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Amanita muscaria

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Amanita muscaria, commonly known as the fly agaric or fly

amanita, is a mushroom and psychoactive basidiomycete fungus,
one of many in the genus Amanita. Native throughout the temperate
and boreal regions of the Northern Hemisphere, Amanita muscaria
has been unintentionally introduced to many countries in the
Southern Hemisphere, generally as a symbiont with pine and birch
plantations, and is now a true cosmopolitan species. It associates with
various deciduous and coniferous trees.
The quintessential toadstool, it is a large white-gilled, white-spotted,
usually red mushroom, one of the most recognisable and widely
encountered in popular culture. Several subspecies with differing cap
colour have been recognised, including the brown regalis (often
considered a separate species), the yellow-orange flavivolvata,
guessowii, formosa, and the pinkish persicina. Genetic studies
published in 2006 and 2008 show several sharply delineated clades
that may represent separate species.

Amanita muscaria

Showing three stages as the mushroom


Scientific classification

Although classified as poisonous, reports of human deaths resulting

from its ingestion are extremely rare. After parboilingwhich
weakens its toxicity and breaks down the mushroom's psychoactive
substancesit is eaten in parts of Europe, Asia, and North America.
Amanita muscaria is noted for its hallucinogenic properties, with its
main psychoactive constituent being the compound muscimol. The
mushroom was used as an intoxicant and entheogen by the peoples of
Siberia, and has a religious significance in these cultures. There has
been much speculation on possible traditional use of this mushroom
as an intoxicant in other places such as the Middle East, Eurasia,
North America, and Scandinavia.














A. muscaria
Binomial name

Amanita muscaria
(L.) Lam. (1783)

1 Taxonomy and naming
1.1 Classification
2 Description
3 Distribution and habitat
4 Toxicity
4.1 Pharmacology
4.2 Symptoms
4.3 Treatment
5 Psychoactive use
5.1 Siberia
5.2 Other reports of entheogenic use
5.3 Vikings
6 In Religion

Amanita muscaria
Mycological characteristics
gills on hymenium
cap is flat
or convex
hymenium is free
stipe has a ring and volva
spore print is white

6.1 Soma
6.2 Christianity
7 Culinary use
8 Cultural depictions
8.1 Literature
8.2 Christmas decorations and Santa Claus
9 See also
10 References
11 Further reading
12 External links

ecology is mycorrhizal
edibility: poisonous
or psychoactive

Taxonomy and naming

The name of the mushroom in many European languages is thought to be derived from its use as an
insecticide when sprinkled in milk. This practice has been recorded from Germanic- and Slavic-speaking
parts of Europe, as well as the Vosges region and pockets elsewhere in France, and Romania.[1] Albertus
Magnus was the first to record it in his work De vegetabilibus some time before 1256,[2] commenting
vocatur fungus muscarum, eo quod in lacte pulverizatus interficit muscas, "it is called the fly mushroom
because it is powdered in milk to kill flies."[3]
The 16th-century Flemish botanist Carolus Clusius traced the
practice of sprinkling it into milk to Frankfurt in Germany,[4] while
Carl Linnaeus, the "father of taxonomy", reported it from Smland in
southern Sweden, where he had lived as a child.[5] He described it in
volume two of his Species Plantarum in 1753, giving it the name
Agaricus muscarius,[6] the specific epithet deriving from Latin musca
meaning "fly".[7] It gained its current name in 1783, when placed in
the genus Amanita by Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, a name sanctioned in
1821 by the "father of mycology", Swedish naturalist Elias Magnus
Fries. The starting date for all the mycota had been set by general
agreement as January 1, 1821, the date of Fries's work, and so the full
name was then Amanita muscaria (L.:Fr.) Hook. The 1987 edition of
the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature changed the rules
on the starting date and primary work for names of fungi, and names
can now be considered valid as far back as May 1, 1753, the date of
publication of Linnaeus's work.[8] Hence, Linnaeus and Lamarck are
now taken as the namers of Amanita muscaria (L.) Lam..

