When considering your professional self it is often easy to forget that so much of your work life encompasses your waking week. It also stands to reason that you may, or at least I do, hold values that transcend your every week 9-5 and flow over into your private life. This isn’t always the case for most I agree but for me I have noticed as a consequence of my recent learning experiences changes in what I do or want in my personal space. This takes me back to a time, when I lived in the UK, when I began a similar journey, one born of a urgent need to express my situation, a frustrating and stressful one for sure, at that time. I felt hopeless and deeply affected by the trials of life I faced and discovered the best way to exercise it, in the form of writing a personal subjective blog. This was alien to me, as was the platform in which to deliver it, namely a WordPress blog. However this I overcame and the writing commenced. This can be found, if you are inclined to read it of course, at http://www.offtheplot.wordress.com.
I have now decided to resurrect this venture once more as an after thought. I had finished and published over 70,000 words of http://www.wholedentalhealth.com and was greatly relieved that it had finally been completed as it hung like a huge millstone around my neck, for many months until COVID came and allowed me the opportunity during lockdown to endeavour to complete it. This involved a monumental amount of energy which I felt worthy of expenditure but didn’t really see the need to reflect the knowledge I’d absorbed beyond a clinical perspective. Upon consideration, however, it occurred to me one night in an all too common waking hour that I’d overlooked the esoteric nature of my learning and wanted to embrace the additional and interestingly aligned journeys that emerged from it. These include the likes of bee keeping, mushroom growing, gardening, bread making and E biking.
With the introduction of aligned continuing professional development with personal development and even well-being being in its framework there now seems to be a place for this to be recognised along with pure professional growth. To say that they compliment each other may seem a tad far fetched to some but in all honesty they have evolved as a result of the experiences gained during this epic professional learning odyssey. It then leads me to believe that they are as relevant to my developmental journey as my clinical skill set and in some cases just as exciting as the days of new learning when I trained and qualified as a dental hygienist back in the late 80’s. The relevance of these alternative journeys is linked to my social intent, being more connected to that which became a best friend and saviour back in the darker days of offtheplot. The name, by the way, has a multiplicity of meaning. It resonates with me due to my indifference to what the normal person aspired to then, it literally meant we were living, mouth to mouth, day to day at times from an allotment which we cared for and tended too religiously. It also alludes to my desire to find free food, turning fear of the mushroom into the love and quest for it. It taught me to live presently and seasonally, to appreciate the moment, the bounty of nature but also, sadly, its fragility.
This year in New Zealand, in fact tomorrow, is the national election and I have already cast my vote. The intentionality of it reflects these journeys albeit personal, spiritual and professional. Offtheplot is a reference to my past but it also belongs in my present and more importantly, to my future. I therefore bless this page and all who read her. I look forward to its collaboration with wholdentalhealth and the paths it takes.
Mushroom Supernova – Tangental Learning in Temperamental Times and Temperate Places
“The small two-way lane dipped down from the railway station at Woking. It was called White Rose Lane and travels the short journey to the junction where you turn right to Old Woking or left to West Byfleet. Near that junction, on the left around a gentle bend in the road is a private gated drive up to an established high-end housing estate. Oh, how the wealthy live but unbeknownst to them on a triangular patch about ten to twelve square metres stands a grand Oak Tree, on the roadside opposite shrouded by native trees that arch over the road at that point is a street light. The area is well known as a historic hunting lodge for King Henry VIII, littering across the junction, hence the road name I presume.
However, on a handful of occasions in the calendar year, in the warmer months and after a decent downpour or two are the fruiting bodies of a delicious boletus mushroom, the Porcini, Cep or Penny Bun. To get there before the squirrels and the lawnmower is the art form here. Our first experience after the gathering was to create a porcini soup which we shared with our friends David and Rachel. They looked a little bewildered at first until we tucked in first. The others we dried and jarred for future use in risottos, sauces and fillings in meat and other dishes.”
What will 2021 be remembered for I wonder? The delayed 2020 European Championships and the Tokyo Olympic Games? Freedom Days and continued lockdowns? The rollout of vaccinations? In my world, perched on the outskirts of Australia, New Zealand continues, up to this moment, to have avoided much of the global drama continuing to unfold around it. We have a vaccination programme, like Australia, slow to start but unlike Australia, and nothing like the COVID Delta variant community cases currently causing concern.
My professional and personal journey has taken many a radical turn in the near 40 years I’ve been at work. I’m 55 years of age and many of those who trained around the time I did, in the mid-’80s, has moved on from clinical dental health to other professions or retirement. I must confess there have been more than 1 occasion that I’ve thrown my toys out of the cot and wanted a journey to fresh pasture. I still enjoy my job, the people I work with too but deep down I know I’m on the steep decline and am wondering where to go from here. I was once told if you have passion for what you do, you will always succeed. I’ve tried to live by that mantra and continue to do so.
So where to now? I’ve learned, of late, to think tangentially about where to go, what road to travel and this began 2 years ago, literally to the day. I was with my friends Dave and Rachel Annette in Hampshire, in the UK who were starting a beekeeping business, as well as their day jobs and since have slowly built their passion into something special, ethical, environmental, and sustainable. HoneyBeeHappy is their apicultural baby and has been a constant source of inspiration to me, so much so that in the last year I’ve completed a level 3 certificate in Apiculture and continue, from August, into Diploma territory.
“I parked the car by the lake, the trees and bushes abound in this place and my destination was but a short walk, across the main road and into the woods via a small path maintained by many a forager and casual walker. Twenty metres from the entrance to the wood, amongst the beech, oak and birch was a little mound, I suspect either as a consequence of an uprooted tree or the Canadians, who exercised here before D-day. The raised earth is surrounded by moss and covered in tree litter but hidden subtly, easily unobserved were the golden honey coloured shapes of Chanterelles, delicate and tasty, apricot and slight peppery gourmet shrooms.“
This learning journey has taken me to many an ancient forest, whether it be in England, Scotland or France, even in New Zealand there is indigenous species as well as introduced. The numbers of very edible species I’ve encountered are a mere handful, I’m supremely suspicious of white mushrooms as many are toxic or lethal, it was my decision to stay away from those that come into that category unless identification is obvious. The untrained eye needs to be meticulous in their research and confident of their identification. In France fungi are deeply immersed in their culinary and pharmaceutical culture, any mushrooms picked without knowledge of their identity can be taken to a pharmacy and be positively identified. Europeans have none of the fear or mystery of the gentle hunt, they are brought up to know their mushrooms and the trees and bushes, seasonality and climates associated with them. From spring through to late autumn are the months to be aligned with the weather and location of mossy, fern-covered, ancient forests through to grassy pasture. The forager is a range finder, a radar and a curious, inquisitive explorer of the nature of things fungi.
