Mushrooms in culture: use, effects and importance for humans

Historical assumptions about fungi

Already in ancient times the Greek physician Dioscurides separated edible from poisonous mushrooms. He guessed the enjoyability depended on the location. For example, fungi that grow on trees with poisonous fruit or near snake caves, on rusty iron or rotting clothing are poisonous. However, excessive consumption of edible mushrooms could also cause stomach discomfort.

For a long time it was assumed that fungi eaten by animals pose no danger to humans. A dangerous mistake, as shown by the example of the squirrel. This eats mushrooms that are poisonous to us.(Image: geertweggen /

For a long time, the belief was that mushrooms that eat animals are also edible for humans. Our ancestors mistakenly assumed that humans could eat anything that other animals eat.

miasms should explain the emergence of mushrooms in the early modern period, ie exhalation of the earth as well as rottenness in the soil. Many scientists believed in a spontaneous gene

sis because the spores were invisible before the invention of the microscope.

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Witch Rings

Their otherness has always brought mushrooms into the world of spirits and demons, devils and witches. Their strange shapes brought people into contact with elves and gnomes, dwarves and fairies.

So-called witch rings refer to groups of mushroom fruit bodies that grow in circles. The spongy tissue needs the nutrients and has to spread in rings to get more nutrients while the old tissue dies off. So symmetrically shaped rings can arise, which have no underground foothills more inward.

In witch trials of early modern times, the witch followers saw the traces of a witch dance in the nocturnal Witches' Sabbath. Even snakes crawling in a circle or witches riding in a circle on a foal were considered authors. Or smoke from the underworld would come to earth and deposit itself in a ring. Or the devil should make butter in a barrel here.

Another term for the "witches' rings" was "Elfenhof" because people believed that in these places at night the court of the Elven King gathered for the feast, and the mushrooms used as seats.

In Germany it was rumored that these rings would grow on Walpurgis night when the witches gathered to dance, in Holland the devil created them - therefore the milk should spoil a cow that grazed at this place. In France, large-eyed toads lived within these rings of witches. The association between toads and mushrooms is probably because both love moisture and dim light and both have poisons.

Spell power should arise in a witch ring. This could bring either luck or misfortune. Thus, young girls were not allowed to wet with dew from within a witch's ring, as the fairies and elves living there were jealous of their beauty, and used the dew to deface the human women.

Morels and truffles were thought to be potent.(Image: Robert Schneider /

Wrinkle Skin and Soappen

The Silesians believed that the devil had grabbed an old woman and torn him to pieces. From these body parts, the morels have grown whose structure resembles a "wrinkled skin".In some parts of Germany, on the other hand, people thought that the morels were growing on the rutting deer. Their shape was probably reminiscent of an erect penis, and their smell( stinkhorn) of a man's unwashed genitals. As an alleged sexual enhancer it was an ingredient in love potions.

Also the botanical name alluded to the similarity with a penis. Carl Linnaeus, the first systematic biologist, introduced the Latin name with genus and species name, which is still common today. He called the stinkhorn "Phallus impudicus".

The underground fruiting bodies of the truffles were also considered to promote potency. Our ancestors associated their shape with the male testicles. However, truffles actually form androsterones, so sex attractants. So you really promote the sex drive.

Growth through Ghosthand

The people of Styria believed that spirits would trigger fungal growth, the "sponge dwarves".These spirits were well disposed to people who had not been baptized, and therefore they found many mushrooms.

If you wanted to find many mushrooms regularly, you should throw the first mushroom you found behind to calm the forest spirits. Whoever only thought of himself, they would not make that gift again.

The sponge clock

A blade of grass that was slightly longer than a nail on the left thumb placed people with saliva on the fingernail, and then it should point in the direction of rich mushroom occurrences. If you wipe your eyes with the first fungus found, you should be able to better discover the mushrooms.

Gods and Saints

It was best to go mushroom hunting after a thunder, and the best day for the mushrooms was Thursday. The Germanic god Donar( Thor), from whom the Thursday derives as well as the thunder, was the god of the peasants - in contrast to Odin, the god of the nobility. Mushrooms were supposed to grow when he threw his hammer through the air.

In the Christian era, St. Vitus and St. Peter were considered mushrooms. Veit was to ride the night of June 15 on a blind white horse around the world and sow "mushroom seeds".

About Peter, the following story went round: "One day he came to a village with Jesus, and a farmer's wife gave them a loaf of bread. Peter bit into it, Jesus asked him something and Peter answered with his mouth full, spitting out the pieces of bread. In order for these to have a benefit, Jesus turned them into the first mushrooms, more specifically in boletuses. For some pieces of bread, however, Peter had cursed when he spat it out. This resulted in the toadstools. "

Halli ash was once recommended as an effective home remedy for constipation.(Image: Eileen Kumpf /

On St. Peter's Day, June 29, the Styrians moved to Graz and asked Peter for mushroom seeds. It rained a lot that day, then "it rained mushroom".

Sometimes, however, the vernacular mushrooms moved for very worldly reasons in the vicinity of the devil and hell. So the Hallimasch served in Austria as a laxative, and his name should come from "hell in the ass".This is certainly not proven.


