As a citizen of northern and central Europe, it may surprise you to know that every autumn your unmolested fields and pastures are littered with one of the most potent psilocybin mushrooms in the world.
Perhaps equally surprising is that these mushrooms are not only easy to spot, but easy to prepare - they in fact need no preparation at all, though I don't recommend that for reasons I'll expound on a little later.
Less surprisingly, the possession of Psilocybe Semilanceata is illegal in most European countries. The purpose of this article is purely educational.
In late September our continent will begin cooling rapidly, and shortly thereafter many of our fungi friends begin popping up from their mycelium homes and ejecting spores for reproduction. One of these mushrooms has been named "Psilocybe Semilanceata", or "Liberty Cap" for the lay-person - among other names you'll discover in this blog.
Like many of its distant relatives, the Liberty Cap enjoys a wet and cold environment, which is a double-edged sword for those of us who are looking to find them. The presence of other similar mushrooms can be an indicator that A) We're looking in the right places, and B) That the climate conditions are ideal. On the other hand, many of us will be picking the wrong mushroom and at best wasting our time or worse, dying - more on that later. As a general rule: you should be heading out when the temperature is between 1c-10c after a good spell of rain in October-November. Adjustments may be needed depending on where you are in Europe among other factors, for example high places will cool earlier than at sea-level, and if you're in southern Europe it may not be cool enough until November-December. Once the first frost arrives our fungi friends will disappear until next Autumn.
Now we know when the Nipple-hats pop up, the next thing to discuss is their habitat. Liberty Caps feed on decaying grass in moist conditions, they do not grow anywhere near trees - this is important because many mushrooms that are toxic to us humans are found in and around trees, but not all. They also don't grow in manure unlike many psilocybin mushrooms in other parts of the world, but this shouldn't discourage you from searching pastures as those are often great locations for finding Liberties. Swamps and other sodden areas are no good, nor are flowering meadows. Golf courses are hit and miss, the short grass makes mushrooms easier to spot but they are often mowed too frequently for Liberty Caps to flourish.
The term "follow the sheep" is often passed around because pastures are typically left untouched for the grazing animals, which means they aren't being sprayed with fungicides and pesticides. If the field doesn't seem natural to you, don't waste your time looking there. Some people swear that Liberties are more likely to be found in x or y types of grass but I haven't came across any compelling evidence for that, just find those natural fields and pastures and have a good look around.
No mushroom is unsafe to touch, do feel free to inspect and admire any fungi you come across in confidence. I must preface this section with the fact that I am not a mycologist, and that you must do your own research and risk assessment and before consuming any fungi. What is written here is based on my own research and personal experience. Please do keep in mind that the possession of a Psilocybe Semilanceata is illegal in most European countries and so I don't encourage picking them and making a tea or meal.
Fortunately Libs have very few lookalikes. The most common mushrooms you will be fooled by belong to the Panaeolus family, especially the "Panaeolus Papilionaceus". The most similar toxic mushroom is the "Coprinopsis Atramentaria", or "Ink Cap" for short, a common edible mushroom but when combined with alcohol has the potential to be deadly.
The cap of Liberties have a quite distinctive bell shape with a nipple-like protrusion on top. Younger Liberty Caps have a cap that is initially rolled inwards, hiding their gills, which in age begins to unroll and curl upwards. Their colour varies on how hydrated they are, as young and fresh fungi they tend to be a dark brown with a bluish tint. As they mature they begin to take on their very distinctive pale complexion and it is at this age they are more noticeable in the fields. At all ages a dark stain is often visible around the cap edges and gills, caused by falling spores. Some mushrooms are sterile and produce no spores, finding one of these infects you with a rare condition which compels you to post a picture on fungi forums.
Their stems are also quite unique, almost always taking on an unusual bent and twisted form that doesn't snap as easily as other similar mushroom stems. The colouring of the stem can also be a key identifier, while similar to the colour of a mature Liberty cap, you may often see a "bruising" of the stem typically near the base. The bruising is caused by the psilocin content and is therefor a helpful feature to look for. When picking Libs you'll want to pull from the base of the stem, as the whole mushroom contains psychoactive content.
If you're still unsure, carefully try to peel away a sticky transparent film-like coating from the cap. Never consume an unidentified fungi.
Earlier in the post I mentioned you can eat them raw straight from the field, this is actually the optimal time to consume them because once they've been picked they begin a process of degradation. If you're a criminal and would like to take your mushrooms home with you instead of eating them raw on a grassy knoll, it's important to dry them out until they are "crisp dry" and store them in a sealed container away from the light as soon as possible. Eating Liberty Caps raw would be quite a difficult task in my mind because unlike other psilocybin mushrooms Liberty Caps are tiny, so for a standard 2 gram experience you're probably looking at around 25 mushrooms. They also taste like earth, and now that I've mentioned tiny worm-things craw around on them you probably won't want to try it - you'll notice them in the drying process, all those little Lotus Eaters run off and die as the mushrooms dry out. Cool.
My recommendation is instead to make a tea with a little ginger, lemon juice, and honey. The ginger helps with any potential nausea and the lemon honey combo will add some flavour and sweetness. For me this is as simple as tossing a few grams of dried mushrooms into boiling water and leaving them to stew for 15-20 minutes before adding a lemon and ginger teabag(caffeinated in my case), bringing them to boil again for another few minutes, and then serving with a spoon of honey stirred in. Others have all kinds of more efforted methods and recipes which you can find online.
Oh, for dosage I would recommend not exceeding 2 grams for your first time. I will most likely have another article posted on dosages and the important concept of safe setting before the next mushroom season. Your surroundings are vital for a pleasant experience and cannot be overlooked.
There are two other popular methods of consumption, one of which is called "Lemon tekking" and is the process of soaking your mushrooms in lemon or lime juice and drinking the mixture for a "faster and more intense experience". This is often debated in hairy-man-forums with dubious anecdotes and armchair chemistry. My first time consuming psychoactive mushrooms was with this method and it was not only quite unpleasant but wasn't any different of an experience than the delicious teas I've made since then. Give it a go if you can stomach it, some people swear by it. Micro-dosing is a completely different experience whereby you take tiny amounts of psilocybin on an intermittent schedule with the intention of increasing physical and cognitive performance or for treatment of mental disorders. Micro-dosing is becoming increasingly popular and has the attention of academic study and debate. I have no experience with micro-dosing and haven't given it much research so I'll leave that to others for explanation and comment.
Do be careful and I look forward to meeting you in the fields!