Showing the partial veil under the cap

dropping away to form a ring around
the stipe

The English mycologist John Ramsbottom reported that Amanita

muscaria was used for getting rid of bugs in England and Sweden, and bug agaric was an old alternate name
for the species.[3] French mycologist Pierre Bulliard reported having tried without success to replicate its flykilling properties in his work Histoire des plantes vnneuses et suspectes de la France (1784), and
proposed a new binomial name Agaricus pseudo-aurantiacus because of this.[9] One compound isolated
from the fungus is 1,3-diolein ( 1,3-Di(cis-9-octadecenoyl)glycerol), which attracts insects.[10] It has been
hypothesised that the flies intentionally seek out the fly agaric for its intoxicating properties.[11] An
alternative derivation proposes that the term fly- refers not to insects as such but rather the delirium resulting

from consumption of the fungus. This is based on the medieval belief that flies could enter a person's head
and cause mental illness.[12] Several regional names appear to be linked with this connotation, meaning the
"mad" or "fool's" version of the highly regarded edible mushroom Amanita caesarea. Hence there is oriol
foll "mad oriol" in Catalan, mujolo folo from Toulouse, concourlo fouolo from the Aveyron department in
Southern France, ovolo matto from Trentino in Italy. A local dialect name in Fribourg in Switzerland is tsapi
de diablhou, which translates as "Devil's hat".[13]

Amanita muscaria is the type species of the genus. By extension, it is also
the type species of Amanita subgenus Amanita, as well as section Amanita
within this subgenus. Amanita subgenus Amanita includes all Amanita with
inamyloid spores. Amanita section Amanita includes the species which have
very patchy universal veil remnants, including a volva that is reduced to a
series of concentric rings and the veil remnants on the cap to a series of
patches or warts. Most species in this group also have a bulbous base.[14][15]
Amanita section Amanita consists of A. muscaria and its close relatives,
including A. pantherina (the panther cap), A. gemmata, A. farinosa, and
A. xanthocephala.[16] Modern fungal taxonomists have classified Amanita
muscaria and its allies this way based on gross morphology and spore
inamyloidy. Two recent molecular phylogenetic studies have confirmed this
classification as natural.[17][18]

Amanita muscaria var.

formosa sensu Thiers,
southern Oregon Coast

Amanita muscaria varies considerably in its morphology, and many

authorities recognise several subspecies or varieties within the species. In
The Agaricales in Modern Taxonomy, German mycologist Rolf Singer listed
three subspecies, though without description: A. muscaria ssp. muscaria, A. muscaria ssp. americana, and
A. muscaria ssp. flavivolvata.[14]
Contemporary authorities recognise up to seven varieties:
var. muscaria, the typical red-and-white spotted variety. Some authorities, such as Rodham Tulloss,
only use this name for Eurasian and western Alaskan populations.[15][19]
var. flavivolvata is red, with yellow to yellowish-white warts. It is found from southern Alaska down
through the Rocky Mountains, through Central America, all the way to Andean Colombia. Rodham
Tulloss uses this name to describe all "typical" A. muscaria from indigenous New World
var. alba, an uncommon fungus, has a white to a silvery white cap that has white warts but is similar to
the usual form of mushroom.[15][21]
var. formosa, has a yellow to orange-yellow cap with yellowish warts and stem (which may be tan).
Some authorities (cf. Jenkins) use the name for all A. muscaria which fit this description worldwide,
others (cf. Tulloss) restrict its use to Eurasian populations.[15][22]
var. guessowii has a yellow to orange cap, with the centre more orange or perhaps even reddish
orange. It is found most commonly in northeastern North America, from Newfoundland and Quebec
south all the way to the state of Tennessee. Some authorities (cf. Jenkins) treat these populations as
A. muscaria var. formosa, while others (cf. Tulloss) recognise them as a distinct variety.[15][22]
var. persicina is pinkish to orangish, sometimes called "melon"-coloured, with poorly formed, or at
times absent remnants of universal veil on the stem and vassal bulb; it is known from the southeastern

coastal areas of the United States, and was described in 1977.[15][23] Recent DNA sequencing suggests
this may be a separate species which may require naming.
var. regalis, from Scandinavia and Alaska.[24] is liver-brown and has yellow warts. It appears to be
distinctive, and some authorities (cf. Tulloss) treat it as a separate species, while others (cf. Jenkins)
treat it as a variety of the A. muscaria.[15][25]
A 2006 molecular phylogenetic study of different regional
populations of A. muscaria by mycologist Jzsef Geml and
colleagues found three distinct clades within this species
representing, roughly, Eurasian, Eurasian "subalpine", and North
American populations. Specimens belonging to all three clades have
been found in Alaska; this has led to the hypothesis that this was the
centre of diversification for this species. The study also looked at
four named varieties of the species: var. alba, var. flavivolvata, var.
formosa (including var. guessowii), and var. regalis from both areas.
All four varieties were found within both the Eurasian and North
American clades, evidence that these morphological forms are

Amanita muscaria var. guessowii has

a yellow to orange cap surface, with
the centre of the cap more orange or
perhaps even reddish orange.

