Whenever we consider mushrooms and the southern Mexico state of Oaxaca, the first thing which traditionally comes to mind is María Sabina, Huautla de Jiménez and hallucinogenic “magic” mushrooms. But slowly that’s all changing as a result of the groundbreaking work of Josefina Jiménez and Johann Mathieu in mycology, through their company, Mico-lógica.
Based in the village of Benito Juárez, located in Oaxaca’s Ixtlán district (more commonly known as the Sierra Norte, the state’s main ecotourism region), lemon slice Mico-lógica’s mission is threefold: to train both Mexicans and visitors to the nation in the low-cost cultivation of a variety of mushroom species; to educate in regards to the medicinal, nutritional and environmental (sustainable) value of mushrooms; and to conduct ongoing research regarding optimum climatic regions and the diversity of substrata for mushroom culture.
The French-born Mathieu moved to Mexico, and actually to Huautla de Jiménez, in 2005. “Yes, coming all the way to Mexico from France to pursue my fascination with mushrooms appears like quite a distance to visit,” Mathieu explained in a recent interview in Oaxaca. “But there really wasn’t a lot of a way to conduct studies and grow a business in Western Europe,” he continues, “since reverence for mushrooms have been all but completely eradicated by The Church on the length of centuries; and I discovered that Mexico still maintains a respect and appreciation for the medicinal and nutritional value of hongos. Mexico is definately not mycophobic.”
Huautla de Jiménez is more than a five hour drive from the closest metropolitan center. Accordingly, Mathieu eventually realized that staying in Huautla, while holding an historic allure and being in a geographic region conducive to working with mushrooms, would hinder his efforts to grow a business and cultivate widespread fascination with learning about fungi. Mathieu became cognizant of the burgeoning reputation of Oaxaca’s ecotourism communities of the Sierra Norte, and indeed the Feria Regional de Hongos Silvestres (regional wild mushroom festival), held annually in Cuahimoloyas.
Mathieu met Josefina Jiménez at the summertime weekend mushroom event. Jiménez had moved to Oaxaca from hometown Mexico City in 2002. Both shared similar interests; Jiménez had studied agronomy, and for close to a decade have been working with sustainable agriculture projects in rural farming communities in the Huasteca Potosina region of San Luis Potosí, the mountains of Guerrero and the coast of Chiapas. Mathieu and Jiménez became business, and then life partners in Benito Juárez.
Mathieu and Jiménez are concentrating on three mushroom species inside their hands-on seminars; oyster (seta), shitake and reishi. Their one-day workshops are for oyster mushrooms, and two-day clinics for the latter two species of fungus. “With reishi, and to a smaller extent shitake, we’re also teaching a reasonable bit in regards to the medicinal uses of mushrooms, so more hours is needed,” says Mathieu, “and with oyster mushrooms it’s predominantly [but not exclusively] a class on cultivation.”
While training seminars are now actually only given in Benito Juárez, Mathieu and Jiménez intend to expand operations to include both the central valleys and coastal elements of Oaxaca. The object is to really have a network of producers growing different mushrooms which are optimally suited to cultivation based on the particular microclimate. You can find about 70 sub-species of oyster mushrooms, and thus as a species, the adaptability of the oyster mushroom to different climatic regions is remarkable. “The oyster can be grown in a variety of different substrata, and that’s what we’re trying out at this time,” he elucidates. The oyster mushroom can thrive when grown on products which will otherwise be waste, such as discard from cultivating beans, sugar cane, agave (including the fibrous waste manufactured in mezcal distillation), peas, the most popular river reed known as carriso, sawdust, and the list goes on. Agricultural waste which may otherwise be left to rot or be burned, each with adverse environmental implications, could form substrata for mushroom cultivation. It must be noted, though trite, that mushroom cultivation is a highly sustainable, green industry. In the last a long period Mexico has actually been at the fore in several aspects of sustainable industry.
Mathieu exemplifies how mushrooms can serve an arguably sustained environmental good:
“They can hold up to thirty thousand times their mass, having implications for inhibiting erosion. They’ve been used to wash up oil spills through absorption and thus are an essential vehicle for habitat restoration. Research has been completed with mushrooms in the battle against carpenter ant destruction; it’s been suggested that the utilization of fungi has got the potential to totally revamp the pesticide industry in an environmentally friendly way. You can find literally a huge selection of other eco-friendly applications for mushroom use, and in each case the mushroom remains an edible by-product. Take a look at the Paul Stamets YouTube lecture, 6 Ways Mushrooms Can Save The World.”
Mathieu and Jiménez can often be found selling their products on weekends in the organic markets in Oaxaca. They’re both a lot more than happy to discuss the nutritional value of these products which range from naturally their fresh mushrooms, but in addition as preserves, marinated with either chipotle and nopal or jalapeño and cauliflower. The mushroom’s vitamin B12 can’t be present in fruits or vegetables, and accordingly a diet which includes fungi is incredibly important for vegetarians who cannot get B12, most often within meats. Mushrooms can easily be an alternative for meats, with the benefit that they are not laden with antibiotics and hormones often present in industrially processed meat products.
Mico-lógica also sell teas and extracts made from different mushroom species, each formulated as either a nutritional supplement, and for their medicinal properties. While neither Mathieu nor Jiménez has got the pharmacological background to prescribe mycological treatment for serious ailments, Mathieu’s own research points to the medicinal use of mushrooms dating from pre-history, to the present. He notes properties of mushrooms which can help to restore the immune system, and thus the utilization of fungi as a complement in the treating cancer and AIDS, and their utility in controlling diabetes and treating high cholesterol.