I have always been interested in mushrooms, but since the mid-noughties, this has spawned a real passion for that which many have fears, that of hunter-gathering/foraging no toxic, tasty edible fungi and learning more about their relationship to man, health and the environment. This is very much the same story for bees and honey. The possibility that this could turn into a part or full-time cash crop and a move away from where I am now professional is a tempting proposition. This post today elaborates on this journey to date, from about September of last year to today, it will tentatively look at what may present itself and arise in the years to come and what I could do to make it work as a noble profession.
The Maitai River runs through Nelson Central, flowing out into the Pacific, gently meandering through picturesque countryside and the suburbs. King Fishers, Fantails, Tuis and Swifts dart and play along its length, bees in the spring and summer gather nectar and pollen and mushrooms abound locally amongst mycorrhizal associated native and exotic trees and plants. The exotics are a joy to see, the Willow, Beech and Birch all share a presence with the established fauna and flora, the bees, imports too, compete with the native bee population for resources. The footpath along the river is well-trodden by dog walkers and those enjoying the ambience of the setting. There are mushrooms, of the Boletus variety along with field mushrooms at the right time of the year and after a good downpour. From February through to late April opportunity knocks for those with an eye for a free superfood.
“Mushrooms were the roses in the garden of that unseen world because the real mushroom plant was underground. The parts you could see – what most people called a mushroom – was just a brief apparition. A cloud flower.” Margaret Atwood
Xerocomellus chrysenteron, Also known as the Red Cracked Boletus, is a common visitor to these parts, transported, no doubt, over the distance as innocent inoculated rootstock. It is a deceptively inedible looking shroom, for it has a degree of redness to it, associated with toxic boletus. It is, with some experience, easy to identify and can be dried, stored in jars and used in sauces, stocks and risottos. It has a milder, less meaty taste but this improves after drying.
Leccinum scabrum, also known as Brown Birch Boletus, is also a migrant from the Northern Hemisphere, hidden, inoculated in the imported rootstock, like the Red Cracked. In my UK foraging experiences these two mushrooms were often overlooked for more choice varieties. However, when in Rome, do what the Romans do, and quite by chance, whilst driving back from my apiculture course this April I looked to my right out of my car window, whilst waiting at a junction and to my huge disbelief stood proudly beneath a few Birch Trees dozens of Birch Boletus. I had to double talk, reverse quickly, park up with my four-way flashers on and darted over the quiet road to the scene. Over the next few weeks, multiple return visits, my big glass jars were filled to the rim with these beauties.
Two Birch boletus fresh from the patch
Brown birch boletes are prepared and stored in the fridge before space being available to dry
Brown or Orange birch Boletus, found on these far-flung foreign shores add a great dimension to cooking, their places of discovery become guarded secrets, silent and forlorn for the vast majority of the year, the mere sight of a cluster or individual birch trees becomes memorised for a future visit, at the right time. I’m still hoping to find the ultimate Bolete, the Cep, Porcini or Penny bun, as they have been found here in New Zealand, in Wellington and Christchurch. However, for the time being, I’m satisfied with these for sure.
Notable others found here are Boletus pinophilus, commonly known as the pine bolete, growing predominantly in coniferous forests on sandy soils, and Suillus luteus a common fungus from the British Isles. Commonly referred to as slippery jack or sticky bun in English-speaking countries, its names refer to the brown cap which is characteristically slimy in wet conditions. These too are sliced and dried, like the Birch and Rec Cracked, added to the jars and stored. They need a little more time to prepare, especially the Slippery jack, with its sticky cap surface. I’ve learned to allow them to dry for 24 hours before preparation, making the task easier.
Parkvale Mushrooms in Masterton is a genuinely interesting operation, having been there and picked up a couple of buckets of spore infused medium for us to grow in our shed. We have ordered, online, multiple buckets in the past few years and have been pleased with the quality and quantity of mushrooms, the instructions were easy to follow and the contents can be put onto your veggie patch after the flushes are all blown. The Portobello style mushrooms are meaty, of varying sizes and useful for cooking in many forms. It is a good place to start for any would-be hobbyists and food lovers, no need to identify, pour sceptical eyes and minds over what is growing in front of you and observe with intrigue and wonder how they come about.
“It was July in the Cairngorms, on the rim of the Highlands of Scotland, very near Balmoral and Ballater, the weather was a dream and the scenic drive between them was slow and deliberate. There was no rush but awareness and curiosity of the forestry and flora that abounds at this time of year. Outside of Ballater runs to the disused railway from there to Aberdeen, shut down in the mid to late sixties. Along its path, now a place of walking and foraging, a cornucopia of wild fruit, nuts and shrooms are free for the taking, as is another less trodden and known track only to a Royal few. This was a place, where we ventured at the right time as it was flush with golden chanterelles, as far as the eye could see. The moment was captured in a video as were many of the prime examples of these mushrooms. “
Shiitaki health benefits
Shiitake mushrooms are one of the most popular mushrooms worldwide. They are prized for their rich, savoury taste and diverse health benefits. Shiitake are edible mushrooms native to East Asia. They’re tan to dark brown, with caps that grow between 2 and 4 inches (5 and 10 cm). While typically eaten like vegetables, shiitake are fungi that grow naturally on decaying hardwood trees. Around 83% of shiitake are grown in Japan, although the United States, Canada, Singapore, and China also produce them. You can find them fresh, dried, or in various dietary supplements. Shiitake are low in calories. They are also loaded with fibre, as well as B vitamins and some minerals.
