Wednesday 13 March 2019

Mushroom: a forgotten superfood!

The Director of Pax Herbal Clinic and Research Laboratories (PAXHERBALS), Father Anselm Adodo answers the question.
In April, last year, I had a meeting with about 200  farmers in Ewu village in Edo State. It was part of our community outreach at Paxherbals – getting the people to identify, discuss and analyse their challenges and then proffer solutions from within.
The local people complained that cassava farming was no longer profitable. Many families cultivate cassava, which they harvest, eat and sell the leftovers. This is subsistence farming. The people spend so much time and energy in the sun clearing the bush, planting and then waiting for the cassava to grow and mature. They are able to harvest a few bags of cassava, which is priced very cheaply in the local market. The government, to give a higher yield of cassava, shares thousands of fertiliser they claim help to improve soil yield. But the people know that fertiliser doesn’t provide the solution, and only deplete the soil. They know organic farming is best.
At this meeting, the group agreed to invite the most elderly women in the communities to the next meeting. These grandmothers and great-grandmothers are custodians of knowledge in the local communities. The oldest among them was an energetic old mama, 120 years old, while the others were between 75  and 110.
“Once upon a time,” the eldest woman in the community, Mama Ageless, as she is fondly called, said, “mushrooms (Agaricus bisporus) were growing all over the land, and we used to harvest them to cook. These mushrooms supplied us most of our nutrients. But these days, there are no mushrooms. Rather, we have bread and fries. Bring back mushrooms to the village,” said Mama Ageless.
In the next meeting, the group of farmers decided to explore oyster mushroom farming. But all believed mushrooms only grow in the wild, and no one knew they could be cultivated. Within two months, I organised a training session on mushroom cultivation to a select group of the local farmers. The species cultivated was Pleurotus Ostreatus, popularly called the oyster mushroom.  Many of the people did not attend the training because they did not believe mushrooms could be cultivated. Those who attended were enthralled, surprised and excited. It was a eureka moment for the participants, and they all exclaimed, “So it is possible!”
Since the initial training, hundreds of local farmers have applied to join in the next training. The goal is to move from subsistence farming to secure livelihoods, from food sufficiency to food security, from agriculture to agribusiness. While a 100-foot plot of land can only give a few cassavas worth N36,000, the same plot of land could produce bags of mushrooms worth N200,000. Unlike cassava cultivation, a mushroom is planted inside the house rather than in the open, and the waste from the mushroom soil is far more useful as fertiliser than the synthetic fertiliser provided by the government.

How is mushroom cultivated?
What we did was to culture the tissue cells of the mushroom from the wild, and carefully extract the seeds in the laboratory, through various processes of sterilisation and pasteurisation. The result is that we can now distribute the seeds in large quantities to farmers. Mushroom farming is often referred to as millionaires farming or executive farming because it is cultivated indoors rather than outdoors.  In fact, you can grow mushroom in your bedroom.
 What is a mushroom?
Mushrooms are edible fungi with various names under the scientific name of ‘Agaricus’. The study of mushrooms is called mycology, and mushroom cultivation is technically called ‘fungiculture’. Mushrooms are saprophytes, the organism (plants that do not have chlorophyll), which feed on nutrients from dead and decaying plant and animal matter.
Many people mistakenly refer to mushrooms as plants. The fact is that mushrooms are not plants, vegetables or animals. They are scientifically classified as fungi. Fungi have always been a puzzle for scientists. Mushrooms share a lot of attributes with plants and vegetables and animals, but they belong to a different kingdom of the organism which also contains yeast, mould and many other variations of fungus.  Mushrooms, like all fungi, occupy a place between plant and animals. They do not have a root system, and they do not make chlorophyll, the chemical in plants that makes them green. While plants thrive by transmuting sunlight into food, mushrooms ‘eat’ or absorb nutrients from by-products of rotting vegetation, which explains why they grow well in damp and dark conditions.
There are about 140,000 species of mushroom-forming fungi in the world, but science is only familiar with about 10 percent, while only 100 species have so far been studied for their potential health benefits and medicinal applications.
It will take volumes of books to describe the health benefits of mushrooms.  I will discuss just a few of them here.
Cholesterol: If you have been battling with high cholesterol, mushroom might be the best remedy for you. They are high in fibre and healthy enzymes, provide you with lean proteins, since they do not have cholesterol and fat, and have a low level of carbohydrates. The high level of lean protein in mushrooms helps to burn cholesterol when ingested and help maintain a balance between bad cholesterol or LDL and good cholesterol or HDL. Mushrooms are highly recommended for the prevention of heart disease, stroke and atherosclerosis.
Anaemia: With One Note, you can have personal notes and shared notes.  The teacher’s notes can be projected for students on their tablets and they can make their own notes on it.In the contents library, students can access past papers or past classes.  Teachers can write, type or record video or audio feedback for students to review.
Cancer: My search for more effective medicine for cancer led me to carry out more research on cancer. The results so far are very encouraging. Mushrooms are effective in preventing breast and prostate cancer because of the presence of beta-glucans and conjugated linoleic acid. Beta-glucans stop the growth of cancerous cells in prostate cancer cases. Linoleic acid helps in suppressing the adverse effects of excessive estrogen production, which is one of the causes of breast cancer, especially after menopause.  Much scientific research has shown the antitumor properties of mushroom.
Diabetes: There are many reasons mushrooms are excellent for diabetic patients. They are high in fibre, water, natural insulin, and enzymes which help in breaking down sugar in food. The enzymes in mushrooms also support proper functioning of the liver, pancreas and other endocrine glands.  This explains why they promote the formation of insulin and its effective regulation in the body. For people with diabetes, mushrooms are the ideal low-energy diet: they have no fats, no cholesterol, little carbohydrates, high proteins, vitamins and minerals.
Are you interested in becoming a mushroom farmer? Get in touch for directions on how to get mushroom seeds and grow your own super-food.

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