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

Inside
Weather
Santa Clarita CA
Cloudy
Cloudy
64°F
 
Calendar
Today in
S.C.V. History
June 18
1925 - Newhall lawman Jack Pilcher buried; funeral expenses paid by local Ku Klux Klan [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
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.
Friday, Jun 8, 2018
Our state leaders are finally working together to address one of the greatest inequities in higher education – funding for California community colleges that serve high need students.
Wednesday, Jun 6, 2018
Not every decision on the table must be made within the next week. When it comes to deciding how to fund community colleges, it would be wise to hit pause and devote more careful consideration to the discussion.
Monday, Jun 4, 2018
This summer, help your kids break away from Fortnite and YouTube – by signing them up for fun recreational opportunities offered by the City. Instead of screen time, their days can be filled with sunshine, learning, activity, arts, culture and much more.
Friday, Jun 1, 2018
In her June message, Santa Clarita Mayor Laurene Weste details the best ways to enjoy the local trails and open space this summer.

Latest Additions to SCVNews.com
The extension of the Film and Television Tax Credit has been included as part of the new state budget, and awaits the governor's signature, California Senator Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, announced Monday.
Film, TV Tax Credit Included in State Budget
Los Angeles County Parks and Open Space District representatives joined by three nature-oriented, community-based nonprofit organizations will host an information meeting to provide residents with information about implementation of Measure A, the local park funding measure approved by voters, on Saturday, June 23 from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.
June 23: Parks, Open Space Measure A Info Meeting
"Straight White Men" starring CalArts alumnus Ty Defoe (Theater BFA 10) alongside Kate Bornstein, Josh Charles, Armie Hammer, Paul Schneider and Tom Skerritt will open for previews at the Helen Hayes Theater in New York on Friday, June 24.
June 24: ‘Straight White Men’ to Open on Broadway with CalArts Alum Ty Defoe
The next special meeting of the Governing Board of the William S. Hart Union High School District is Wednesday, June 20 at the Administrative Center, 21380 Centre Pointe Parkway, Santa Clarita.
June 20: Hart District Governing Board Special Meeting
The city of Santa Clarita has updated the list of productions shooting in the city and the Santa Clarita Valley the week of June 18-24.
Features, TV Shows, Spots Now Filming in Santa Clarita
The next meeting of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is set for Tuesday, June 19, starting at 9:30 a.m.
June 19: LA County Board of Supervisors Meeting
Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk Dean C. Logan has announced the fourth ballot counting update for the June 5 Statewide Direct Primary Election.
Fourth Election Results Update for June 5 Primary Election
Rico Garcia closed the season’s first half with a dominant start, but the JetHawks failed to provide him enough run support and fell to the Lake Elsinore Storm, 2-1, on Sunday afternoon at The Diamond.
JetHawks Fall Sunday Despite Dominant Garcia
The Lancaster JetHawks took advantage of an early error, scored four runs in the first and never looked back in a 15-5 win over the Lake Elsinore Storm on Saturday night at The Diamond.
JetHawks Win Rout Over Storm by the Lake Saturday
Matt Dennis was solid on the mound, and Vince Fernandez hit a late home run to help the Lancaster JetHawks to a 3-1 win over the Lake Elsinore Storm on Friday night at The Diamond.
JetHawks Take Series Opener at Diamond Friday
The Federal Bureau of Investigation has asked the public's help in identifying and locating a man who allegedly robbed a Canyon Country bank on Friday.
FBI Seeks ‘Faux Badge Bandit’ in Canyon Country Bank Heist
Two California Democrats crafting “gold standards” in net neutrality laws said Monday they will amend and combine their bills before a vote this week in the Legislature.
California Democrats Team Up for Net Neutrality
The Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Station's Summer Crime Enforcement Team reports arresting five local residents and a Lancaster man who is on felony probation on various charges over the weekend.
SCV Crime Beat: Deputies Arrest 5 for Drugs, Probationer for Ammo
A California appellate court temporarily reinstated the state’s End of Life Option Act on Friday, which allows terminally ill patients to receive physician-assisted suicides.
California State Appeals Court Reinstates Right-to-Die Law
1925 - Newhall lawman Jack Pilcher buried; funeral expenses paid by local Ku Klux Klan [story]
1890 - 18-day murder trial of Castaic's W.C. Chormicle and W.A. Gardner ends in acquittal [story]
1950 - Dedication of H.M. Newhall Memorial Park, aka Newhall Park [story]
Crooks Binge on Victims’ Data with Streaming Service Scam
Fraud Alert: Crooks Binge on Victims’ Data with Streaming Service Scam
The Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce is hosting a Business After Hours Social at Ashley Furniture on Wednesday, June 20 at 5:30 p.m.
June 20: Business After Hours Social at Ashley Furniture
The Santa Clarita Performing Arts Center (PAC) at College of the Canyons will welcome back the United States Air Force Band of the Golden West Concert Band on Wednesday, June 27.
June 27: Air Force Band of the Golden West Returns to the PAC
Throughout the week of June 11, 2018, the House of Representatives voted to pass a package of legislation to help combat the rising nation-wide opioid epidemic. Representative Steve Knight (R-CA) voted in support of all the measures.
Knight Supports Legislation Package to Combat Opioid Epidemic
Khecari, a Chicago-based contemporary dance company directed by CalArts alumna Julia Rae Antonick (Dance BFA 03) and Jonathan Meyer, will be undertaking a study in duration from June 18 through June 24. Their newest project, "The Retreat: One Week" is a 168-hour dance and music performance that begins on June 18 and runs through June 24.
June 18-24: CalArts Alumna to Present a 168-Hour Dance Performance
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.
Know Your Medicare Rights | Commentary by Greg Dill
This month, CalArts Center for New Performance (CNP) will head to Warsaw for a month-long interdisciplinary collaboration with Teatr Studio, one of Poland’s premier experimental theaters.
CalArts Center for New Performance to Host Residency, Festival in Poland
The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (Public Health) has identified the first case of human West Nile virus (WNV) infection in Los Angeles County for the 2018 season (excluding Long Beach and Pasadena as cases identified in those cities are reported by their local health departments) and the Department of Public Health is urging all residents to take precautions against mosquitoes.
First Human Case of West Nile Virus Reported in LA County
The Santa Clarita Valley Groundwater Sustainability Agency (SCV-GSA) is inviting stakeholders and members of the public to participate in its Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP) Workshop on Tuesday, June 26, 2018, at 2:30 p.m.
June 26: SCV-GSA Invites Public to its Groundwater Sustainability Plan Workshop
Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department Scientific Services Bureau, Forensic Identification Specialist Michelle Acevedo and her partners, routinely go above and beyond the call of duty. On one particular day, Michelle’s supervisor received a request from our Homicide Bureau to photograph human remains found 600 feet down a cliff off of Angeles Crest Highway.
LASD Recognizes Forensic I.D. Specialist for Going Beyond the Call of Duty
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra has announced that a diverse group of patient groups, legal experts, economists, medical associations, and public health experts, filed amicus briefs in Texas et al. v. United States et al. supporting California’s opposition to Texas and 19 other states’ motion seeking to halt the operation of the Affordable Care Act nationwide.
Attorney General Supports State Opposition of Motion to End ACA
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra has announced a settlement with Balboa Student Loan Trust that will provide $67 million in critical debt forgiveness and other much-needed relief for the 34,971 Californians who took out private student loans to attend Corinthian Colleges.
Attorney General Announces Debt Forgiveness for Defrauded Corinthian Colleges Students
The California Highway Patrol Newhall Area Office will be conducting a sobriety checkpoint in the unincorporated area of Los Angeles County on Friday, June 15.
June 15: CHP to Conduct DUI Checkpoint in Santa Clarita Valley
G.H. Palmer, a Southern California-based commercial real estate developer, has closed on $158.8 million in financing for Colony Townhomes, a multifamily property located at 17621 Pauline Court in Santa Clarita.
G.H. Palmer Closes $158.8 Million Refinancing on Santa Clarita Townhomes
The JetHawks missed early opportunities to score and ended up 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position in a 6-0 loss to the Inland Empire 66ers on Thursday night at San Manuel Stadium.
Inland Empire 66ers Defeat JetHawks 6-0 Thursday
Veterans who have fallen on hard times, the working poor and those suffering mental illness all find themselves among the epidemic of homelessness in Southern California.
Providence St. Joseph Health Offers Community Programs for Veterans, Homeless
The city of Santa Clarita invites residents and their families to register for an upcoming day trip to Ventura Harbor Village and Harbor Cove Beach on Saturday, July 14.
July 14: Hop on the Santa Clarita Summer Beach Bus to Ventura
The Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Station has released its crime information and public safety report for Newhall (Zone 6) for crimes reported from May 14, 2018 - June 3, 2018.
Crime Blotter: Grand Theft Auto, Robbery in Newhall
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.
It’s Still Taxifornia | Commentary by Betty Arenson