Amanita muscaria: A Cautionary Tale

“Is this a dream?” I asked myself. “Have I stumbled onto the set of Alice in Wonderland?” The pine trees in my garden had just spawned a sea of red and white mushrooms and I was blown away.

If a mushroom could have sex appeal, these ones would be the Angela Jolie of the fungi world. Their red shiny domes and splendid curvaceous crowns are kissed with little white dots sprinkled gently on top. Amanita muscaria is mushroom perfection.

When presented with this magnificent bounty, my dangerously inquisitive mind wondered about the fungi’s potential uses…

In hindsight, I should have seen the big red mushroom as a stop sign, but my curiosity won out, and so began my research project.

Amanita muscaira is more commonly known as the fly algaric and is native to the northern hemisphere. It loves a cool environment and has been known to hang out in sub-Arctic areas like Siberia and Scandinavia.

It has a very groovy symbiotic relationship with various pine trees and many people speculate it’s this relationship that gave the mushroom a free ride to Australia, via a batch of imported pine seedlings.

The hallucinogenic properties of the Amanita muscaira have been well documented. Amongst a string of other recorded ‘shroomers, Sami Shamans of Finland ate the mushrooms to produce trance-like states, and Berserker Vikings were said to have eaten the mushrooms before going into battle.

But its not just humans who consume this ‘shroom. Apparently they’re the favorite food of Scandinavian and Siberian reindeers.

Back in the day, reindeer herders used the mushrooms as bait to catch rogue reindeer. Once trapped, the reindeer was killed and its urine was collected. The urine was known to contain hallucinogenic chemicals from the mushrooms.

Consuming the urine produced a psychoactive effect consisting of visual hallucinations and a feeling apparently likened to flying.

Many suggest it’s no coincidence one of the worlds best known stories contains flying reindeers, the North Pole, and a dude dressed in red and white.

If it’s alright for the shamans, the herders, and the reindeers, surely it’s alright for me, I (ridiculously) thought to myself.

After figuring out the best way to prepare the flamboyant fungi, I drank the gooey concoction.

It smelt and tasted horrible. Two hours in I was convinced nothing was happening. Then, I started feeling sick. went outside and thought the grass was taller than my head. It wasn’t, it was a lawn. Then I watched television. A terrible idea. I switched it off, and somehow ended up terrified, inside a space cocoon watching stars divide.

To cut a long story short, it was a terrible trip. I thought I was stuck on the edge of the universe, never to return. Five hours later, thankfully, I woke up in a fetal position on the living room floor.

Since dabbling with this fungal temptress, I’ve realised there are some things you just don’t mess with. Fungi is one of them.

You’ve heard of the death cap mushroom, right? Guess what genus it is – Amanita. Yep, it’s the cousin of my Angelina Jolie-like pseudo-friend, the fly algaric.

Now, each year I see the red and white heads of the fly algarics pop up under the pine trees and I shudder. I’ve learnt my lesson, and am leaving them to the reindeers and Vikings.

WARNING: Don’t be a dork and do what this writer did. You could kill yourself. Fungi is a great thing to eat, and foraging is fun, but make sure you’ve confirmed the exact species with an expert before consuming. Don’t rely on pics or descriptions from books or magazines, again, you could end up killing yourself. Fact.