With it's bright red cap and white spots, the fly agaric (Amanita muscaria) is famous mushroom known around the world. It's also one of the only mushrooms I know that has psychoactive effects, and is potentially poisonous, as well as edible.
European Amanita Muscaria (common name fly agaric) the well-known version with a red cap from Europe.
People in North America know it as the mushroom from Alice and Wonderland. Some connect it to Santa Claus and Christian Christmas celebrations. Others claim it's the Soma drink of the ancient Vedic culture. In this post I'll share everything I know about this mushroom: the good, the bad, the weird, and the in-between.
A young fly agaric.
The mushrooms are mycorrhizal, forming symbiotic relationships with host trees. They're widespread and found across temperate and boreal forests in the northern hemisphere.
Amanita Muscaria Identification
With their brilliant red and white cap, fly agarics are pretty easy to identify. Here's a few key points on identifying them.
- Always grow directly from the ground.
- Have a brilliant red cap generally covered with warts that are the remnant of the universal veil that covers the young mushrooms as they grow. The warts are typically visible, but can be removed by rain.
- Amanita Muscaria var. guessowii, found in North America, has a yellow or reddish-orange cap.
- Young buttons are often completely covered in white warts.
- The mushrooms will usually have a volva at the base of the stem. This is the remnants of the universal veil that covered them when they were young.
- Very young mushrooms can resemble puffballs. They'll have a mushroom cap inside when cut in half.
- The stem base is often bulbous or swollen.
- These are large, sturdy mushrooms, but the cap easily detaches from the thick stem.
Note the bulbous base and ring around the stem.
Amanita Muscaria Look A Likes
- Amanita flaviconia is much smaller than muscaria which can be as large as dinner plates.
- Amanita pantherina has a brown cap and contains higher amounts of ibotenic acid.
- Fly agarics are also related to deadly amanitas like A. bisporigeria.
Muscaria Variation Guessowii
This is the version we have in the Midwest that I see and harvest on occasion. I see them almost exclusively with young aspen stands in the fall and late summer. It's widespread and common.
In 2022 the name of A. muscarica var guessowii has been said to be changed to Amanita Chrysoblema. This has yet to be standardized.
Amanita muscaria guessowii.
History and Mythology
There's all kinds of stories and legends about the famous red-capped mushrooms. Here's a few of my favorite anecdotes.
Some people claim Viking berserkers would eat or Amanita pantherina before going into battle to induce their legendary berserker rage. I'm skeptical, but some people definitely believe it. This theory seems hotly contested and others say the consumable in question was a plant.
Gordon Wasson's research and study of the mushroom is documented in his book Soma: Divine Mushroom of Immortality. The book claims muscaria was the sacred plant used in religious rituals in Indo-Aryan culture of what's now Punjab in India.
Amanita guessowii in Minnesota. These are large mushrooms.
Gordon Wasson says the Koryaks, a nomadic Lapland people who herd reindeer probably have the most colorful reputation with these mushrooms. The use of them has become an urban legend. Apparently the mushroom is important in entheogenic traditions and rituals.
According to legend a Siberian shaman eats the mushrooms, and a portion of the narcotic compound is filtered into his urine. Participants drink the urine to experience a hallucinogenic effect. While it sounds disgusting, it's entirely probable with what we know of mushroom toxicology.
Another flush of guessowii from a different patch. Note the red center on the caps that more closely resembles the classic cherry-red muscaria. I often see slightly color variations.
Use as a hallucinogen
The most well-known aspect of fly agaric mushrooms are their hallucinogenic properties. I'm not trying to tell anyone to eat muscaria to get high, unless you want to go to the hospital. As I have a bit of experience in the area, I'm sharing what I know.
Muscaria is labeled as a poisonous mushroom or even deadly in most field guides. This could be due to the death of Italian Count de Vecchi in the United States and poisonings from narcotic use. Link at the bottom of the post for more on that.
Most people I know that have taken muscaria say it feels like you're drunk with slight visual distortions. I've never used it personally, but I know a couple people that do. Muscaria are very different from common magic mushrooms. Treat them with caution.
