Fungus Fair speaker Christopher Hobbs on the rise of medicinal mushrooms and winning over ‘fungaphobes’
There is at least one Santa Cruz inhabitant that likes the area’s rainy weather: fungi, which flourish in our wet season. With local forests abounding with turkey tails and chanterelles, among other mushroom species, it’s no wonder that Christopher Hobbs and fellow mushroom enthusiasts with the Fungus Federation of Santa Cruz have a passion for wandering through the woods and sharing what they find with the community.
With more than 30 years as an herbalist and two books about mushrooms under his belt (a third is on the way), Hobbs is gearing up to speak—as he has for the past 22 years—at the 2013 Santa Cruz Fungus Fair, which will take place Jan. 11 through Jan. 13. Hobbs will give a presentation about medicinal mushrooms (of the non-psychedelic variety) at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 12.
A longtime herbalist and botanist, Hobbs’ love for plants collided with an interest in medicinal fungi at a mushroom conference he attended on Orcas Island, Wash. in the ’70s. Ever since, he has been inspired to learn as much as possible about the topic, and to share it with others.
“I’m a Scorpio,” he says. “We like hidden things.” Mushrooms, he adds, are one of the forest’s greatest hidden gems.
A lot has been changing in the world of alternative medicine and the important role mushrooms can play in overall health, Hobbs tells GT. There are around 180 species of mushrooms, he says, and of the two dozen varieties that are widely used clinically, only a handful of them have been studied to a great extent.
“Mushroom lovers have always talked about how some people are ‘fungaphobes,’” Hobbs says, mentioning that many people are wary of ingesting fungi for fear that they could be harmful to the body. To Hobbs, the benefits of incorporating health-promoting mushrooms into the diet far outnumber their unprecedented bad rap. He mentions seeing very few allergic reactions in his long career.
“If you look at the tree of life, we’re more closely related to mushrooms than we are to plants and bacteria,” he says. “[Mushrooms] are really a nutritional powerhouse; pretty much everyone can benefit from ingesting [them].”
Hobbs explains his view that “all mushrooms have medicinal qualities,” at the very least in the sense that they contain so many nutrients.
“They are high fiber, low fat, they have protein, and fatty acids,” he says. “In a narrower sense, all mushrooms also have true medicinal qualities: they activate our immune response in a number of ways.” For example, Hobbs says, mushrooms trigger our immune response to any type of infection that may be present within the body.
The good news for fungi aficionados like Hobbs is that “more people are beginning to recognize their value.” And to Hobbs’ delight, trends have indeed shown that there is an increasing interest in using mushrooms for medicinal purposes. He explains that a noticeable interest in the benefits that fungi can offer the body has been slowly expanding since the 1990s. There’s been a particular boom in their popularity as of 2005, he adds.
“I’ve seen a lot more immune products, health products, and health tonics taken every day to improve wellness, and a lot of them have added a mushroom or two to their ingredients,” he reports.
In his continual effort to promote the benefits of a mushroom-rich diet, Hobbs will be teaching mushroom nutrition those who visit his Fungus Fair booth and attend his lecture on Saturday, Jan. 12, including how to specifically prepare and use mushrooms, and the medicinal properties and other benefits of each species. Those who attend will also have the opportunity to learn how to spot the medicinal mushroom varietals that can be found in the Santa Cruz area.
Although Hobbs raves about the positive aspects of a mushroom-rich diet, he cautions that ”you have to realize that [mushrooms] are not a magic bullet. I don’t want people to expect that it’s a miracle drug. But I want them to realize that if you incorporate them into your diet and cooking, you will see benefits.”
Hobbs encourages health seekers to explore the outdoors and to try to gain a fuller understanding of what they’re really putting into their bodies.
“A good supplement is great,” he says, ”but you get a lot more medicine when you go out into the woods yourself and look at them, learn about them. You get medicine from just being in the woods and breathing fresh air. Get involved, learn about [mushrooms], and incorporate them into your daily life and diet.”
Christopher Hobbs will be presenting at the 39th Annual Santa Cruz Fungus Fair, which will be held Jan. 11-13. For more information, visit scfungusfair.org.