Fungus among us: Mushroom walk and talk this week in Mt. Tremper and Kingston

“The biggest mushroom in the world is also the largest living organism on the planet,” according to mycologist John Michelotti. The “humongous fungus” (as some have called it) grows underground as a parasite on an Oregon Douglas fir forest, he explains, and is estimated to be 2,400 acres in size and more than 2,000 years old. And its roots can be found right here in the Northeast.

That’s just the kind of mushroom lore Michelotti likes to inject into the mushroom walks that he leads through his company, Catskill Fungi. The walks educate people on the history and uses of mushrooms and how to identify the specimens found in our local forests. People always want to know what’s edible and what’s poisonous, of course; but Michelotti says that he likes to take the focus away from the “Can I eat it?” questions and instead inspire the “Wow!” factor of mushrooms.

The next Catskill Fungi mushroom walk will take place at the Catskill Interpretive Center in Mount Tremper on Sunday, October 22 from 10 a.m. to noon. The cost is $20 for adults, $10 for kids. Registrater at www.catskillfungi.com or by sending an e-mail to john@catskillfungi.com.

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The Kingston Library will sponsor a free presentation featuring Michelotti on Tuesday, October 24 from 6 to 8 p.m. “Magnificent Mushrooms” will cover the life cycle and functions of fungi, their impact on human history, easy ways to grow mushrooms and the nutritional and medicinal uses of mushrooms. Attendees will also leave with the resources to continue the exploration on their own. Among the topics covered will be mycoremediation, a fungi-based technology used to decontaminate damaged environments where there have been oil spills or toxins in the soil.

Michelotti promises an interactive experience for attendees, in which people can try the mushroom-extract tinctures taken as health supplements that he produces from wildcrafted fungi and mushrooms grown on the family farm in Big Indian. Anyone with photographs of mystery mushrooms can bring those in, as well, for identification.

Mycologist John Michelotti of Catskill Fungi with grown shiitake mushroom log on his family farm in Big Indian.

Catskill Fungi also hosts cultivation workshops that teach people how to grow edible mushrooms at home and how to make the mushroom tinctures. There are 270 different types of mushroom thought to have compounds with health benefits, says Michelotti.

Chaga is great for boosting the immune system, he says, with very high levels of antioxidants. People take chaga extract to ward off colds, and it’s said to have benefits for the skin and digestion. The reishi mushroom has been called “the mushroom of immortality,” used for 2,000 years, says Michelotti. It was once obtained on search parties sent out by the emperors of China for their exclusive use, illegal for commoners to consume. Today people like the modulating qualities that reishi mushrooms offer, said to help the body regulate blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol when taken on a regular basis. Lion’s mane mushrooms are another medicinal mushroom, specifically used to enhance brain function.

Michelotti can be found with his mushroom tinctures and mushroom art (think printmaking using mushroom spores) every Saturday at the Kingston Farmers’ Market in season. More information about Catskill Fungi is available on Facebook and at www.catskillfungi.com.

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