditions.

Pleurotus tuber-regium has a similar story for us. This beautiful ochre colored mushroom was first stumbled upon by a member of our Cultivation Team at Nuvedo,while on a trip through the tropical jungles of Goa. He was quick to grab his camera and send us a couple of photos of this unique looking mushroom. Little did we know that this mushroom would soon be the reason for a lot of research, experiments, discussions and sleepless nights in our journey to work with the most healing mushrooms out there.

Ethnomycological Significance

Pleurotus tuber regium or King Tuber Oyster mushroom as it is commonly called is a relatively new mushroom for a lot of us in the mushroom space. They have been used by communities in West Africa and even in parts of North East India for many centuries as both an edible delight and also as folk medicine. These are not to be confused with the popular gourmet mushroom King Oyster (or Pleurotus eryngii) though they both share the characteristic feature of growing from the top surface of the substrate, rather than sideways like your conventional Oyster mushrooms do. Apart from this feature King Tuber and King Oyster mushrooms are two very different mushrooms. This mushroom derives its name from its unique ability to form truffle-like tubers underground, which are actually hard bundles of mycelium called sclerotia (which also act as food reserves for fungi). Apart from being a culinary delight, sclerotia contain a considerable amount of polysaccharides that are responsible for the multitude of medicinal properties that these mushrooms exhibit. If these facts haven’t blown your mind yet, let me tell you more!

King Oyster (Pleurotus eryngii)
King Tuber Oyster (Pleurotus tuber-regium)

 

Heat Tolerant Mushroom

King Tuber Oyster mushrooms are one among the most heat tolerant cultivable mushrooms out there, capable of withstanding temperatures up to 40 degrees Celsius! Now that’s one hot mushroom! With temperatures around the world increasing year after year, the effects of global warming cannot be dismissed. Keeping this in mind, these mushrooms have the potential to become a food source in places where other crops might find it hard to survive due to high temperatures.

These mushrooms have a lot of potential for commercial cultivation but a lot more research needs to be done to develop commercial strains which have superior yields before these mushrooms can become available to the masses. As of today, these mushrooms are a rare delicacy that is wild foraged from tropical forests in Africa, Asia, and Australasia.

We even have tribal communities in Tripura who use these wild-harvested mushrooms to cook up some amazing delicacies.

 

King Tuber Oyster Mushroom

In the wild, King Tuber Oysters can be seen growing from rotting wood or from the soil. In the forests of Nigeria, these mushrooms can be seen growing around the African breadfruit tree. They are considered primary decomposers and can be cultivated on lignocellulosic waste similar to other gourmet and medicinal mushrooms. In their natural habitat, these mushrooms first form a thick bundle of mycelium underground, the sclerotia. Under favorable conditions, the fruiting bodies start to emerge from the sclerotia and appear above ground as beautiful light ochre mushrooms with funnel-shaped caps. These caps turn flat and proceed to turn wavy after the mushrooms reach full maturity. The sclerotia can be harvested and used to grow these mushrooms by simply planting it inside the soil, the same way you do with seeds!

King Tuber Oyster harvest mushrooms
Harvest from the King Tuber Oyster Mushroom Growing Kit

Medicinal Uses 

Traditionally these mushrooms have been used in folk medicine in Ghana (4) for the treatment of a variety of health conditions including asthma, and high blood pressure and even to assist in weight gain for malnourished children. For all these purposes the mushroom/sclerotia is dried and powdered first and then used in soups or broths or even as an additive to flour used in cooking. One quick search for this mushroom on google will leave you with a multitude of research papers that show the therapeutic benefits of this special fungus.

King Tuber Oyster mushroom contain bioactive molecules which have been shown to help with-

  • Lowering high blood pressure (2)
  • Lowering high blood sugar (1)
  • Lowering Cholesterol (1)
  • Anti-Tumor/Cancer: (2,5)
  • Anti-microbial properties (for Herpes Simplex) (2) (5)
  • Anti-Obesity (2)
  • Liver protection (2, 5)

Apart from medicinal benefits, King Tuber Oysters are also very high in potassium(3), anti-oxidants (2), and dietary fiber (equivalent to legumes or even seaweed)(5). It is an excellent prebiotic (2) and has also been explored as one of the few vegetarian sources of Glucosamine (5) which is used by patients suffering from various joint, bone, and inflammatory diseases such as arthritis.

Another really interesting property of this mushroom is its ability to break down polyethylene, which is a commonly used type of plastic! Don’t believe me, see the result of the study for yourself! As can be seen below, Pleurotus Tuber regium was able to decrease the weight of the polyethylene strips by a good 13.25% which is almost 50% higher than that compared to Pleurotus pulmonarius.

So we have with us a rare mushroom that grows in tropical jungles, is capable of withstanding scorching high temperatures, has the potential to treat a multitude of health conditions, and can eat plastic to top it off it also happens to be super tasty!

The obvious question most of you have right now would be where can I find these mushrooms? Or how do I cultivate these mushrooms at home? Don’t worry, we got you covered! Over the last year, our R&D team at Nuvedo HQ has been busy tinkering and finding a way to bring this powerhouse of a mushroom to your hands. After a lot of trial and error, we were successfully able to come up with the cultivation technology for this amazing mushroom which is now available for you to experience at home in the form of an easy-to-use grow kit!

You can grab one here: https://nuvedo.com/product/king-tuber-oyster-mushroom-growing-kit/

One last point that I want to touch upon before concluding is the culinary nature of King Tuber Oyster mushroom. Due to its high fiber content, the texture of the caps can be quite chewy compared to other mushrooms. Also, the stipe of the mushroom is hard and difficult to chew but brings in a unique texture, unlike any other variety. Throwing the stem away is not advised because there are a lot of polysaccharides and bioactive molecules present in it. You can chop them up or put them in the blender and make a paste out of it, which can later be added to soups or brother. The blended mushroom can be used in a similar fashion as a grated coconut!

Single Use Plastics in Mushroom Cultivation

Before you start exploring this blog, I am assuming that all of you are familiar with the basics of what mushrooms are and how they are cultivated. If you’re new to this, please check out these blogs to know more about mushroom cultivation and the jargon used:

Mushroom farming by its very nature is sustainable and has a positive impact on the environment. Just by cultivating mushrooms, we upcycle a lot of agricultural waste which would have otherwise been disposed of or burnt. Mushrooms also use only a fraction of water used by commercially cultivated crops.

