Common Names: Blue Leg, Liberty Caps, Meditationspilz, Magic Mushrooms, Narrenschwamm, Paddlestool, Pixie Caps, Psilo, Schwammerl, Shrooms, Witch Cap, Zwergenhut.
Psilocybe Semilanceata is a small mushroom that grows between 1.5 inches (4 cm) and 4 inches (10 cm) tall with a tiny mushroom cap between 1/5 of an inch (5 mm) to 1 inch (25 mm) wide. When fresh, the color ranges from a light olive to dark reddish chestnut brown, and then fades to a light tan or pale yellow when dried. As the spores mature the gills vary in color from dark brown to a deep dark purple. This mushroom usually looks moist and feels wet and slimy to the touch. It is believed that it derived its common name, Liberty Cap, from the mushroom cap's similarity to the phrygian cap, which was popular amoung Parisians during the French Revolution; although this association is oblique, it is applicable.
Liberty Caps grow in grassy plains, cattle pastures, lawns and fields. Unlike Psilocybe Cubensis, P.Semilanceata does not grow directly on fresh cattle dung; rather, this mushroom prefers moist grasses and other damp regions. It can be found growing wildly as far north as British Columbia, Canada, and to the south throughout the coastal forests of Washington, Oregon, and northern California. There are also verified accounts of this mushroom appearing in Europe: abundantly in Italy, and sporadically in Norway, New Zealand, Switzerland, Holland, and France; there are also reports of this mushroom appearing South Africa, Chile, Northern India and Australia. This Psilocybe species is prolific in the Pacific Northwest and now with modern world-wide transportation it has become truly cosmopolitan and grows on almost every continent.
Psilocybe Semilanceata was first described in 1900, by Civil War veteran, Charles McIlvaine in his seminal mycological treatise “One Thousand American Fungi,” where he described the Liberty Cap and all of its “strange effects.” However, it wasn’t until 1963 when Albert Hofmann and Roger Heim extensively studied the mushroom and published a report detailing this mushroom’s psychoactive compounds. Shortly after their publication, Liberty Caps made their way into popular culture and inspired many people to seek out this naturally occurring hallucinogen.
According to Paul Stamets’ book “Psilocybin Mushrooms of the World,” P.Semilanceata contains nearly 30% more psilocybin than the common Cubensis variety. Specifically, this Psilocybe species contains nearly 1% psilocybin, .36% baeocystin and only trace amounts of psilocin. The positive aspect of this compound ratio is that psilocybin is a much more stable compound and can last for years with minimal degradation; the negative aspect is that psilocybin tends to be slightly less psychoactive than psilocin. This species is often sought for its high alkaloid content and its distinctive and unique physical / macroscopic characteristics. All of these compounds are illegal in most parts of the world.
Traditional Use: Ritual use of psychedelic mushrooms in general can be dated back to the Neolithic age (9500 BCE) where cave art from northern Italy depicts mushrooms being used for shamanic purposes and sacred ceremonies. There is also anecdotal evidence of Alpine nomads revering the mushroom and calling it the ‘dream mushroom.’ However, specific use of the Liberty Cap in modern ceremonies has only been traced back to the late 1970’s and early 1980’s when evidence first surfaced of a Pagan cult using Psilocybe Semilanceata during their solstice ceremonies in Europe. There are many modern accounts of this mushroom being used, typically outdoors, in sweat-bath rituals, pipe ceremonies, fasting rites, communal circles and in group and individual meditation.
Traditional Preparation: Typically, Psilocybe mushrooms are dried at low temperatures, not exceeding 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 C), and stored at 14 degrees Fahrenheit (-10 C) to preserve the active compounds over long periods of times. When dried, a dose of 2 grams is considered a good starting point for beginners, and then gradually increasing the dose by 1 gram increments is the safest way to find an optimal dosage. A dose of 30 fresh mushrooms is considered a very high dose, although there are reports of people taking as significantly more mushrooms at one time. It is believed that there is a strong synergy between the compounds present in high quality premium chocolate and hallucinogenic mushrooms, as such in the past uniform standardized doses were made by mixing dried mushroom powder into melted and cooled chocolate.
Medicinal Use: During the 50’s and 60’s there was some research conducted on psychedelics like LSD and Psilocybe mushroom, to determine their efficacy as an aid in psychotherapy sessions; there were also very promising studies conducted at that time that illustrated just how effective these compounds could be when in the proper clinical setting to treat alcoholism, and to reduce criminal recidivism. However, due to the Controlled Substance Act of 1970, these potentially beneficial compounds were listed as Schedule One substances and deemed to have absolutely no acceptable medicinal uses or treatment applications. As a result, all research was ended under the penalty of law.
Traditional Effects: This is a very powerful Shamanic traveling sacrament; the experience begins with waves of warmth and energy pulsating throughout the body. As time progresses visual hallucinations begin, ordinary colors become vibrant shimmering and jewel-like, undulating patterns seem to jump out of ordinary solid object; anthropomorphism gives life to the inanimate, ordinary everyday objects take on a life of their own, and seem to be imbued with emotion, personality human characteristics. Auditory and tactile hallucinations are also reported.
At higher doses the experience becomes transcendent, ethereal and mystical; one may feel like time slows down and ceases altogether, or that they can personally communicate with their God, and feelings of universal oneness and a deep connection with nature are also reported. Synesthesia, the mixing of sensory input (i.e. seeing sounds, feeling flavors, tasting images ect.) is also reported when combined with Cannabis Sativa.
Further research needs to be conducted to honestly evaluate its potential application in psychology, psychiatry and to further human cultural evolution. Unfortunately, ingesting these compounds is a crime in most parts of the world, so any study can only be historical, rather than actually working directly with this fungus or any preparations that may have been made from it.
Escohotado, Antonio. 1999. A Brief History of Drugs: From the Stone Age to the Stoned Age. Park Street Press; Rochester, VT.
Ratsch, Christian. 2005. The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants: Ethnopharmacology and Its Applications. Park Street Press; Rochester, VT.
Schultes, Richard E; Hofmann, Albert; Ratsch, Christian. 2001. Plants of the Gods: Their Sacred, Healing and Hallucinogenic powers. Healing Arts Press; Rochester, VT.
Stamets, Paul. 1996. Psilocybe Mushrooms of the World: An Identification Guide. Ten Speed Press; Berkeley, CA.
Strafford, Peter. 1992. Psychedelics Encyclopedia, Third Edition. Ronin Publishing; Berkeley, CA