Trametes versicolor is a fascinating mushroom on many fronts – as a specialized organism within an ecosystem, as a beautifully variable natural art piece, and as valuable medicine. Fungi are an untapped resource in many scientific fields, and are vastly underappreciated as an entire natural kingdom. Food, medicine and art can all be created from but a single species alone, and the Kingdom of Fungi is one inhabited by thousands upon thousands of unique species, each of which has its own human uses and limitations.
Human uses and limitations. Mushroom hunters (including myself) often inadvertently train themselves to ignore categories of fungi that don’t hold any immediate interest. Small, white polypores, for example, tend to be tough as bark, tasteless, or crumbly, so one simply doesn’t pick them. Little brown gilled mushrooms, on the other hand, are soggy and crumbly, and could be any of a million species. One usually does not pick these. However, human knowledge of fungi over the ages has waxed and waned – several ancient traditional medicines have made use of fungi with huge medicinal potential, but which modern scientists are unable to understand. That said, human industry has improved the lot of frustrated medical researchers by refining the process of mushroom cultivation to the point that almost any species is accessible for study.
Turkeytails are one of those species. Those who don’t know how to search for them can grow them at home in any number of ways – those who don’t want to grow them can buy them from any number of cultivators and distributors. Several varieties of extract are available for different types of ailments, but they are all sourced from the same organism’s rare ability to produce a particular polysaccharide – one with great power within the human immune system. The mushrooms’ spores, fruitbody, and mycelium all have overlapping yet distinct medicinal qualities. But what about the hundreds of similar, but not-quite-as-useful species of inedible bracket fungi? Surely many of them are absolutely useless.
Well, no. Every tree in any forest is growing from something. Chances are high that that something is a natural matrix formed by millions of years of different ongoing cycles – both biotic and abiotic: soil. Soil is a fascinating subject because so many different components are necessary to its creation – one of the most important of which is fungi. Life and death are part of the same process – and fungi are one of the key steps to transforming death back into life. All those ‘uninteresting’ mushrooms that the jaded hunter passes by in the forest are part of a magical process – they represent a balance between dead matter in an environment and the energy transferred from that matter into living organisms. And the wheels keep turning.