Week of September 7, 2016 - Mushrooms

Wednesday, September 07, 2016 7:54 PM | Anonymous

Amanitas: Pretty Deadly
Mushroom Hunting

As you recall, I wanted to find black chanterelle mushrooms for the Green Goddesses. They may look ugly, but they taste exquisite. (See them in last week’s ezine.)

No such luck. I’ve been enjoying black chanterelles ever since the Goddesses left, but when they were here, what we found were Amanitas. The beautiful – and deadly – Amanitas.

People have gotten sick from touching a destroying angel and putting their fingers in their mouths.

Look for the Dots

Amanitas are completely covered in a white membrane as they push up from the earth. Remnants of this membrane/veil stick to the cap of the Amanita, looking like small round white dots on the white, brown, yellow, or red cap. This white, very young, Amanita verna is a destroying angel, the most deadly mushroom in the world. The yellow one is a fly agaric, Amanita muscaria, a mind-altering mushroom.

Fly agaric is an important psychoactive used by Siberian shamans. After ingestion, the active ingredient is transferred to the shaman’s urine, which the community drinks to share the “high.”

Look for the Cup

The bottom half of the membrane that surrounds the baby Amanita remains at the base of the stem and is clearly visible if the forest duff is gently pulled away from the stalk. Look again at the photo (above) of the young destroying angel. The membrane looks like a cup at the bottom of the mushroom. As the mushroom ages, this photo, the cup wears away, but is still visible if you look closely.

It is said that no one has survived eating the destroying angel, which tastes divine.

Look for the Skirt

In addition to the remnants of the veil on the cap, Amanitas also have a little skirt that covers their gills. As the cap expands, this skirt breaks free from the outer edge and hangs down around the stem of the mushroom, making a pretty little skirt. The first photo here is a destroying angel, looking yellow in the afternoon sun. The second photo is the Witches’ Amanita, Amanita muscaria, in its yellow form. It is more common in its red form in Europe, thus the mushrooms that grow around the witch’s hut in the illustrations in fairy tales are red with white dots.

Dried and smoked, fly agaric opens the senses intensely.

Put It All Together

The first photo is (probably) a mature but fresh Blusher (Amanita rubescens), with a soft pinkish-brown color to the cap. It is reputed to be edible, but I would never dream of even so much as tasting it. The white dots on the cap are clear; the skirt that covered the gills is still intact, but the cup at the base is gone. The second photo is of a very old destroying angel. Rain has cleared the dots from the cap (as it has from the cap of the fly agaric above) and the skirt is in tatters, but some of the cup is still hanging around.

Google “Amanita” for lots more great photos.

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