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  • Alyse Gray

Plague Month 6: Mushroom hunting

It's been nearly 3 months since Compendium Pandemica was released. The book is available online through the library via a thing called Biblioboard, somehow Barnes and Noble is selling it even though I didn't ask them to (but I'm not complaining about that because it's pretty sweet), I've entered some contests, and sent my hero Weird Al a copy. I've obnoxiously begged friends for reviews and have nearly achieved the ostensibly magic number of 50 reviews on Amazon. If you ever write a book, it's a good idea to beg your friends for reviews IN ADVANCE.


Because of the book, someone asked me to speak at a PA conference, so there's that. I've also made like 5 internet friends who are doing cool things with their lives and they seem to like me, which is also nice. Someone in Canada who is encouraging her daughter to study science asked for my autograph so I sent her signed biohazard stickers. It made me feel special. But overall, it seems like the book has flopped. I'm really not sure if I've even recouped my editing costs. Perhaps this has been nothing more than a lesson in failure, much like the rest of my life. My social media strategy failed due to Instagram's algorithm change and my other social platforms never quite took off. Plus Instagram is sort of being replaced by TikTok, which has an abhorrent privacy policy (which you should probably read some time). Once I read it, I immediately deleted the app. But now that it's banned, it's probably going to get even more popular.


Anyway, more woes. Podcasters don't respond to inquiries about being on their shows, influencers ignore me even if I offer something in exchange, and I have no money left for advertising. I'm not really sure how else to market my book. Also, I get that people are busy, but I swear if I live through this disappointment and become known for something, I will always respond to as many people as possible about anything, even if it is just to say "no" (Politely. While encouraging them).


Now that I have way too much free time and nothing to work on, I've taken up mushroom hunting to avoid spiraling into a horrible depression. I go out foraging for wild edible mushrooms nearly every day and have essentially turned into a crazy mushroom lady wandering around alone in the woods with bags o' shrooms. I really don't like being alone in the woods all the time, but it's a pandemic hobby, so I have to make the best of it. I've taken up playing Pokémon Go in order to feel not as alone in out the woods and have reached level 31, another pandemic hobby success.


Anyway, check out all these wonderful mushrooms I've found this past month.


This is Lion's Mane. It did not give me the mental clarity I've always wanted. But it was pettable.


The bright orange one is Chicken of the Woods. It's delightfully large and tastes like chicken. The one that looks like a tongue is a beefsteak mushroom, which tastes a little iron-y and has the texture of raw beef.


Here we have a spooky pile of various chanterelle mushroom species in Halloween colors (plus a bonus deer skull because sometimes you find those in the woods too). The black ones are black trumpets and the orange ones are cinnabars. Chanterelles are considered a gourmet mushroom and are prized by chefs.


Last but not least, I present to you one of the most common mushrooms in the entire world that grows nearly everywhere, practically year round. This is Turkey Tail. Named for it's appearance, this mushroom is technically edible, but not typically consumed because it's incredibly tough and has little flavor. Traditionally it is boiled to make a water extraction (aka tea) for medicinal purposes. It is used to treat cancer in China and Japan where an extract of it has been made into a drug called Krestin. There is an overwhelming amount of animal study data and over 40 years of human clinical trial evidence proving Krestin to be a safe and effective immune system modulator that helps fight multiple types of cancer.

(check out the US NCI website for details: https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/cam/hp/mushrooms-pdq). It also consists of approximately 25% of the cancer drug market share in Japan.


Krestin does actually work and is tolerated well with very few side effects. So why isn't it used as a drug here in the US? A few FDA trials for it were approved, but it sort of fizzled out for lack of funding. You can't patent a mushroom here so there is no money to be made. It's just capitalism, plus it costs literally one million dollars to register a clinical trial with the FDA, so that doesn't help. Cancer patients sometimes do take turkey tail as a supplement here, but with varying effects. It's not standardized or FDA regulated so there's really no way to know what you're getting in a Turkey Tail supplement unfortunately.


That would have been the end of the story. I would have just said, "Oh well, big pharma, that's life in America," but I decided to make myself some Turkey Tail tea just to see what would happen since I'm very in tune with my biology, and sensitive to minute changes. I drank it every day for several weeks. It tasted surprisingly pleasant and mild, even delightful with a little bit of honey. But nothing happened. At least I didn't think anything happened, until I got a routine TB test for work called a T-spot blood test.


The test came back equivocal (which is labspeak for "maybe you have it maybe you don't"). However, I know I don't have TB because I haven't been exposed to it recently, and have always had a negative TB test in the past. So I went out and got a different kind of test (the skin test) which came back negative. The T spot test is unique in that it doesn't test for TB or antibodies, but instead essentially picks up on a certain immune substance in the blood called gamma interferon. The T spot test is supposedly the most sensitive and accurate TB test ever, so I wondered what was causing it to be equivocal. I hadn't been exposed to TB, hadn't had any vaccines or illnesses recently, and there was nothing I could think of that would have tripped it up...except...wait a minute. Could mushrooms actually have caused elevated levels of gamma interferon in my blood, enough to prompt an equivocal test result?


The answer is maybe. Turkey tail mushrooms do stimulate natural killer cell production of gamma interferon. Did the turkey tail mushrooms do this to me? I can't scientifically prove it, but I do believe it is highly possible and warrants further research.



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