Mushrooms, undervalued inflorescences of the earth

10/07/2021

From the modest quesadillas, the traditional soup to the most sophisticated delicacies, mushrooms have been part of traditional Mexican cuisine for many, many years. The general knowledge we have of mushrooms is related precisely to this culinary custom, although they also cause curiosity when we think of their use in some religious ceremonial practices, in which hallucinogenic mushrooms have received honor and veneration in some countries of the world, including ours. However, the peculiarity of these organisms and their amazing abundance in the environment make them a source of scientific interest in the field of biodiversity.

Fungi are a group of organisms that due to their very particular characteristics scientists have segregated from the plant kingdom and placed them in a new kingdom, the Fungi. These organisms range from microscopic forms, such as molds and yeasts, to quite bulky forms, such as the so-called shelf fungi that grow on tree trunks. They are widely distributed throughout the planet and thrive in almost all climates: tropical, subtropical, temperate, and cold, i.e. in all areas with temperatures between 4oC and 60°C, where the elements indispensable for their existence are present: organic material and water.

Fungi are classified, according to their size, into micromycetes and macromycetes. The former are molds and yeasts, microscopic organisms used in the production of alcoholic beverages such as pulque, wine, and tepache, which ferment the sugars in mead, grape must, and pineapple pulp and convert them into alcohol. Delicious French and Italian cheeses such as camembert and gorgonzola are made by the controlled growth of molds. Yeasts are also involved in the production of bread and beer, and in medicine, several species of molds are used to obtain antibiotics.

Macroscopic fungi or macromycetes are important for their economic, social and ecological value; the few studies carried out on the ecological aspect of fungi show that their potential is enormous. Of the 140 thousand species of fungi estimated to live in Mexico, only 4.5% are known, being Veracruz the state with the greatest richness of fungi and where most studies have been carried out. Fungi are a structural and functional element of forest ecosystems and can be a potential and alternative resource in the integral and sustainable management of forests. They also contribute more than 3% of the value of national non-timber forest production.

In Mexico, 205 species of fungi are edible and most of them grow in coniferous, tropical, and mountain mesophyll forests. Most of these species are related to tree roots in an association called mycorrhizal, in which both the fungus and the tree receive mutual benefits. The mycorrhizal tree-fungus relationship involves an exchange of nutrients: the fungus receives nutrients from the tree root cells that are beneficial for its development, while the tree increases the absorption surface of its roots and becomes more resistant to pests or toxic substances present in the soil. There are species of edible fungi such as Armillaria mellea and Armillariella polymyces that are parasitic species that attack and rot the roots of oak, almond, and citrus trees; other edible species corresponding to the Pleurotus and Lentinus genera destroy the wood and abound in the humid trunks lying in the forest or in sawmills and lumber mills.

The adaptation of fungi to environmental conditions and the ease of identifying their fructifications make them ecological indicators for recognizing or interpreting a certain ecosystem, its nature, or its degree of deterioration. Among the species are Amanita muscaria, which indicates the presence of pine trees; Coenogonium linkií indicates a tropical evergreen forest with little disturbance, and Psilocybe mexicana indicates grasslands in the humid subtropical zone with intense grazing by horses.

The use of macroscopic mushrooms as medicinal products is very broad; about 50 important Mexican species have been recorded to which indigenous groups attribute a total of 36 curative properties, including anti-colic, healing, digestive, anti-asthmatic, and anti-epileptic actions.

Mexican wild edible mushrooms are very well accepted in national and international markets, so their demand tends to increase. This is reflected, on the one hand, in the emergence of new companies that are investing in the acquisition of advanced technology for mushroom cultivation, since many of the edible species -especially parasitic species or those that live in decaying trunks- can be cultivated in industrial and agricultural waste. Agaricus bisporus and Pleurotus ostreatus, known as mushrooms, are species that have been cultivated in Mexico for some time with very good success. On the other hand, in order to meet the demand in foreign markets, the exploitation of wild mushrooms has intensified in recent years.

The species that currently registers greater exploitation is Tricholoma magnivelare, known in Mexico as white mushroom or ocote mushroom; this species is the equivalent of the Japanese matsutake, Tricholoma matsutake, which is of great commercial importance in Japan. The exploitation of the white mushroom in Mexico began in the pine forests in the region of Cofre de Perote, Veracruz, where some Japanese companies began to exploit it and later spread to other regions of the states of Michoacán, Hidalgo, Puebla, and the State of Mexico.

By Mexicanist, Source: CONABIO, Biodiversitas (2)