The nutrients in 4 dried shiitake (15 grams) are:
In addition, shiitake contain many of the same amino acids as meat. They also boast polysaccharides, terpenoids, sterols, and lipids, some of which have immune-boosting, cholesterol-lowering, and anticancer effects. The amount of bioactive compounds in shiitake depends on how and where the mushrooms are grown, stored, and prepared. You can cook with both fresh and dried shiitake, although the dried ones are slightly more popular. Dried shiitake have an umami flavour that’s even more intense than when fresh. Umami flavour can be described as savoury or meaty. It’s often considered the fifth taste, alongside sweet, sour, bitter, and salty. Both dried and fresh shiitake mushrooms are used in stir-fries, soups, stews, and other dishes.
Studies suggest that some of the bioactive compounds in shiitake may protect against cancer and inflammation. However, many of the studies have been done on animals or test tubes rather than people. Animal studies frequently use doses that far exceed those that people would normally get from food or supplements. In addition, many of the mushroom-based supplements on the market have not been tested for potency.
Shiitake as a supplement has long been used in traditional Chinese medicine. They are also part of the medical traditions of Japan, Korea, and Eastern Russia. In Chinese medicine, Shiitaki is thought to boost health and longevity, as well as improve circulation. Shiitake mushrooms may boost heart health. For example, they have three compounds that help lower cholesterol
One study in rats with high blood pressure found that shiitake powder prevented an increase in blood pressure. A study in lab rats fed a high-fat diet demonstrated that those given shiitake developed less fat in their livers, less plaque on their artery walls, and lower cholesterol levels than those that didn’t eat any mushrooms.
Shiitake may also help strengthen your immune system. One study gave people two dried shiitake daily. After one month, their immune markers improved and their inflammatory levels dropped. This immune effect might be partly due to one of the polysaccharides in shiitake mushrooms. While people’s immune systems tend to weaken with age, a mouse study found that a supplement derived from shiitake helped reverse some age-related decline in immune function.
So, from foraging delicious wild fungi to growing medium to large shop type mushrooms, in medium, to having mycelia covered dowels placed into the wood. This challenge was joined by the James household recently as a consequence of our great neighbours “trimming” their oak and plum trees. The access to fresh hardwood, especially oak, cut into manageable sizes has mana from heaven. I quickly found online Shiitaki inoculated spores, with a world of mycelium covering them all. My garage became the man cave for the introduction of these dowels into the wood, in 3-4 inch spaces, in a diamond shape, sealed with beeswax, melted and kept liquid in a slow cooker. A gentle tap with a hammer and a covering of sealant, the two ends of the logs wax-covered too. Spare pallet boxes were placed in a shaded space and left to natures tender mercies for several months to a year with occasional soakings either naturally from rain or the ubiquitous garden hose. The results of this endeavour will be eagerly anticipated, and the multiple stumps may indeed continue to bear fruit for some years to come.
The dowels before and after being sealed with beeswax in oak logs
Shiitaki logs on a pallet in shade in the garden
The use of mushrooms in medicine is contentious, the psychotropic varieties are illegal, whether gathering or consuming in New Zealand. It also suffers from a degree of little modern scientific research although their use as a healing agent or in ceremonial “rite of passage” events is well documented and continues in some cultures to today, much as it did generations before. This implies that without the authority of these being undertaken, the benefits of these natural ingredients, extracts and powders are still seen as fringe and have found it hard to become used legally. Despite this, they can be found at online stores and high street health shops. In the USA some states are now legalising the use of psychotropic mushrooms and the legislation will soon be brought further into the mainstream. This does pose many questions and potential problems with dosages regarding effect and toxicity but also the success to date in trials with such shrooms for treating mental health and end of life states. Ongoing observational and empirical experiences appear not to have the critical weight that the randomised and longitudinal studies do. This ignores the centuries of cultural use, especially in the far east, China and Japan. Having met many people who have taken them casually, and survived, is numerous. I have to admit that looking at anecdotal evidence and being encouraged by the opening of the debate about the efficacy of the magic mushroom type varieties of Psilocybin by the likes of Joe Rogan on his podcast, his guests that include Sam Harris, Michael Pollan and Paul Stamets. Many people undergo “guided” trips or journeys with clinically trained guides, alert to and aware of the meaning and purpose of the experience beyond the obvious. Learning from these has proven tremendously beneficial to people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or coping with end of life stress.
Next, I must discuss the use of mood-enhancing, immune-boosting and calming nootropic mushrooms. These are readily available online in many combinations or as one only, even in traditional New Zealand. Nootropics, or “smart drugs,” are a class of substances that can boost brain performance. They are sometimes called cognition enhancers or memory-enhancing substances. Prescription nootropics are medications that have stimulant effects.
The products are encased within a plant-based capsule. MyComplete is a blend of 6 mushroom extracts including Chaga (Inonotus obliquss), Cordyceps (Cordyceps militaris), Lions Mane (Hericium Erinaceus), Maitake (Grifola frondosa), Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum), and Turkey Tail (Trametes Versicolor). There is a single ingredient offering, with just Lions Mane as the extract.
Chaga health benefits
Chaga mushrooms are rich in vitamins, minerals, and nutrients, including:
Chaga is also claimed to slow the ageing process through anti-oxidation, lowering cholesterol, helping blood pressure, fighting cancers, supporting the immune system and fighting inflammation.
Cordyceps health benefits
Of the more than 400 species of Cordyceps discovered, two have become the focus of health research: Cordyceps sinensis and Cordyceps militaris.
In several studies in diabetic mice, Cordyceps has been shown to decrease blood sugar levels. Some evidence suggests that they may also protect against kidney disease, a common complication of diabetes. In a review of 22 studies including 1,746 people with chronic kidney disease, those who took Cordyceps supplements experienced improved kidney function. However, these results aren’t conclusive.
A study found that Cordyceps significantly reduced heart injuries in rats with chronic kidney disease. Injuries to the heart from chronic kidney disease are thought to increase the risk of heart failure, so reducing these injuries may help avoid this outcome. The researchers attributed these findings to the adenosine content of Cordyceps. Adenosine is a naturally occurring compound that has heart-protective effects. Animal research has shown that Cordyceps decrease “bad” LDL cholesterol. Cordyceps have been shown to decrease triglyceride levels in mice. Triglycerides are a type of fat found in your blood. High levels are linked to a greater risk of heart disease. Unfortunately, there is insufficient evidence to determine whether Cordyceps benefit heart health in humans.
