September 24, 2007

Woo and Mycology Collide

There's a good deal of woo over on LiveJournal, just like there is everywhere, but this particular bit of woo-ful mycology was brought to my attention this morning and I couldn't let it go without comment. It was posted by an individual who goes by the username goddessvessel who describes herself as "...simple country witch that grew up in the city, it is all quntum physics, all is the will and what we WILL I have traveld through so much karma at this point that my darlings like to say "that there is more past to my past than any one they have ever known" (I started young!)I live and breath magic...", so you know that a massive dose of woo comes next, right? Well, you won't be disappointed.

On LJ's mycology community, she posted a photo of some Dacrymycete (probably Dacrymyces palmatus though it's hard to tell from a photo) and asked for an ID. A couple of people took a stab at it, and goddessvessel replied with the following:

...One of the mushroom men I used to forage with said it had good medicinal properties something I do look for in my mushrooms and one of the reasons that hens and oysters are my favorite to gather mushrooms are death energy the are the little phoenixes they have not only the power to kill but also to heal!

I like to stick to eating what I know I don’t tend to take to many risks I am not bold that way I know there are varieties of little browns that are edible but there are also too many that are not. I have gotten sick twice once from honeys, they were not as fresh as they could have been and most likely had a mold growing on them and the same happened with some oyster mushrooms and that was bad! It was like tripping and feeling like I was having intestinal failure at the same time not a good feeling to be sure so I try to get things when they are choice and stick to what I feel safe with I do love to just go into the woods and photograph them as well I tell folks that I can hear them calling and this time of year I need a bumper sticker that says “Beware I break for mushrooms!!!”
A couple of things must be said about this.

First, this is somebody who has poisoned herself twice. She may be correct in that she ate spoiled mushrooms, or she may simply have misidentified what she consumed. For example, it is not uncommon for someone to think they're eating oyster mushrooms when what they've really got is something like Crepidotus mollis, which is manifestly poisonous. The symptoms she describes certainly sound like they could have been induced by a Crepidotus. There are any number of fungi that can be misidentified readily as honey mushrooms (Armillaria mellea), and in any case honey mushrooms can cause severe gastric upset if not cooked very thoroughly. But even if she's correct and simply ate decayed fruiting bodies, what does this say about her ability to recognize what is edible from what isn't? If you took a steak out of your fridge and saw that it was covered with green fuzz and it smelled bad, would you still eat it?

But then we get into the serious woo. Death energy? Mushrooms having little phoenixes? What the heck is that all about? Griffola frondosa doesn't have any "death energy" nor are there little phoenixes, angels, or werewolves perched invisibly upon its sporophores. It's a fungus, just like any other fungus, composed of chitinous filaments and their contents. It won't by itself cure any diseases and it doesn't give you any spiritual energy. What is it with the woo crowd and all of this nonsense about "energy" and quantum physics and the like?

It's very telling that this individual believes that a Dacrymycete, or any other fungus, can serve as a substitute for prescription antibiotics. Yes, all fungi contain naturally-occurring antibiotics. It's how they keep from getting destroyed by bacteria as well as how they prevent most other fungi from growing on and/or outcompeting them. Still, these compounds are in very low concentrations and must be purified if they're to be useful clinically. You'd have to consume many, many pounds of a given fungus all in one sitting to get a useful dose of the antibiotics it contains, and some of those antibiotics would be toxic to your own cells in any case. Not all antibiotics are the same, after all, and antibiotics that damage eukaryotic cells certainly aren't going to be good for you and won't do a thing to a bacterial pathogen, anyhow, because of the way they function.

When it comes to a dose of anything, though, you won't likely find anything with more microscopic levels than you will in the Dacrymycetes. They're jelly fungi and are almost pure water, to begin with. If you've ever dried one on a dehydrator, you know that you expect a volume reduction of more than 80% in your final product. They barely contain chitin let alone chemically useful compounds.

In short, goddessvessel seems like a very good example of someone who needs to stop eating wild fungi and stick to what's in the supermarket, or at least get someone reputable to identify her finds. She sounds like someone who, in her rebellion against legitimate medicine and reason in general, is rather likely to do herself some permanent damage if she hasn't already. Many poisonous fungi have neurotoxic effects, and that could explain why she's seeing little phoenixes perched atop hen-of-the-woods caps. In any case, this is a pretty good case in which wooful thinking could easily end up in permanent disability or even fatality.

I hope that someone on LiveJournal will take the time to tell this person that she's on a collision course with illness or death. Apparently, the voices in her head just aren't doing their job.

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