A Crash Course in Mushroom History

By Alicia Ferratusco

A Crash Course in Mushroom History

If you think the mushroom craze is something new, buckle up! These fantastic fungi have been around for ages, enriching diets and wellness regimes since the dawn of civilization. But if mushrooms have been so beneficial, why did they ever fall out of favor, especially in Europe? The answer lies in a complex tapestry of historical, religious, and cultural shifts. 

Today, we’re going back in time to uncover the deep-rooted history of mushrooms—and why we're currently in a new renaissance era when it comes to rediscovering mushrooms and adaptogens.

We’ve been using mushrooms for Eons

Mushrooms have been a key part of the human diet and sacred rituals across the world for thousands of years, long before they found their way into smoothies and supplements. Historical evidence suggests that from the tribal communities of prehistoric times to the sophisticated civilizations of the Egyptians and Romans, adaptogenic mushrooms were revered for their unique properties. The famous Ötzi the Iceman, who lived around 3300 BCE, was found with chaga mushrooms, indicating their use in ancient practices. Similarly, in ancient China, mushrooms like reishi were celebrated in the imperial court and used frequently. Ancient Greeks believed that mushrooms provided strength for warriors in battle, while in Egypt, they were so revered that only pharaohs were allowed to eat them, as they were considered a plant of immortality.

~9,000 year old cave painting at Tassili n’Ajjer in Algeria
image from Terence McKenna's book Food of the Gods

Plaincourault Chapel Mural, image from Wikipedia Commons

Christianity Ruined the Game

As Europe transitioned from the Classical Age into the Middle Ages, the rise of Christianity began reshaping the cultural and religious landscape. The new religious paradigm sought to sever ties with the pagan past, which was rich in earth-based spiritual practices and naturalistic healing methods, including the use of mushrooms.

During this period, anything associated with pagan traditions—be it rituals, symbols, or natural remedies like mushrooms—was viewed with suspicion and often outright rejected. Mushrooms, with their mystical aura and potent effects, were easily cast as tools of witchcraft and sorcery in the Christian-dominated narratives.

The Witch Hunts and the Stigma of Mushrooms

The medieval witch hunts further ingrained this mistrust. As the hunts escalated, predominantly during the 15th to 17th centuries, women who utilized herbal knowledge, including mushrooms, were frequently accused of witchcraft. The use of natural remedies, once common and respected, became a cause for persecution and fear.

Photo: National Library of Medicine

Artistic and Literary Reinforcement

This stigma was not only a matter of folklore but was also perpetuated through medieval literature and art. Manuscripts and paintings of the time often depicted mushrooms in the hands of witches and demons, brewing potions and casting spells, reinforcing their negative connotations. It wasn’t until the Renaissance, with its revival of classical knowledge and burgeoning humanist philosophy, that mushrooms began to shed some of their sinister reputations. However, their popularity never recovered to its previous levels and they were no longer part of people’s daily lives in the ways they were in previous centuries. 

We’re in a new Era

Today, we are witnessing what can be described as a new renaissance in the appreciation of mushrooms. Driven by a global movement towards natural health products and sustainable living, mushrooms are back on the map! This modern revival is supported by both traditional uses and new scientific research exploring their potential benefits.

Despite their rich historical significance and renewed popularity, mushrooms continue to face challenges, particularly in Europe. Stringent EU regulations on novel foods, which require comprehensive safety assessments for foods not commonly consumed in the region before 1997, still pose significant hurdles. These regulations often conflict with the extensive historical use of mushrooms across various cultures globally, including in ancient Rome where mushrooms were widely consumed and appreciated for their flavors and supposed health benefits.

Bringing Mushrooms Back

Mushrooms are far more than a passing health fad—they are a testament to nature's power and have been a cornerstone of human wellness for centuries. At MoLove, we blend ancient wisdom with modern science to create our MoJoe blends, ensuring you reap the best of nature's offerings.

Join Our Journey

Continue exploring the incredible world of mushrooms with us, and discover how these ancient fungi can enhance your daily wellness. Whether you're looking to boost your morning routine or wind down your evenings, our MoJoe blends are crafted to honor their rich history while delivering a potent dose of nature's essence.

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