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Plant Medicines - Fly Agaric Mushroom

Updated: Oct 28, 2023



It's mid October and the colder season is well established now and the nights are drawing in. This is a time of year when I get quite excited - its a great season for fungi!


I am very lucky as growing up my father taught me how delicious mushrooms can be beyond the button mushrooms you find in styrene treys in the supermarket. We would spot mushrooms growing on and around the farm, noting whether they were edible or not, and over time I became comfortable identifying some of the common ones that are delicious.


As a teenager I became interested in the psychedelic mushrooms that are found in the UK - Liberty caps or Psilocybe semilanceata which are one of the mushrooms that grow natively in the UK and they contain the active ingredient psilocybin, From 18 July 2005 the UK government made it illegal to possess magic mushrooms that contain psilocybin in the UK, under current law it is a class A drug and can get you into a lot of trouble if you are caught in possession.


Fly Agaric mushroom however, is very different. This mushroom does not contain any psilocybin, instead the two main active ingredients in the Fly Agaric mushroom are ibotenic acid and muscimol. these two compounds are very similar in chemical makeup as you can see here:

Muscimol is the chemical compound responsible for the euphoric and relaxing or psychedelic effects where as Ibotenic Acid is the compound responsible for the nausea and more unpleasant part of the experience, both of these compounds work on the GABA system in the brain.

Preparing the mushroom correctly can reduce or even mostly eliminate or convert the Ibotenic Acid into Muscimol. This process is called decarboxylation and if done well almost completely convert all the acid into Muscimol.

Decarboxylation happens at over 72*c so drying at slightly over that temp will convert up to 30%, making the tea out of the dried mushroom further converts the acid to muscimol, adding lemon juice to the tea then reduces the ibotenic acid even more.

This process is interesting - it is recommended some of the Ibotenic Acid is retained when preparing this mushroom for medicine. More about that in a minute but first....


Appearance And Identification

This mushroom is one of the most easily identified mushrooms out there, its well known for its deep red cap measuring approx 5 - 25cm in diameter, the mushroom starts out from a volva, a small egg like growth that becomes the mushroom


The spots on the mushroom are remnants of the 'egg sack' that simply stick to the top of the mushroom as it grows. This can sometimes be rubbed or washed off in heavy rain leaving just a red cap. Sometimes the cap can be a golden yellow but red ones are more common around where I live.

The mushroom has a white, smooth stalk or Stipe with a bulbous bottom, part way up the stalk there is a skirt or ring, this is also remnants of the sac the mushroom grew from.


The Gills are white, densely packed and the spore print is white also.




Habitat

Fly Agaric is what we call mycorrhizal - that means that the mushroom has a very close symbiotic relationship with a tree, this mushroom isn't too fussy on which tree it has this relationship with but where I live they like birch trees, other trees are spruce, pine, oak and cedar trees.

The mushroom itself that we see is only a small part of the fungus, in fact most of the fungus grows underground in hair like strands called mycelium. It is this mycelium that connects with the host tree and they share nutrients, the tree provides the mushroom with glucose and the mushroom helps the tree by providing the tree with nutrients.



Old woodland is the best place to look for these mushrooms, looking when its wet in the autumn is best, you really need to be in the right place at the right time but once you find them you know they will be back year after year!


The thing about mycorrhizal mushrooms is it's near impossible to cultivate them out of their natural habitat, that is one of the reasons this mushroom is not common or found in supermarkets. It is also partly why pharmaceutical companies have largely ignored this mushroom for its therapeutic use.



Usage and preparation

The guide books will mostly list this mushroom as inedible or poisonous and if eaten raw this mushroom can make you vomit and there are reports of it inducing a seizure however if prepared correctly this mushroom can be eaten safely as a food. This is done by boiling the mushroom for an extended period in a large amount of water and a little salt, boiling them hard for 15 minutes also helps to render the mushroom inert and what is left is just a tasty mushroom that can be fried and eaten. In fact this mushroom is packed with vitamin D !!!


Preparing this mushroom as plant medicine

In order to prepare this mushroom for its plant medicine benefits The mushroom needs to be prepared a certain way:

Firstly the mushroom is picked, then the stalk is cut off as most of the beneficial medicine is in the cap. The cap need to be dried at a temperature over 72*c but not too far over as it will dry the mushroom out too fast and the decarboxylation reaction will not have time to maximise its benefit.