polymorphisms rather than distinct subspecies or varieties.[26]

Further molecular study by Geml and colleagues published in 2008
show that these three genetic groups, plus a fourth associated with
oakhickorypine forest in the southeastern United States and two more on Santa Cruz Island in California,
are delineated from each other enough genetically to be considered separate species; thus A. muscaria as it
stands currently is evidently a species complex.[27] The complex also includes at least three other closely
related taxa that are currently regarded as species:[19] A. breckonii is a buff-capped mushroom associated
with conifers from the Pacific Northwest,[28] and the brown-capped A. gioiosa and A. heterochroma from the
Mediterranean Basin and from Sardinia respectively. Both of these last two are found with Eucalyptus and
Cistus trees, and it is unclear whether they are native or introduced from Australia.[29][30]

A large, conspicuous mushroom, Amanita muscaria is generally
common and numerous where it grows, and is often found in groups
with basidiocarps in all stages of development. Fly agaric fruiting
bodies emerge from the soil looking like white eggs. After emerging
from the ground, the cap is covered with numerous small white to
yellow pyramid-shaped warts. These are remnants of the universal
veil, a membrane that encloses the entire mushroom when it is still
very young. Dissecting the mushroom at this stage will reveal a
characteristic yellowish layer of skin under the veil; this is helpful in
identification. As the fungus grows, the red colour appears through
the broken veil and the warts become less prominent; they do not
change in size, but are reduced relative to the expanding skin area.
The cap changes from globose to hemispherical, and finally to plate-

Cross section of fruiting body,

showing pigment under skin and free

like and flat in mature specimens.[31] Fully grown, the bright red cap is usually around 820 cm (38 in) in
diameter, although larger specimens have been found. The red colour may fade after rain and in older

The free gills are white, as is the spore print. The oval spores measure 913 by 6.59 m; they do not turn
blue with the application of iodine.[32] The stipe is white, 520 cm high (28 in) by 12 cm (0.40.8 in)
wide, and has the slightly brittle, fibrous texture typical of many large mushrooms. At the base is a bulb that
bears universal veil remnants in the form of two to four distinct rings or ruffs. Between the basal universal
veil remnants and gills are remnants of the partial veil (which covers the gills during development) in the
form of a white ring. It can be quite wide and flaccid with age. There is generally no associated smell other
than a mild earthiness.[33][34]
Although very distinctive in appearance, the fly agaric has been mistaken for other yellow to red mushroom
species in the Americas, such as Armillaria cf. mellea and the edible Amanita basiia Mexican species
similar to A. caesarea of Europe. Poison control centres in the U.S. and Canada have become aware that
amarill (Spanish for 'yellow') is a common name for the A. caesarea-like species in Mexico.[22] Amanita
caesarea can be distinguished by its entirely orange to red cap which lacks the numerous white warty spots
of the fly agaric. Furthermore, the stem, gills and ring of A. caesarea are bright yellow, not white.[35] The
volva is a distinct white bag, not broken into scales.[36] In Australia, the introduced fly agaric may be
confused with the native vermilion grisette (Amanita xanthocephala), which grows in association with
eucalypts. The latter species generally lacks the white warts of A. muscaria and bears no ring.[37]

Distribution and habitat

Amanita muscaria is a cosmopolitan mushroom, native to conifer and
deciduous woodlands throughout the temperate and boreal regions of
the Northern Hemisphere,[26] including higher elevations of warmer
latitudes in regions such as Hindu Kush, the Mediterranean and also
Central America. A recent molecular study proposes that it had an
ancestral origin in the SiberianBeringian region in the Tertiary
period, before radiating outwards across Asia, Europe and North
A. muscaria in a Pinus radiata
plantation, near Mount Field National
Park, Tasmania

America.[26] The season for fruiting varies in different climates:

fruiting occurs in summer and autumn across most of North America,
but later in autumn and early winter on the Pacific coast. This species
is often found in similar locations to Boletus edulis, and may appear
in fairy rings.[38] Conveyed with pine seedlings, it has been widely

transported into the southern hemisphere, including Australia,[39] New Zealand,[40] South Africa[41] and
South America, where it can be found in the southern Brazilian states of Paran[26] and Rio Grande do
Ectomycorrhizal, Amanita muscaria forms symbiotic relationships with many trees, including pine, spruce,
fir, birch, and cedar. Commonly seen under introduced trees,[43] A. muscaria is the fungal equivalent of a
weed in New Zealand, Tasmania and Victoria, forming new associations with southern beech
(Nothofagus).[44] The species is also invading a rainforest in Australia, where it may be displacing the native
species.[43] It appears to be spreading northwards, with recent reports placing it near Port Macquarie on the
New South Wales north coast.[45] It was recorded under silver birch (Betula pendula) in Manjimup, Western
Australia in 2010.[46] Although it has apparently not spread to eucalypts in Australia, it has been recorded
associating with them in Portugal.[47]

