Monday, August 11, 2008
Mushroom Cultivation in Antiquity
Petronius, in a mood of fantasy, talks of the sending of 'mushroom seed' from India for planting in Italy. In reality, cultivation of mushrooms is a modern development.Dalby cites Petronius, Satyricon 38.4:
Behold, within these past days he has written for seed of mushrooms to be sent to him from India.Contrary to Dalby's assertion, there is plausible evidence for mushroom cultivation in antiquity, e.g. Nicander, Georgics, fragment 79 Schneider, quoted by Athenaeus 2.61 a (tr. S. Douglas Olson):
Ecce intra hos dies scripsit, ut illi ex India semen boletorum mitteretur.
Whenever you bury the trunk of a fig tree deep in dung,and Dioscorides, De Materia Medica 1.81 (tr. Lily Y. Beck):
and keep it moist with constant streams of water,
harmless mushrooms will grow on its lower parts. You may cut
any of these that grow from the root and not from the ground.
Some report that the bark of the white and of the black poplar, cut up into small pieces and strewn on garden-plots that were previously fertilized with manure, grows mushrooms in all seasons.These methods of cultivation roughly correspond with modern techniques. See Paul Stamets, Mycelium Running (Berkeley: TenSpeed Press, 2005), chapters 10 (Cultivating Mushrooms on Straw and Leached Cow Manure) and 11 (Cultivating Mushrooms on Logs and Stumps). Also, the edible mushroom Flammulina velutipes is sometimes called Flammulina populicola because it is fond of poplars.
I haven't seen Geoponica 12.41, which may mention the cultivation of mushrooms. Only part of Dalby's entry on mushrooms was available to me through Google Book Search.