Digging into what sorts of edible life can live in high alpine environments got me started looking into lichen, then various ways subsistence herders could use fungus in their daily lives. I ran into some pretty surprising stuff.
- Caterpillar fungus, the world's most valuable parasite, is harvested atop the Tibetan plateau and sells for up to $63,000/lb.
- Types of fungi include mold, yeast, mushrooms, lichen and truffles.
- Fungi digest their food externally by releasing enzymes into their surroundings.
- Though a relatively small part of most diets, lichen is a critical food for many animals because in winter it’s often the only food available.
- Greek legend claims that truffles grow in places Zeus struck with a thunderbolt.
Agarikon fungus—a tree-decaying species of mushroom that forms in thick mats—was used in the Americas by indigenous peoples to make pouches. The fungus has a leathery texture and is also useful for bandaging wounds, preventing diaper rash, and treating tuberculosis. [Read More]
After the first Siberian snowmelt, reindeer will dig up and eat agargic mushrooms. Herders then capture them and drink the reindeer pee to share in the hallucinogenic effect. [Here’s 7 more animals that seek out hallucinogens]
Both the ancient Israelites and Mesopotamians had rituals for how to handle a fungal infestation in a home (or person, or their clothes). Mesopotamian priests would come to an infected house, observe the color of the fungus, and scrape off the fungus with particular tools depending on the nature of the fungus. [Read More]
“Desert truffles” are tubers that are roughly 30% each of protein and carbohydrates, 13% fiber, 7% fat, and 5% ascorbic acid. They have all essential amino acids, in good quantities, and can be salted and dried for preservation. But because they were associated with nomadic raiders, the Sumerians hated them. Egyptian pharaohs, by contrast, considered them exclusive royal delicacies. [Read More]