I AM NOT MAKING ANY OF THIS UP. This was my favorite thing I learned, researching matsutakes, was about the Matsutake Crusaders. There’s a great video interview with the founder of the group here, it’s definitely worth watching. And if you’re curious and have some time, then there’s a phenomenal article here by Dr. Anna Tsing, an anthropology professor but also a founding member of the Matsutake Worlds Research Group. The fact that the “Matsutake Worlds Reseach Group” and the “Matsutake Crusaders” are both things that exist should give you a picture of the cultural importance of this little mushroom.

One of the most interesting things about this whole phenomena is that while the wilt disease caused by the nematodes isn’t helping matters, the way people treat the forest has had just as big an effect on the production of matsutakes. Before the second World War, people would gather brushwood and small trees from the forest for burning and turning into charcoal, effectively tidying the forest floor and making it the perfect environment for mushrooms to grow. As the country modernized, people switched from using charcoal to natural gas for cooking and heating their homes, and fewer people are clearing brush from the forests, so all sorts of broadleaf plants sprang up, shading out the pines. Returning the forests to their natural, untouched state is what depleted the matsutakes. What Matsutake Crusaders are trying to do is recreate the sustainable relationship of people with the forests from centuries past, a measured and cultivated disturbance, rather than a forest completely free from human intervention.