Don't Be Kept in the Dar Rk about the Real History of Our Long Relat Tionship with Fungi; It's the Season for Mushrooms. Cynan Jones, Who Grows Shiitake, Oyster and Chestnut Mushrooms in the Mushroom Garden at Nantmor near Beddgelert, Snowdonia, Looks at the Psychology of Fungi and Mushrooms

Article excerpt

Byline: Cynan Jones

PEOPLE often complain about being misunderstood, but what about the world of fungi? I can almost hear them complaining about the lack of attention they get and protesting about the constant prejudices which they face from people!

To understand why fungi are so misunderstood, you must delve into their history and the reasons why people hold these prejudices. This opens the door to the psychology of fungi and mushrooms and their relationship with people.

Fungi have been part of people's lives across the world for thousands of years, with some cultures giving them much more status and respect than others. Some completely disregard them, or even fear them, while others respect them hugely, giving religious status to some types of mushrooms - especially those with the ability to change people's perceptions.

Fungi are a source of food and a basis for medicine for millions of people.

This is true for most of Europe, but not Britain, which is unique in its ignorance and fear of the mushroom world.

Until fairly recently (within the last century), the scientific world didn't know how to classify fungi. Everyone agreed they were not animals, but were they plants? Well, not exactly, and after much research and discussion it was finally established that they belonged to a separate kingdom. There has also been confusion about their identification and life-cycle. After all, they appear quickly and sporadically, which has created a somewhat magical aura about them, not to mention their psychotropic and psychedelic properties.

Why is our relationship with fungi on these islands characterised by ignorance and fear? I have discussed this many times with three friends who are authorities on mushrooms.

One is the naturalist from Plas Tan y Bwlch, Twm Elias, who is a prolific author on every aspect of fungi, and an expert on mushroom folklore as well as edible fungi. The second is Patrick Harding who has an interest in the field, and the third is Wales' foremost expert on mushrooms, Richard Edwards, who founded the mushroom growing business Humungus Fungus in Llangadog.

The general opinion - and without the aid of magic mushrooms - is that the residents of these islands have lost the community and family memory of mushrooms over the centuries, because of historical events such as the Industrial Revolution and the Inclosure Acts.

These may have eroded collective community knowledge about how to recognise and use wild mushrooms. …