Book Review

Mycelium Running
Paul Stamets

Cover: Mycelium Running

As Paul's interests broaden, so does the scope of his books. This one is part philosophy (The Mycelial Mind), part planetary health (Mycorestoration) and part cultivation (Growing Mycelia and Mushrooms). In this review well take a look at each section so you'll have an idea of what you're getting into when you delve into this book.

The Mycelial Mind

Pauls' philosophical view of fungi can be summed up very simply in his own words: "Fungi are the interface organisms between life and death." In the first chapter Paul begins this concept with the simple notion of mycorrhizal fungi connecting dead organisms to living organisms, thus making new life possible. He builds into the notion that mycelium are the neurological network of nature. This likens mycelium to a human brain suggesting the same indicator of death - when a human brain dies, the human dies - when a mycelium dies, a piece of nature, not just an individual, dies. It's a big idea that gives you a notion of the importance Stamets puts on fungi and his work with them.

Naturally the book is filled with exquisite photos. The first chapter compares photos of mycelial networks to the internet, brain cells, the outer reaches of the universe, galaxies and hurricanes. Paul uses these concepts to suggest that it's time we partnered with mycelium in our use of the planet. The rest of the first section provides the background in fungal biology (life cycles, habitats) and details about wild medicinal fungi so that we can learn to do Just that.


This term of Paul's refers to the use of fungi to repair or restore natural habitats and incorporates four mycelial functions. Paul found that mycelial mats absorb smoke, ink and water and decided that they could also treat water flowing thorough the ground. Field experiments proved the concept to work and now Paul suggests that mycofilters could accomplish mycofiltration anywhere a feedlot or manure pond provides a constant flow to feed the fungus.

Paul's notion of mycoforestry is not Just planting trees with mycorrhizal fungi already attached, but also the introduction of specific species selected to best serve the needs of people and the land. It goes farther into the management of trees with fungi and soils in mind.

Mycoremediation addresses the issue of cleaning up toxic wastes using fungi. Again, a key is to match the species to the cleanup that's needed as well as the habitat. Paul discusses which species are best for which toxins and how heavy metals play into the process.

Certain fungi are pathogenic to insects, thus opening the way for mycopesticides. For example, Metarhizlum, a green mold, has been shown to stop termites without adversely affecting plants, mammals, fish, or beneficial insects. The technology leading to replacement of chemical pesticides is being developed.

Growing Mycelia and Mushrooms

This is the largest section and gets back to the basics of mushroom cultivation. Rather than large scale commercial production, however, the focus is on outdoor cultivation using low tech techniques to address the uses of fungi discussed earlier in the book. The discussion address cultivation in terms of substrates including straw, leached cow manure, logs, stumps, as well as in the garden. It also addresses the needs of individual species including:

Each species gets a few pages that cover common names, taxonomy, description, distribution, natural habitat, type of rot, fragrance signature, natural cultivation, nutritional profile, medicinal properties, mycorestoration potential, and more.

The bottom line is that Paul has done it again - if you have any interest in fungi at all, this is a must-read book.