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A recent study from the Kew Fungarium revealed that a single teaspoon of Amazonian soil contains an astonishing 400 species of fungi!

The constant humidity and tropical heat year-round in the Amazon rainforest provide the ideal conditions for fungal diversity.

The Amazon remains a frontier for mycology with less than 1-2% of the species of fungi identified. There are likely hundreds of edible and medicinal mushrooms in the Amazon that have yet to be documented by science.

While the Amazon River is most associated with Brazil, some of the highest fungal biodiversity is found in the western slopes of the Andes mountains along the Amazon’s tributaries in Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia.

My favourite places in the tropical rainforest for mushroom foraging are the highland cloud forests of Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Mexico and Peru. While the Amazon rainforest has extraordinary fungal biodiversity, the infrastructure and access are difficult without a well-planned expedition.

Mushroom-Loving Vs Mushroom-Fearing Cultures

Generally, mushrooms do not play an important role in the diet or medicinal practices of most Amazonian peoples.

Mycologists generally say all of the world’s cultures can broadly be defined as mushroom-loving—“mycophilic”—or mushroom-fearing—“mycophobic.”

The most mycophilic cultures are the Chinese, Japanese, Russians, Scandinavians and Eastern European peoples.

Generally speaking, the English-speaking world is considered highly mycophobic (thank you puritanical Protestantism) but today you will find the largest mycology societies and a lot of important mushroom research done in England, Canada and the United States.

While indigenous groups of tropical Mesoamerica in Colombia, Mexico and Guatemala tend to be very mycophilic, many indigenous tribes of the Amazon have been documented to not actively use edible, medicinal or psychedelic mushrooms.

Additionally, the Spanish (like nearly all colonial regimes) tend to be extremely mycophilic, especially with psychedelic mushrooms as they help cultivate a form of consciousness they can’t control and subjugate.

The Catholics deemed sacred mushrooms to be idolatrous and they have prohibited their use since the 16th century as part of broader efforts to suppress Indigenous religious, medicinal, and cultural practices.

Traditional Uses of Mushrooms in the Amazon

The most extensive research on edible and medicinal use of fungi in the Amazon rainforest has been among the Yanomami people, a group of 35,000 indigenous people who live in some 200–250 villages in the Amazon rainforest on the border between Venezuela and Brazil.

A book called Enciclopédia dos Alimentos Yanomami (Sanöma) has been compiled in Portuguese and the Yanomami language to codify and preserve their traditional knowledge. It covers 15 of the 21 species of mushrooms that the Yanomami consume regularly for food and medicine.

If you would like to learn more about how the Yanomami use edible and medicinal mushrooms in the Amazon rainforest, this short film tells their story (with English subtitles).

Traditional Use of Ayahuasca In The Amazon

Traditionally, the Yanomami use only a hallucinogenic snuff in their shamanic practices, and not ayahuasca.

However, many indigenous tribes in the Amazon use the plant medicine Ayahuasca in their spiritual rituals.

Ayahuasca is not derived from a fungus but there are likely key fungal associations through the root systems in the creation of the psychoactive compounds found in this vine and its associated plant allies.

The Ayahuasca vine (Banisteriopsis caapi) is a plant native to the Amazon Basin but its medicinal use goes far beyond the river’s many tributaries into the Andes mountains. The Ayahuasca brew is commonly prepared by the prolonged decoction of the stems of the vine and the leaves of the Psychotria viridis shrub, although hundreds of species are used in addition or substitution.

There are approximately 160 ayahuasca-using Indigenous groups in Ecuador, Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Panama, Peru and Venezuela.

Indigenous scholar Daiara Tukano notes: “Ayahuasca is as diverse as the peoples who traditionally use it; it is a drink with many names, preparation techniques, compositions, and forms of ingestion. The knowledge and practices surrounding ayahuasca and other medicines of Indigenous peoples make up our scientific, cultural, and genetic heritage.”

I hope you enjoyed this short guide to traditional uses of mushrooms in the Amazon Rainforest.

Kyle Pearce

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