Amanita muscaria poisoning has occurred in young children and in people
who ingested the mushrooms for a hallucinogenic experience.[12][48][49]
Occasionally it has been ingested in error, because immature button forms
resemble puffballs.[50] The white spots sometimes wash away during heavy
rain and the mushrooms then may appear to be the edible A. caesarea.[51]
Amanita muscaria contains several biologically active agents, at least one of
which, muscimol, is known to be psychoactive. Ibotenic acid, a neurotoxin,
serves as a prodrug to muscimol, with approximately 1020% converting to
muscimol after ingestion. An active dose in adults is approximately 6 mg
muscimol or 30 to 60 mg ibotenic acid;[52][53] this is typically about the
amount found in one cap of Amanita muscaria.[54] The amount and ratio of
chemical compounds per mushroom varies widely from region to region and
season to season, which can further confuse the issue. Spring and summer
mushrooms have been reported to contain up to 10 times more ibotenic acid

Mature. The white spots may

wash off with heavy rainfall

and muscimol than autumn fruitings.[48]

A fatal dose has been calculated as 15 caps.[55] Deaths from this fungus A. muscaria have been reported in
historical journal articles and newspaper reports,[56][57][58] but with modern medical treatment, fatal
poisoning from ingesting this mushroom is extremely rare.[59] Many older books list Amanita muscaria as
"deadly", but this is an error that implies the mushroom is more toxic than it is.[60] The North American
Mycological Association has stated there were no reliably documented fatalities from eating this mushroom
during the 20th century.[61] The vast majority (90% or more) of mushroom poisoning deaths are from eating
the greenish to yellowish "death cap", (A. phalloides) or perhaps even one of the several white Amanita
species which are known as destroying angels.[62]
The active constituents of this species are water-soluble, and boiling and then discarding the cooking water
at least partly detoxifies A. muscaria.[63] Drying may increase potency, as the process facilitates the
conversion of ibotenic acid to the more potent muscimol.[64] According to some sources, once detoxified, the
mushroom becomes edible.[65][66]

Muscarine, discovered in 1869,[67] was long thought to be the active
hallucinogenic agent in A. muscaria. Muscarine binds with
muscarinic acetylcholine receptors leading to the excitation of
neurons bearing these receptors. The levels of muscarine in Amanita
muscaria are minute when compared with other poisonous fungi[68]
such as Inocybe erubescens, the small white Clitocybe species C.
dealbata and C. rivulosa. The level of muscarine in A. muscaria is
too low to play a role in the symptoms of poisoning.[69]

Muscimol, the principal psychoactive

constituent of A. muscaria

The major toxins involved in A. muscaria poisoning are muscimol

(3-hydroxy-5-aminomethyl-1-isoxazole, an unsaturated cyclic
hydroxamic acid) and the related amino acid ibotenic acid. Muscimol
is the product of the decarboxylation (usually by drying) of ibotenic
acid. Muscimol and ibotenic acid were discovered in the mid-20th
century.[70][71] Researchers in England,[72] Japan,[73] and
Switzerland[71] showed that the effects produced were due mainly to
ibotenic acid and muscimol, not muscarine.[10][70] These toxins are
not distributed uniformly in the mushroom. Most are detected in the
cap of the fruit, a moderate amount in the base, with the smallest
Ibotenic acid, a prodrug to muscimol
amount in the stalk.[74][75] Quite rapidly, between 20 and 90 minutes
found in A. muscaria
after ingestion, a substantial fraction of ibotenic acid is excreted
unmetabolised in the urine of the consumer. Almost no muscimol is
excreted when pure ibotenic acid is eaten, but muscimol is detectable in the urine after eating A. muscaria,

which contains both ibotenic acid and muscimol.[53]

Ibotenic acid and muscimol are structurally related to each other and to two major neurotransmitters of the
central nervous system: glutamic acid and GABA respectively. Ibotenic acid and muscimol act like these
neurotransmitters, muscimol being a potent GABAA agonist, while ibotenic acid is an agonist of NMDA
glutamate receptors and certain metabotropic glutamate receptors[76] which are involved in the control of
neuronal activity. It is these interactions which are thought to cause the psychoactive effects found in
intoxication. Muscimol is the agent responsible for the majority of the psychoactivity.[12][54]
Muscazone is another compound that has more recently been isolated from European specimens of the fly
agaric. It is a product of the breakdown of ibotenic acid by ultra-violet radiation.[77] Muscazone is of minor
pharmacological activity compared with the other agents.[12] Amanita muscaria and related species are
known as effective bioaccumulators of vanadium; some species concentrate vanadium to levels of up to 400
times those typically found in plants.[78] Vanadium is present in fruit-bodies as an organometallic compound
called amavadine.[78] The biological importance of the accumulation process is unknown.[79]

