Srinagar: A Kashmiri researcher has walked the path less traveled to work extensively on the little-known mushroom species of the valley.
Hailing from Doru Shahabad Tehsil of Anantnag district, Dr. Rouf Hamza Boda developed his fondness for mushrooms in his school days. Author of `Nano mushroom identifier’, he has carved a niche for himself in the scientific world.
“Since I come from a village, I often used to be a part of the mushroom forays in spring. I would collect Gucchis in small wicker baskets. Along the way, I often encountered mushrooms of various shapes and sizes. Sometimes, a large shaped mushroom scared and fascinated me at the same time,” he said.
This eventually motivated Rouf to pursue his Masters’s in Botany and research in the wild mushroom species of Southern Kashmir.
“Luckily, my guide, Dr. Abdul Hamid Wani assigned me with my much-desired research topic in 2010. Moreover, I was the first person in the valley to do research on this aspect of wild mushrooms,” said Rouf, who works as a lecturer at Government Girls Higher Secondary School, Verinaag.
In his research paper, he documented around 100 mushrooms from different sites/forest areas of south Kashmir and were evaluated for antioxidant activity. “I also observed their nutritive value, cultivation pattern, and studied their taxonomy,” he said.
Rouf said all mushrooms are fungi and they produce spores, similar to pollen or seeds, which allows them to spread or travel by the wind. The rest of the mushroom then matures, typically living in soil or wood. Interestingly, the mushrooms share a special relationship between pine trees, blue pines, and Deodars called Mycorrhizal connection.
“The mushroom extracts water and some minerals from the soil and gives it to the roots of these trees. Whereas, the tree performs photosynthesis and produces several sugars for the mushrooms in return,” he said.
He maintained that there are many different types of mushrooms, some of which are edible including well-known species such as button, oyster, porcini, and chanterelle. There are, however, many which are not edible and may cause stomach pains or vomiting if eaten, and in some cases may be fatal, such as the common death cap mushroom,” he said.
Rouf noted that mushrooms are being increasingly researched and used for their important health benefits, with a number of varieties demonstrating medicinal properties.
“Mushrooms are a low-calorie food that packs a nutritional punch. Loaded with many health-boosting vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, they’ve long been recognized as an important part of any diet. For instance, mushrooms raised with exposure to ultraviolet light are a good source of Vitamin D, an important component in bone and immune health. Besides, many of them have anti-cancer properties,” he said.
However, Rouf pointed out that climate change and habitat destruction have affected several mushroom species and resulted in their gradual decline in the valley.
“There is a decline in production of morels popularly known as Gucci mushrooms. I have been tracking them for the last ten years. We speculate that climate change, deforestation, and habitat destruction have resulted in the decrease of their production. Similarly, other mushrooms which grew in early spring like Inkycap and puffball are also showing signs of advanced sprouting. Earlier, they would show up in March and April. Now they grow 20 days earlier,” he said.
Rouf said growing mushrooms is a profitable venture for someone who is willing to start the business and is ready to devote time.
“A person who has the basic knowledge about the technology and art of mushroom growing, and has enough space, can easily start mushroom farming wherever he wants to. It can bring you an assured sum every month and turn out to be a great opportunity for the budding entrepreneurs,” Rouf concluded.