D.J. McPhee D.J. McPhee21 February 2023 Open Science
The importance of mushrooms. The benefits of mushrooms shown in a picture.

The Importance of Mushrooms

Mushrooms are one of those things that people don’t give much thought to. I know more than one person that picks them off their pizzas. But there are a great many benefits to mushrooms.

A quick Google search will tell you that there are over 14,000 different kinds of mushrooms around the world, ranging from edible to toxic to psychoactive.

What are mushrooms?

Similar to plants, mushrooms can grow in many different places around the world, sometimes in inhospitable climates. Unlike plants though, mushrooms reproduce through millions of microscopic spores (the gills or pores under the mushroom’s cap). These blow away into the wind or are spread in other ways. When they find a viable substrate that they can grow on, the dig into their food source and grow a new mushroom.

Unlike the mushroom above ground, the mycelia (see more below) can persist for a long time, years in fact, and can be challenging to remove.

Humans have had a deep relationship with the mushroom since the beginning and we have used it as a foodstuff or for medical purposes.

With such a broad history and series of uses, let’s take a look at the mushroom and learn a bit about it.

Toxic Mushrooms

Are there potential benefits to toxic mushrooms?

In this fascinating article, we take a look at a few different mushrooms in particular (Amanita phalloides, the death cap; Pholiotina rugosa, Conocybe filaris; and Cortinarius rubellus, the deadly webcap) but also cover a great deal of other information. Examples of how mushrooms can be used to fight against disease are of particular interest.

What are some potential new benefits of toxic mushrooms?

In particular, mushrooms can be used to combat diseases. Natural products from mushrooms have long served as a rich source of biologically active compounds relevant to many disease treatments. Obviously, it is hoped that the toxins found in mushrooms could act aggressively against disease, such as cancer, but not have an impact on the rest of the body.

Mushrooms and Depression

In addition to diseases like cancer, can mushrooms be used in the fight against depression? What if mushrooms can help with mental health broadly?

Depression is increasing

Research has shown that the rates of depression are on the rise around the world. And in one case, it was found that depression rates almost doubled from 1990 to 2017 all around the world. Depression is a leading cause of disability around the world, and often antidepressants are prescribed.

Depression is complex and its possible that psilocybin mushrooms can be considered for treatment at many different levels.

Long term treatment with psilocybin mushrooms

Research is still ongoing, but there are some promising results that show that even short term treatment can lead to long term results.

Mycelium structures

Mycelium has been around for hundreds of millions of years. But what is it? This topic is covered broadly in a number of articles in the Journal of Fungi, and we encourage readers to read about the subject at their leisure. To learn more, you can also read our article on the topic, but here are a few highlights.

What is mycelium?

Mycelium is the root structure of mushrooms. It’s made up of hyphae, structures that look like thin threads with a high tensile strength that create larger networks. These look for nutrients and water to support the main body of the fungi (and are most often found underground).

How are mycelia useful?

First and foremost, they can be used sustainably which is very important. Some examples of their utility include:

  • Packaging materials;
  • Potential building materials;
  • Diet;
  • Mycelium-based leather.

Needless to say, there’s a great deal of potential application (and more beyond these examples).

Last of Us

With the immense success of The Last of Us (HBO), fungi have entered the sphere of pop culture.

Although the hit HBO series has some unrealistic depictions, other species of fungi and yeasts do have the potential to cause serious infections (though perhaps not zombies). As antimicrobial and anti fungal resistance increases, it’s important to have reliable source for updates on these microorganisms.


The fungus in The Last of Us is based on the fungus species Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, also called Cordyceps. The reality, however, is that they can’t infect humans because of the human body temperature. In fact, they are commonly used in Chinese medicine to treat chronic kidney disease. They can also be used to improve energy and sleep patterns and also increase appetite.

Multidrug resistant fungi

Another topic JoF has published research on is the emerging multidrug-resistant yeast species, Candida auris. It is the cause of severe human infections globally and has caused havoc in hospital environments. It’s also the leading cause of invasive candidiasis. Unlike other candida species, C.auris can tolerate hypersaline environments and high temperatures.

Because of this, there is some concern that increases in the global temperature due to global warming may be promoting the spread of the species.

Research on this question continues so that we can get answers to important and pressing questions.

Want to contribute research?

As you can see, there are many benefits to mushrooms. But if you’re interested in learning more about or are interested in submitting research on fungi and yeasts, visit JoF for more information.

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