Fly agarics are known for the unpredictability of their effects. Depending on habitat and the amount ingested
per body weight, effects can range from nausea and twitching to drowsiness, cholinergic crisis-like effects
(low blood pressure, sweating and salivation), auditory and visual distortions, mood changes, euphoria,
relaxation, ataxia, and loss of equilibrium.[48][49][54][57]
In cases of serious poisoning the mushroom causes delirium, somewhat similar in effect to anticholinergic
poisoning (such as that caused by Datura stramonium), characterised by bouts of marked agitation with
confusion, hallucinations, and irritability followed by periods of central nervous system depression. Seizures
and coma may also occur in severe poisonings.[49][54] Symptoms typically appear after around 30 to 90
minutes and peak within three hours, but certain effects can last for several days.[51][53] In the majority of
cases recovery is complete within 12 to 24 hours.[63] The effect is highly variable between individuals, with

similar doses potentially causing quite different reactions.[48][53][80] Some people suffering intoxication have
exhibited headaches up to ten hours afterwards.[53] Retrograde amnesia and somnolence can result following

Medical attention should be sought in cases of suspected poisoning. If the delay between ingestion and
treatment is less than four hours, activated charcoal is given. Gastric lavage can be considered if the patient
presents within one hour of ingestion.[81] Inducing vomiting with syrup of ipecac is no longer recommended
in any poisoning situations.[82]
There is no antidote, and supportive care is the mainstay of further treatment for intoxication. Though
sometimes referred to as a deliriant and while muscarine was first isolated from A. muscaria and as such is
its namesake, muscimol does not have action, either as an agonist or antagonist, at the muscarinic
acetylcholine receptor site, and therefore atropine or physostigmine as an antidote is not recommended.[83] If
a patient is delirious or agitated, this can usually be treated by reassurance and, if necessary, physical
restraints. A benzodiazepine such as diazepam or lorazepam can be used to control combativeness, agitation,
muscular overactivity, and seizures.[48] Only small doses should be used, as they may worsen the respiratory
depressant effects of muscimol.[84] Recurrent vomiting is rare, but if present may lead to fluid and
electrolyte imbalances; intravenous rehydration or electrolyte replacement may be required.[54][85] Serious
cases may develop loss of consciousness or coma, and may need intubation and artificial ventilation.[49][86]
Hemodialysis can remove the toxins, although this intervention is generally considered unnecessary.[63] With
modern medical treatment the prognosis is typically good following supportive treatment.[59][63]

Psychoactive use
Unlike psilocybin mushrooms, the effects of A. muscaria have generally been considered undesirable for
recreational use. The effects of intoxication can be variously described as depressant, sedative-hypnotic,
dissociative, and deliriant; paradoxical effects may occur. Perceptual phenomena such as macropsia and
micropsia may occur, which may have been the inspiration for the effect of mushroom-consumption in
Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.[87] Additionally, A. muscaria cannot be commercially
cultivated, due to its mycorrhizal relationship with the roots of pine trees. However, following the outlawing
of psilocybin mushrooms in the United Kingdom in 2006, the sale of the still legal A. muscaria began
Professor Marija Gimbutas, a renowned Lithuanian historian, reported to R. Gordon Wasson on the use of
this mushroom in Lithuania. In remote areas of Lithuania Amanita muscaria has been consumed at wedding
feasts, in which mushrooms were mixed with vodka. The professor also reported that the Lithuanians used to
export A. muscaria to the Lapps in the Far North for use in shamanic rituals. The Lithuanian festivities are
the only report that Wasson received of ingestion of fly agaric for religious use in Eastern Europe.[89]

Amanita muscaria was widely used as an entheogen by many of the indigenous peoples of Siberia. Its use
was known among almost all of the Uralic-speaking peoples of western Siberia and the Paleosiberianspeaking peoples of the Russian Far East. There are only isolated reports of A. muscaria use among the

