Don't forget to sign up for Merlin Sheldrake's FREE class offering on June 3! This class will bring an informed understanding of fungal networks reveals how the fundamental elements of life originated on the planet, offering awareness and hope remediation of our relationship with the environment, and our collective future.
Who are you and how is your work influenced by nature?
At the moment I spend most of my time as a biologist and writer. My work is influenced by the living world on many levels: from the subject matter of my recent book (Entangled Life), to my various research interests, and long-standing fascination with the relationships that arise between humans and more-than-human organisms.
What was your first memory with mushrooms?
I remember walking on the hills in Dorset as a young child and stumbling across a patch of parasol mushrooms. They seemed enormous and I was enthralled. My interest in the fungal world deepened when I found out that fungi had the power to transform one thing into another in the process of decomposition, something which struck me as a remarkable superpower. It still does.
How do you regularly interact with mushrooms?
I stop to look at mushrooms whenever I encounter them growing and I eat mushrooms as much as I can: shiitake, maitake, lion's mane, and enoki when I can find them at local suppliers, and various other species that I might find while out walking. I make stock from dried shiitake and drink pots of tea made from chaga and reishi. There are other ways that I interact with fungi that don't make mushrooms. My research focusses on arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi which form symbiotic relationships with plants. Plants are the visible outgrowths of fungal relationships, a perspective that changes the way I experience them, whether as food, or exploring gardens, forests or fields. I try to stop and look at lichens whenever I come across them; viewed through a loupe they turn into entire worlds, the continents on an unfamiliar atlas (lichens are symbiotic organisms that arise from the relationship between fungi and algae and bacteria). And I like to brew alcoholic drinks and ferment foods which involves yeasts and other types of fungi. Recently I've been working on some delicious fermented hot sauce using koji, Aspergillus oryzae, with my brother Cosmo and our fermentation partner, Jonathan Hope.
What mushrooms are you the most inspired by?
There are so many, which makes this question very difficult. I was lucky enough to travel to Tasmania to explore the rainforests recently, and there were astonishing array of mushrooms, many of which I hadn't met before. One that caught my attention was a cage fungus called Ileodictyon. It pops out of an egg to form a round geometric cage coated in foul-smelling slime and then detaches from it's anchor point and is free to roll around. The slime attracts flies which help disperse its spores. Friends at home didn't believe me when I told them about it. They said that it sounded like the sort of thing a mycologist might see while delirious. I'm not sure how much I'm inspired by this particular fungus, but it reminded me of the wild fecundity of the fungal world and how many different ways fungi have found to be alive.
My body, mind, and soul are most connected when…
I'm drawn out of my mind and into my senses.