Lions Mane health benefits
Lion’s mane mushrooms, also known as hou tou gu or yamabushitake, are large, white, shaggy mushrooms that resemble a lion’s mane as they grow. These mushrooms and their extracts have been shown to reduce the symptoms of memory loss in mice, as well as prevent neuronal damage caused by amyloid-beta plaque, which accumulates in the brain during Alzheimer’s disease. A study in older adults with mild cognitive impairment found that consuming 3gms of powdered Lion’s mane mushrooms daily for 4 months significantly improved mental functioning, but these benefits disappeared when supplementation stopped. New animal research has found that Lion’s mane extract demonstrated anti-inflammatory effects that can reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression in mice. Other studies show improvement in the functioning of the hippocampus, a region of the brain responsible for processing memories and emotional responses. Spinal and brain injury research in this field also indicates help in the recovery with these mushrooms by stimulating the growth and repair of nerve cells, reducing recovery time by between 23-41%, in rat studies, in one particular study indicated a 44% decrease in inflammation and reduction of stroke-related injury.
Lion’s mane extract may protect against the development of stomach ulcers by inhibiting the growth of H. pylori and protecting the stomach lining from damage. Several studies have found that lion’s mane extract can prevent the growth of H. pylori in a test tube, but no studies have tested whether they have the same effects inside the stomach. Additionally, an animal study found that lion’s mane extract was more effective at preventing alcohol-induced stomach ulcers than traditional acid-lowering drugs — and without any negative side effects.
Lion’s mane extract may protect against the development of stomach ulcers by inhibiting the growth of H. pylori and protecting the stomach lining from damage. Several studies have found that lion’s mane extract can prevent the growth of H. pylori in a test tube, but no studies have tested whether they have the same effects inside the stomach. Additionally, an animal study found that lion’s mane extract was more effective at preventing alcohol-induced stomach ulcers than traditional acid-lowering drugs — and without any negative side effects.
Maitake health benefits
The polysaccharides in maitake (above) can reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol without affecting your triglyceride or HDL (good) cholesterol levels. Along with supporting heart health, beta-glucan can help improve your immune system. D-fraction in maitake mushrooms has a strong effect on the immune system. “Maitake” means dancing mushroom in Japanese. The mushroom is said to have gotten its name after people danced with happiness upon finding it in the wild, such are its noted healing properties.
This mushroom is a type of adaptogen. Adaptogens assist the body in fighting against any type of mental or physical difficulty. They also work to regulate systems of the body that have become unbalanced. While this mushroom can be used in recipes for taste alone, it’s considered to be a medicinal mushroom. The mushroom grows wild in parts of Japan, China, and North America. It grows at the bottom of Oak, Elm, and Maple trees. It can be cultivated and even grown at home, though it typically won’t grow as well as it does in the wild. You can usually find the mushroom during the autumn months.
Maitake mushrooms are rich in:
If you’re using maitake to boost your health, you can add it to any food in which you would normally add mushrooms. It can be added to stir-fry, salad, pasta, pizza, omelettes, or soup. You can also fry the mushrooms in butter or grill them. Maitake has a strong, earthy taste, so be sure you enjoy its flavour before adding it to a large amount of food.
If you’re buying maitake fresh, buy it whole to increase its shelf life. Store it in a paper bag in the refrigerator. You may be able to find it dried at some grocery stores. It freezes well, so you can keep it in stock if you can find it fresh. You can also freeze it raw. Maitake may also be taken as a liquid concentrate or in dry form in capsules. If you decide to take it as a supplement, look for maitake D-Fraction, which is an extract of the mushroom.
The correct dosage depends on your age, weight, and health. It also depends on the actual strength of a particular brand of supplement. Be sure to read the instructions carefully before use.
Reishi health benefits
Reishi mushroom has been used to help enhance the immune system, reduce stress, improve sleep, and lessen fatigue. People also take Reishi mushrooms for health conditions such as High blood pressure. High cholesterol.
The Reishi mushroom, also known as Ganoderma lucidum and lingzhi, is a fungus that grows in various hot and humid locations in Asia. For many years, this fungus has been a staple in Eastern medicine.
Within the mushroom, several molecules, including triterpenoids, polysaccharides, and peptidoglycans, may be responsible for its health effects. Reishi mushrooms can enhance immune function through their effects on white blood cells, which help fight infection and cancer. This may occur primarily in those who are ill, as mixed results have been seen in those who are healthy.
Some preliminary studies have shown that Reishi mushrooms could decrease anxiety and depression as well as improve quality of life in those with certain medical conditions. A small amount of research has shown that Reishi mushrooms could improve good cholesterol or blood sugar. However, the majority of the research indicates that it does not improve cholesterol, blood sugar or antioxidants in the body.
Nevertheless, there are several groups of people who should probably avoid Reishi. These include those who are pregnant or breastfeeding, have a blood disorder, will be undergoing surgery or have low blood pressure. Some studies of Reishi mushrooms have not provided safety information, but others have reported that several months of taking it is likely safe. Nonetheless, several cases of severe liver damage have been associated with Reishi extract.
Turkey Tail health benefits
Turkey tail is a medicinal mushroom with an impressive range of benefits. It contains a variety of powerful antioxidants and other compounds that may help boost your immune system and even help fight certain cancers. Plus, turkey tail may improve gut bacteria balance, which can positively impact your immunity
Turkey tail contains a wide variety of phenol and flavonoid antioxidants which help promote your immune system health by reducing inflammation and stimulating the release of protective compounds. Krestin (PSK) and Polysaccharide Peptide (PSP) are two types of polysaccharopeptides found in Turkey tails. Both PSK and PSP possess powerful immune-boosting properties. They promote immune response by both activating and inhibiting specific types of immune cells and by suppressing inflammation. For instance, test-tube studies have demonstrated that PSP increases monocytes, which are types of white blood cells that fight infection and boost immunity.
PSK stimulates dendritic cells that promote immunity to toxins and regulate the immune response. In addition, PSK activates specialized white blood cells called macrophages, which protect your body against harmful substances like certain bacteria. Due to their ability to naturally strengthen the immune system, PSP and PSK are commonly used as anticancer agents in conjunction with surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiation in countries like Japan and China.