What makes things better? The substrate leftover after growing mushrooms is a really good compost starter!
If you want to explore the positive environmental impact of mushroom cultivation then this blog is for you: Why India Needs More Mushroom Farmers: Environment

But all things said, the resting guilt most mushroom cultivators face, is the usage of single-use plastics. In this blog, we are going to look deeply at the use of plastics in the mushroom industry, viable alternatives, and advancements in the field of biopolymers that may be possible solutions.

To begin with – let’s get down to basics.

Why does one need to use plastics in mushroom cultivation in the first place?

Here are the 5 main uses for plastics in the cultivation process:

  1. Prevent evaporation: Most of the commonly cultivated mushrooms are composed of ~80% water. This water is absorbed by the mushroom from the sterilized or pasteurized substrate which is hydrated to hold 55 – 70% water, as a percentage of the total weight of the substrate. The plastic acts as a physical barrier to ensure that the water present in the substrate doesn’t get lost due to evaporation.
  2. Protect against contamination: Plastic is inorganic. lacks the nutrition and hence doesn’t support the growth of any unwanted microorganisms that can negatively affect the growth of mycelium.
  3. Keep pests out: Plastic acts as a physical barrier to stop pests from entering and eating up or contaminating your substrate.
  4. Protect against physical damage: The plastic cover ensures that the loose substrate stays intact while it is being moved around and while the mycelium slowly spreads through the substrate making it one single mass.
  5. Provide suitable microclimate: Certain mushrooms like Antler Reishi, King Oyster & Enoki need a specific microclimate (high in C02 for example) to grow a certain way, the plastic helps in maintaining certain cultivation parameters.

 

Now that we’ve established the uses of plastic, another important question we need to address before we proceed is, are there any established methods of cultivating mushrooms without the use of plastics? There are plastic-free ways to grow mushrooms, the most common methods being log/totem cultivation and bed cultivation. In log/totem cultivation, logs of suitable trees and the right dimensions are inoculated with mycelium. The mycelium then feeds on the log and colonizes it, giving out mushrooms when the weather is right. Many mushrooms such as Shiitake, Oyster, and Reishi can be grown outdoors using logs.

 

The Reishi Mushroom - FreshCap MushroomsVietnam Straw Mushroom For Sale (whatsapp: +84 845 639 639) In 2020 - Buy Mushroom Spawn For Sale,Straw Mushroom Benefits,Fresh Straw Mushroom Product on Alibaba.com

 

The major disadvantage with this method is that the cultivator has to wait a year or two before his first harvest and also the fact that harvests will be seasonal, making it hard to cultivate mushrooms throughout the year.

Finding the right wood, at the right time of the year and in the required dimension can be hard. Another challenge with logs is that they are heavy, moving and handling them can be very energy-intensive. Apart from logs, outdoor beds are also a great way to grow mushrooms without the use of plastics. In this method, the cultivator makes an outdoor bed using a pasteurized substrate that has been layered with spawn. One major drawback of this method is that the number of species that can be cultivated is very low, for example, Paddy Straw, Wine Caps, and certain species of oyster mushrooms.

Growing in beds can also lead to increased chances of contamination and attacks by pests. Both methods described above are still used in different parts of the world today and can be viable for the cultivator depending on his location and requirements but for a cultivator looking for consistent yields and year-round production, bag cultivation remains the most practical option.

Let’s dig a little deeper and understand what are the different types of plastic available in the market and which ones are suitable for growing mushrooms.

Based on what they are made of and how they degrade, plastics can be put in one of 4 categories:

  • Bio-based and Biodegradable: These plastics are derived from natural sources and are biodegradable. Eg: PLA, PHA, PBS, Starch blends, etc
  • Non-bio-based and Biodegradable: These plastics are derived from artificial sources and are biodegradable. Eg: PBAR, PCL, etc.
  • Biobased and non-biodegradable: These plastics are derived from natural sources but are not biodegradable. Eg: Bio-based PET, PE, PTT, etc
  • Non-bio-based and non-biodegradable: These plastics are derived from artificial sources and are not biodegradable. Nearly all conventional plastics fall into this category.

 

This categorization makes it very clear that just because something is made from a natural source doesn’t mean that it is automatically biodegradable and on the other hand just because something is made artificially it doesn’t necessarily have to be biodegradable. Another common mistake is thinking that compostable and biodegradable imply that if you simply throw away that piece of plastic, it will degrade by itself. This is incorrect, the words “compostable” and “biodegradable” imply that it can be composted or degraded under industrial conditions for composting or bio-degradation!

This brings us to our next question, what is the most suitable type of plastic available for mushroom cultivation and why?

Most cultivators prefer using Polypropylene number 5 or PP5 for short. PP5 is commonly used as packaging for foodstuffs and as containers for food as it is a very safe and stable polymer that doesn’t degrade easily. It is the safety coupled with the fact that it can withstand temperatures of 121 degrees and 15 PSI pressure with ease, (this temperature and pressure are encountered in an autoclave which is typically used to sterilize substrate bags) that makes this plastic the most popular one for mushroom cultivation. Unlike PP5, biodegradable polymers such as PLA, PHA, etc. cannot withstand such high temperatures or pressure and have poor barrier properties, making them nonviable for mushroom cultivation.

 

This being said, if you’re pasteurizing your substrate and can find a way for the substrate to retain moisture, you can try to biodegradable polymers available in the market for cultivating mushrooms provided that they are sent to the right facility to be composted. There are scientific papers out there that have examined the ability of certain species of oyster mushrooms to degrade bioplastics such as PLA, so make sure that you are using a type of bioplastic which the mushroom mycelium cannot degrade! To know more about this please read this article.

A few materials that we often get asked about for mushroom cultivation are jute bags and clay/ceramic pots. Both of these aren’t viable alternatives to plastic. Jute bags are porous, so evaporation will not be controlled and since it is made from plant matter they can get contaminated very easily. As for earthen pots, they are full of micropores which can act as a surface to attract contaminants, and similar to jute, the porous nature of the material will result in a loss of moisture from the substrate. Apart from this, clay/ceramic pots are fragile and heavy, handling them without damage can become an issue if they are used at a commercial level.

