Desert Shaggy Mane: A Soldier Against Hunger and Infection

What are the benefits of Desert Shaggy Mane?

Desert Shaggy Mane (Podaxis pistillaris) is a:

  • Potent antibacterial agent
  • Source of antifungal and antiviral molecules
  • Food for indigenous peoples in hot and arid ecosystems
  • Effective sunscreen, hair dye, and insect repellant

The Desert Shaggy Mane was first described by Western taxonomist and botanist Carl Linnaeus in 1771. Christian Hendrik Persoon picked up Linnaeus’ work in 1801. It didn’t receive it’s current name, however, until the work of Elizabeth Eaton Morse changed its designation to Podaxis pistillaris in 1933 (Chadha and Atri, 35).

Podaxis pistillaris has been found to contain molecules that act as effective antibacterial agents against Staphylococcus aureus (a contributor to chronic eczema), Proteus mirabilis (a bacteria that causes kidney stones and urinary tract infections), Serrate marcescens (a common cause of Hospital Acquired Infections and the reason for that pink film covering your shower), and Escherichia coli (a pernicious bacteria that causes food poisoning and diarrhea in humans) (Al-Fatimi et al, Abstract). Desert Shaggy Mane’s effectives against S. marcescens is interesting — it opens up the possibilities for the creation of targeted disinfectants and cleansers that could potentially abate this particular bacteria in home and possibly hospital environments.

Podaxis pistillaris is unique in that it is a desert dweller. It can be found in all arid and desert environments the world over. In these areas it is tied to indigenous populations such as Australian aborigines and Bedouin tribes where it is used as a topical application against inflammation, infection, and body paint (Al-Fatimi et al, 87). The primary antibatercial molecules in Desert Shaggy Mane are classified as ETPs (epipolythiopiperazine) that are antiviral, antitumor, and antimicrobial molecules found exclusively in fungi. These same substances are the reason that many Western researchers declare this mushroom toxic or inedible — a conclusion that many indigenous peoples the world over do not share (Al-Fatimi et al, 92).

For example, in Afghanistan, India, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Mexico this fungi is considered a gourmet food. It contains 41.4% amino acids, is rich in protein and carbohydrates, and low in fat – like most edible mushrooms (Vásquez-Dávilla, 307). Because of its beneficial impact on skin and hair, Desert Shaggy Mane is also considered a cosmeceutical (a skincare product with biologically active compounds). It has been observed being used as a sunscreen by the Wayuu women of the La Guajira area of Columbia. In Columbia and Australia the spores are used in the preparation of face paint used in mortuary rituals (Vásquez-Dávilla, 308). It is always curious when fungi are found to have the same ethnomycological applications by geographically different cultures. While there is an absence of evidence of a connection between the cultures in these two far-flung places – it does leave a question open as to a possible shared cosmeceutical and culture heritage stretching back into the pre-history of humankind. Another shared practice is the use of Podaxis pistillaris as an additive to the diets of domestic ruminants, as it acts as a beneficial probiotic for these animals (Vásquez-Dávilla, 308). This is particularly helpful for indigenous groups raising cattle in arid regions, as the probiotic qualities of the Desert Shaggy Mane can contribute greatly to the health of their animals.

Desert Shaggy Mane is beneficial to desert tree species. They are found most commonly near the bases of trees in washes, their mycelia entwined with the thirsty roots of desert trees, showing us that Podaxis pistillaris enjoys the same mycorrhizal relationships that other fungi do elsewhere in the world (Clarke, 2014). As most other fungi, P. pistillaris enjoys a plethora of aliases. False Shaggy Mane (Bernadette, 2017) , Khumbi (the generic word for mushroom in North India), Saanp ki chhatri or Snake’s Umbrella across India (Chada and Atri, 35-36), hongo blanco comestible (white edible mushroom), and soldadito (little soldier) in the Tehuacán-Cuicatlán Biosphere Reserve region (Medina-Ortiz et al, 2) are some examples.

When eaten, Desert Shaggy Manes are always collected while young and unopened. They are washed and chopped into small pieces and fried with tomatoes, onion, peas, ginger, garlic and salt in North India (Chada and Atri, 36). In Mexico the unopened fungi are cooked with green peppers, onions, and epazote and used to fill empanadas. It is also eaten raw in a zucchini salad or as an ingredient in tesmole – a stew typically made with chicken, zucchini, and chayote.

Cultivation is as simple as spreading spores on a suitable patch of dirt, an act of mycoculture that many indigenous peoples in Mexico perform. This same process has also been replicated by researchers at Sindh Agriculture University (Jiskani, 1). If you are looking to cultivate via a live culture of Podaxis pistallaris it has been found to prefer a media of potato dextrose broth, a consistent pH of 5.32 if possible, and a temperature of 86 degrees Fahrenheit for a period of twenty-one days (Khan et al, 222) before transferring to an appropriate substrate.

References

Al-Fatimi, M. A., Jülich, W. D., Jansen, R., & Lindequist, U. (2006). Bioactive components of the traditionally used mushroom Podaxis pistillaris. Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine : eCAM, (3,1), pp 87–92.

Bernadette (2017) Hyena’s Fart – Desert Mushroom. Retrieved from https://wanderingthroughwadis.com/2017/03/14/hyenas-fart-desert-mushroom/

Boneh D (1987) Mystical Powers of Hyenas: Interpreting a Bedouin Belief. Folklore (98, 1) pp 57-64.

Chadha M and Atri N S (2015) Podaxis pistillaris: A Common Wild Edible Mushroom from Haryana (India) and its Sociobiology. Kavaka (44) pp 34-37

Clarke, C (2014) Hard Summer Rains Bring Desert Mushrooms. Retrieved from https://www.kcet.org/redefine/hard-summer-rains-bring-desert-mushrooms

Jiskani M M (2015) “Different to All Others” Cultivation of Desert Mushroom, Podaxis Pistillaris (L.) Morse. Retrieved from: https://www.scribd.com/document/275213944/Podaxis-Pistillaris-Edible

Khan F N, Zaidi K U, Khan F and Pandey M (2015) Production of eco-biopolymer by submerged mycelial culture of a mushroom Podaxis pistillaris recovered form Bhanpur Landfill Area, Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh. Asian Journal of Biochemical and Pharmaceutical Research (4, 5) pp 218-229

Medina-Ortiz A J, Herrera T, Vàsquez-Dàvila M A, Raja H A, Figueroa M (2017) The genus Podaxis in arid regions of Mexico: preliminary ITS phylogeny and ethnomycological use. MycoKeyes (20) pp 1-23

Vásquez-Dávilla M A (2017) Current and potential use of the desert fungus Podaxis pistillaris (I.) fr. (Agaricaceae). Journal of Bacteriology and Mycology. (5,3) pp 307-311

Mushroom Images

Podaxis pistillaris – Image 1 – from the3foragers

Podaxis pistillaris – Image 2 – from Minh Nhân

Last modified: January 25, 2021

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