Your gut bacteria interact with immune cells and directly impact your immune response and the Turkey tail contains prebiotics, which helps nourish these helpful bacteria. An 8-week study in 24 healthy people found that consuming 3,600 mg of PSP extracted from turkey tail mushrooms per day led to beneficial changes in gut bacteria and suppressed the growth of the possibly problematic E. coli and Shigella bacteria.
A test-tube study found that turkey tail extracts modified gut bacteria composition by increasing populations of beneficial bacteria like Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus while reducing potentially harmful bacteria, such as Clostridium and Staphylococcus.
Freethinkers in the media space and mushrooms
Michael Pollan @ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Pollan
Paul Stamets @ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Stamets
Terence McKenna @ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terence_McKenna
Dennis McKenna @ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dennis_McKenn
“All Fungi are edible. Some fungi are only edible once.” ― Terry Pratchett
I am an advocate of growing my knowledge base in the things which abide around and within us. The last decade or so has seen me venture into evolving that journey, its progress has been documented in a separate blog, www.offtheplot.wordpress.com where the burgeoning roots of that are documented. The fact that yeasts and fungi abide in our oral microbiota continued my interest in the link to dental research, application and their possible promotion of dental health. This can be read at https://wholedentalhealth.com/2020/08/30/functional-foods-pre-and-probiotics/ just scroll down to “Honey, Propolis, Fungi and Mushrooms, Uncommon Allies in Dental Healthcare and Humanity? A Reflective Personal and Professional Journey.” In this post, I discuss and explore the dental health/fungal interface and find the literature not so decisive using modern scientific methods. However, I firmly believe that traditionally and empirically we have a lot at stake with our symbiotic relationship with mushrooms and I find our association with them intriguing enough to learn about their behaviour regarding our dental health, general health, their nutritional, medicinal, nootropic and psychotropic (sense and setting, guided and professionally delivered) values. Their benefits have been culturally maligned as were the historical proponents and exponents of them. The “War on Drugs” has stigmatised research on the benefits and value of all sorts of mushrooms, beyond the edible. This is changing, thankfully, as medical curiosity broadens on this subject matter. I hope the future is one where we develop a new scientific and cultural acceptance of the kingdom of fungi and its huge potential.
Beekeeping beginnings -A reflection on new knowledge, aligned to my personal learning goals and values
Brightwater in Tasman, New Zealand, also colloquially known as “Britwater” because of the large proportion of U.K. immigrants living there, is a sleepy backwater on the Nelson to Murchison main road, about 30 minutes west of Nelson. It is the home to two of my three hives forming my first apiary. Another resides with colleagues and friends in Mapua, 30 minutes north of Brightwater, again a sleepy, residential coastal village famous for its quirky shops, cafés and eateries as well as a thriving art scene. It is now late November, and for all three hives and the tens of thousands of worker and drone bees, the business of preparing for the up-and-coming honey flow in mid-December is afoot. Combe building, pollen and nectar gathering abound as the three queens prodigiously lay large numbers of eggs. The growth of larva and pupa, and ultimately hordes of new bees, will emerge to complement the hives burgeoning activities, adding more workers for the cause. As a beekeeper, you have the privilege to see nature go about its business. Like foragers (for I am also one), beekeepers look seasonally at the weather and listen to the “songs” from the hive. This, in turn, guides us to action, promoting the best possible outcomes for all, bees and humans alike, as we all benefit. Where did this journey begin for me, and how have I changed as a consequence?
I can’t honestly remember my first encounter with a honeybee, wasps, yes, but not the humble nectar gatherer. However, I have powerful memories of my next-door neighbour on Limewood Close, Woking, Surrey, UK, where I lived in the ’70s. He was one Johnny Hamer, who would have been termed a “peculiar” character in the day. Johnny was a well-educated man, crafty in practical terms and an outsider to the road community. His garage had a vintage Morgan sports car under a dusty old tarp, often in bits, but occasionally he roared up and down the street in it. When it worked, I was fascinated. The garage, too, housed demijohns for various potions and brews, and the heady scent of fermentation and experimentation pervaded. His three children, Sally, Michael and Richard, were friends to me and my sister Melanie. His wife Ann, a beautiful woman, often with a pained expression, was crucial in my future life when my mother passed away. I can vividly remember a swarm from his hive gathering on our fir tree, a rare garden feature. It was smuggled in from Austria by my parents when it was a sapling. I can recall this suited, spaceman type figure, with smoker in hand, coming to retrieve it. I watched him from the “safety” of my bedroom window, gazing in awe and wonderment at the surreal sceptical.
Returning to Johnny Hamer, a dear friend of mine, Dave Annette, asked whether I knew of anyone who was a beekeeper. I mentioned Johnny to him, and he affirmed he knew of him from Guildford Agricultural College. Neither of us was aware that he also had an apiculture college on Blackhorse Lane, Brookwood, Woking, Surrey. I visited it and met Johnny many years after that swarm event in my back garden. It was good to reconnect to childhood memories. I hope you have had similar experiences. They are to cherish. My memory of that event was watching another swarm marching up a ramp to a new hive. They were Italian honeybees, normally docile but even more so on this occasion.
Dave, a busy technical expert in his field, needed a diversion and point of focus to create more well-being in his life. This became an obsession and has since turned into a calling and a business, teaching and helping bees. Dave, with his partner Rachel, has set up an evolving enterprise called honeybeehappy.co.uk. I recommend that anyone locally pay a visit to their website for courses and events they regularly hold. After seeing Dave and Rachel in 2019, the symbolic seed began to grow. I had found that life in New Zealand hadn’t led me into the traditional natural interests, those of hunting and shooting, fishing and tramping. I had exposure to them from friends and acquaintances, but none had got under my skin in a meaningful way. Until, in a darker moment, during COVID lockdown 1, I read a thread on social media alluding to the fact that a level 3 course, laid on locally in Apiculture, was being held free of charge. Having no plans for the upcoming year, I decided to give it a go-to quote, the New Zealand vernacular.
