Into the World of Mushrooms: A Reading List

Is it weird I’ve been planning a mushroom-themed reading list for a long time? Probably. But mushrooms are intriguing. What other substance on earth is sustenance, poison, psychedelic drug, medicine and delicacy? There are approximately 1.5 million kinds of mushrooms (I Googled it). They survive via underground communication networks called mycelium. The biggest recorded mycelium is over 2,000 acres across, in Oregon. In the following five pieces, you’ll meet foragers, hikers, researchers, anthropologists, drug dealers and puppies. You’ll have a newfound appreciation for the men and women who devote themselves to studying these weird, wild fungi.

1. “Last Supper.” (Cal Flyn, Aeon, December 2013)

Foraging for mushrooms—dinner time or a death knell? In England’s Lake District, Cal Flyn, her boyfriend, and their mushroom guidebook explore the fungi offerings of Grizedale Forest; and Flyn meditates on the adrenaline-tinged appeal of dangerous foods.

2. “No Mushroom Cloud.” (Miranda Trimmier, The New Inquiry, February 2016)

There is a mushroom called matsutake, and it thrives in the wake of destruction. Miranda Trimmier reviews The Mushroom at the End of the World by Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing, which beautifully explores the relationships between capitalism, cultural exchange, environmental preservation, and, of course, foraging for mushrooms.

3. “Meet America’s Next Top Truffle Dogs.” (Marian Bull, BuzzFeedLife, February 2016)

The cutest canine competition west of the Mississippi: tracking truffles in the damp forests of Oregon, “aiming to cultivate an industry that will both help preserve the state’s ecology and boost its reputation in the food world.”

4. “Blood Spore.” (Hamilton Morris, Harper’s Magazine,  July 2013)

Mycologist and rogue physician Steven Pollock was murdered in his home office, where he doled out prescriptions to Texas politicos and junkies alike. Was his death a burglary gone awry, orchestrated by the government, or something else altogether? Hamilton Morris investigates Pollock’s legacy.

5. “The Trip Treatment.” (Michael Pollan, The New Yorker, February 2015)

I couldn’t have a reading list about mushrooms without including something about their psychedelic properties. This is an incredible essay by Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food, among many others. In safe, controlled environments, the psilocybin in certain kinds of mushrooms can alleviate anxiety, fear, and stress in cancer patients. Could ‘shrooms be the future of end-of-life treatment?