A Talk With The Mushroom Man

January 2023

For our new project at Locavore, we’re teaming up with a guy who everyone calls the mushroom man. His real name is Aaron, but really… he’s the mushroom man. He founded Urban Kulture where he runs mushroom cultivation workshops and shares all his fungal wisdom. And he’s our fungi, mycelium, mushroom expert who’s going to live in the basement at our new project NXT. Okay, work there, and it’s called a fruiting chamber. But that doesn’t sound as funny, does it?

You might be super clued up on the myco-scene and know exactly why it’s very important and VERY COOL for us to have built our own fruiting chamber for our own mushroom guru. Maybe you saw the Netflix documentary Fantastic Fungi and had your mind blown by the magical beauty and incredible intelligence of the mycelium world. Or perhaps you’re not on this hype yet because you’ve been living under a rock. In which case, consider the fact that you might be more like a mushroom than you think.

Simply put, mushrooms are going to change the world. We know enough about their fascinating nature to know that they are one of the keys to creating a better future for food. And a better future full stop. Now all we need to do is put the time, effort and energy into understanding more about what mushrooms can do and what we can learn from them. So, we’re going for it. We’re setting out to unearth more of mushroom’s hidden secrets. It’s quite exciting.

It goes without saying that nobody is more excited than Aaron “the mushroom man” himself, so we had a chat with him about what exactly is so game-changing about mushrooms and why we should all be on the edge of our toadstools.

Locavore NXT
Aaron Boyer, mushroom cultivation expert a.k.a. fungal wizard

How can mushrooms make changes to their environment?

Fungi are the unsung heroes of nature. Mycorrhizal fungi have symbiotic relationships with trees, attaching to the roots and exchanging greater access to water and nutrients for sugars. They create an underground communication network, acting like the internet of the forest. Saprophytic fungi are nature’s recyclers that break everything down and are key in the process of soil mineralisation and carbon cycling.

How do mushrooms deal with change?

Fungi are adaptive. Mycelium has learnt over time how to break down different materials and can create thousands of different enzymes to protect themselves from certain environmental factors. Mushrooms can also be bred from spores to be grown in different environments by exposing the spores to different foods and temperatures and selecting those that respond to desired conditions.

Locavore NXT
mushrooms getting cosy with a tree, photo by Jesse Bauer

Can mushrooms transform themselves?

Saprophytic mushrooms have the most amazing ability to regenerate. If you take the stem of an oyster mushroom and lay it on some damp cardboard you can see it start to get a white fuzz growing. This is not mould, but mycelium regenerating. That mycelium will start to grow on the cardboard and can then be used to grow more mushrooms. From mycelium to mushroom to mycelium to mushroom to mycelium and so on…

Can mushrooms transform other things?

Fungi are great at extracting heavy metals, so they can change heavily contaminated soils into clean soil. They can also break down complex hydrocarbon chains into simpler and safer forms. There are even fungi that can break down certain plastics, and scientists that have worked with that to turn the plastic into edible food. Crazy!

Have you ever seen a mushroom transformed into something else?Mycofabrication is all the rage in the myco community. From furniture to myco-coffins, there is the potential for a broad range of applications using the bonding strength of mycelium to make materials. We will be featuring several pieces of mycofabrication at NXT.

Locavore NXT
mycelium "leather" range by MYLO
Locavore NXT
Bob Hendrikx designs "Living Cocoon" mycelium coffin
Locavore NXT
mycelium ceiling pendants by UK designer Sebastian Cox

What different flavours do mushrooms have?

The main flavour of mushroom is Umami although some mushrooms also have sweet flavours and are used in desserts. Candy cap mushroom is one such as this and is commonly used to make ice cream! The reishi mushroom has intense bitterness and has been used as a replacement for hops in some beer recipes.

What’s your favourite mushroom to eat and why?

You can’t get past the prized porcini, its umami is world famous. Unfortunately this is a mycorrhizal mushroom which can only be cultivated by inoculating saplings of the right type of tree and hoping for the best. As far as commonly cultivated mushrooms go, I enjoy pink oyster the best. I cook it hard and get it crispy like bacon!

Locavore NXT
a Pink Oyster ready for chopping, photo by Edgar Castrejon

What can mushrooms do for us when we eat them?
Mushrooms have an extensive history of use as medicine, especially in China where the recorded use of Reishi (known as the ‘mushroom of immortality’ or ‘mushroom of spiritual potency’) amongst the Taoists goes back several thousand years. Today, scientific studies recognise the amazing properties of Reishi for immunity, heart and brain health, fatigue and depression, blood sugar control and its ability to kill cancer cells. This is just one of many known functional, medicinal mushrooms. Oyster mushrooms can lower cholesterol. Lion’s Mane is prized for its ability to induce nerve growth factor which can help prevent cognitive decline. Cordyceps mushrooms can increase performance and stamina. And, of course, the Psylocibin mushrooms can be used for deep journeys into consciousness – or as is more popular these days, as a microdose (a sub perceptible dose) which can be used for depression, anxiety, creativity and cognitive improvement. We are only just tapping into the amazing resources mushrooms can bring to fungi-human relations!

Locavore NXT
wild 'Mushroom of Immortality' growing in Indonesia, photo by Aldo Risky Pratama

"The reishi mushroom has intense bitterness and has been used as a replacement for hops in some beer recipes"

Are there any mushrooms that can change our physical appearance when we eat them?

The Tremella mushroom is known as the beauty mushroom. It has the ability to hold 5 times more water than hyaluronic acid, which is the moisturising poster-child of the cosmetics industry. Using a serum of tremella on the skin can reduce the effects of visible ageing.

Have mushrooms always been the way we know them today?

No, fungi and mushrooms have changed a lot over time. Around 400 million years ago, before there were trees, there were giant mushrooms up to 8 metres tall... like spires covering the land. They would have been by far the tallest land organisms around at the time. The fossils of these are called Prototaxites.

Tell us about a famous mushroom in history.

A famous mushroom and an absolute joy to come across in the wild is the red and white fairy tale mushroom Amanita Muscaria which has so much myth and mystery around it. Is it the famed ‘soma’ of the Vedic tradition? Does the legend of Santa Claus and Christmas originate here?

Locavore NXT
magical 'Amanita Muscaria' toadstools , photo by Hans Veth

Do you think humanity’s attitude towards mushrooms is changing?
Yes, mushroom attitudes are changing around the world, as we learn more about the wisdom they hold and the gifts that they offer more and more people are becoming curious about fungi and the role they hold in nature as well as the advancement of fungi-human relations. I have taught over 10,000 people an introductory course into mushroom cultivation and I have witnessed first hand the different walks of life of my students, from 6 year olds to 90 year olds. From corporate to permaculturist, there is something for everyone in the realm of fungi.

Do you think mushrooms have an important role to play in our future?
Sustainable farming, mycoremediation, myco-fabrication, functional medicine, connection to the divine… mushrooms can change the world.

We had to ask...

If you could wake up in bed one morning and find yourself transformed into a mushroom, which mushroom would it be and why?
Amanita Muscaria for sure. No mushroom brings more wonder and curiosity than these massive Red and white mushrooms. They are such a contrast to their surroundings and an entry point into getting interested in Fungi. As someone who rocks a mohawk in a town full of man buns, I definitely appreciate embodying contrast and bringing attention to Fungi is my purpose and passion... so I resonate with that mushroom the most.

Keep an eye out for the second half of our talk with the mushroom man, where he’ll be revealing what he's up to in our basement…