The Mycelial Lightning Rod of the Nervous System
First published as a transcript from an episode of the Plant Witch Podcast.
Welcome to Episode 11 of the Plant Witch Podcast.
This week we are continuing on our journey through the ecosystem of the human organism.
Like all other animated life forms on this planet, humans have a method for communicating messages coherently throughout the organism, and translating sensory input into a coherent worldview that we are able to interact with. We call this system the nervous system.
The nervous system is a network of nerve fibers that extends through every part of the human body. The largest cluster of nerve cells (called neurons and glial cells) exists in the form of the central nervous system, comprising the brain and spinal cord. This central organized cluster of neurons and glial cells are wrapped up and held by tissue called the meninges, and the dura. These tissues are like a protective covering over the brain and spinal cord. When the meninges get inflamed from infection, we call that meningitis (itis means inflammation). When we have bleeding on the brain under the dura covering, we call that a subdural hematoma (sub means under, so under the dura. Hematoma means a collection of blood).
From the Central Nervous System, nerve fibers travel to all of the parts of the body. The nerve cells that carry information from the Central Nervous System to the periphery are called the efferent nerves, and the nerve cells that carry information back to the CNS are called afferent nerve cells. The messages are carried as electrical impulses, generated by the rapid movement of charged minerals that move quickly into and out of neurons. The movement of positively charged sodium and potassium and calcium molecules create the slight electrical charge that carries our nerve impulses to the brain. This electrical charge causes the release of neurotransmitters (which is a chemical messenger) that moves between the synapses of neurons, stimulating the next nerve cell to “depolarize” (take in a bunch of sodium or potassium to become activated). That activated neuron then releases a neurotransmitter to indicate the next neuron in the chain to activate, or depolarize.
This is the chemical and electrical overview of what is happening. If you have ever seen mycelium in the soil (that spider web type structure under your mulch when you turn it), that is a very similar structure to our nervous system. It is called a dendritic fractal, and it is the same pattern that Life uses to direct lightning strikes, tree roots, rivers draining into the ocean, etc. Life uses common patterns to accomplish the same goal in many different forms of life.
The part of fungus that we see is just the fruiting body or like the sex organs of the fungus. Most of its body is underground in the form of these filaments called mycelium. These filaments in the soil are acting a lot like neurons in the great brain of the forest. They shuttle messages around in the form of carbohydrates and nitrogen and water, just as the neurons in the human ecosystem shuttle around neurotransmitters, potassium and sodium. Our neurotransmitters are protein based, while the roots/fungus communications are also based in nitrogen (one of the building blocks of the amino acids that make up proteins). Plants communicate with one another about pests, hydration, overall health and more through the network of mycorrhizae, just our organs communicate with one another through the messages of the nervous system.
The messages of the nervous system create electrical impulses that reach the brain as action potentials, electrically charged pulses or packets of information. The brain receives this information and translates it into sensory experience. The waves of sound travelling through the air vibrate the tympanic membrane (or ear drum) which vibrates little hairs in the ear canal which carries the frequency and amplitude of these vibrations to the auditory cortex in the brain. The auditory cortex receives these signals in the form of depolarization of neurons in rapid succession, and translates that into mozart, or beethoven, or lil nas x. The organized cluster of cells called the brain is able to translate pure energy/vibration into symphonies.
The range of colors that we see, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet, are photons vibrating at different frequencies that touch the backs of our eyes. At the back of the eyes is a membrane called the retina. On the retina are clusters of cells called rods and cones. These cells specialize in perceiving different colors in the spectrum of light. As these color-specific cells are activated, they send an impulse to the brain that the brain translates into everything that we see. All of this because photons from the sun touch the surface of the earth and are reflected or absorbed at varying frequencies, which then touch the rods and cones on our retinas creating a nerve impulse that travels to the visual cortex of the brain just above the neck at the back of the head. The brain translates these impulses into van Gogh, your lovers face, a sunset.
This makes me wonder what sort of messages are being received through the mycorrhizae of the forest, and what serves as the central nervous system, and what kind of world is that central processor translating to the mind of the forest? New research is showing that each forest has Mother Trees. These trees are older, bigger, and their roots are connected to the rest of the forest through intact mycorrhizal networks. These trees funnel nutrients to saplings, store carbohydrates and water in stumps of trees to be used later, and so much more. Could these Mother Trees act as the central nervous system organs of the forest? Are they projecting a worldview and a sense of reality to that location, just as our brain does for the human experience of life?
