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The notorious Magic Mushroom

Well I suppose at some stage I would had to do a feature on this mushroom. A select few people I meet often presume that as a mushroom hunter, I only go looking for this particular species. Well that’s just not so – I was in the right place at the right time as I stumbled across these bad boys. Simply observed for identification reasons – honestly officer!

Psilocybe semilanceataThe Magic Mushroom or Liberty Cap (Psilocybe semilanceata) is the most notorious of all the hallucinogenic mushrooms (of which there are many), this being one of the most common and potent!

It contains a chemical cocktail of psychoactive ingredients, most notably ‘psilocybin’ (hence Psilocybe) which is a naturally produced psychedelic compound, and is the main active substance. Ingestion of several mushrooms, whether eaten fresh, dried or powdered and added to food etc, can produce a variety of ‘psychedelic’ experiences similar to those produced by LSD. Since 2005 it has been made illegal to be in possession of this mushroom (in whatever form) and is labelled as a Class A drug – so there you go.

The mycelium (the vegetative part of the fungus) feeds on the decaying matter of grass roots, so they are very at home scattered in pastures, lawns (sometimes parks), grassy roadsides and paths.

The first thing to note is that the cap of the mushroom is hygrophanous, meaning it will change colour depending on how much moisture it retains. In wet conditions the colour will be yellowish-brown / brown with a slight olive tinge. It has a glutinous viscid layer which can be delicately removed. As it drys out the colour fades to pale buff or whitish with a dark spore stained edge.

But the small conical cap remains a similar shape throughout these changes. It is elongate with striate markings (more noticeable when moist) with a distinctive small bump at the very top (umbo).

The thin white/creamy coloured stem (sometimes with darker yellowish hues) is relatively long compared to the cap size, and can grow up to 7 or 8cm high. Sometimes you may notice a blueish tinge at the very base. The gills are pale creamy-grey at first, but as the mushroom matures they become a dark purple-brown.

I’m not at liberty to say where I found these (or where to find others for that matter) as I was on a private reserve where I had permission to study. So please no questions about that on the blog or via email, thanks.

There are plenty around at the moment, but be aware that they’re just for looking at …right folks?

Before I sign off, I’ve selected a few good links on the amazingly enormous subject of Magic Mushrooms, covering their history in culture and beneficial medicinal research:

Magic Mushroom

Psilocybe semilanceata or Magic Mushroom is hygrophanous and drys to a pale buff colour.

QUICK ID TABLE: MAGIC MUSHROOM / LIBERTY CAP Psilocybe semilanceata

CAP / FLESH

0.5-1.5cm across. Elongated conical shape with pointed bump (umbo). Yellow-Brown / Brown with olive hue. Drying to pale buff.

STEM

3-8cm x 0.1-0.2cm. Pale whitish/cream often with yellowish hues. Sometimes with purple tinge at base.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

Pale clay/creamy-grey maturing to dark purple-brown.
Spore Print: Dark purpleish-brown (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

Pasture, garden, grassy roadsides and paths. Common in late summer to autumn.

EDIBILITY

Hallucinogenic. Illegal to be in possession of.

Autumn ink – The Shaggy Ink Cap (or Lawyers Wig)

Well, this weekend autumn has certainly stamped its initial authority on the land. Some leaves have already fallen in areas around the urban edges of my town. But I am a die-hard lover of fresh autumn mornings. There is still the summer warmth clinging on, but that zingy freshness of autumn is making itself known.

A call from one of my friends (literally working up the road at a school) was my waking alarm clock this morning – “We’ve got lots of white mushrooms going on here, a lot of them eliptoid shaped! Come and have a look if you can”. Well, it doesn’t take much to get me interested in a free meal, and I always love it when my friends let me know of any mushroom discoveries going on. Bless them. And as I work for myself, I wasn’t going to upset the boss by being late for work.

So, at just gone 9am, on a lovely misty autumn morn, I’d arrived at his school. Lots of grass around and lots of Shaggy Ink Caps around too (they also appear abundantly in summer). After a weekend of constant drizzle it had obviously encouraged these beauties to sprout forth. Excellent.

Shaggy Ink CapThe Shaggy Ink Cap (Coprinus comatus) – (comatus meaning ‘long haired’), is (naturally) a member of the ink cap family. As they get older, the cap opens (though not out flat) and eventually goes through a stage of dissolving and releasing an inky black fluid. It’s very similar cousin – the Common Ink Cap is similar in size and shape but has a smooth surface. It can be poisonous depending if you’ve some alcohol or not! See the Common Ink Cap (Coprinus atramentarius) post – read all the details here.

The common name alone gives a clue in identification to this edible and lovely mushroom over it’s sinister (though not deadly) cousin. Its shaggy appearance is caused by the white or pale-brown scales on its long, rugby ball shaped, cap. There is a drastic change in appearance depending on at what stage you find it. Young specimens don’t show much stem at all, in fact it can be hidden, depending on the height of the grass it’s in – and the brilliant white cap is unblemished, though sometimes showing light brown colouring at it’s tip (which persists). But as it grows older, the cap opens up and then shrinks, as it slowly dissolves into inky black oblivion! I know that sounded a bit dramatic but I thought I’d get the point across. A lot of people, on first encounters, see the younger specimen and older specimen as a different mushroom. And I really can’t blame them, they appear so different.

A spore print for identification is not needed I think though. This mushroom speaks out loud for itself, and if you find it later in life, its obviously going to have a ‘black’ feel about it! It has a good salty flavour and is definitely worth a taste, I love it. Try it out, it’s a wonderful mushroom*. Look out for it this October, not only in grassland but on roadsides and disturbed ground even at woodland edges/woodland vegetation.

And if you fancy it, also take a look at using this ink for literary purposes and make your own ink! Great stuff.

Young to old - Shaggy Ink Cap

The Shaggy Ink Cap from very young to old (as black ink starts to be produced)

Always try a little sample if you’re trying an edible mushroom for the first time, just to see if it agrees with you. The first time I tried this lovely mushroom I had a mild reaction of little red bumps in my mouth and what felt to be a slight hot flush! There was no unpleasantness involved and wasn’t at all serious. It soon passed. It’s just good to check your body is OK introducing it to the new food. It’s just like eating abroad really!

ID notes - Shaggy Inkcap

The Genus COPRINUS & Related (Inkcaps): Characteristics to look out for:

• Most species gills dissolve into an inky black liquid as the black spores ripen.
• Growing on the ground, wood or dung.
• Many young species have woolly veil. Felty scales are often left on the mature specimen.
• Smaller species have distinct radial markings on the cap.