Though plastics are bad for the environment, there is no denying that it is a really good material that has a lot of uses and is economically viable. One viable alternative that a mushroom cultivator can try is using reusable PP5 buckets/containers to cultivate mushrooms. These buckets have a long life and can be used over multiple cycles without any need to be replaced. Mind you, this alternative may not be suitable for all varieties of mushrooms and there will be an additional step of cleaning and maintaining these buckets, which will need additional resources.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s are some representations of the same: Enoki mushrooms being grown in reusable containers and King Oysters being cultivated in reusable bottles:

While writing this I am hopeful about the future and I feel that it is just a matter of time before performance-based bio-materials become widely available and cost-effective enough to replace plastics altogether in the mushroom cultivation process. Till then, let’s all be on the hunt for more sustainable materials and practices, and let’s all do our bit in growing the mycelium network!

 

Guest Blog: This Veganuary, give mushrooms a try!

The ethical and environmental devastation wreaked by animal agriculture or livestock farming is finally getting mainstream attention in the West, and now in India. The impact of industrial animal agriculture is enormous. It emits 14.5% – 16.5% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, occupies over 30% of the Earth’s land, and has destroyed over 70% of the Amazon rainforest. It commodifies the lives of over 80 billion land animals in a year — raising and slaughtering them in intensive, cruel, and filthy conditions. It has been the breeding ground for avian and swine flu epidemics. Experts cite that the next pandemic could well originate from a factory farm. Can we afford this destruction just to satiate our demand for meat?

Today, there are several humane and sustainable alternatives to animal-based meat. They use a fraction of the environmental resources required by conventional meat, do not lead to fatal contagious diseases, and spare billions of animals unnecessary suffering. Plant-based alternatives to meat, dairy, and eggs have proved that they are no longer just a passing health or sustainability fad — they are no longer consumed only by vegans or health enthusiasts.

Veganuary was started as a challenge by a UK nonprofit group in January 2014 to help people transition to a plant-based diet for ethical, environmental, and health reasons. Veganuary India offers support in this transition too.

The future is plant-based and these alternatives are here to stay! Gone are the days when meat alternatives consisted merely of soya nuggets or chaap, or tofu analogues. Meat alternatives today mean business — they are tasty, affordable, and accessible, and will only get better with increase in demand.

The humble mushroom is playing a crucial role in mitigating the disastrous impacts of animal agriculture, and in forging a new food system that is more equitable for people and animals. It is rich in potassium (which reduces sodium levels and blood pressure), contains B vitamins which can boost energy, has anti-inflammatory effects on our immune systems, and is loaded with antioxidants and polyphenols that protect against aging.

Mushrooms have enormous potential as raw materials for plant-based meats, leading to an explosion of mushroom-based meats in the West. According to Forbes, investors are favouring fungi-based meats as they have fewer ingredients, require significantly less processing, and have a better nutritional profile than the current popular plant-based meat ingredients such as soy or pea. According to The Good Food Institute, an impressive USD 1.5 billion was invested in plant-based meats in 2020, of which USD 435 million was in fermentation technologies, which are used by several mushroom startups. Meati is one such example. It is grown indoors, without environmental pollutants or antibiotics and is ‘brewed’ using water, sugar, and nutrients from the mushrooms’ mycelium structures. Meati uses this technology to create its steak, chicken, and jerky. Ecovative is another company that created its AirMycelium™ platform which systematically grows mycelium fibres in specific patterns using a range of biological processes to create mushroom-based meat and leather at scale. It then created MyForest Foods to launch its first product MyBacon, using its gourmet mycelium.

Mushrooms are an ideal raw material for meat alternatives — they are grown extensively across India, are not resource-intensive, are nutritionally dense, and provide a texture and umami flavour that are convincingly meat-like. For a population that is growing increasingly conscious of their health and the environment, it is only a matter of time (and increasing consumer demand) that such products are available and price-competitive in India!

Mushrooms are playing a vital role in reforming the traditional leather industry too. India’s dairy, beef, and leather industries are inextricably interlinked with each other. These industries have the same ‘raw material’, i.e. India’s cows and buffaloes. In addition to the obvious cruelty to ~ 500 million animals, the cattle industry’s greenhouse gas emissions are amongst the highest in the world, with India being among the world’s top beef and dairy exporters and consumers. The industry is infamous for emitting sludge and metals like chromium, lead, zinc, and manganese into nearby water bodies. It is also rife with social ills. According to the report ‘Do Leather Workers Matter?’, Dalits and Muslims, who comprise a majority of tannery workers, must contend with abysmal wages and working conditions — leading to eye infections, skin diseases, lung ailments, and cancers. Such workers are not offered health insurance, and in case of accidents, are rarely provided compensation.

Mushrooms have superior characteristics that make them a natural choice for leather alternatives. The cruelty-free and biodegradable nature of mushrooms allay the ethical, environmental, and human rights concerns associated with traditional leather. Mushroom-based leathers today are touted to be at par with traditional leather in terms of performance.

One of the world’s leading mushroom leather companies is Bolt Threads, which produces Mylo, a mycelium-based material, currently ready for commercial production. “Growing a cow takes one to two years. It takes growing the feed before you grow the cow. And so you’ve got a huge impact embedded in that cow. Mylo takes less than two weeks to grow.”, says Jamie Bainbridge, Vice President of Product Development at Bolt, to Fast Company. Bolt will not release further information on CO2 savings and a life cycle analysis until production starts at scale. MycoWorks, another company, claims to innovate over existing mushroom-based leathers in its patented Fine Mycelium™ technology, which “engineers mycelium cells as they grow to create three dimensional structures that are densely entwined and inherently strong”. This creates the chromium-free final leather product Reishi, which compares with the durability, performance, and environmental impact of animal-based leathers. In March 2021, MycoWorks collaborated with luxury brand Hermes to launch the Victoria travel bag, bringing its biotechnological innovation and Hermes’ legendary craftsmanship together to design the future of fashion.