One of my heroes is Paul Stamets, a mycologist extraordinaire from the Pacific North West of America. He is an unlikely muse for my transition from fungi foraging to apiculture and bees. Set apart, they appear very different, but the divide narrows in the context of nature and the symbiotic association of both. His passion and enthusiasm for mushrooms have inspired many people to evolve their interests in bees and shrooms. He has done both quite unexpectedly. I suggest you read Merlin Sheldrake’s “Entangled Life” book on fungi, and the connection will become vividly apparent. I’ve been a dental hygienist by trade for over thirty years now. Being with both kingdoms has brought a fresh and somewhat revolutionary perspective to my practice knowing what I know and have seen with oral ecology and their environment, immunity and balance. Stamets noticed this on his professional lifelong learning journey too. He observed honey bees where he lives and works, moving sawdust and leaves apart to expose mycelium, a vast fungal underground network. At which point they accessed and tapped into the nutrients for health and repair. These bees brought to Paul’s attention that it may have a purpose in apicultural disease control, particularly deformed wing virus. Having this prevented their ability to gather nectar and pollen, curtailing their life spans and the colony. Mushroom mycelia and bees symbiotically and therapeutically uniting, amazing. This discovery was recently published in Nature magazine, and further investigations and perhaps natural treatments to help reduce colony collapses in the future may appear.
The class began with a dozen or so wannabee apiculturists, mainly women and very much in my midlife age group. Our motivations were similar, curiosity, environmental, possibly entrepreneurial and the like. Some of the class had experience, and most, like myself, had just a passing glance and were, in effect, complete novices. I didn’t feel out of my depth consequently, but the feeling of being back in the “classroom” after so long was daunting. The thought, however, that much of the future learning would be out in the apiary was eagerly anticipated. I was aware that additional costs would be part of the subsidised course, specifically safety gear and the all-important nucleus hive or “nuc”. This was the moment, upon receipt of it, that things got “real”. The nuc was a five frame family of bees, brood, nectar, pollen, maybe honey and the queen. The course providers facilitated the provision of the said nuc and got together a dozen plus nucs for this class, let alone the four or so other courses they ran. Indeed, a considerable undertaking. The first hurdle, and perhaps the riskiest for all concerned, was their delivery to us, the uninitiated. I will begin the most significant learning journey of the course.
It was late October, and the weather had been exceptionally unseasonal. This posed a big problem for the course leaders from the onset, the date of receipt had been pushed back a few weeks as a result. We were asked to gather dried bracken before putting it into the 5-litre feeders in our personally constructed hives. A few frames with foundation were also a prerequisite. Empty hives were placed on either side of the metal road near the apiary, and instructions were given. The nucs would be placed beside and then added to the hives. The drama started after not enough bracken had been found, and the sugar water in the nuc boxes split after debussing from the truck. The sugar water being essential energy for bees became a distraction after removing them precariously by the rank and file, without proper advice. Suffice to say, the bees soon targeted the copious amounts of liquid fuel spread around. The air around us became a huge cloud of lusty bees after a fast food takeaway. The chaos was cut short abruptly with loud instruction from Scott, the alpha course commander who told us to scatter and go away for a few hours whilst the orgy settled down, and nature took its course. Tails between our legs, after a telling off, we hastily departed to return later. The scene was different, and we found our nuc boxes. I was the only one to be told my queen had died whilst in transit from the truck to my hive on transfer. I was distraught and felt guilty I had in some way caused its demise through my incompetence. My bee house returned to my house, put in its designated place, awaiting a substitute queen.
The subtext here is essential to clearly define how important healthy queens are to a vital colony. After she leaves her cell sixteen days after laying, where she is tended to and fed copious amounts of Royal Jelly, the long bodied bee emerges and spends several days in the hive before she begins her mating flights. Thus, begins a somewhat perilous toing and froing where all manner of things may prevent her from uniting with a dozen or so male drones and being inseminated with 3 billion plus sperm cells. She may find the drones quickly, nearby and successfully fulfil her primary mission. The perils of the weather, predators and accidents may take her, and a new queen then has to be created from an egg as before. When hatched, the queen has to find her competition, other queens growing in the same hive and crown her dominance by killing them with a sting. The life of a queen is a long one, too, living way beyond those of workers and drones.
After an anxious wait of a fortnight, I was given queen 2 in a plastic cage with its entourage of attending bees. It was shown to the rest of the class before I received it. After a debrief from the tutors about the previous experience, I took it home. I placed it as instructed on a frame to allow its imminent introduction to the awaiting queenless colony. During this time, her pheromones are sensed by the collective and hopefully accepted. I can state I saw it on a frame, freed of the cage once but after then no more. I suspect that my frequent intervention, looking in to check and anxiety driven, may have put pay to its continued existence. Either way, I had the dubious honour of having to tell my tutors I was sans queen once again. It was picked up and commented upon in the class by my teachers, and clumsy handling, I suspect, was the overtone of the verdict.
I was devastated, once again, clearly feeling humiliated amongst my peers who had their queens operating effectively, or so it seemed. Recognising the queen is hard for the untrained eye, so I can only imagine others in my class not knowing their whereabouts and hoping, fingers crossed, that eggs laid and the brood forming indicated that. The lesson I learned throughout this process was not to focus too closely on finding her but to rely on observing her eggs and larva as an indicator she was in operation. I also learned to be stronger and less retiring with the tutors when it came to defending myself, and their journey with me continued with many others in the year. I was lucky in one sense that it happened before the active period of nectar gathering, and I had a relatively great deal of experience with the mysteries of queens at an early stage. This journey didn’t stop me from finding alternative ways to combat such dire losses, and I got queens sent to me online from sellers and didn’t bother my teachers much more beyond the honey flow. It made me hardened to the sad fact that poor handling and frequent inspections run a greater risk of such things happening. I learned that lesson the hard way.
The swarm, like a low budget, B-Movie (get it?) title (sigh) is a free nuc. It can also hide disease and a weak queen, but the earnest beekeeper will carefully inspect them and put them aside from other hives. Swarms occur when there is no space for the colony to expand or the real masters, the workers, have advised the queen a new incumbent will soon supersede her. The novice beekeeper has to learn very quickly, in this case, several key things. Primarily, they need to observe and respond to changes in the colony behaviour. The frames inside provide visual cues and present the history of its nature. We must also be aware of the age and productivity of the incumbent queen. Any indication that they are potentially sub-par on egg-laying and brood production will lead to a new queen or supersedure cell. The hive needs splitting, and a new colony is created before swarming. I’ve not been lucky to catch one yet, but I have all the tools at my disposal. This includes a D.I.Y. catcher with a vast water cooler bottle, epoxy resin bonded, to a telescopic poll cleaning pole. It gives me multiple metres of length, if necessary, to get up to the highest nest. From there, when caught, queen included, into a box, bag or nuc with ventilation before being rehomed.
