Mushroom Magic


I have always liked mushrooms.  Not only are they cute and whimsical in fairy-land settings, they are also tasty in vegetable stir-frys and soups.  Their gustatory advantages, I do know about since I cook with them on a regular basis.  Their medicinal properties, I am also familiar with, since my grandfather was a medical herbalist.

What I didn’t know was that they could also be used to clean up radioactive areas of the world, such as that horrible accident involving a nuclear reactor at Fukushima, Japan, and even oil spills, pesticide accumulation, and pollution control around the world.  That is because many species of mushrooms are able to remove and absorb heavy metals, including radioactive isotopes, from the soil.   That is lofty achievements for such a humble life form.

Their job, after all, is to aggregate the kinds of things that anaerobic life forms do, and then bloom like mad as they decompose dead things, returning it to the Earth in the form of organic soil.  Fortunately for us, certain types of mushrooms have also shown a distinct penchant for food of the radioactive kind, as was discovered in previous radioactive accidents, where mushroom blooms were documented to have sprouted up, out of the organic decay, and like a sponge, they internalized within themselves, all the radioactive materials that were previously in the buildings and trees.

To allow mushrooms to be our cleaning maids, all we would need to do is to assist in their attempts to mop up the radioactive areas.  According to mycologist Paul Stamets, who wrote a book called Mycelium Running – How Mushrooms can Help Save the World, we currently have the technology required to isolate radioactive material, specifically Cesium 137, and remove it from the landscape that wildlife and humans currently use.  He is as obsessed with mushrooms as they come, and that is a good thing, since most of us know next to nothing about this fascinating life form.  “They have cellular intelligence,” Stamets says. “When you walk through the forest, they leap up in search of debris to feed on. They know you’re there.” [2]

Since mushrooms grow best in areas where there is organic breakdown, if all the radioactive organic material could be gathered and then mulched, we could, theoretically ‘farm’ out the radioactive parts and return the cleaned organic parts back into the environment.  To that effect, in his book, Stamets outlined his eight steps that would offer the best method of mushroom clean-up.


1. Evacuate the region around the reactors.

2. Establish a high-level, diversified remediation team including foresters, mycologists, nuclear and radiation experts, government officials, and citizens.

3. Establish a fenced off Nuclear Forest Recovery Zone.

4. Chip the wood debris from the destroyed buildings and trees and spread throughout areas suffering from high levels of radioactive contamination.

5. Mulch the landscape with the chipped wood debris to a minimum depth of 12-24 inches.

6. Plant native deciduous and conifer trees, along with hyper-accumulating mycorrhizal mushrooms, particularly Gomphidius glutinosus, Craterellus tubaeformis, and Laccaria amethystina (all native to pines). G. glutinosus has been reported to absorb – via the mycelium – and concentrate radioactive Cesium 137 more than 10,000-fold over ambient background levels. Many other mycorrhizal mushroom species also hyper-accumulate.

7. Wait until mushrooms form and then harvest them under Radioactive HAZMAT protocols.

8. Continuously remove the mushrooms, which have now concentrated the radioactivity, particularly Cesium 137, to an incinerator. Burning the mushroom will result in radioactive ash. This ash can be further refined and the resulting concentrates vitrified (placed into glass) or stored using other state-of-the-art storage technologies. [1]

This may sound as if it is still a hypothetical situation, but the good news is, it is being developed, even as we speak.  According to Discover Magazine’s article in May, 2013, “Last year, aiming to make the Nuclear Forest Recovery Zone a reality, Stamets partnered with Battelle researchers at the Energy Department’s former nuclear production facility in Hanford, Wash., to test various mushroom species for their ability to take up cesium. Results are expected within the next few months.” [2]

The methodology may seem to be a bit odd, but we are talking about actions that are both effective AND benign, meaning that the cure is not worse than the original ailment.   As Stamets says, “I know some of my hypotheses sound rather extraordinary.  I may be a little weird, but I’d rather be weird and right than normal and wrong.”

I eagerly await the results of their mycelial clean-up efforts.

1.  Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World.

2.  How Mushrooms Can Save the World.

3 thoughts on “Mushroom Magic

  1. Taobabe, I read Paul Stamet’s book several years ago. Loved it. It was an amazing guided tour of a part of the natural world I never really understood, and a reminder of the incredible and vast array of capabilities and talents the natural world possesses. A book along related lines- at least in the sense of highlighting the richness of the embodied problem-solving capabilities of nature- was the book Microcosm by Carl Zimmer. It is a short, but very interesting read wherein he highlights all the things we have learned from just one common bacteria: the E. Coli. I’m just always blown away by the discovery of how things in nature work, almost magically. Michael


  2. Mike, thanks for pointing out Microcosm. I will definitely check it out. There is so much to learn, and we have so very little time with which to absorb the knowledge. I don’t think a human lifetime is enough time to explore and discover and create and invent, but as long as we do what we can with whatever time we’re given, I think we will be quite happy with what we’ve gained.


  3. Discovered your blog while reading various sites about Hexagram 26 and felt compelled to comment about it being very engaging and interesting… Added it to my Reading List. Thanks for sharing your wisdom and fascinating thoughts!


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