[Sign Up Now] to Receive Our FREE Daily SCVTV-SCVNews Digest by E-Mail

Inside
Weather
Santa Clarita CA
Intermittent clouds
Intermittent clouds
81°F
 
Calendar
Today in
S.C.V. History
August 19
1879 - Newhall civic leader Charles Henry Kingsburry born in Missouri [story]


Back to Nature | Commentary by Paul A. Levine
| Thursday, Feb 12, 2015

paullevine2One usually thinks of a fungus as “icky,” and there is no way you’d eat one, right?

The impression is that a fungus is creepy. It grows in dark, moist places, obtaining its nutrition from decaying plant and animal matter, and it is generally to be avoided.

Indeed, fungi – which include molds, fungus and mushrooms – are members of nature’s cleanup crew to help recycle living things that have died, returning their nutrients into the ecosystem, allowing them to support the next generation of plants and animals.

Molds are a form of fungus, and black mold, commonly found in homes, can be hazardous to one’s health. However, there is a large variety of fungi, and some of them are either directly or indirectly beneficial to mankind, while others are delicious and a great addition to one’s diet.

Last month we focused on the less pleasant side of fungi. Today, the focus will be on the benefits of fungi.

For literally thousands of years, Eastern cultures have revered mushrooms, commonly including them in many meals. But before turning to the nutritional value of fungi, I should like to focus on a medicinal benefit.

Petri dish with penicillin mold growing on it and displacing the bacteria

Petri dish with penicillin mold growing on it and displacing the bacteria

Penicillin comes from fungi, and specifically from molds. The discovery of penicillin was really an accident. Sir Alexander Fleming was a bacteriologist working at St. Mary’s Hospital in Paddington, England. (Paddington, the stuffed bear of recent literary and movie fame, got his name from the train station in England). He was actively looking for a material that would inhibit the growth of bacteria.

This started in 1922. While working with some bacteria, he had a runny nose, and some of the mucus dropped onto the Petri dish. The bacteria in the dish disappeared. So his first discovery was that there was a natural substance in tears and nasal mucus that helps the body to fight germs.

He continued his studies by trying to find a substance that could kill bacteria but not adversely impact the human body. To do this, he would grow bacteria in a Petri dish – a small, shallow glass dish with a glass cover – filled with a nutritional medium on which the bacteria could grow. Then, once the bacteria culture was growing well, he would add various items to the Petri dish to assess their impact on the continued growth of the bacteria.

Well, like all of us, he was entitled to vacation. When he returned, he found that most of the Petri dishes had been contaminated and had to be cleaned before the nutrient, agar gel, could be replaced and the experiments started over again.

He found that some of the Petri dishes on which bacteria had been growing now had a mold that was replacing and even eliminating the bacteria. The bacteria that it killed was one that was particularly virulent to man; it was Staphylococcus aureus, comprised of small, round bacteria whose colonies had a golden color.

Working with a mycologist (a scientist who studies mold), they identified that the mold was in the family Penicillium, and hence the name penicillin that is well known to everybody as one of the first antibiotics. Indeed, this mold killed a large number of different bacteria.

Professor Fleming, however, was not a chemist and could not isolate the specific active ingredient. He wrote a paper about these observations in 1929 that was largely ignored by the medical profession at the time. It wasn’t until 1940 that two chemists at Oxford University, Howard Florey from Australia and Ernst Chain from Germany, isolated the active ingredient that we know today as penicillin. All three – Fleming, Florey and Chain – received the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine for the discovery in 1945. Fleming was also knighted and is credited with discovering penicillin. And all of this from a fungus.

Another fungus in the Streptomyces family gave us streptomycin, another powerful antibiotic. The challenge to medical science today is that the bacteria are not “dummies.” They have developed resistance to the older antibiotics which are becoming less and less effective, triggering the search for newer and more potent agents.

Morel mushrooms in the field

Morel mushrooms in the field

While the battle in the hospitals and pharmaceutical labs continues to identify and synthesize the next generation of antibiotic, we can continue to enjoy a multiplicity of mushrooms in our salads, as additives to other foods to enhance their flavor, and sometimes by themselves as an appetizer or main course. This includes morels, chanterelles and shitake mushrooms, but they are not the only ones.

Truffles are considered the king of all mushrooms, at least from a culinary perspective. They are dug up after being identified by pigs sniffing the ground. They look nothing like our classic conception of a mushroom.

Many of the fungi we eat are farmed. Shown here is a photo of a mushroom farm and another photo that I shot in Ya’an, China, in 2012, while on a butterfly photography trip, and we passed a fungus farm. The plastic-wrapped rolls of fungus were ready to take to market.