In addition to providing ethical and sustainable alternatives to the leather industry, mushrooms offer us an opportunity to consider our consumption practices overall. As Merlin Sheldrake, author of ‘Entangled Lives: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds, and Shape Our Futures’ told The Guardian, We have been trained as consumers to think in terms of a straight line whereby we buy something, use it and throw it away. This is about material innovation, but it’s also about the culture of making endless new things, and what we can learn from thinking in terms of nature and of cycles instead.”

In addition to the immense potential that mushrooms offer as alternative meats and materials, one of its most important benefits is the potential economic opportunities for traditionally marginalised communities in a developing country like India. India’s poultry industry comprises huge conglomerates that employ millions of farmers through contract-farming agreements. India’s version of The Transfarmation Project could provide such farmers with an opportunity to escape the debt associated with vertically-integrated chicken farming, and transition to the significantly more humane and sustainable mushroom-farming model. This in turn could supply mushrooms as raw material for India’s burgeoning plant-based meat industry.

Mushrooms are leading the way when it comes to sustainable food and materials globally, and I expect that it will do so soon in India too. In honour of Veganuary, I urge you to give mushrooms a try. Watch this space as Nuvedo brings mushrooms to the forefront of India’s sustainable food and materials systems!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why India Needs More Mushroom Farmers (Part 3/3)

Socio-economic-issues

Unemployment

India is said to have over 38 million unemployed people as per reports published in December 2020. Though this number is disputed, it is still alarmingly high and unemployment continues to be the largest social issue in India.

 

Source: https://www.businesstoday.in/latest/economy-politics/story/india-unemployment-rate-april-cmie-highest-257055-2020-05-01

Mushroom cultivation is an extremely labor-intensive process and this is precisely what makes it expensive to cultivate mushrooms in the USA and Europe. The whole process can only be automated partly and there are critical parts of the growing cycle that need human intervention. In India, we have a wealth of human resources, both skilled and unskilled, which can be utilized to fuel the growing international demand for cheap and high-quality mushrooms. With the right training and supportive ecosystem, India has the potential to turn into the mushroom cultivation hub of the world.

More people getting into controlled cultivation of fungi can create a multitude of jobs across the sector, which can address the issue of seasonal unemployment currently present in the agricultural sector. With more investment into the larger mushroom ecosystem, like developing value-added products or manufacturing spawn, more job opportunities will get created across the whole mushroom value chain.

Women empowerment

There is a need today more than ever to redefine the status of women in Indian society.  Economic empowerment through financial independence is one of the ways in which we can help women gain access to their rightful share of things in different spheres of life. We can do this by giving women access to resources that can help them generate a stable source of income. Without economic strength or reasonable income security women will always lack the freedom to make rational choices and to become socially responsible.

Some mushrooms such as oysters can be cultivated at home with low technical inputs and skills, due to new cultivation techniques like cold water pasteurization which removes the need for any equipment. Oyster mushrooms grow fast (one complete cycle in 45 days), are also quite hardy, and can tolerate changes in an external environment to a larger extent compared to other mushrooms. Therefore, the cultivation of oyster mushrooms at home is a relatively fast and easy way for women to earn a livelihood and supplement their income from other sources such as rearing cows or chicken farming which are the current favorites among women to make a living. As long as the production volumes are commercially viable and they have access to a steady market, small-scale cultivation of mushrooms is a viable option. A single household can make up to 1 ton of oyster mushrooms in a cycle with just 600 sq ft of dedicated growing area. The synergy of a group is much higher than an individual, so adopting a participatory approach like setting up self-help groups centered around mushroom cultivation can definitely help make women an equally important paradigm of the development process.

It is safe to say that mushrooms are in line with our current agro-economy and can play a vital role in serving many needs such as environmental, socio-economic and health which are key to a healthy, flourishing country. As Indians, we have to look deeper into the mycoverse, understand fungi and their benefits and adapt them suitably to our current climates and weather patterns. For consumers to help grow this ecosystem and support farmers, encouraging conversations surrounding mushrooms and adapting them in our diets is equally important if not, vital to the survival of mushroom cultivation industry. 

If you’d like to recap on the other two parts that addressed two key areas:

Part 1: Environmental – Read here: https://nuvedo.com/2021/12/20/why-india-needs-more-mushroom-farmers-part-1-3/

Part 2: Health & Wellbeing – Read here: https://nuvedo.com/2021/12/29/why-india-needs-more-mushroom-farmers-part-1-3-2/

Why India Needs More Mushroom Farmers (Part 2/3)

Health & wellbeing

“Mushrooms are miniature pharmaceutical factories, and of the thousands of mushroom species in nature, our ancestors and modern scientists have identified several dozen that have a unique combination of talents that improve our health.”
– Paul Stamets

Protein deficiency in the Indian diet

The Indian Market Research Bureau’s 2017 report states that measured against the recommended daily intake of 60g, 80% of Indians are protein deficient. The usual sources of proteins in a regular Indian diet consist of one cup of lentils, 1 glass of milk, or 1 cup (200 g) of yogurt which contains 7-8 grams of protein. In order to meet the requirement of 60g protein per day, it would be necessary to eat eight bowls of lentils or drink 7-8 glasses of milk which you and I both know is practically impossible!

 

Mushrooms are considered the highest producer of protein per unit area and time. This basically means that for a given area and a fixed time frame, compared to all other sources, mushrooms have the highest protein content. So, just how much protein does a mushroom contain? 100 g of dried Lentinus Sajor Caju commonly known as the Indian oyster mushroom contains around 28 grams of protein, which is as much as you would find in 100 g of chicken breast! Apart from absolute protein content, the quality of protein from mushrooms is superior to almost all other vegetarian sources. This is because mushrooms contain all of the 9 essential amino acids whereas most plant-based protein sources lack one or more of these or may not have them in the required quantities.

 

If you’re an environmentally conscious fitness enthusiast, you might want to swap your chicken steak for some mushrooms next time because it takes roughly 156 times the amount of water to produce 1 kg of chicken as compared to the same quantity of fresh mushrooms. Yet one more way in which mushroom cultivation can help society is by giving us the protein we need on a daily basis while using only a fraction of water and resources compared to popular alternatives.

