Sisters Andrea and Lisa van Nostrand are celebrating Fungus Appreciation Day by demonstrating how mushrooms can be used as dye. (Heather Barrett/CBC)
Sunday is Fungus Appreciation Day and several events are planned at the Johnson Geo Centre in St. John's to put the spotlight on these organisms.
"They're integral to the environment, they make healthy soils and they allow us to dye wool. Food sustainability. People are growing them themselves," said Andrea van Nostrand, the Geo Centre's lead on interpretation and education.
"They're nutritious. They're easy to grow. Anyone can grow them. You know, this is a topic that you could teach courses on."
Andrea and her sister Lisa van Nostrand will be demonstrating how to dye wool with mycelium, the mushroom's root network.
Lisa says they gather the mushrooms and then dice them up, place them in a mesh bag and let them simmer in a pot for an hour.
"It's a simple process and you get unexpected results because you don't always know the colours that you're going to get," she said.
Lisa van Nostrand said the dyed material has a lot of variation, but they tend to end up what she called muted, neutral colours. (Heather Barrett/CBC)
"From beige, yellow, orange, brown and rust colours. And so they're maybe a little bit of green. So they're quite muted, neutral colours. You know, you're not going to get fuchsia, not with their mushrooms anyway.… You get a really natural looking colours," said Lisa.
Andrea says she isn't sure how common using mushrooms as dye is in the province, but pointed to plenty of resources on the subject including books, articles and websites.
They also won't be eating any mushrooms during the demonstration as they could be poisonous, she said, with Lisa chiming in, "Well, they're not edible, let's put it that way."
The rise of the mushroom
Lisa recalled that growing up in St. John's, the common message was that mushrooms were poisonous, so they didn't eat them. Now she's seen an "explosion" in interest. While she enjoys foraging for mushrooms, Lisa said she doesn't actually like to eat them.
Andrea has also seen a proliferation of local mushrooms-related businesses and even farms that grow mushrooms to sell.
Anita Walsh operates such a farm with her family, the 160 hectare Portugal Cove-St. Philip's-based Windy Heights Farm. On top of growing mushrooms, they also sell mushroom growing kits.
Anita Walsh poses with a range of edible mushrooms, which are all grown indoors at Windy Heights Farm in Portugal Cove. (Submitted by Anita Walsh)
From her perspective, people need to embrace the mushrooms.
"It's so underutilized and so misunderstood, that it's vital that we do not miss out on this opportunity to find out more about this amazing organism," Walsh said.
"Mushrooms are medicinal. They're healthy. They're beautiful. And they're tasty all at once."
Walsh added people can build with it, make clothing out of it, use it as medicine or just as a food. It's also versatile when it comes to growing, as it can be grown in doors or foraged in the wild.
"The more you learn about mushrooms, the more you want to learn about mushrooms," she said.
On Tuesday, she said they'll be leading a workshop at the Johnson Geo Centre on mushroom totem growing.
She explained they will have birch trees cut into disks and spores will be placed in the centre. From there, participants will take them home to keep them somewhere dark and warm in order to grow mushrooms.
Walsh hopes people will develop an interest in growing their own mushrooms too.
"We're all about educating others on how to grow your own food, being more aware of nature and what types of foods we can still harvest in nature."