Tungusic and Turkic peoples of central Siberia and it is believed that on the whole entheogenic use of
A. muscaria was not practised by these peoples.[90] In western Siberia, the use of A. muscaria was restricted
to shamans, who used it as an alternative method of achieving a trance state. (Normally, Siberian shamans
achieve trance by prolonged drumming and dancing.) In eastern Siberia, A. muscaria was used by both
shamans and laypeople alike, and was used recreationally as well as religiously.[90] In eastern Siberia, the
shaman would take the mushrooms, and others would drink his urine.[91] This urine, still containing
psychoactive elements, may be more potent than the A. muscaria mushrooms with fewer negative effects
such as sweating and twitching, suggesting that the initial user may act as a screening filter for other
components in the mushroom.[92]
The Koryak of eastern Siberia have a story about the fly agaric (wapaq) which enabled Big Raven to carry a
whale to its home. In the story, the deity Vahiyinin ("Existence") spat onto earth, and his spittle became the
wapaq, and his saliva becomes the warts. After experiencing the power of the wapaq, Raven was so
exhilarated that he told it to grow forever on earth so his children, the people, could learn from it.[93] Among
the Koryaks, one report said that the poor would consume the urine of the wealthy, who could afford to buy
the mushrooms.[94]

Other reports of entheogenic use

The Finnish historian T. I. Itkonen mentions that A. muscaria was once used among the Sami people:
sorcerers in Inari would consume fly agarics with seven spots.[95] In 1979, Said Gholam Mochtar and
Hartmut Geerken published an article in which they claim to have discovered a tradition of medicinal and
recreational use of this mushroom among a Parachi-speaking group in Afghanistan.[96] There are also
unconfirmed reports of religious use of A. muscaria among two Subarctic Native American tribes. Ojibwa
ethnobotanist Keewaydinoquay Peschel reported its use among her people, where it was known as the
miskwedo.[97][98] This information was enthusiastically received by Wasson, although evidence from other
sources was lacking.[99] There is also one account of a Euro-American who claims to have been initiated
into traditional Tlicho use of Amanita muscaria.[100]

The notion that Vikings used A. muscaria to produce their berserker rages was first suggested by the
Swedish professor Samuel dmann in 1784.[101] dmann based his theories on reports about the use of fly
agaric among Siberian shamans. The notion has become widespread since the 19th century, but no
contemporary sources mention this use or anything similar in their description of berserkers. Muscimol is
generally a mild relaxant, but it can create a range of different reactions within a group of people.[102] It is
possible that it could make a person angry, or cause them to be "very jolly or sad, jump about, dance, sing or
give way to great fright".[102]

In Religion
See also: Botanical identity of Soma-Haoma

In 1968, R. Gordon Wasson proposed that A. muscaria was the Soma talked about in the Rig Veda of
India,[103] a claim which received widespread publicity and popular support at the time.[104] He noted that
descriptions of Soma omitted any description of roots, stems or seeds, which suggested a mushroom,[105]
and used the adjective hri "dazzling" or "flaming" which the author interprets as meaning red.[106] One line
described men urinating Soma; this recalled the practice of recycling urine in Siberia. Soma is mentioned as
coming "from the mountains", which Wasson interpreted as the mushroom having been brought in with the
Aryan invaders from the north.[107] Indian scholars Santosh Kumar Dash and Sachinanda Padhy pointed out
that both eating of mushrooms and drinking of urine were proscribed, using as a source the Manusmti.[108]
In 1971, Vedic scholar John Brough from Cambridge University rejected Wasson's theory and noted that the
language was too vague to determine a description of Soma.[109] In his 1976 survey, Hallucinogens and
Culture, anthropologist Peter T. Furst evaluated the evidence for and against the identification of the fly
agaric mushroom as the Vedic Soma, concluding cautiously in its favour.[110]

Philologist, archeologist, and Dead Sea Scrolls scholar John Marco Allegro
postulated that early Christian theology was derived from a fertility cult
revolving around the entheogenic consumption of A. muscaria in his 1970
book The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross,[111] but his theory has found little
support by scholars outside the field of ethnomycology. The book was roundly
discredited by academics and theologians, including Sir Godfrey Driver,
Emeritus Professor of Semitic Philology at Oxford University, and Henry
Chadwick, the Dean of Christ Church, Oxford.[112] Christian author John C.
King wrote a detailed rebuttal of Allegro's theory in the 1970 book A Christian
View of the Mushroom Myth; he notes that neither fly agarics nor their host
trees are found in the Middle East, even though cedars and pines are found
there, and highlights the tenuous nature of the links between biblical and
Sumerian names coined by Allegro. He concludes that if the theory was true,
the use of the mushroom must have been "the best kept secret in the world" as