By adopting mushrooms as part of our daily diet, we can bring about the much-needed shift towards vegetarian and sustainable sources of protein at an individual level. This can further encourage more farmers to take up mushroom cultivation as a means to support themselves in a more sustainable manner.

 

Increase in lifestyle disorders as the leading cause of death in India

A recent article by the business world states that nearly 61% of people in India die due to lifestyle diseases. Lifestyle diseases are ones that are connected to how people live their lives. Irregular sleep patterns, unhealthy food habits, lack of regular physical activity, and stress are the leading causes of lifestyle disorders. Major lifestyle disorders most prevalent in India are obesity, hypertension, heart disease & stroke, type-2 diabetes, cancer, and Alzheimer’s.

With advances in technology and the ever-increasing pace of life, lifestyle disorders are here to stay. Which leads us to the question of how mushrooms could possibly play a role in this?

Well, it turns out that many mushrooms contain novel compounds which can help us treat or manage many of the disorders mentioned above. Let’s take a look at a few common examples of medicinal mushrooms and their benefits:

 

 

From the above list, it is quite obvious that adding a dose of some of these potent medicinal varieties of mushrooms to your daily diet can help prevent or treat many of the most prevalent lifestyle disorders of today. No wonder mushrooms such as Reishi, which is regarded as the mushroom of immortality in China, have been used in traditional Chinese medicine for the last 10,000 years! India, with its rich heritage of natural remedies, should seriously consider adding these powerful medicinal mushrooms to its already vast arsenal of herbs.

Promoting awareness about the healing potential of mushrooms and their uses can help increase access to alternative healing remedies, which can improve the quality of life of millions of Indians who seek relief from their health conditions on a day-to-day basis.

I’ll be taking into account the other issue in the next blog piece stay tuned folks for Part 3: Why India Needs More Mushroom Farmers.

Read Part 3 here: https://nuvedo.com/2022/01/05/why-india-needs-more-mushroom-farmers-part-3-3/

If you need to recap on Part 1 on some of the environmental issues Read Part 1 here: https://nuvedo.com/2021/12/20/why-india-needs-more-mushroom-farmers-part-1-3/

Why India Needs More Mushroom Farmers (Part 1/3)

Our tagline at Nuvedo is “In Mushrooms We Trust”. At Nuvedo, we truly believe that fungi hold the answer to many of the most pressing issues that our country India is facing today on multiple fronts. Rather than looking at these as issues, we can approach them as opportunities for us to harness the true potential of fungi and progress towards a more sustainable future. So, let us take a look at some of these opportunities and see how mushrooms can help solve them.

The problems that we face today can be broadly be classified into 3 categories:

  • Environmental
  • Health and Wellbeing
  • Socio-economic

Though all the problems listed below can be considered to have an environmental and economic benefit owing to the very nature of mushrooms, I have categorized them on the basis of the dominant theme. This blog has been split into 3 parts so as to get into the details of each of them. In part one, the environmental angle is what will be explored.

Environmental

The issue of crop burning

Every year, India generates about 700 million tons of agricultural waste out of which close to 16% is burnt, leading to an increase in airborne pollutants.

How bad is this problem?

It is estimated that the total national annual emission for CO2 from crop residue burning alone is more than 64 times the total annual CO2 pollution emission in Delhi. If this isn’t alarming enough, a study conducted by the Institute for Social and Economic Change, Bengaluru, estimates that people in rural Punjab spend INR 7.6 crore every year on treatment for ailments caused by crop residue burning. Even after three years of an intense awareness campaign in Punjab, along with INR 1,000 crore worth of subsidies on straw management machines, there hasn’t been any big shift away from stubble burning. As per the data from Nasa’s VIIRS 375m satellite, 86,606 fires were detected in Punjab and Haryana this year which marks a 7.3% increase over last year. Moreover, climate scientists have already linked fine particulate matter in the haze to the melting of Himalayan glaciers. So, it is quite clear that crop residue burning is not a problem to be taken lightly. To understand the underlying causes let’s try and understand why farmers resort to burning crop residue.

There are 3 main reasons

  1. Most farmers use combine harvesting machines which cut the crop eight inches above the ground, leaving the stem stuck in the soil. Additional machinery is required to further remove the stubble, which have high operating costs and hence increases the financial burden on farmers. Burning is the cheapest and most convenient way to dispose of crop residue due to which farmers resort to it.
  2. There is no other profitable source of income that the farmer can generate from agricultural waste, apart from selling it as feedstock for bio-CNG plants or as animal fodder, both of which don’t generate enough income to cover the labour involved.
  3. The time window available to prepare the fields and sow winter wheat crops after paddy harvesting is really small, which forces the farmers to find a fast and easy way to remove crop residue. Overall, farmers find that harvesting the crop residue simply isn’t worth the effort that goes into it.

This is where mushrooms come in. Agricultural waste such as paddy and wheat straw makes a great substrate for cultivating a variety of mushrooms including different types of Oyster, Paddy straw, and Milky mushrooms. These mushrooms digest the lignin, cellulose and hemicellulose present in the straw and turn it into nutrients that help them grow. To see how profitable it can be let us compare the wholesale price (as of December 2021) of 1 Ton of wheat, Onion, and Oyster Mushrooms; 1 ton of wheat sells for  21,000, Onion for  62,000, and Oyster mushrooms for  1,00,000! Farmers can use their crop residue to cultivate these lignin-loving mushrooms and generate a considerable chunk of revenue from what would otherwise have been burnt. What makes this even more economical is that the mushrooms substrate which has been utilized to grow mushrooms (also called spent mushroom substrate) can be used in compost preparation; which can be added back into the fields to improve the structure and soil fertility. Currently in India only 1.5% of the agricultural waste generated is being used as substrate to cultivate mushrooms.

The spent mushroom substrate has also found use in industries to generate bio-diesel or can even be used to feed livestock! As you can see, mushroom cultivation is something that should be promoted in areas with an abundance of agricultural waste as a way to reduce waste, stop pollution and generate additional income.