Mycology derives from the ancient Greek Mykos mushroom and refers to the science of the mushrooms, ie with ascomycetes, mushroom fungi, yoke fungi, potty fungi and arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi.

The term has existed since the 18th century. The founder of modern mushroom research was the Hungarian David Gruby, who discovered the yeast fungus Candida albicans, the skin fungus Trichophyton schoenleinii and the ascomycete Ctenomyces metagraphytes.

The Plizforschung stands today at a similar point as the zoology end 18. Century. Since only a fraction of all fungal species has been studied, it is first of all a matter of systematizing the fungus species. In addition to molecular biology, analysis of DNA sequences is also used today.

fungi as plant pests

Mushroom researchers are particularly concerned with fungi causing diseases in plants, as this is of enormous importance to agriculture, the timber industry and the food industry.

garbage disposal

Another focus of research is the role of fungi as a waste eliminator. In the natural cycle mushrooms play a central role in decomposing wood. In so many parts of the land, they ensure that humans and animals can use them at all.


In medicine, mushroom research is microbiology and investigates fungal toxins such as fungal infections in humans. These include diseases such as fungal and nail fungus, candidiasis or allergies to mold. However, fungi also produce antibiotics against bacterial infections of humans and animals.

In the field of medicine, fungal research is concerned with diseases such as nail fungus.(Image: toscana /

The industrial production of Penicillium mushrooms provides, for example, such antibiotics, the Aspergillus mushrooms provide vitamin C and the yeast B vitamins. In addition, some fungi degrade toxins.

Fields of Activity

Pilz scientists are important for the following areas:

1) Recycling. Mushrooms help "transform" industrial fabrics and create new products from the material. Or they convert wood waste into compost.

2) Mushroom researchers work in biotechnology, whether they "vaccinate" plants with mushrooms to provide better growth, or to study how fungi can be used in medicine and technology.

3) Fungi play a big role in biological pest management, as many of them kill and kill pathogens and pests in plants.

4) Mushroom researchers often work as official consultants. Unlike laymen who collect mushrooms, they can also reliably distinguish between doppelgänger species, thereby preventing people from contracting mushroom intoxications that can end fatally.

5) The mushroom experts are increasingly engaged in breeding. In addition to the established cultivation of mushrooms or shiitake mushrooms, they are trying to breed more fungus species industrially.

6) A new field is the wood refinement of mushrooms.

The History of Fungal Research

Our ancestors used mushrooms already in the Stone Age for healing as food and intoxicants. Theophrastos of Eresos( 371-288 BC) was the first to classify them scientifically. He looked at them as primitive plants.

Pliny, the Elder( 23-79 AD) divided the mushrooms into fungus, the agaric, agaricum, larch mushroom, suillus, cep, tuber, truffle and boletus, the emperor. At the same time, the Greek differentiated Pedanios mushrooms according to their location in above-ground cap mushrooms, underground truffles and porlinge on the trees.

The Greek Pedanios demarcated Porlinge on the trees of cap mushrooms and underground truffles.(Image: Martin Debus /

Doctors of the early Middle Ages associated mushrooms with the equally spongy mosses and called them "mussiriones" from the Latin word "muscus", for moss. This resulted in the French "mocheron", the Anglo-Saxon "muscheron" and today's English "mushroom".

Albertus Magnus( 1193-1280) strongly advised against eating mushrooms that would result from rot. He regarded them as a kind of crippled plant, lacking leaves and twigs.

The early modern era

Pietro Andrea Mattioli( 1501-1577) deviated from the idea that mushrooms were spontaneous or even "out of themselves", but correctly suspected that the spore dust of the fungi contained something like seeds.

Joseph Pitton de Tournefort( 1656-1708) correctly described mushrooms as the cause of plant diseases. Finally, Carl von Linné( 1707-1778) placed her in a class of ferns, mosses and algae.

Mushroom Research Today

The technical possibilities of mushroom research in the transition to the 21st century with microbiology, genetics and molecular biology showed that we know very little about mushrooms. Into the future are the arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi, which enable well-being and growth for 90% of all plant species.

They can play a central role in future conservation and agriculture models, and there are already attempts to "upgrade" crops with such mushrooms to enable agriculture in desert regions of the Sahel.(Dr. Utz Anhalt)

Mushrooms and Humans: Mythology and Mycology
Mushrooms are not animals or plants, they are very strange creatures. Many mushrooms contain poisons that can kill people, others change the senses. In many cultures, therefore, they were considered carriers of mysterious powers;they were ingredients for spells, and shamans used them to enter the "other reality."

  • Hexenrings
  • Wrinkle Skin and Soappen
  • Spiritual Growth
  • The Sponge Clock
  • Gods and Saints
  • Mycology
  • Mushrooms as Plant Pests
  • Waste Disposal
  • Medicine
  • Fields
  • The History of Fungal Research
  • The Early Modern Age
  • Fungus Research Today

H. Dörfelt( ed.): Encyclopedia of Mycology. Stuttgart, New York 1989
E. Müller, W. Loeffler: Mycology, floor plan for natural scientists and physicians. Stuttgart, New York 1992
Georg Schön: Mushrooms - living things between plant and animal. Munich 2005
H.O.Schwantes: Biology of mushrooms. Stuttgart 1996

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