Chanterelle mushrooms

Chanterelle mushrooms

Besides tasting good and enhancing the flavor of many foods, mushrooms also hold great nutritional benefit, incorporating many different vitamins and trace minerals that are essential to our diet.

People who eat mushrooms on a regular basis are generally healthier than those who do not – but to what degree is due directly to the mushrooms. Those who eat mushrooms also tend to eat more natural foods and a healthier diet than those whose died includes lots of preprocessed and over-the-counter fast foods. For example, Vitamin D is an essential vitamin for our health and the strength of our bones. Vitamin D deficiency results in a disease called Ricketts.

Truffles do not look like a mushroom sitting on a plate waiting be cut up for inclusion is a sauce or other dish

Truffles do not look like a mushroom sitting on a plate waiting be cut up for inclusion is a sauce or other dish

The body makes its own vitamin D, but this requires exposure of a significant amount of skin to the sun on a regular and frequent basis. Even here in sunny Southern California, most of us are dressed for the majority of the day, work indoors, and even when we might go out hiking or jogging or just take a walk for an hour or two, we wear a hat to shade our face, along with pants and a shirt, even short pants and a short-sleeved shirt that covers the majority of our body.

Vitamin D is now incorporated as one vitamin in the various multivitamin pills that can be bought at the grocery store or pharmacy. It is a nutritional supplement in milk; our vegetables, fruits and meat have relatively little vitamin D. Mushrooms are high in Vitamin D.

Shitake mushrooms on a plate

Shitake mushrooms on a plate

Mushrooms are also a good source of other B-vitamins including Pantothenic acid, which helps with the production of hormones and the normal function of our nerve cells. Riboflavin helps to maintain healthy red blood cells while niacin promotes healthy skin, improves the digestive and nervous systems and helps to raise HDL cholesterol (the good cholesterol).

What about minerals? The body requires a multiplicity of “trace elements” which are minute amounts of minerals without which it will not function properly. Everyone one has heard about iron, which is absolutely essential for our red blood cells, but that is not a trace element, and we get lots of that from various vegetables like spinach and all red meats. Another is iodine, which is needed for the thyroid gland, although mushrooms cannot help us there, either.

A mushroom farm growing shitake mushrooms

A mushroom farm growing shitake mushrooms

Many people have not heard about selenium, which works as an antioxidant to protect the body from cell damage that might lead to heart disease, some cancers and a variety of diseases of aging. Many foods of animal origin and grains are good sources of selenium, but for vegetarians, their source of selenium is limited. Mushrooms are among the richest sources of selenium, proving 8 mcg to 22 mcg of selenium per serving.

Another trace mineral is copper, which helps to keep red blood cells healthy along with the bones and nerves. Everyone knows potassium is essential for the body and is high in citrus fruits like oranges and in bananas, but it is also high in mushrooms. Depending on the mushroom, there may be 98 mcg to 376 mcg of potassium in an 84-gram (just under 3-ounce) serving of mushrooms, and this is 3 percent to 11 percent of the daily required value.

A fungus farm in Ya’an, Sichuan Provence, China with “logs” of fungus packaged to be taken to the market.

A fungus farm in Ya’an, Sichuan Provence, China with “logs” of fungus packaged to be taken to the market.

Mushrooms include a naturally occurring antioxidant, ergothioneine, and provide 2.8 mg to 4.9 mg per serving of white, portabella or crimini mushrooms. Another key natural agent for the body is beta-glucans, which have an immunity-stimulating effect, contribute to resistance against allergies and may also aid in the metabolism of fats and sugars. These are found particularly in oyster, shitake and split gill mushrooms.

Like everything else in the natural world, some items are bad for us, while others are good for us, even in the same taxonomic order. There are bad mushrooms that can kill, but there are lots of good mushrooms and fungi that are beneficial and delicious.

 

Paul A. Levine is a docent-naturalist at Placerita Canyon Nature Center and an avid butterflier.

Comment On This Story
COMMENT POLICY: We welcome comments from individuals and businesses. All comments are moderated. Comments are subject to rejection if they are vulgar, combative, or in poor taste.
REAL NAMES ONLY: All posters must use their real individual or business name. This applies equally to Twitter account holders who use a nickname.

