The fungus among us


Many years ago, Dave DesJardins happened to be browsing in a Borders books store when he chanced upon a book on wild mushrooms. Like most Americans, he avoided wild mushrooms for fear of being poisoned.

However, an avid hiker, he had often spotted many delicious-looking mushrooms in the woods. What made him buy the book was the fact that it showed those wild mushrooms paired with many delicious looking recipes for eating them. As they often say, the rest is history.

Today, when his wife will let him play in the kitchen, he loves to prepare a meal that features wild mushrooms for friends.

DesJardins is a snowbird here on Hilton Head Island — he spends his summers at his home and its two acres of gardens, on a nice cool mountaintop in a small town in Pennsylvania.

To supplement his wild mushroom finds the last few years,c DesJardins has planted homegrown shiitake mushrooms in the shady parts of his gardens in Pennsylvania.

Long a symbol of longevity in Asia because of their health-promoting properties, shiitake mushrooms have been used medicinally by the Chinese for more than 6,000 years. More recently, their rich, smoky flavor has endeared them to American taste buds. These exotic hearty mushrooms can now be found in supermarket shelves across the U.S. throughout the year.

Like other mushrooms, these specialty mushrooms are as mysteriously unique as they are delicious.

Shiitake mushrooms are rich in B vitamins; they are an excellent of pantothenic acid, a very good source of vitamin B2, and a good source of vitamin B6, niacin, choline, and folate. Additionally, they are concentrated in minerals, being an excellent source of selenium and copper, a very good source of zinc, and a good source of manganese. They are also a good source of vitamin D and dietary fiber.

To maximize their flavor and the retention of their nutrients, it is important to not to overcook them. That's why it is recommended sautéing them for just seven minutes to bring out their best flavor while maximizing their nutrient retention.

For many years, DesJardins has also been a volunteer with the Master Gardener program in the states of Maryland, Pennsylvania and South Carolina. As part of the educational aspect of the program, DesJardins has taught many seminars on the role of fungi in the web of life in those states.

He will also often supplement the seminars with a hands-on program that allows you to take home a shiitake mushroom log that will furnish you with these delicious mushrooms for many years.

These seminars also cover many examples of “bad” fungi — like the elm tree and chestnut tree blights — as well as the blight that caused the Irish potato famine that caused the death of millions.

In addition, DesJardins explains how some fungi are plant's best friends.  Indeed, most plants could not survive without fungi to help them digest the nutrients in the soil.

He cites, for example, how botanists were stumped for years when they tried to grow orchids from seed. Their seed is so small — like dust — that they contain no nutrients. Unless a friendly fungi is there to help feed the seeds, they will not propagate. (And, we all know how penicillin was derived from bread mold, opening up the whole field of modern antibiotics.)

DesJardins will be presenting a seminar titled "The Fungus Among Us" on Nov. 18 at the Coastal Discovery Musum at Honey Horn. He will also offer the seminar in the spring.


What: “The Fungus Among Us”
When: 3 p.m., Wednesday, Nov. 18
Where: Coastal Discovery Museum at Honey Horn
Details: The lecture will discuss the role of fungi in the web of life, followed by a hands-on session where participants can create their own take-home shiitake mushroom log.
Cost: $20
Contact: 843-689-6767, ext. 223