What are Mushrooms?
Mushrooms, an underappreciated food, have been consumed and used as medicine for thousands of years. The bell-shaped fungi are praised by traditional and folk medicine practitioners for their healing and cleansing properties. Mushrooms are low in calories and fat, and contain small amounts of fiber and other nutrients. The non-nutritive plant substances found in mushrooms, such as polysaccharides, indoles, polyphenols, and carotenoids, have been shown in cell and animal studies to have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anticancer properties. Chefs also recognize mushrooms for their ability to produce savory, rich flavors known as umami, thanks to the presence of glutamate, an amino acid found in meats, fish, cheeses, and simmering soups.
Mushrooms, despite being classified as a vegetable, are neither plant nor animal food. They are a type of fungus that contains ergosterol, which is structurally similar to cholesterol in animals. When exposed to ultraviolet light, ergosterol can be converted into vitamin D. Mushrooms vary in appearance, with over 10,000 known varieties, but they are all distinguished by a stem, a fleshy rounded cap, and gills beneath the cap. China and the United States are two of the world’s top five mushroom producers.
Mushrooms and Health
Medicinal mushrooms such as maitake and shiitake have been used throughout history. Other mushrooms that are too tough to eat, such as reishi, have only been used for medicinal purposes. Plant chemicals and mushroom components may have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anticancer properties, but the exact mechanism is unknown and under investigation. Animal and cell studies show that mushrooms can activate immune cells, macrophages, and free radicals, which can inhibit tumor cell growth and spread and cause existing tumor cells to die. Various polysaccharides found in mushrooms, including beta-glucans, are thought to have cancer-fighting properties.
How do Mushrooms Grow in Gardens?
The most important thing to understand about mushrooms is that they are simply the above-ground fruiting bodies of soil-dwelling fungi. The vast majority of fungal mass is underground, where it goes unnoticed until mushrooms appear. The vast majority of fungi are advantageous. They are decomposers that decompose dead and decaying organic matter like stumps, old roots, or leaves. Most mushrooms do not harm lawns or gardens; they are simply an eyesore.
Mushrooms can only grow when the conditions are just right. Long periods of wet, humid weather, such as we’ve had in recent weeks, cause fungi to sprout fruiting structures. Windblown spores spread fungi to new areas. When the spores land in an appropriate location, they develop into new fungi that, given enough time, will grow mushrooms.
Mushrooms will naturally disappear as the weather warms. Remember that even though the fruiting bodies have vanished, the fungal mycelia is still growing in the soil. As long as there is plenty of organic matter to feed on, the fungus will continue to grow and persist. Mushrooms will reappear once the growing conditions are favorable, which may not be for another year. If you don’t want to wait for mushrooms to disappear on their own, you can remove them manually or with a lawn mower. Although removing the mushrooms has no effect on the fungi in the soil, it does reduce the number of spores released into the environment as well as the number of new mushrooms in various areas of the lawn and garden. Fungicides are generally not recommended because they are ineffective and mushrooms are not harmful in any case.
It’s also worth noting that many mushrooms are toxic. Never eat an unknown mushroom unless you are completely confident in your ability to identify it. If you decide to try eating wild mushrooms, proceed with caution and consume only a small amount at first. Even ostensibly edible mushrooms can make some people very sick.
What are the Consequences of Having Mushrooms Around the Garden?
You may have noticed mushrooms popping up in your yard, usually the morning after a good rain. It’s almost magical (not that kind of magic mushrooms). But we’ll pull back the curtain a little to shed some light on mushrooms’ mysterious appearance.
Mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of many different fungi, though not all fungi produce mushrooms. Different fungi produce different mushrooms, just as different plants produce different fruits (perhaps apples, muscadines, or strawberries).
When you see mushrooms blooming in your yard, it’s because underground fungi are responding to changes in temperature, light, and water. Fungi obtain nutrients that allow them to grow and prepare for reproduction under the right conditions (typically warm and moist).
The resulting mushrooms, which are essentially fungal flowers, can emit millions or even billions of microscopic spores into the air, which function similarly to pollen in plants.