 

India’s water crisis

India is facing a major water crisis today, which can be attributed to the culmination of a variety of issues. The major cause of this crisis lies within the agricultural industry. Nearly 90% of the available groundwater is currently being used by the agricultural industry for irrigation. This issue is made worse by unscientific growth of water intensive crops like sugarcane and rice in areas with poor rainfall and insufficient ground water. The Nature study, published in the year 2009, clearly warned that, if counter measures are not taken soon, India would not only face severe shortage of drinking water, but the agricultural yields would also reduce, which could lead to extensive socio-economic issues. The evidence so far is in line with this prediction. For example, the agricultural yield growth of Punjab which was once the top performing state, has reduced considerably in recent years. This coupled with potable water shortage and water and air pollution has caused a variety of problems in the state.

Consider this- 1 kg of wheat needs 1350 liters of water, 1 kg of rice needs 3000 liters of water, 1 kg maize needs 900 liters of water. Compared to all the crops mentioned above, 1 kg of fresh oyster mushrooms requires just 25 liters of water! Need I say more? Mushroom cultivation could be a really good way to provide much needed nutrition to the average Indian while utilizing 90% less water compared to commercially cultivated crops.

 

I’ll be taking into account the other two issues in the next blog piece stay tuned folks for Part 2: Why India Needs More Mushroom Farmers.

Read Part 2 here: https://nuvedo.com/2021/12/29/why-india-needs-more-mushroom-farmers-part-1-3-2/

India’s Mushroom Tribes: NuMushTe

India is a land of tribes, cultures, mixed religions, dance music and most importantly cuisines that are diverse in many ways. The food of indigenous people holds contrasting spectrums while we move across geography. And with this diversity, tribes of India have adopted practices that are inherent to their regions in order to bring food to their plates. Ethnomycology is concerned with the roles of fungi in the human social experience. An inherently multidisciplinary field, it reaches into myriad cultural domains and crosses interests in the humanities, fine arts, and social and natural sciences.
Ethnomycology, as a study is to be explored further in our country, but to begin, here’s is our attempt to explore, and understand our own heritage through documented evidence.

Some of these practices of foraging and hunting have been forgotten along the way as tribes started urbanizing further. Foraging as a concept has been lost, with the advent of mono cultivation and free availability of food. However, with this ease, ideas of food over years have become that of what the market dictates. Over the years this repeated stress on cultivation has taken away the knack of urban and semi-urban communities to concepts of foraging and this skill lies simply with the tribes in dense forest locations. One such rampantly foraged kingdom is Fungi. After foraging, tribes collected recipes of various fungi and used them for medicinal, spiritual, and socio-economic purposes. India is home to the largest population of tribes (Adivasis) in the world, making fungi a close link to their culture. States like Assam, Nagaland, Madhya Pradesh, and Orrisa have shown many ethnomedicinal uses which have been very well documented. Diverse climates and unique biodiversity are host to a rich mushroom population in India and form a valuable non-timber forest resource for local tribes and communities. Consider the recipe of the ‘Kaani’ tribe of Tamil Nadu, the community collects mushrooms early morning and soaks them with pounded rice and water. Post this they boil the mixture with spices, salt, and green chilies and serve the same with grated coconut and tapioca.

Nowadays, we have begun to eat, not from a geographic perspective, nor from ancestry but from what the market dictates. Thus, our biochemistry over years is perhaps dictated by what our great grandparents and ancestors have eaten, and we feed our guts non-intuitively. In the same way, we eat the mushrooms that the market dictates – button mushrooms while forgetting the various many beautiful, medicinal, and nutrient-rich mushrooms available in our lands.

Traditional knowledge of mushrooms within tribes of India lies deeply in the religious sacredness of festivals and ceremonies. Maharashtra cultivates a wide variety of mushrooms and has been building its so-called inventory through foraging, keeping ahead of the mushroom trends, and with a variety of mushroom cultivators propping up in the state. Local names of mushrooms in Maharashtra include aalimb, tree-loving varieties literally as “lakdachi aalimb” and “mohacha aalimb” as those which are closely linked to the mahua tree, and grow out there.

West Bengal has many regional ethnic tribes like Munda, Sabar, Lodha, Kol, Bhumija which are concentrated in the dense forest areas and consume wild edible mushrooms freely. Previously, ethnomedicinal uses of fungi in different areas of India like Assam 25, Nagaland 20, Madhya Pradesh 26, Northern Odisha 27, Similipal Biosphere Reserve 28, Central India 29  were studied and documented. In Central India, Ganoderma lucidum is used as herbal medicine by the Baiga tribes to relieve those who suffer from curing asthma. Similarly, another potent medicine is Agaricus sp. which has found immense benefits in used in goiter. Lycoperdon pusillum was found to help in clotting, wound healing with its antiseptic properties.

Baiga Tribe Photo

In a lot of tribes, the affordability of animal protein is impossible, and thus mushrooms are greatly valued as a source of protein. They form a vital food supplement solving a huge malnutrition problem in these areas. Ethnic tribes of western Assam such as Garos, Adivashis, Bodos, and Rajbangshis also do consume mushrooms on a regular basis in their pickles, festival cooking and in soups. Take, the Kodagu district in Karnataka where tribes have been foraging and consuming mushrooms just after the first monsoon rains. These mushrooms pop out from all around the forest near the base of trees and thus get their names, in a unique syntax. The ethnic names are derived from having the  first name as tree name followed by ‘mara’ which means tree and ‘kum’ which means mushroom. Some common names also include Alambu = Mushroom, Amme = Breast-like, Anabe = Mushroom, Baari = Big, Balliya = Big, Baeru = Root, Beeru = Root, Buguri = Top / Pedestal, Chalae = Purple, Gante = Bell etc. Similarly in a neighbouring state of Kerala, the mushrooms are given names along with their association with other plants. Mushrooms growing on tree stumps are called thuttikoonu, while those that grow along with jackfruits are called Chakkakumman. Some even are grown after the bamboo wood is put out, and destroyed known as mulankoonu. With every dialect and ethnic tribe, this close association with nature while bringing in nomenclature has a beauty that might have been lost as we moved away from nature.