Eating too many muscaria caps can also be fatal. As mushroom foraging is gaining in popularity, it's something that will probably continue to increase as more people discover the hobby.
A fatal dose of muscaria has been said to be 15 caps, dried or fresh. Unfortunately cap size and weight aren't usually specified. To make things more risky, the compounds are thought to vary in concentration between collections. My friends in the mycological community have told me spring mushrooms can contain much more muscimol than fall mushrooms.
For more on poisonings from ingestion of fly agarics, see the 30 Year Poisoning Study by the North American Mycological Association at the bottom of this post.
Amanita muscaria var guessowii in Wisconsin.
To prepare Amanita muscaria as a narcotic dried mushrooms are boiled in water and taken as a tea. They can also be eaten dried as for psilocybin mushrooms like the liberty cap. Muscaria should never be eaten fresh.
I did a podcast with a man who ate fresh muscaria and his experience terrified me. Some people also claim you can smoke muscaria, but that seems like an urban legend to me. Most information I see seems to disagree.
Toxicology: Muscimol and Ibotenic Acid
Fly agaric mushrooms contain ibotenic acid. When the mushroom is ingested fresh or dried, the acid converts into the psychoactive compound muscimol by losing carbon dioxide (decarboxylation). Muscimol is what affects the central nervous system.
Is Muscaria Legal?
Possession of Amanita muscaria or muscimol is legal in every state except Louisiana as of this writing. Dried muscaria is also sold in Wiccan and alternative religion stores across the United States every year.
To dry the mushrooms for sale or consuming they can be treated like any other mushroom. Cut the mushroom into slices and dehydrate at 145F until crisp and bone dry. Dried mushrooms appear to lose their potency over time.
Cooking Amanita Muscaria
Muscaria is edible and a documented, traditional food in Japan. But, the tradition is only said to be found in a small area around Ueda. The mushrooms are boiled to detoxify the psychotropic compounds, and then eaten after fermenting in brine, often in miso soup.
A man boiling muscaria in his restaurant in Japan. Photo credit: David Arora.
To prepare muscaria for eating they can be cut into slices and boiled. Some boil it twice. Mycologist David Arora was the first person I heard of to demonstrate this. I've cooked and eaten a good number of muscaria inspired by his research.
Japanese-style muscaria pickles.
The fermented muscaria I've made were great in miso soup. If you want to know how to make the mushrooms safe to eat, there's a link below. This should only be attempted by foragers who can identify amanita mushrooms.
A Study of Cultural Bias in Field Guide Determinations of Edibility Using the Iconic Amanita Muscaria as an Example
North American Mycological Society: Poisoning of Count Achilles de Vecchi
Healthline.com: Can you Smoke Magic Mushrooms?
worthy of a note is also almost identical, Amanita Aprica, which can be identified unlike A.Muscaria's wart-like cap, as having a more smooth, uniform white , later breaking cover on it's cap.
Amanita Aprica is liver damaging.
olli, I think you're confused about it. Do you have a source that proves your claim? http://www.amanitaceae.com/content/uploaded/pdf/aprica.pdf states someone had a reaction in his tongue and felt something where his liver is, but seemed fine otherwise, and only had a small piece of the shroom. the one who ate it to toxic levels, who may have had a different species, had no report of liver damage.
Aprica has the same or very similar toxins that are found in muscaria: ibotenic acid and muscimol. It does NOT contain amatoxins, which are the liver destroying toxins found in the Death Caps and Destroying Angels.
The universal veil of aprica actually grows into the cap skin, so it cannot be removed with a fingernail. The warts on muscaria, pantherina and gemmata can be easily removed. None are recommended for the table, despite the fact that those toxins are water soluble.
Aprica has caused serious poisonings, but not deadly poisonings and not liver damage.
BTW, the universal veil on an amanita is called a volva not a vulva. Two very different structures, on two very different organisms.
actually the volva is the cup-like remnant of the universal veil left surrounding the base... & yes, they most definitely are two very different structures!! lol ;P
Glad that we are in agreement on that spelling and those diffs! 😉
AS to the volva ... that is merely another word for the universal veil, which takes many forms as the young amanita grows and develops. Warts on an amanita cap are also part of the volva, as are the rings around the base of a muscaria, or bits of flocculent material on the stems of blushers or lepidellas. A volva is NOT merely a cup at the base of an amanita stem, but all of these structures, too.