1 Comment

  1. Oh yeah because no one orders mushrooms on their pizza…

Leave a Comment


Opinion Section Policy
All opinions and ideas are welcome. Factually inaccurate, libelous, defamatory, profane or hateful statements are not. Your words must be your own. All commentary is subject to editing for legibility. There is no length limit, but the shorter, the better the odds of people reading it. "Local" SCV-related topics are preferred. Send commentary to: LETTERS (at) SCVNEWS.COM. Author's full name, community name, phone number and e-mail address are required. Phone numbers and e-mail addresses are not published except at author's request. Acknowledgment of submission does not guarantee publication.
Read More From...
RECENT COMMENTARY
Thursday, Aug 2, 2018
City Manager Ken Striplin notes that a lot has changed in Santa Clarita since the 1970s, except the SCV Sheriff's Station, which opened 46 years ago and will finally be replaced by a brand-new 46,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art, centrally located Sheriff’s Station on Golden Valley Road.
Wednesday, Aug 1, 2018
​There are many things that make our City the unique and special place it is.
Monday, Jul 2, 2018
In her July message, Santa Clarita Mayor Laurene Weste wishes residents a safe and enjoyable Fourth of July, and recaps a bit of local history.
Sunday, Jul 1, 2018
The Mojave rattlesnake or “Mojave green” is a highly irritable and unpredictable pit viper. By comparison, the Pacific rattlesnake you might be accustomed to is fairly tame.
Friday, Jun 15, 2018
Your rights guarantee that you get the health services the law says you can get, protect you against unethical practices, and ensure the privacy of your personal and medical information. You have the right to be treated with dignity and respect at all times, and to be protected from discrimination.
Friday, Jun 15, 2018
California voters just bought the feel-good tax proposition that was stated to raise yet another $4 billion for “clean water” funds. Days later, Brown declared it isn’t enough. There will be another ballot measure in November to raise another $8 billion.