Costs are also worthy of consideration for the would-be beekeeper. I was fortunate enough to have the training at level 3 for free. I would have considered the financial outlay even if it wasn’t so, but we were all informed from the outset that it would entail costs in equipment and the nucleus hive. Prices continue to grow with additions to the hive, boxes and frames, new queens, disease control and association subscriptions. This hobby is about being frugal and practical, being thrifty with what you need to get and maintaining your gear in good order. I have a spare hive, on standby, for a swarm if it comes my way. Costs can be shared with other beekeepers, especially when you have to buy more than you require, especially disease control. I was lucky, too, to be gifted boxes from a friend. However, I was soon to realise this might not be so advantageous if they were carrying disease. In this case, I was confident they were okay.
Having come through the season, I am far wiser now, being more stoic about these matters, less emotional, pragmatic, and interventional. My real fear is A.F.B. – American Foul Brood and Mites. They both draw more energy and focus as they are more significant threats to the health and well-being of the whole colony. The Varroa mite is responsible for many colonies collapsing in the Nelson Marlborough region presently. Clients of mine in Blenheim have witnessed colony collapses in the four hundred plus hives they operate. Nosema, dysentery in effect, has been rife as well. Natural disasters akin to heavy flash flooding have taken many hives this year as well. A.F.B. is a critical and deadly concern. It entails radical elimination of the whole hive, bees and building, all of it when diagnosed. It also needs to be reported to the A.F.B. agency and tests undertaken before the crematorium beckons.
The treatments for the Varroa Destructor mite are varied and can be toxic to mites and humans. Gloves and filtered respirators bring a sci-fi theme to the proceedings when using Formic or Oxalic Acid in heavy mite load cases. I haven’t used them myself yet, but I’m sure it is looming on the horizon. The prophylactic use of mite strips from Bayvarol and Epivar are placed in brood boxes for several weeks before and after mite load checks are done to determine pre and post mite counts. Nosema parasites thrive in the springtime as brood numbers grow, further promoted by unsuitable weather conditions, where bees spend more time in hives and defecate there. Various interventional measures can be employed, using anti-fungal preparations, moving colonies to sunnier locations, and preventing excess moisture inside the hive with ventilation measures. Eradication includes disinfection solutions like acetic acid fumigation or, ultimately, the burning of infected equipment.
Biosecurity looms large here in New Zealand too. One has to just read the litany of clauses on the documents you sign before entering this country. There are genuine reasons for this, affecting many primary industries, including agriculture and environment, jobs and exports. To allude to New Zealand, being clean and green is entirely another matter. Still, we have an advantage here, shared provocatively with Australia next door regarding Manuka and its honey. Exports are enormous, and as are the profits to be made. To regulate the danger of importing infection and disease, protecting the environment, those employed in the industry and ultimately ensure colony and food security, the apiculturist, businessman or hobbyist, has to be registered and regulated with hives annually checked for A.F.B. It is documented and, more importantly, information disseminated to the specific locality upon discovery and outbreaks. A DECA (Disease Elimination Conformity Agreement Certificate) authorisation is given to those who pass a recognition test. They will be certified to check their colonies and report, test, and act upon their findings within a year. The website that mandates this is afb.org.nz. I find it easy to navigate.
Bringing this new knowledge and experience into my professional landscape has helped me observe the duality of the workings of an oral microbiome. The germs or “plaque” in our mouths and how important it is to plan, act and create balance, very much like the host of tens of thousands of bees do within their living and working space, the hive. They work complementarily as a community, hosting, nurturing, learning, protecting and producing. They can become unbalanced, very much like a mouth can with ecology and environmental pressures negatively changing. They work co-operatively to fix, mend, repair and eliminate that which can prolong and increase the risk of their colony collapsing into disease. The natural healing processes, when ineffective, are supplemented by we beekeepers either organically or chemically to bring about positive change and improvement. I see this as very much akin to my role as a registered dental hygienist. That of environmental, ecological balance and sustainability, focused on awareness of the natural balance of the mouth as opposed to imbalance, and act, intercede where necessary, to the benefit of the host, my client and their established and balanced oral microbiome. Honey itself is a complex nutritional food source having a massive burden of fructose in particular. The multitude of honey types, over three hundred at the last count, is drawn from the pollen and nectar foraged from various plant sources via the salivary secretions and enzymes of bees. The watery nectar with added constituents is dehydrated by fanning wings, becoming stickier and stored in wax cells sealed and capped.
Honey is either raw, filtered, unheated, processed, or heated. The heating removes potential pathogens similar to pasteurised milk. The composition of the nutrients of honey, after glucose and fructose, simple one chained monosaccharide sugars, includes proteins, minerals, vitamins, enzymes and polyphenols, including flavonoids. The smooth liquid contains imperceptible tiny crystals, but these can solidify depending upon storage temperatures and the degree of glucose within it. The sugar content of honey is problematic for good dental health, eaten frequently. It is a dilemma I face when I consume raw honey sourced locally to me in Nelson. My advice to myself and others is to be mindful whilst consuming wisely. Ideally, avoid frequent intake, having around mealtimes and drinking water to clear its continued oral presence, elevating to balance pH in addition.
A primary hive product produced by bees is a sticky wax-like structure called propolis. A colony can gather between 150 to 200 grams of propolis in one year. The word propolis originates from ancient Greece as well as the Romans and Persians. It might have been used as an embalming product by Egyptians. The Jews considered propolis a medicine way back in Old Testament times, known as The Balm of Gilead. The Greeks also used propolis in perfumes with aromatic herbs and is recorded in their historical literature. Hippocrates is said to have used propolis to cure wounds and ulcers, both externally and internally. The Roman, Pliny the Elder, in his famous “Natural History” writings, describes the practical uses of this substance. According to his findings, he recorded that propolis has the property of extracting stings, allaying pains of the sinews and dispersing tumours, to name but a few.