Mosaic of red mushrooms,

found in the Christian
Basilica of Aquileia in
northern Italy, dating to
before 330 AD.

it was so well concealed for two thousand years.[113][114]

Recent studies of Allegro's work have given new supporting linguistic evidence and led to calls for his
theories to be re-evaluated by the mainstream.[115]

Culinary use
The toxins in A. muscaria are water-soluble. When sliced thinly, or finely diced and boiled in plentiful water
until thoroughly cooked, it seems to be detoxified.[65] Although its consumption as a food has never been
widespread,[116] the consumption of detoxified A. muscaria has been practised in some parts of Europe
(notably by Russian settlers in Siberia) since at least the 19th century, and likely earlier. The German
physician and naturalist Georg Heinrich von Langsdorff wrote the earliest published account on how to
detoxify this mushroom in 1823. In the late 19th century, the French physician Flix Archimde Pouchet was
a populariser and advocate of A. muscaria consumption, comparing it to manioc, an important food source in
tropical South America that must be detoxified before consumption.[65]

Use of this mushroom as a food source also seems to have existed in North America. A classic description of
this use of A. muscaria by an African-American mushroom seller in Washington, D.C., in the late 19th
century is described by American botanist Frederick Vernon Coville. In this case, the mushroom, after
parboiling, and soaking in vinegar, is made into a mushroom sauce for steak.[117] It is also consumed as a
food in parts of Japan. The most well-known current use as an edible mushroom is in Nagano Prefecture,
Japan. There, it is primarily salted and pickled.[118]
A 2008 paper by food historian William Rubel and mycologist David Arora gives a history of consumption
of A. muscaria as a food and describes detoxification methods. They advocate that Amanita muscaria be
described in field guides as an edible mushroom, though accompanied by a description on how to detoxify it.
The authors state that the widespread descriptions in field guides of this mushroom as poisonous is a
reflection of cultural bias, as several other popular edible species, notably morels, are toxic unless properly

Cultural depictions
The red-and-white spotted toadstool is a common image in many aspects of
popular culture.[32] Garden ornaments and children's picture books depicting
gnomes and fairies, such as the Smurfs, often show fly agarics used as seats,
or homes.[32][120] Fly agarics have been featured in paintings since the
Renaissance,[121] albeit in a subtle manner. In the Victorian era they became
more visible, becoming the main topic of some fairy paintings.[122] Two of
the most famous uses of the mushroom are in the video game series Super
Mario Bros. (specifically two of the power-up items and the platforms in
several stages),[123] and the dancing mushroom sequence in the 1940 Disney
film Fantasia.[124]

Moritz von Schwind's 1851
painting of Rbezahl features
fly agarics.[119]

An account of the journeys of Philip von Strahlenberg to Siberia and his

descriptions of the use of the mukhomor there was published in English in
1736. The drinking of urine of those who had consumed the mushroom was
commented on by Anglo-Irish writer Oliver Goldsmith in his widely read
1762 novel, Citizen of the World.[127] The mushroom had been identified as

the fly agaric by this time.[128] Other authors recorded the distortions of the size of perceived objects while
intoxicated by the fungus, including naturalist Mordecai Cubitt Cooke in his books The Seven Sisters of
Sleep and A Plain and Easy Account of British Fungi.[129] This observation is thought to have formed the
basis of the effects of eating the mushroom in the 1865 popular story Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.[125]
A hallucinogenic "scarlet toadstool" from Lappland is featured as a plot element in Charles Kingsley's 1866
novel Hereward the Wake based on the medieval figure of the same name.[130] Thomas Pynchon's 1973
novel Gravity's Rainbow describes the fungus as a "relative of the poisonous Destroying Angel" and presents
a detailed description of a character preparing a cookie bake mixture from harvested Amanita muscaria.[131]
Fly agaric shamanism is also explored in the 2003 novel Thursbitch by Alan Garner.[132]

Christmas decorations and Santa Claus

Fly agarics appear on Christmas cards and New Year cards from
around the world as a symbol of good luck.[133] The ethnobotanist
Jonathan Ott has suggested that the idea of Santa Claus and tradition
of hanging stockings over the fireplace is based centrally upon the fly
agaric mushroom.[80] He argues that Santa Claus' suit, with its red
and white colour scheme, is related to the mushroom. However, Civil
War cartoonist Thomas Nast first changed the color of Santa Claus'
coat from tan to red, and it was popularized by early Coca-Cola
Christmas ads.[134] Jonathan Ott also draws parallels with flying
reindeer: reindeer had been reported to consume the mushroom and
prance around in an intoxicated manner afterwards.[135] American
ethnopharmacologist Scott Hajicek-Dobberstein, researching possible
links between religious myths and the red mushroom, notes, "If Santa
Claus had but one eye [like Odin], or if magic urine had been a part
of his legend, his connection to the Amanita muscaria would be
much easier to believe."[136]
The connection was reported to a wider audience with an article in

