Fungi are sadly neglected in Western medicine, however are at the forefront of Chinese medicine.
"Oddsey" - found in the Alps - a possible Austrian or Italian - was found to be from Southern Italy and is now in an Italian museum, they discovered from the last meal in his stomach and fragments found in his teeth. He possibly died from an arrow wound.
However, the interesting part about Oddsey, in terms of this lecture, was that he was carrying fungi in a leather pouch. It was found to be the tinderbox fungus.
The tinderbox fungus is restricted in growth and is mainly found on birch trees. It was duly nick-named the "tinderbox fungus" because, due to its hard outer shell and fluffy soft inner flesh, it was used in old musket tinderboxes to surround the gunpowder, as the spark would ignite the flesh.
In "Oddsey's" case, he was probably carrying the fungus for its ability to store fire. After initially lighting the inner flesh, you can carry the fungus around - as the outer shell would not ignite, and therefore the fungus doesn't just burst into flame but glows like an ember.
The fungus is also known as the Male Agaric - the God of Fire was Mars, the God of War was Mars and therefore the name of the fungus was chosen due to its very masculine qualities.
Primitive peoples would have to sleep outside, and during the night, the smells of a camp would attract wild animals e.g. bears and wolves. What keeps away these wild animals? The answer: Fire. But to create fire, two sticks need to be rubbed feverishly together until the heat causes a fire to form, this wasn't feasible for these primitive peoples, they couldn't carry wood around with them continuously and so this fungus was used to carry fire with them. Fire wood could be collected at each new location, then the flesh of the fungus was used to set the wood alight.
The flesh of the tinderbox fungus is so flexible that it can, and has been, beaten out into sheets to create "fashionable" pieces such as hats and bags etc.
Osmoporous asparatus - smells like maple syrup - grows on large, old willows, which therefore hugely restricts its growth. This fungus made the first deodorant, strips of the fungus were kept with the belt to combat the bodily smells and therefore smell fresher. Today the fungus is used in Sweden and mixed with cheese to create "nice, vanilla" tastes - it is not hugely popular and therefore not sold in supermarkets - this may be a blow to the creators, however it saves the fungus from over-harvesting and possibly extinction due to its restricted growth.
American Indians, today, still wear small talismans around their neck made from the fungus because of its sweet aroma - "Oddsey" may have had one of these talismans also.
The Birch-bracket fungus is a non-annual fungus, it technically has no lifespan, as it continues to grow, layering itself, until it becomes mechanically unstable or it becomes infected by another fungus. It is also nicknamed the Razorstrop fungus, as in Medieval times, it was cut into strips and used to sharpen razors. It was also the first form of silica gel - strips of the fungus were used in museum cabinets to absorb moisture - this absorbed moisture was used to produce spores.
The Birch-bracket fungus, due to its high absorption power, was also used as a form of plaster - the fungus contains antibotics useful for healing, and so would have been placed on open wounds to prevent infection and promote faster healing - "Oddsey" was carry some of this and would have used it as a form of plaster.
The Surgeons bracket comes in two forms, the male agaric and the female agaric. It is a long-lived fungus, it continually grows outwards, building on top of itself - at the beginning of life, a mushroom knows its going to be a mushroom and so therefore grows as a mushroom, whereas the bracket fungus doesn't know what its going to be and so just keeps growing.
The male agaric:
It has an astringent taste - in Medieval times the surgeon and the barber were the same - amputations were a painful procedure, and so a strip of the fungus was placed in the subjects mouth, the strong taste would cause the subject to become irritated and partially distracted, another strip was then put around the limb to be amputated, causing the blood vessels to all but shut down - this minimised blood loss.
It was also ground up to a power and used as a snuff.
The female agaric:
Otherwise known as the Larch bracket - it cures everything. In Medieval times it was imported into the river Thames, as it is not native to the UK. It was used against malaria - soak the fungus in water to make a drink out of it, this elevates the symptoms of malaria. It was also used to alleviate chronic pain and childbirth.
Birch trees attract a certain fungus that encourages the tree to make more bark, it makes the tree very unhappy with life. In Russia the black bark nodules are ground up and made into a tea, that apparently wards off against lung cancer. The fungus is very common in Scotland, not so much so in England, in the 60's there was a huge surge to collect it. The fungus doesn't make the active component that is useful for health, the fungus concentrates the active component in the birch, and therefore the birch bark has to be stripped off.
Oak maze bracket - is not used medicinally. The fungus fits nicely into your hand, and was used, historically, to mop down horses, because its soft and highly absorbent.
Turkey tail, is sold in Edinburgh, to improve the immune system, otherwise known as the shitaki - it seems to be able to subdue or upset the viruses, allowing the immune system to protect itself and kill the virus.
Artist bracket - Ganoderma - the undersurface of the fungus is white, a picture or writing can be scratched onto the underside, if left the fungus will heal itself by releasing juice into the scratch marks and healing over. However, if removed and dried, the scratchings can be saved.