In Medieval times propolis lost popularity, and its medicinal use disappeared, quoted in only a few remaining texts. Sources from the Twelfth Century mention this bee glue in treating dental caries (tooth decay) and throat infections. In 1486 the Karabadini, a Georgian book of medical treatment, suggested propolis be useful against tooth decay. Beyond this, the knowledge of propolis health benefits survived into traditional folk medicine and herbal medicine, especially in Eastern Europe, termed “Russian Penicillin”.
In modern times, this sticky and enzymatic bee glue is made to protect the hive from infections and bacteria, constructed from their saliva, wax, and botanical resin. It is composed mainly of resin, wax, essential oils, pollen and other organic compounds. It includes twelve different flavonoids, phenolic compounds and acids. It also contains vital vitamins like B1, B2, B6, C and E and minerals like Magnesium, Calcium, Copper and Iron. Propolis is gathered from tree sap and buds. Its purpose is to fill gaps and strengthen or plug parts of the hive for protection or repair. Dental applications appear in toothpaste, tinctures and sprays for desensitising teeth and its potential in anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, anti-microbial and antioxidant dental therapies used by companies like Comvita. See their research and products at www.comvita.co.nz.
Pollen, the protein-rich food source for bees, is gathered and stored in the frame cells as a rich and nutritious superfood. Nectar is the carbohydrate-rich alternative that bee’s return to the hive. They create bee bread through mixing both, tightly packing the blend into the cells as future fed for newly born bees. Pollen is mechanically liberated from the bees as they enter the hive via pollen traps attached to the hive entrance that carefully plucks off the gathered mass on the bee’s legs as they squeeze through the restricted space into the hive. The beekeeper processes carefully by drying, sorting and dehydrating to remove moisture and contaminants. The end product is a tasty cocktail of pollen in a jar, the colours of which belie its origin. The low pH acidity of honey provides an anti-bacterial property that allows honey to stay as it is, safe and stable.
Unlike table sugar, honey contains vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. The amount, however, only meets the recommended daily intake as directed by the World Health Organisation by about 1%, and more significant amounts would exponentially increase the exposure to the fructose and glucose honey naturally contains. Raw honey is better than processed, but there is no daily recommendation, except eat in moderation. I had a teaspoon of local raw honey in the morning and the evening with pollen. My purpose is to use the local fawner and flora, gathered by bees and minimally processed and filtered by beekeepers, to help my year-round hay fever allergy. From a purely emotional and well-being perspective, I also receive comfort and pleasure from the textural and tasty pollen and the rich, silky texture and favour of honey, raw and in particular Manuka and Honey Dew. This is part of a traditional dietary approach I have adopted in the last few weeks as part of a health improvement programme. Having taken vital measurements and blood work, I will be interested to see what has changed at the three-month point, several weeks away still, if anything. I am curious about inflammatory markers and present blood sugar levels, indicating potential prediabetes due to glycated or “sugar-coated” haemoglobin, especially after starting my twice-daily pollen and honey regime. I’m hoping a real food eating policy incorporating these natural raw bee products may deliver long term benefits. January will reveal the metrics and comparable facts.
Interestingly, the cinema world has seen two recent releases that explore the subject of beekeeping. Honeyland, released in 2019, is a film that explores a Macedonian woman who keeps bees and sells her honey at the local market. Clever cinematography makes one wonder whether it is a drama or a documentary, taking the viewer time to determine. It reveals her husbandry and deep connection to her hives situated in traditional stone structures. Her caring and compassionate behaviour toward her bees reflects how she attends her bedridden, dying elderly mother. A gipsy family arrives in her locality, beekeeping in a savage, less harmonious way. It disturbs the fragile balance between her and the success of her beekeeping, and ultimately her livelihood. It allows a critical comparison between an over commercial practice, intent on profit and not the welfare of their colonies and a more gentle and traditional approach. Sadly, there is no happy ending, leaving us to rail against greed and its destructive effects. Hives, a Kosovan film released recently as part of the New Zealand International Film Festival, is just as sobering. Based on a true story, like Honeyland, it tells the story of a lady enduring the loss of her husband, still missing years after the Balkans War ended. She inherits his hives and begins to unite the local widow community to commercial endeavours, despite the simmering rage of the traditional village menfolk. It relies on simple themes and the struggles of bold women in a misogynous society, whereas Honeyland focuses on tradition meeting modernity.
So, in summing up, how have I changed and the consequences of this journey to the personal and professional me. At times I have felt frustrated and overwhelmed, especially regarding the death of queens and the unemotionally intelligent responses of tutors. I have to confess they are learning too, and we, the students, are the unwittingly willing victims. Blessed are the bee teachers. I have also found that, akin to foraging, beekeeping is obsessive and addictive, endlessly exposing your lack of knowledge and frustrating your ability to feel in control, which you soon discover you don’t have. We have to choose where you gather your additional and future learning, be it in person at meetings or mentors or the vault of online videos in social media in the canon of literature, a vast assortment of bee orientated books. Depending upon what suits your character, you can be a quiet, solitary but engaged apiarist or an activistic sociable character, alive at gatherings and meetings. Myself, being shy and socially distant to those I’m not close to or trusting of, hence the nature of being open in this first-person, living, reflective publication, feels very comfortable with the intimacy of beekeeping. I extend this to friends who want to experience the life of bees, their environment and their process. For those, I am both generous of my time, and limited knowledge as their glee and surprise when we lift the lid on the hive is magical. It makes every sting, as there have been and will continue to be many, and each high and low toned sigh worthwhile.
Mark lifting the lid
Finally, it has given me hope that in these times of uncertainty, upheaval and excessive mandate, apiculture offers the participant unhindered access to an authentic and holistic pursuit. You have a degree of peripheral influence, the location, additional feeding, disease control and the number of hives, but after that, you are ancillary. To end this thread, I will consider taking this journey to the next level, diving deeper into the sage experiences of those I have followed. More hives perhaps, a venture potentially in a commercial sense, that takes me beyond dental into apiculture practice. But that, as they say, is an endeavour yet to be written.
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