Fungi For Medicinal Purposes

A number of the fungi were formerly employed in medicine for various purposes, but most of them have been discarded. Some of the plants were once used as a purgative, as in the case of the officinal polyporus, the great puff ball, etc. The internal portion of the great puff ball has been used as an anodyne, and "formidable surgical operations have been performed under its influence." It is frequently used as a narcotic. Some species are employed as drugs by the Chinese. The anthelmintic polyporus is employed in Burmah as a vermifuge. The ergot of rye is still employed to some extent in medicine, and the ripe puff balls are still used in some cases to stop bleeding of wounds.

Luminosity Of Fungi

While the luminosity possessed by certain fungi cannot be said to be of distinct utility, their phosphorescence is a noteworthy phenomenon. That decaying wood often emits this phosphorescent light has been widely observed, especially in wooded districts. It is due to the presence of the mycelium of one of the wood destroying fungi. The luminosity is often so bright that when brought near a printed page in the dark, words can be read. Hawthorne "reported the light from an improvised torch of mycelium infected wood, to have carried him safely several miles through an otherwise impassable forest." (Asa Gray, Bull. 7: 7, 1900). The sulphur polyporus is said sometimes to be phosphorescent. The Clitocybe illudens (see Fig. 92) has long been known to emit a strong phosphorescent light, and has been called "Jack-my-lantern." This plant often occurs in great abundance. At mountain hotels it is often brought in by day, and the guests at night, discovering its luminosity, trace grotesque figures, or monograms, on the ground by broken portions, which can be seen at a considerable distance. Lentinus stipticus in this country is also phosphorescent. In Europe, the Pleurotus olearius (very closely related to our Clitocybe illudens) on dead olive trunks is one of the best known of the phosphorescent species. Other phosphorescent species are, according to Tulasne, A. igneus from Amboyna, A. noctileucus in Manila, and A. gardneri in Brazil.

The use of certain mushrooms in making intoxicant beverages is referred to in Chapter XXII (Chemistry And Toxicology Of Mushrooms).

Since the artificial cultivation of mushrooms for food is becoming quite an industry in this country with some, the following chapter is devoted to a treatment of the subject. Mention may be made here, however, of the attempts in parts of France to cultivate truffles, species of subterranean fungi belonging to the ascomycetes (various species of the genus Tuber). It had long been observed that truffles grow in regions forested by certain trees, as the oak, beech, hornbeam, etc. Efforts were made to increase the production of truffles by planting certain regions to these trees. Especially in certain calcareous districts of France (see Cooke, Fungi, etc., p. 260) young plantations of oak, beech, or beech and fir, after the lapse of a few years, produced truffles. The spores of the truffles are in the soil, and the mycelium seems to maintain some symbiotic relation with the roots of the young trees, which results in the increase in the production of the fruit bodies. Dogs and pigs are employed in the collection of truffles from the ground.

Comparatively few of the truffles, or other subterranean fungi, have been found in America, owing probably to their subterranean habit, where they are not readily observed, and to the necessity of special search to find them. In California, however, Dr. Harkness (Proc. Calif. Acad. Sci.) has collected a large number of species and genera. Recently (Shear. Asa Gray Bull. 7: 118, 1899) reports finding a "truffle" (Terfezia oligosperma Tul.) in Maryland, and T. leonis occurs in Louisiana.