Garos tribe photo

Due to their close association with festivals, rituals and practices, mushrooms have traditions associated deeply with them in these tribes. For example –  the effects might get enhanced if the preparation is eaten or applied on an empty stomach on the onset of ‘Purnima’ or ‘Amavasya’ tithi. Celebrated, respected and consumed widely, there is a lot to learn from the tribes of India as to why fungi have healed and stood the test of time.

Bodos tribe photo

Fungi is the link in the entire forest that takes signals through it’s mycelium network and helps us understand why each species operates the way it does. Our tribes in India and forest communities are the last piece of information on empirical knowledge with the fungal kingdom and unique species. In order to really respect and understand this kingdom, we need to keep our understanding of their characteristic intact.

While we understand just a sliver of it, as a community we ought to create pockets of collection, appreciation and understanding through spending time in those environments, foraging for species, and documenting evidence that could benefit our relationship with mushrooms.

Women’s Health & Mushrooms

If you think closely, in your immediate group of friends, family, or loved ones, you would know at least one person, who has a lifestyle-related issue. We’re living in a time when a large number of us have new eating habits, sedentary jobs, and lifestyles that often lead to a lot of imbalance in the normal functioning of our bodies. These imbalances have long-term effects on our endocrine system which ultimately leads to an inability to maintain a state of homeostasis.

Homeostasis, any self-regulating process by which biological systems tend to maintain stability while adjusting to conditions that are optimal for survival. If homeostasis is successful, life continues; if unsuccessful, disaster or death ensues. The stability attained is actually a dynamic equilibrium, in which continuous change occurs yet relatively uniform conditions prevail.” – The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica

It is important to present the above statement here because we often forget that we need to strive towards balance, and try to bring a sense of equilibrium back into our bodies. In the context of women, hormonal imbalances translate into problems such as PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, weight gain, strong Premenstrual syndrome (PMS), lower fertility etc. Women go through experiences such as pregnancy and menopause which lead to spikes in hormonal levels. This surge of hormones can create a lot of discomfort and often lead to other complications as they continue.

Having said the above, women’s hormonal health often goes hand-in-hand with being able to manage stress, anxiety, and overall mental health.
We can safely say, that what steers the ship of a woman’s bodily health, is her hormones. Hormones are released from glands in your endocrine system. They tell your body how to breathe and how to expend energy. To explain this further, I will briefly explain how our bodies are governed by our hormonal balance.

For the sake of this article, we will look at the three key hormones that play vital roles in regulating women’s health:

  • Androgens: Androgens are made from cholesterol and are produced in the adrenal gland and the ovaries. Women and people with cycles who have higher levels of androgens than normal can experience symptoms like excess hair growth, acne, irregular or absent periods, and infertility.
  • Progesterone: Progesterone is the major hormone that promotes pregnancy.
  • Estrogen: Estrogen is the most famous sex hormone in women and people who menstruate. It is made from cholesterol (a type of fat molecule) within the body. You can read a little more on each of the above hormones here.

So where do mushrooms come into the picture?

Mushrooms have been viewed as therapeutic in ancient Chinese cultures and had their diversity explored thoroughly for various ailments and treatments both topically and internally. It’s no surprise then that mushrooms can be incredible for women’s health. And while, these have been recorded through history, and have their roots more firmly in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), — studying them with controlled methodologies is important.

As a disclaimer – what works in our own bodies must have a combination of our own medical history, what our doctors have recommended, and should intuitively work with our bio-feedback. Just as in India, we uncovered some of the potential healing benefits of Ayurveda, we must owe credit to what historically has been documented, and passed on through TCM.

Mushrooms contain compounds that have various properties such as antioxidant, anticancer, antidiabetic, antiallergic, immunomodulating, cardiovascular protector, anticholesterolemic, antiviral, antibacterial, antiparasitic, antifungal, detoxification, and hepatoprotective effects. In the context of hormonal imbalances, what is fascinating is their ability to bring back “homeostasis,” and thereby creating a place where hormones find balance.

Mushrooms aid women’s health in their ability to up-regulate the immune system, elevate resistance to stress and help our bodies detoxify all the harmful xeno-estrogens – which act as hormone disruptors and are present in numerous cosmetics, plastics, and foods, such as additives, artificial flavors, and factory-farmed meats.

Let’s look at the top three issues faced among women in various age groups and the specific mushrooms that can help manage them better:

PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome):

Accumulation of excessive estrogen in the body due to hormonal imbalance, which comes mainly from poor diet, exercise, or under secretion of cholesterol, is responsible for the sex hormones being able to function properly.

Reishi mushroom growing on a tree

Reishi helps in stimulating the liver and helps detoxify xeno-estrogens which disrupt the functionality of female hormonal systems. Apart from being a direct link in the functionality of the liver, Reishi has a strong action in inhibiting testosterone. Women who consumed Reishi have shown reduced levels of Dihydrotestosterone (DHT) which is an endogenous androgen sex steroid and thereby reducing acne, facial hair, and hair loss. As a potent natural anti-androgenic medicine it contains oils called triterpenoids which reduce the production of 5-alpha-reductase – a hormone that increases testosterone production. It also happens to be an important factor in benign prostate growth and prostate cancer.

 

Maitake mushrooms

Maitake is a very beneficial mushroom for PCOS. It has the ability to regulate insulin and induce ovulation which in turn regulates the menstrual cycle, thereby decreasing the chances of PCOS. Research has shown it may also help reduce pelvic inflammation, which is beneficial for women suffering from endometriosis, uterine fibroids, dysmenorrhea, and pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).

 

Menopause:

When women reach their 40s and 50s, there is a natural decline in the reproductive hormones leading to a lot of discomfort such as hot flushes and vaginal dryness. These often lead to mild forms of anxiety and depression which create an overall surge of changes that can deeply affect women.
Mushrooms have been used in traditional Chinese medicine for years treating some of the symptoms of menopause and have shown great results.

 

Cordycep mushrooms

Cordyceps are a great way to mitigate irritability or mood swings which have resulted from low estrogen. It has been used widely to treat unpleasant effects of menopause and even lack of libido. Evidence shows that release 17β-estradiol (E2) directly influences the quality of maturing oocytes making it a strong contender to help with menopause. Cordyceps sinensis (CS) is a great option, but studies are still being conducted to examine and understand their effects at a deeper level.