If the axim, as above so below, is a truth about the holographic nature of the universe, it would make sense that the organized system of communication and perception within the ecosystem of the human would be repeated in other forms of life. Perhaps a forest or landscape is a meta-being, composed of many contributing sentient beings? Just as our bodies are composed of bacteria, fungus, viruses, mites, worms….equivalent to the birds and squirrels and foxes living in the forest.
Perhaps this experience of organized systems of perception is another fractal, like our mycorrhizae and lighting strikes and rivers draining into the sea and tree roots….the system repeats over and over again in infinite forms and presentations to meet the purposes of the mind of the Creators of this realm?
When I imagine the nervous system of the human, I think of Monotropa uniflora. Monotropa is called Ghost Pipe plant. It is neither a flower nor a fungus, it acts a bit like both. This plant exists between the worlds. It acts as a parasite on the mycorrhizal network. It does not contain chlorophyll like most other plants. It receives the carbohydrates from trees by syphoning them out of the mycorrhizal network. They pull the energy, the stimulus, out of the network and grow their bodies from this food. Since Monotropa does not need light to grow, it grows in dense forests, usually alongside birch trees. Without chlorophyll, the entire plant is a translucent white color, hence its name Ghost Pipe. Each plant produces a single flower on a single stalk. This flower is pollinated by bees, and a seed capsule forms, spreading Monotropa throughout the forest floor.
Monotropa uniflora works in the human ecosystem similarly to the function it carries in the sentient forest. When taken internally, Monotropa changes the communication of nerve impulses to the central nervous system. Just as it sequesters sugars (the prime communication molecule of the forest brain), it also seems to change the delivery of the message of pain within the human nervous system. The stimulus of pain continues to exist, but the human mind has a different experience of it. The pain does not cause intense suffering, it is sort of set aside, not taking up the whole experience of the person who is in pain. This is the magick of Monotropa medicine. It has been useful for emotional pain as well as physical pain. Monotropa is impossible to cultivate (or at least very difficult) so all medicines are wild crafted. It is a rare plant, so harvesting should only be done if the stand is healthy and you are truly in need of this medicine. Always ask permission. Never take the first plant you see. Never take an entire stand. Make sure you have a plan and the resources to promptly make medicine so that nothing goes to waste. In this way we are respectfully inviting the potency of the medicine without exploiting the allies who would help us.
Dosages of Monotropa are very small, 3-10 drops typically. I have heard of field medics using monotropa to help with the pain of police brutality during protests, with great effects. I have also heard of people healing PTSD with the help of Monotropa as an ally.
Other beneficial allies to the nervous system are fungi themselves! Lion’s mane in particular is known to support the nervous system. Research has shown the Lion’s mane mushroom supports regeneration of damaged nerve cells when taken in an aqueous solution (a mushroom tea).
Vitamin B12 and the class of herbs known as nervines are also supportive of the nervous system of the human body. Along with amino acid precursors to hormones and neurotransmitters. Tryptophan, Tyrosine, and phenylalanine are specific precursors to serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine, neurotransmitters that orchestrate the human response to stress and joy.
Also, Vitamin D has been shown to support nervous system health and to be neuroprotective. Inadequate Vitamin D levels in pregnancy have been shown to negatively impact the development of the nervous system of the unborn child, and may contribute to the development of schizophrenia, and multiple sclerosis.
Minerals like calcium, magnesium, potassium and sodium are foundational in the message conveyance of the nervous system, as well. Magnesium especially is frequently depleted in our soils, meaning that most of us are deficient in this mineral.
Studies suggest that sleep is actually the resting state of the brain, and wakefulness creates a sense of stress and exertion. Humans requires sleep (as do all mammals, fish, and most every other creature). During sleep, the brain is able to process and store information, detoxify accumulated free radicals, regenerate damaged nervous tissue, and so much more. Sleep is essential to the nervous system.
Trees have also been shown to have periods of sleep and wakefulness. I wonder what they dream about….
Just like James Cameron’s film Avatar, our earth is wired together with a collective nervous system of plant roots, fungal mycelium, and subtle energies. Humans are connected to this web of life in more ways than we can imagine. By caring for our own neural networks, supporting healthy soil and forests, and taking responsibility for the worldview that we are creating together, our experience of life can be infinitely more joyful, rich, and beautiful.
If you have questions about any of this information, feel free to drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. Studies cited in this episode will be linked in the show notes.