No one said anything about a vulva Karen.
I just found a "flush" of these this morning, after a week or so of regular rain and beginning of MN's cool fall weather. Near Pine City MN, in the grass at a field edge below some larger 3rd growth pin oaks mixed with younger aspens/poplers/white pines/fir trees. Came here on searching Google for species verification- Would post some pictures if it were possible.
They are in mountain iron MN now too, I wish I knew exactly what they were!!
I ate about a 1/2 teaspoon of The Orange- Red Aminita Muscarta Guessowii. In 45 minutes saw brighter lights, a sense of well being and got into Pink Floyd. Did another half a teaspoon and crashed out and slept great! No hangover.
Do u have to add salt when boiling amanita, fly type?
Salt seasons the mushrooms and makes them taste good.
I happen it stumble apon a good size patch of Amanita after they are dried wood is there a place that buys them they are the yellow to orange caps with the white dots any info wood be helpful or if I can’t sell them at all
Consult your local Wicca or alternative religion store. Health stores will think you're crazy.
Just sauteed a few up, delicious! Got a bunch I'm gonna cook up later this week and ferment some.
This is phenomenal information, thank you. I am extremely grateful for the frankness, exhaustive detail and perhaps most of all the lack of hype/woo/handwaving. Really great.
Thanks Michael, yeah the woo-woo is strong with A. muscaria, I don't play that at all.
I just picked 3 rather large shrooms can I just dry them and eat them. Will this cause me to hallucinate and how much of it can I eat safely without boiling it just picking and drying them
If you have to ask me questions like that you need to re-read this article.
I saw 15 is fatal... 🤣🤣🤣 but varies due to potency between individual mushrooms picked. 🍄
Yeah I can't speak to dosage here, and I doubt I ever will.
I found a bunch of these growing in my yard here in upstate NY today 10/16/2021. After collecting and cleaning I have them in my dehydrator.
I read in the article here that the stems taste like calamari when cooked, question, while I read also that only the caps are active are the stems also? Or should they just be used in the described cooking method or discarded?
Thanks also, very recent article here. Everything I was finding was from early 2000's 😁
Eric B Rasmusen
https://www.fungimag.com/archives/Count.pdf is a link for the Count who Died. The link in th article is dead. Thanks for writing the article.
Thanks Eric. I updated it.
Great information in my opinion, by the way I made a very effective cream of fly agaric not too long ago
Im in Eastern NC and I think they have found me. I see amanitas everywhere and we have the yellow muscaria in our area along with brown , I pick these and microdose as it seems to help and increases sensory and awareness and brings you closer to nature. I usually take about a quarter dried cap a day but not everyday.
Thanks for the info John. Not a lot of people share their experiences with it as an entheogen.
I am in SC lowcountry. Lived near the GA border for 20 years with 2000 acres of pine and oak forest behind our house. Usually we gather chanterells July to September. We came across 1 grouping of 5 bright red ones one December and a single bright red one in another February. Then another orange one another year in January. That's was it. Only stumbled upon them when not looking for them. When I wanted one could not find them. Now living in SC lowcountry near North Carolina and have found the orange ones this November everywhere. Just made tea. How does one post pictures here?
Sorry Greg for a number of reasons I can't support images here. You can post in facebook mushroom groups, yahoo mushroom groups, etc.
Thanks for all the info on this fungal friend! One question I've been sitting with that perhaps you can answer: last year, we had these puppies EVERYWHERE in our East-Central Minnesota woods (wetlands with higher portions growing various deciduous groves of aspen, oaks, basswood, maples with a few conifers here and there), and this year I haven't seen any. Not one. Is it just for want of rain, or is Yellow Fly Agaric like Sweetgrass: if humans ignore them, they go away?
Oh no they won't go away. Things fluctuate heavily due to rain. Check on the spots after you get some more rain.
Far out man........peace