Humans probably started collecting mushrooms as food in Prehistoric times. Mushrooms were first written about in the works of Euripides (480-406 B.C.). The Greek philosopher Theophrastos of Eressos (371-288 B.C.) was perhaps the first to try to systematically classify plants; mushrooms were considered to be plants that were missing certain organs. It was later Pliny the elder (23–79 A.D.), who wrote about truffles in his encyclopedia Naturalis historia.

The Middle Ages saw little advancement in the body of knowledge about fungi. Rather, the invention of the printing press allowed some authors to disseminate superstitions and misconceptions about the fungi that had been perpetuated by the classical authors.

“Fungi and truffles are neither herbs, nor roots, nor flowers, nor seeds, but merely the superfluous moisture or earth, of trees, or rotten wood, and of other rotting things. This is plain from the fact that all fungi and truffles, especially those that are used for eating, grow most commonly in thundery and wet weather.”
—Jerome Bock (Hieronymus Tragus), 1552

The start of the modern age of mycology begins with Pier Antonio Micheli's 1737 publication of Nova plantarum genera. Published in Florence, this seminal work laid the foundations for the systematic classification of grasses, mosses and fungi. The term mycology and the complementary mycologist were first used in 1836 by M.J. Berkeley.

Medicinal mycology

For centuries, certain mushrooms have been documented as a folk medicine in China, Japan, and Russia. Although the use of mushrooms in folk medicine is largely centered on the Asian continent, people in other parts of the world like the Middle East, Poland and Belarus have been documented using mushrooms for medicinal purposes. Certain mushrooms, especially polypores like Reishi were thought to be able to benefit a wide variety of health ailments. Medicinal mushroom research in the United States is currently active, with studies taking place at City of Hope National Medical Center, as well as the Memorial Sloan–Kettering Cancer Center.

Current research focuses on mushrooms that may have hypoglycemic activity, anti-cancer activity, anti-pathogenic activity, and immune system enhancing activity. Recent research has found that the oyster mushroom naturally contains the cholesterol-lowering drug lovastatin, mushrooms produce large amounts of vitamin D when exposed to UV light, and that certain fungi may be a future source of taxol. To date, penicillin, lovastatin, ciclosporin, griseofulvin, cephalosporin, ergometrine, and statins are the most famous pharmaceuticals which have been isolated from the fungi kingdom.


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