Jose de Creeft's sculpture Alice in

Wonderland in Eastern Central Park,
New York. Alice sits on a mushroom,
inviting children to climb up and join
her. The mushroom in the sculpture is
not a faithfully reproduced Amanita
muscaria; the reference within Lewis
Carroll's original literary work upon
which the sculpture is based is often

the magazine of The Sunday Times in 1980,[137] and New Scientist in

1986.[138] Historian Ronald Hutton has since disputed the connection;[139] he noted reindeer spirits did not
appear in Siberian mythology, shamans did not travel by sleigh, nor did they wear red and white, or climb
out of smoke holes in yurt roofs.[140]

See also
List of Amanita species



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the appearance of the fly agaric mushroom in our own culture. This is the famous example from Lewis Carroll's Alice
in Wonderland, the caterpillar sitting on the mushroom. Alice bites a little piece of this to get larger / smaller. So
there is some evidence that Lewis Carroll himself was aware of some of the properties of eating these mushrooms,
and the way in which it altered perception. And so the image of the fly agaric became very common in Victorian
literature, especially associated with faeries and little people sitting on mushrooms and toadstools.
127. Letcher, p 122.
128. Letcher, p 123.
129. Letcher, p 125.
130. Letcher, p 127.
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134. True History of the Modern Day Santa
135. Wasson, Soma:Divine Mushroom of Immortality, p 238.
136. Hajicek-Dobberstein, S. (October 1995). "Soma siddhas and alchemical enlightenment: psychedelic mushrooms in
Buddhist tradition". Journal of Ethnopharmacology 48 (2): 99118. doi:10.1016/0378-8741(95)01292-L.
PMID 8583800.
137. Taylor, R. (21 December 1980). "Who is Santa Claus?". Sunday Times Magazine (London: Times Newspapers Ltd):
138. Morgan, A. (December 1986). "Who put the toad in toadstool?". New Scientist 25: 4447.
139. Hutton, R. (1996). The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
pp. 11819. ISBN 0-19-820570-8.
140. Letcher, p 139.

Further reading
Allegro, John (2009). The sacred mushroom and the cross (40th anniversary ed.). Crestline, CA: Gnostic Media.
ISBN 978-0-9825562-7-6.
Arora, David (1986). Mushrooms demystified: a comprehensive guide to the fleshy fungi (2nd ed.). Berkeley: Ten
Speed Press. ISBN 0-89815-169-4.
Benjamin, Denis R. (1995). Mushrooms: poisons and panaceasa handbook for naturalists, mycologists and
physicians. New York: WH Freeman and Company. ISBN 0-7167-2600-9.
European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (2006). Hallucinogenic mushrooms: an emerging trend
case study (PDF). EMCDDA Thematic Papers. Lisbon, Portugal: European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug
Addiction. ISBN 92-9168-249-7. Archived (PDF) from the original on 6 March 2009. Retrieved 2009-02-13.
Letcher, Andy (2006). Shroom: A Cultural history of the magic mushroom. London: Faber and Faber. ISBN 0-57122770-8.
Ramsbottom, J. (1953). Mushrooms & Toadstools. Collins. ISBN 1-870630-09-2.
Wasson, R. Gordon (1968). Soma: Divine Mushroom of Immortality. Harcourt Brace Jovanovick. ISBN 0-88316517-1.
Wasson, R. Gordon (1980). The Wondrous Mushroom: Mycolatry in Mesoamerica. McGraw-Hill. ISBN 0-07068443-X.
Furst, Peter T. (1976). Hallucinogens and Culture. Chandler & Sharp. pp. 98106. ISBN 0-88316-517-1.

External links
Webpages on Amanita species (
by Tulloss and Yang Zhuliang
Magic Mushrooms and Reindeer - Weird Nature. A short video
on the use of Amanita muscaria mushrooms by the Sami
people and their reindeer produced by the BBC. [1]
Amanita on

Wikimedia Commons has

media related to Amanita
Wikispecies has information
related to: Amanita

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Categories: Amanita Entheogens Fungi described in 1753 Fungi naturalized in Australia
Fungi of Asia Fungi of Europe Fungi of North America Fungi of South America
Invasive fungus species Oneirogens Poisonous fungi Psychoactive fungi
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