Photo courtesy: Dorothy Smullen
Throughout my life I’ve wasted a lot of time in bookstores, glancing at colored notebooks or tiny agendas, with their thicker or thinner covers alluring you to buy them or offer them as a gift. I didn’t even think that there might exist an alternative to this cellulose empire.
Luckily, the fungi kingdom doesn’t fail to make itself useful this time either: yes, you can make paper out of mushrooms. (Technically, paper can be properly called “paper” only if processed from materials which contain lignin, but to simplify this, I will refer to it as paper).
The fundamental ingredient in plant based paper is cellulose fibers which have been used since the first century C.E. The invention was preceded by clay tablets, papyrus or animal skin, all which were means of communication. Fiber paper spread in the 6th century in China and Japan, reaching Europe only in the 10th century. Since then, the process has been heavily mechanized and instilled in our everyday life.
But in the 1970, people became interested in other sources of fiber for paper production. Through experimentation, it was concluded that such could be extracted from shells of shrimp. In these, one could find a substance called chitin, similar to the one found in fungi. This information inspired Miriam C. Rice (whom we’ve already spoken about and alongside with her mushroom-dying experiments) to experiment making paper from different kind of fungi, primarily from polypores.
Before delving into the actual process of making paper into your home, let us mention some of the species of fungi most suitable for this task. Even though fleshy mushrooms can still be used, the best are the hard, woody, tree-dwelling and conks or other fibrous fungi. Some varieties good to be used include: Trametes versicolor, Piptoporus betulinus, Ganoderma lucidum (also known as Reishi or Ling Chi) or Fomitopis species. Some ways of getting wood conks are purchasing, foraging or cultivating them.
After collecting fresh or dried fungi, they should be soaked at least overnight. (They can be soaked for weeks if the water is changed every 2-3 days). One may add recycled papers, colored threads or strips. Tip: if you add newspaper, you will get gray overtones. Generally, the shades will vary from pale, almost white to deep ecru, even brown.
In the preparation of the process you should order a thick stack of newspapers over which there should be other absorbent materials. You should also have your deckle and your mould prepared, whether you make it yourself or buy it.
After soaking the mushrooms, chop and then grind them with water in a blender until you obtain a puree. Dump the stock you got into the tray with plenty of water and stir until the materials are well distributed. Then, with your hands, move from side to side under the surface of the water to line up the fibers. Afterwards, with your deckle and mould, submerge it under the surface and quickly lift up. Quickly, move it in both directions to ensure a good coverage. Let the paper drip back, until most of the water has run off. Now that your “piece of paper” is done you have to transfer it on another surface. You have to rapidly flip it onto a sheeting or a toweling. Cover the sheet with a screen and soak up excess water with a sponge. Afterwards you have to be careful with how you take off the screen off the paper – it shouldn’t become too dry.
The last step is drying the paper: for this, one should continue to replace the newspapers and the covering cloths. (Ironing over a cover cloth might speed up the process). When fully dried, hang or, in case you wish for a very flat paper, put the paper under weights while also changing the cloths frequently.
And here you have it: your own piece of paper with fungus!
A report by Iona Popescu