CA Mushrooms
CA Mushrooms

Book Review

The Fungal Pharmacy: The Complete Guide to Medicinal Mushrooms & Lichens of North America

By Robert Rogers
North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, CA
2011; $29.95; Paperback,
7 x 9-1/4”; 608 pages
ISBN: 978-1-55643-953-7

Robert Rogers teaches plant medicine at Grant MacEwan University and the Northern Star College of Mystical Studies in Edmonton, Canada. He serves as chair of the medicinal mushroom committee of the North American Mycological Association and on the editorial board of the International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms. He is also a well-known fixture in the wild mushroom scene around Edmonton and does much of the heavy lifting of forays when the time comes to ID what’s in the woods. In short, he’s a mushroom smarty pants. But his gentle demeanor and infectious enthusiasm draw in even the most timid of mushroom neophytes. In short there is no one better qualified to publish a guidebook on the mushrooms of western Canada. And so he did, in 2006. But because his real passion lies in the purported medicinal properties of wild mushrooms—and the ethnomycological uses of fungi throughout history—his was to be a different sort of mushroom field guide. That first iteration of The Fungal Pharmacy (2006) was big (or so I thought; read on) and pretty comprehensive, but suffered from a number of problems that I felt detracted from the overall quality of the book.

Almost immediately Rogers got to work on a revised and even bigger version. Wow, what a difference five years makes! The brand new Fungal Pharmacy: The Complete Guide to Medicinal Mushrooms & Lichens of North America is outstanding.

Firstly, the new Fungal Pharmacy, published by North Atlantic Books, is about three times the size of its predecessor. The reader will immediately notice a much higher quality too: much better paper allows for higher resolution images (there are tons; many are very large and even full page) and the perfect binding is a vast improvement over the spiral bind.

But besides the look, what can we expect on the inside? Robert Rogers introduces the reader to more than 300 species of medicinal mushrooms and lichens found in North America. These fungi, Rogers explains, have the capacity to heal both the body and, through the process of myco-remediation, the planet itself. Throughout the book, he documents their success in optimizing the immune system and treating a wide range of acute and chronic diseases, including cardiovascular, respiratory, and liver problems, blood sugar disorders, cancer, and obesity. Entries discuss the mushroom or lichen’s medicinal traits and properties, including active chemical components, preparation methods (including extracts, essences, and essential oils), and historical as well as modern-day usage. Two hundred full-color photos and thorough descriptions make identification easy for the reader. Rogers also delves into the cultural, religious, and literary significance of each mushroom, and this is what really sells the book for me … and keeps me pulling it off the shelf. Clearly Rogers has devoted a lifetime in acquiring all these accounts of mushroom uses around the planet. The extensive use of references cited is very useful, as well. Even if you have little interest in medicinal mushrooms, their usage, or purported health claims (admittedly, I’m not really “into” the myco-medicinal scene myself), this book has so much else to recommend.

Another feature of Fungal Pharmacy that I really enjoy in a field guide (and is sorely absent for most) is a description of the organism’s name—where it comes from and distinguishing characteristics. I find this very helpful to remember the mushroom in the future. Rogers, again, gets very high marks in this respect, with most of the more common and notable species featuring fascinating tidbits about the etymology and history of their discovery and naming. Likewise, notes on edibility and, more importantly, palatability of the mushrooms are covered.

I highly recommend this book. At just thirty bucks, get two—one for the desk and one for the day pack. If you’re the type to forage in the woods for medicinal or edible mushrooms, Fungal Pharmacy is your operator’s manual.

— Review by Britt Bunyard
— Originally published in Fungi