Are you curious about the mushrooms that grow in your yard, or whether you should be concerned about your children or pets eating toxic fungi? Excellent inquiries.
We sought advice from Marc Cubeta, Ph.D., a mushroom expert with NC State Extension. In this episode of Homegrown, he takes us on a tour of the fantastic world of fungi – and how it relates to you and your family.
Fungi: Friend or Foe?
Mycologists, or mushroom scientists, such as Cubeta, have identified over 10,000 species of mushrooms. Narrowing them down without some research or fungi knowledge can be difficult, but if you see mushrooms fruiting in your yard, your first step should be to determine if they are poisonous species.
Everyone should be aware of the following poisonous mushrooms found in North Carolina and the Eastern United States:
- White Amanita (especially for dog-owners)
- View more toxic mushrooms in North Carolina
If you’re worried about your pets or children eating mushrooms at home, you can get rid of them easily. Mowing mushrooms is the best way to manage them once you’ve decided to get rid of them. Fungicides are usually ineffective against these fungi in the landscape.
A simpler option would be to pick the mushrooms, place them in a paper bag, and throw them away. While skin allergies have been reported, you must consume a mushroom to experience the toxic effects; simply touching them will not suffice. Still, to be safe, we recommend wearing gloves.
A common misconception about mushrooms is that they are poisonous when touched. Toxic mushrooms, with the exception of rare skin allergies, are only harmful if INGESTED.
Not all mushrooms are poisonous. Most mushrooms, in fact, are lawn allies because the fungi feed on organic material in your yard (such as thatch, buried wood, and tree roots), breaking it down into nutrients for grass and plants. Fungi also play an important role in the environment as a major recycler of organic carbon, which is required for all life.
Fungi and pharmaceuticals also go hand in hand. Penicillin, a key component of modern medicine, is derived from Penicillium fungi. Other antibiotics and medicines, including cholesterol medications, were also derived from fungi. While they may not be life-saving, most of us would probably agree that laundry and dish detergents derived from fungi enzymes are pretty important.
How can You Get Rid of Mushroom Spores?
Unwanted mushrooms in a yard or garden can be extremely difficult to eradicate because the visible cap is only the fruit of the mushroom, and each fruit contains thousands of tiny spore seeds. According to a study conducted by the University of California Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program, even after mushrooms are removed, their underground mycelia sources can persist. To kill the mushroom spores, you must get to the source, and there are both natural and chemical methods available.
No. 1 Natural Method
Find the source of the mushroom growth, such as areas of rotting wood or rotting leaves. Remove any dead tree roots or branches that are providing a favorable environment for fungi growth.
Change the environment of the soil. Dig up the dirt around the mushrooms with your shovel to find their roots. Dig a foot deep, then cover with 3 inches of gravel. This will stifle the growth of new roots.
To avoid spreading any spores that may be on your shovel, clean it with bleach and water.
No. 2 Natural Method
In a bucket, combine 2 tablespoons baking soda and 1 gallon of water.
Allow the mixture to dissolve by stirring it.
Fill a spray bottle halfway with the mixture and saturate the mushrooms, caps, and stems. Also, spray the ground around the mushrooms.
The Chemical Method
Read the label on the fungicide you purchased. Take note of the mixing ratio, spraying instructions, required safety equipment, and warnings.
Wear a long-sleeved shirt and pants, as well as protective gloves, closed-toed shoes, and safety glasses.
In a wind-protected area, combine the powered fungicide and water in the specified ratio, then transfer the mixture to a spray bottle.
Spray the mushroom caps and stems, as well as the surrounding soil.
Follow the label’s instructions for disposing of any leftover fungicide. With bleach and water, clean the spray bottle and mixing bucket. Any clothing that has come into contact with the spray should be washed.
Even if you find a way to kill the mushrooms in your garden, new spores from neighboring areas can easily enter your yard through the wind.
Fungicides are poisonous and should be kept in their original containers, away from children and animals. When using them, always take all necessary precautions.