In TCM, the liver often governs the way we respond to various diseases, imbalances and it is what regulates the movement of ‘qi’ within the body.  ‘Qi’ much like, “prana” in Ayurveda, is a concept of a circulating life force that sustains all living beings. It links our body’s physiological and emotional flow of energy in the body that maintains life.

Hence even with menopause, mushrooms that benefit liver functionality, such as reishi can be very therapeutic. Increasing evidence has proved that it has immuno-modulatory properties, simply put, it helps in boosting a weak immune system and brings to rest an overactive immune system. Reishi additionally has incredible benefits in reducing inflammation within joints, edema, and palpitations of the heart. For women going through a challenging time in their lives, during menopause, the ease and comfort it could bring to mood swings, anxiety, irritability, and depressive states are tremendous.

 

Candidiasis:

A common problem often caused by a parasitic fungus (Candida albicans) that lives in the digestive system mucous layer. During regular functioning of the immune system, the body has a strong ability to manage the fungi as they colonize the mouth, gastrointestinal tract and vagina. However, during a compromised immune functioning, a commonly occurring problem in women is vaginal yeast infections. Close to 75% of women, experience it at least once, in their lifetimes.  Itching, redness, and discharges as symptoms cause a lot of uneasiness throughout the day.

Interestingly, Maitake has shown ways to restore a good immuno-modulating response in the body. Although it does not directly target the problem it has a plethora of benefits in creating a good immune system. In a similar fashion, reishi has shown to have some efficacy in treating candida but not as effectively as standard medicines do. However, this does come to the point on how medicinal mushrooms play a larger role in daily supplements or lifestyle nutrients which can be more preventive rather than curative.

 

Shiitake mushroom

Extracts of shiitake have also been able to rid of Candida in a laboratory setting but in high concentrations. Both Reishi and Shiitake have proven to have a high amount of beta-glucans ( which can become immune stimulants in the body, activation of macrophages (Macrophages are specialized cells involved in the detection, phagocytosis, and destruction of bacteria and other harmful organisms), increase NK cell production.

The immunomodulatory and anti-inflammatory effects of β-glucans from different mushrooms’ species are known, however, their benefits in the case of women take a whole different landscape. We have only scratched the surface of what they can do. If taken consistently, with appropriate care and consideration to the bodies’ needs they host a variety of properties that have the ability to bring you back to homeostasis.

 

3 Tips for the best oyster mushroom growing experience

Congratulations on getting your very own Nuvedo High Protein Oyster Mushroom Growing Kit!

We are really happy that you have taken a step towards bringing the magic of mushrooms into your lives. #MoreRoomForShrooms

If you have just received your kit, you probably have a lot of questions on your mind right now. Where do I keep it? How much water do I spray? When do I harvest?

We have tried to answer as many of those questions here in our FAQ Section.

We highly recommend that you through it once before you start.

For those curious to know more, continue to read on:

The substrate block you see inside the kit is nothing but chopped and sterilized straw with mycelium (the white stuff) growing on it. The patches of yellow and brown that you see on the block are metabolites released by the mycelium as it feeds on the straw for its nutrition.oyster mushrooms

Once you cut open the membrane of the substrate and spray water on the block for the first time, the mycelium gets triggered into the fruiting stage of its lifecycle. The rush of fresh air increased humidity, and exposure to moisture tricks the mycelium to start producing fruiting bodies or what we commonly call mushrooms.

As a mushroom farmer, you have to try and mimic its natural environment in the best way possible for the best results. The mushroom in your growing kit is Lentinus Sajor Caju, commonly known as The Indian Oyster Mushroom.

It is mostly found growing from the sides of dead tree logs, which is also why you cut the side of the substrate block and not the top.

They grow best in cool (19 – 30 Degrees Celsius) and humid environments (65-80% Relative Humidity) with a lot of fresh air.

For a home grower to improve his chances of getting a beautiful flush, consider 3 things – light, air, and moisture.

 

Dos and don'ts for oyster MushroomsLet’s examine the three factors:

 

Light:

Mushrooms are not plants, they cannot photosynthesize and depend on the substrate for food. This means that they don’t need direct sunlight but at the same time they cannot survive in complete darkness either. Light is a trigger for the mycelium to produce mushrooms, so you have to place your kit somewhere where it gets exposed to light for around 12 hours a day. The light source can even be ambient indoor lighting, just make sure that it doesn’t get too hot as high temperatures can cause the substrate blocks to overheat and kill the mycelium.

Air:

Mushrooms breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide just like us. Oyster mushrooms in particular tend to do well in places that have high levels of oxygen, so keeping your kit in a place with good air circulation is important. Next to a window would be ideal, but if you decide to keep it in a closed room, you should make sure that you open the door to the room and switch on the fan or blower for a few minutes to draw in the fresh air a few times a day.

While fruiting, mushrooms will drop spores, keeping them next to a window will allow the spores to get carried away by air currents.

Moisture:

The membrane on the substrate prevents the block from drying out completely by trapping the moisture inside. Spraying the exposed substrate after cutting the membrane, triggers the mycelium to enter fruiting. This is the same reason that we find mushrooms after fresh rains, the moisture from the rain triggers underground mycelium to reach up to the surface and form mushrooms. So, you aren’t really “watering” the mushrooms like you do plants by spraying water.

This means that you just have to spray enough clean water to keep the substrate moist without making it soggy or wet. A good test to know if your block has enough moisture is to touch the surface of the substrate with your finger (remember to wash your hands before handling the block!), it should feel moist but your finger should not be visibly wet.

Take care to use filtered water as tap water can contain chlorine which is harmful to the growth of mushrooms.

  • Humidity: Another aspect of moisture is humidity. If your geographic location has humidity less than 65%, you have to increase the humidity around the kit by placing a wet towel or cloth next to the base of your kit. The evaporation of water from the cloth creates a humid microclimate around the kit, which can help you get good harvests.

We hope we have been able to cover your doubts regarding how you can grow your kit well.

Remember- To be a good mushroom farmer you have to learn directly from the fungi by observing them patiently.

In case you have any more queries please do reach out to us or write to us.

All the best for your mushroom journey!