Magical Mushrooms (It's Not What You're Thinking)


As a cook and someone fairly knowledgeable about nutrition, I know mushrooms are delicious and that they may have amazing healing powers.

But mushrooms have other powers – perhaps even magical enough to heal our environment. They can turn the gunky, thick, toxic oil from an environmental disaster into perfectly good soil.

In the aftermath of the Cosco Busan oil spill in San Francisco Bay last November, woven mats of human hair were used to absorb the oil from the beaches. Oyster mushrooms were layered between the oil-soaked mats and allowed to work their magic.

In just 12 weeks, the mushrooms consumed the oil and the hair, turning the whole mess into soil. When you think about the fact that the hair waste from salons usually goes into landfill and that oil from oil spills is generally incinerated after it’s cleaned up, this is an improvement on a massive scale.

The story is almost as much an example of the power of human ingenuity as it is proof of the mighty mushroom’s magic. In 1998, San Franciscan, Lisa Gautier, founded a non-profit called Matter of Trust that matches up man-made and natural surplus materials to give to needy non-profits.

As one of the many projects she’s working on, she collects human hair from salons all over the country to make mats for the San Francisco Department of the Environment to use to clean up motor oil.

After the spill, she donated the mats and hundreds of volunteers fanned out to absorb the oil from the beaches with hair mats. To me, this magical mushroom story proves that the natural world has a lot to teach us, if only we’ll listen.

Herbs and Health
The story
Matter of Trust

Image: Miky Jpeg

Vanessa Barrington

Vanessa Barrington is a San Francisco based writer and communications consultant specializing in environmental, social, and political issues in the food system.