Latest Additions to SCVNews.com
1879 - Newhall civic leader Charles Henry Kingsburry born in Missouri [story]
1946 - Pioneering Placerita Canyon movie producer Trem Carr dies in San Diego [story]
The JetHawks got some much-needed offense to beat Stockton, 9-7, Thursday night at The Hangar to end a five-game losing streak.
Offense Comes Through, JetHawks End 5-Game Skid
The Canyon Country Community Center’s next Sock Hop is scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 25, beginning at 7 p.m.
Aug. 25: Sock Hop at Canyon Country Community Center
Results of the first full year of Measure H funding are in, demonstrating widespread progress as services ramped up and thousands of individuals and families were housed temporarily or permanently, Los Angeles County officials said Friday.
Measure H First Year: Housing for 7,500, Help for Thousands More
The fire that destroyed the historic Big Oaks Lodge on Bouquet Canyon Road in Saugus Aug. 11-12 was an accident, Sgt. John Hanson of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department's Arson & Explosives squad said Friday morning.
Big Oaks Lodge Fire an Accident, Arson Investigators Say
Lawmakers advanced a controversial bill Thursday that aims to reform California’s money bail system though recent amendments have alarmed advocates who say the current bill could authorize prosecutors and judges to promote indefinite pretrial detention.
State Lawmakers Advance Bail Overhaul, Police Transparency Bills
Nightly lane closures are scheduled to start Monday on Sierra Highway near Highway 14 as crews begin a paving project in and near the city of Santa Clarita, the California Department of Transportation announced Friday.
Caltrans to Repave 19 Miles of Sierra Highway in SCV
The Western Association of Schools and Colleges' Senior College and University Commission has placed The Master's University & Seminary on probation after a visiting WSCUC team in March found TMUS out of compliance with numerous accreditation standards.
‘Climate of Fear,’ Admin Issues Lead to Probation for The Master’s University
Reversing a trial court and an appellate panel, the California Supreme Court ruled Thursday that asylum-seeking children with one parent living in the United States need only notify the foreign parent of their plans to seek resident status in the U.S.
California Justices Lift Custody Hurdle for Asylum-Seeking Kids
1920 - Actress Maureen O'Hara born in Ireland; 1961 "Parent Trap" uses Disney Golden Oak Ranch [story]
The County of Los Angeles Department of Parks and Recreation, in collaboration with The Friends of Hart Park, presents its, “7th Annual Summer Movies in the Park Series."
Aug. 17: Black Panther to Close Out Summer Movies in the Park Series
LANCASTER – The University of Antelope Valley (UAV) baseball program is pleased to announce the additions of 6-1 utility player Edmond Marcotte, 6-0 utility player Kyle Lathrop, and 6-1 pitcher Austin Grabbit, with all three players coming over to UAV from Antelope Valley College in Lancaster, Calif.
University of Antelope Valley Adds 3 New Players to Baseball Program
College of the Canyons is partnering with AMS Fulfillment to offer 30 pre-apprenticeships in the logistics field—one of the fastest growing industries in Los Angeles County—to individuals who need job readiness skills to gain employment.
COC Partners with Local Fulfillment Company to Offer Pre-Apprenticeships
Children and young adults need to be protected before heading back to school.
County Encourages Parents to Stay Current on School Immunizations
Well, I don't know but I've been told, you’ll never slow down, you’ll never grow old with the music of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers Tribute Band Free Falls into Concerts in the Park
Mayor Laurene Weste, Mayor Pro Tem Marsha McLean, Councilmembers Bob Kellar, Bill Miranda and Cameron Smyth cordially invite you to the 2018 State of the City Luncheon to be held on Thursday, Oct. 25, at 11:30 a.m., at the Hyatt Regency Valencia.
Oct. 25: “Santa Clarita – City of the Arts” State of the City Luncheon
To keep grass at parks green and lush despite constant use, the city of Santa Clarita Parks division works hard to maintain the high quality fields residents love.
City Aerates, Renovates Parks Ahead of Fall
The Saugus Union School District is very pleased to announce the awarding of two grants to provide arts education in the district.
County Arts Commission, Music Center Awarding Grants to Saugus Union
The New Heights Artist Development Series will be holding a free presentation on taxes and artists.
Aug. 23: New Heights Artist Development Series, “Taxes and the Artist”
After thirteen years of service, Saugus Union School District (SUSD) Governing Board Member Paul De La Cerda announced on Friday that he will not be seeking re-election.
Saugus School Board Member to Pursue Doctorate; Won’t Seek Re-Election
LANCASTER, Calif. – On the heels of their longest winning streak of the season, the Lancaster JetHawks are in the midst of their longest losing streak after a 6-4 defeat at the hands of Stockton Wednesday night at The Hangar. The loss was Lancaster’s fifth in a row.
Stockton Hands JetHawks 5th Straight Loss
Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s Missing Persons Unit detectives are seeking the public’s assistance in locating Wayne Stuart Habell.
Detectives Seek Help in Locating Missing Fire Captain
LOS ANGELES – According to the South Coast Air Quality Management District, air quality will be unhealthy for sensitive individuals in Santa Clarita Valley tomorrow, Friday, Aug. 17.
Unhealthy Air Quality Declared in SCV Friday
1956 - Battle of Palmdale rages over the skies of Santa Clarita [story]
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has selected Ricardo Garcia to be the county’s new Public Defender.
Supes Name Ricardo Garcia New LA County Public Defender
The seven Los Angeles County animal shelters including the Castaic Animal Care Center will offer $20 adoption fees for dogs and free adoption for cats on Saturday, August 18 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Aug. 18: Cheap, Free Pet Adoptions at Castaic Shelter
The U.S. Interior Department is against adding the Rim of the Valley Corridor to the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation area, and it won't take a stand on the proposed St. Francis Dam Memorial legislation because it's an issue for the Agriculture Department, not the Interior Department.
Park Service Opposes Rim Addition, Defers on Dam Bill
Air quality will be unhealthy for sensitive people in the SCV on Thursday, according to an advisory from the South Coast Air Quality Management District.
Air Quality Unhealthy for SCV Residents Thursday
FOX Sports Prime Ticket, in partnership with the CIF Southern Section, will launch its TV-web coverage of the 2018 high school football season on Friday, Aug. 17.
Aug. 17: Friday Night High School Football Returns to Prime Ticket
The Lancaster JetHawks scored twice and put the tying run on base in the bottom of the ninth inning, but it was not enough in a 5-4 loss to the Stockton Ports Tuesday night at The Hangar.
Late JetHawks Rally Comes Up Short Against Ports
The Los Angeles Dodgers reinstated left-handed pitcher Alex Wood from the 10-day disabled list Thursday and placed right-handed pitcher John Axford on the 10-day disabled list with a fractured right fibula.
Dodgers Reinstate Pitcher Alex Wood
The Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Station has released its crime and public safety information report for Stevenson Ranch (Zone 3) for the week of Aug. 6-12, 2018.
Crime Blotter: Grand Theft, GTA in Stevenson Ranch
1849 - Eight-pound gold nugget found in San Feliciano Canyon (Val Verde/Piru area) [story]
Here is a list of Santa Clarita arts-related events for Aug. 15 - Aug. 17:
Aug. 15-17: Santa Clarita Arts Calendar