By drying at just over 72*c there is a conversion of Ibotenic Acid to Muscimol. By drying the caps to a cracker dry you can achieve approximately a maximum of 30% conversion.

Once the drying process is complete further decarboxylation is achieved by then boiling the dried caps in distilled water. The water is then filtered from the mushroom mass and the liquor is then either taken as a tea, frozen or made into a tincture or gummies.

I use an air fryer to dry out my mushrooms as it can be set to an accurate 75*c and I dry the mushrooms for approximately 10 hours to achieve the desired cracker dry caps. These can be then stored in a mason jar with some desiccant packs to keep the caps dry and ready for future use.

The dried caps (15g) are then added to 1 cup (250ml) of distilled water and gently boiled for 20 - 30 minutes. The liquid is strained and that can be taken as is, frozen for future use or it can be added to alcohol to make a tincture or made into gummies. Taking small amounts 1 - 5ml (Titrate carefully starting with a very small amount) will produce a sleepy relaxed effect, larger doses can cause a more psychedelic experience.

Most of the medicinal effects are achieved at the lower doses.


Micro-dosing

Once you have made the tea by boiling the dried mushrooms and you have made the resulting liquid back up to 250ml it is then frozen into small cubes so it can later be added in measured amounts to a cup of tea. Using gummy bear moulds is ideal for micro-dosing, pop one of the small bear shaped cubes of the mushroom tea into a cup of normal herbal tea, and if desired add a slice of lemon to further reduce the Ibotenic Acid.


It is important to note that the strength of the medicine will vary from batch to batch as the potency of different mushrooms can vary quite significantly, size, colour and shape have no baring on how strong the mushroom is so it is always advised to make a batch from different caps and to titrate dosage carefully.


Contraindications

A contraindication is a specific situation in which a medicine, procedure, or surgery should not be used because it may be harmful to the person. With regards to Amanita muscaria people with Bipolar, Schizophrenia or severe mental illness and pregnant women should avoid using this mushroom.

As it affects the GABA receptors in the brain, avoid mixing with benzodiazepines or alcohol as these also affect the same receptors.


Usage

External topical creams and balms can be made for muscle and back pain, it is well known for its analgesic, anti-inflammatory, anxiolytic, and stimulant properties. A tincture can be applied to treat Neuralgia / Sciatica and irritation of the spinal cord.


Taken as a tea and used for its mind altering effects this is powerful plant medicine has been used throughout history.

If you suffer from insomnia this mushroom might be just the medicine for you! taking a low dose can help induce a deep restful sleep. It has a sleepy drowsy effect that can aid sleep, helps with meditation and has been used by Shaman to aid in Shamanic journeying and lucid dreaming.

Amanita Dreamer uses a smoking blend before doing shamanic work which is another way to take the mushroom.

In Siberia it was used to aid work, or on log distance walks it was used to 'time travel' as it was taken before a very long hike.

Storytellers of old would use this mushroom to inspire magical tails.

Other uses for this mushroom include taking the medicine to help with:

  • Anxiety + Generalised Anxiety Disorder

  • Panic attacks

  • Depression

  • Substance addiction

  • Alcoholism

  • Epilepsy

  • Chilblains

  • Cataracts

  • Skin conditions


In this infographic by Kevin Feeney you can see how effective it purportedly is in treating the various ailments and also how likely its us is to reduce the use of conventional medication when used.


How it is used:

  • Dried 38%

  • Tincture 22%

  • Tea 19%

  • Fresh 11%

  • Cooked 11%

Dosage range from a small piece of cap to 17g of dried material.

>5g = Threshold Psychoactive Dose

NOTE: The strength variance of each individual mushroom make measuring dose difficult. Add to that the variance in decarboxylation technique (drying) further complicate measuring the correct dosage - that is why is is highly recommended to make batches of medicine and to titrate carefully (start with very small doses and work up to what is comfortable).



Reported Side Effects:

  • Increased perspiration and salivation

  • Nausea

  • Seizure (usually very rare at high doses that include a lot of Ibotenic Acid)



Finding Fly Agaric in old woodland



I just had to include this stunning photo by Jon Waterhouse!



Sources:





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