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 (Ratsch 1998, 674). 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, a type of hat which was popular among 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 wild as far north as British Columbia and 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: it is abundant in Italy, and sporadic in Norway, Switzerland, Holland, and France; there are also reports of this mushroom appearing South Africa, Chile, Northern India, New Zealand, and Australia. This Psilocybe species is prolific in the Pacific Northwest and now, with modern world-wide transportation the spores have spread to the point that this mushroom grows on almost every continent (Ratsch 1998, 674).
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.’ Women in Spain who were accused of witchcraft near the end of the Middle Ages also apparently used this species of mushroom as a visionary aid. 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 liberty cap mushrooms during their solstice ceremonies in Europe (Ratsch 1998, 674).
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. It is said to be consumed by “students and actors” in St. Petersburg, Russia. It has also been consumed for some time in the Pacific Northwest. It is used regularly in Europe, and is thought to be represented on magical amulets from Spain from the 15th and 17th centuries. The mushroom is used ritualistically in Peru (Ratsch 1998, 674-675).
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 its psychoactive compounds. Shortly after the publication of this report, Liberty Caps made their way into popular culture and many people were inspired to seek out this naturally occurring visionary guide (Hofmann et al 2001).
TRADITIONAL PREPARATION: Traditionally, 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 individuals just beginning to participate in ceremonial work. Gradually increasing the dose by 1 gram increments is said to be the safest way to find an optimal dosage. A dose of 30 fresh mushrooms is documented as a very high dose, although there are reports of people taking 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, and in the past uniform standardized doses were made by mixing dried mushroom powder into melted and cooled chocolate (Stamets 1996).
Traditionally, psilocybe mushrooms have also been crushed, and the juice collected and consumed with water. It is advised that one does not quickly swallow mushrooms as soon as they have been eaten. If they are held in the mouth over time, some alkaloids will be absorbed orally, which may result in a quicker onset of effects. In order to assist with nausea, it is said that one may chew on a small piece of fresh ginger after consuming the mushroom material. Mushroom tea was also sometimes prepared for ritual use by chopping the mushrooms, putting them in a teapot with lemon juice or other citrus, pouring some boiled water in, and letting the teapot sit for about 30 minutes. Honey, ginger, peppermint, and other herbs are said to blend very well with this tea. Dried mushrooms are also sometimes powdered and swallowed in gel caps (Voogelbreinder 2009, 287-288).
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 used in the proper clinical setting, in treating alcoholism, and reducing 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.
Fortunately, newer studies by pioneering researchers have once again begun to show the incredible value of these fungi as medicines. A recent study at John Hopkins University, for example, has shown the capacity of Psilocybe mushrooms to induce religious experiences and long-lasting positive life states. Another study by Dr. Moreno has shown that Psilocybe mushrooms may be very useful in the treatment of severe OCD symptoms. We are sure to see more research in to the treatment of various mental imbalances with these wonderful healers in the near future.
TRADITIONAL EFFECTS: 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 (Stamets 1996).
Liberty Caps are 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, and other 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 one can personally communicate with 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 etc.) is also reported, especially when Psilocybe mushrooms are combined with Cannabis sativa (Strafford 1992).