Ganoderma lucidum, sold in Chinese herbal shops. It is famously seen in Mongolian, Japanese and Chinese paintings and sculptures. It is grown in China and Asia as a medicinal fungus. In Thailand the King has specially dedicated gardens for growing Ganoderma, it is then made into a drink, similar to orange juice, sliced for tea or made in sweets.
Falus impudicus, otherwise known as Stinkhorns, the spores are kept in a sugary syrup in the head of the fungus, this attracts and is eaten by flies and then spread through faeces.
The fungus smells terrible, and was often mistaken for a gas leak.
The Doctrine of Signature - looking at the fungus, the male fungus is apparently meant to help cure male reproductive problems, including erections, and the female fungus which appears to grow out of an 'egg' cures female reproductive issues.
The Fuzzball or Puffball fungus is an interesting specimen, when white its edible, however when it turns dark and puffs (when pressed) it was used to puff into open wounds - the spores coagulate within the wound to form scabs - there are no active components.
This is another fungus, similar to the Tinderbox fungus, that can have the inner flesh ignited and then can be carried, being used to store fire. When you want to light something, you just blow through the fungus.
These are also the fungi that are responsible for "Fairy rings" - the soil is very uniform, ignoring any obstacles, and the fungus is found growing outside of the "fairy rings" - this is because the fungus breaks down debris in the turf, releasing nitrogenous compounds into the soil.
The muscarin - fly agaric - in the fungus, causes hallucinations as it passes through the body, and in high volumes damages the optic nerve.
Shaman in Eastern Russia and Siberia chew the fungus below, tell the future, then collect their urine in a specially designed leather "bucket" - the next Shaman would then drink the previous Shaman's urine, and so on and so forth through the tribal pecking order, the dregs are then poured into troughs for the reindeer to drink. This process continues with each new Shaman.
Father Christmas has been linked to this fungus also, the white splodges relating to the white bobble on his hat, and the red skin relating to his red hat.
New Kings of Bulgaria, at their coronation, drank out of specially carved wooden buckets, it was used to hold Amanita muscaria - the reason for the wooden buckets is that if gold or silver were used the muscaria would react and any active components would deactivate.
Amanita florida will kill you, unlike the Amanita muscaria variety. The head is the outer "crash helmet" - like a bikers - when eaten our gastric juices break down the head, release the active components especially nitrogen which attacks the body and the nervous system.
The most common poisonous mushroom, the haymaker, stands an inch and a half high, and looks fairly non-descript. It has a brown rusty cap, some are seen growing paler from the margin outwards, a white fluffy stem, found commonly out on the lawn in May or June.
The most common call to RBGE is from the sick kids hospital, because of children playing outside, picking the mushroom, chewing it and then usually spitting it back out (children are good at that), however the adult usually believes the child has swallowed the mushroom and panics. The fungus contains atropine which, effectively, puts the subject on a high.
Different fungi contain different active components and therefore metabolise different components.
The illegal to collect and package fungi:
Australia has a fungus that grows readily on the pastures, it grows on wood-chips and dung - it's nicknamed the "giggle mushroom".
Mexican goldcaps, grow easily in dark places.
Liberty caps - so named for the small pimple in the top of the fungus, similar to that of the French helmets in the World War. These can be bought in Amsterdam, after dried, they can be ground up to disguise them but under the microscope they can be easily identified.
Drying them on a windowsill is not seen as illegal, however any packaging or preparation is illegal.
Fungi can also be used for dye work, they make very good dye's, they fix nicely and don't change colour under light.
North American "Red" Indians trade fungi, the red dye used to colour the skin can be extracted from these fungi.
"Canaries" are so called because they're yellow, initially named after the "yellow" dye that was imported from the Canary Islands.
Truffles are a very expensive, highly sought after fungus. They are thought to be aphrodisiacs, choice restaurants use them to add to the dishes, they have pungent, aromatic odours. Their spores are contained in a sack, different to other varieties of fungus.
King Alfred's cakes, otherwise known as Cramp balls - were originally put in your socks to prevent from getting cramp, after they had been charred on a fire.
They were used in the war, within the trenches, so as not to give away people's positions, they stored and carried fire for lighting cigarettes.
Ergot Rye fungus, found growing on cereal crops, is where the ergot-derived drug sold in health food stores comes from. If used correctly it can stop postnatal haemorrhaging, however if used incorrectly it has been known to cause miscarriages.
There is a parallel evolution with similar families, this can lead to misidentification, molecular studies have helped minimise this, however in the field this can be a problem. The development through molecular studies has suddenly seperated previously known families.
Ink caps mixed with alcohol will cause dilation of the pupils and palpitations, whereas "shaggy ink caps" from a non-related family, but look very similar, doesn't react like any other Caprinus.
Nicholas Evans mistook a poisonous fungus in the field for the Penny Bun (Cep) fungus - the most delicious mushroom, quite meaty/fleshy, and his internal systems all but shut down, leaving him needing kideny transplants.
A fungus holds the title for the biggest, oldest and smallest organism on Earth. It is also there all the time, the mushroom is just the "fruiting" body of the fungus, which are produced in the Autumn. The trick with fungus is clear and correct identification.