The Amanita Muscaria

The Amanita Muscaria

Part 1: The mushroom madness

Greenman of Sooke talks about the delectable fungus

Wild and Cultured:  Musings from the GreenMan

Disclaimer:  this article is meant to provoke insight into the many uses and mysteries of the mushrooms that live among us. It is not an invitation to experiment into the potentially lethal ingestion of some of the mushrooms mentioned. Consult with a experienced guide, and not merely a book or website when attempting to identify species for consumption.

 

Meaty, medicinal, mystical…maddening mushrooms.  The allure of the mushroom in our Southern Vancouver Island rain forest climes captivates our deepest animal impulses. When on the hunt, the crazed ‘mushroom eyes’ kick in—the body becomes enveloped by an extra-sensory perception of sorts. Perhaps it is an invisible whiff of a cloud of spores on the air that alerts us to our moss-concealed cousins of the Fungi Kingdom. Whatever one may call it, this ‘mushroom craze’ may be felt as a benign form of madness.

Then again…maybe not.  Some Viking warriors of old would froth into a mad dog frenzy after reportedly consuming a brew of Amanita Muscaria.  Storming battlefield in a wild fury, they were deemed invulnerable to attack. Hence the name, “Beserkers”, who would curdle the blood of the all-too-sober enemies of these insane warriors.

On the other hand, this same species of mushroom  also divined us the gifts and giver in Old St. Nick, or Santa Claus. This beloved jolly figure resembles the Amanita Muscaria, or ‘Fly Agaric’ mushroom, both of whom are portly, jolly and brightly coloured in red and white. The mushrooms were dried and hung by the stockings near the fire place or on trees as ornaments. This entheogenic (“generating the divine within”) fungi is thought to have given rise to the stories of “flying” reindeer, Christmas trees, magical elves, and chimney sliding in relation to the partaking of the shroom.

Deeper into this history of the ‘Fly Agaric’ we discover the magical worlds of the Siberian shaman who entered states of non-ordinary consciousness in order to promote healing, balance and well being in the community. This ‘sacred madness’ is bound deeply to the power-animal relationship that the shamans had with the reindeer, who incidentally loved to eat the mushrooms as well, leading them to prance and trance about wildly….”On Dasher, on Dancer on Prancer on Vixen!!”

The kindred kind of the Amanita range from the scale of ‘choice edible’ Amanita caesarea, to the not so subtle devastatingly poisonous “Destroying Angel” and “Death Cap.”

“Know thy mushrooms!” a Delphic Oracle once whispered into the ears of an initiate in the hove-trodden woods of Pan and the Greenman. We may as well throw in ‘know thy trees’, as mushrooms are often found in a symbiotic jive with chosen species of their arboreal cousins.

On edibility, the mushroom is often said to have a “meaty” texture and “umami” taste:  the taste bud sensation coined by the Japanese which is said to have a pleasant “brothy” or “meaty” taste with an enduring, mouthwatering and coating sensation over the tongue.

Wild mushrooms transcend the tasty but domesticated and monocultured Agaricus bisporus of the grocery store variety.  Portobellos are merely oversized versions of this same tame species.

Both the scarcity and wildness of the choice edibles makes them a rare treat to the cultured palate and gut.  Gastronomically speaking, Lion’s Mane, Chanterelles, Cauliflower, Porcinis, Oysters, Lobsters and Morels have no equal on the humdrum shelves of the shop. These names may sound arcane to the uninitiated in the savoury flavours of fungi, but to those who have ever been tempted by even a morsel of the above, there is no turning back to the mundane world of white supermarket mushrooms.

The wild chef pursues the delectable edible with reverence and desire.  It is this quest for the choice edible that leads the culinary artist to a special kind of madness. When combined with the fanatical devotion of the mushroom hunter, the frenzy gets upped a few more notches.

 

Next time: How mushrooms may restore health and save the planet. Part 2.

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

This male Dungeness can safely be harvested after passing muster. An official with Fisheries and Oceans Canada says it is not clear how well locals on the Saanich Peninsula are complying with crabbing regulations, but her comments suggest that any problems might be of a minor nature. (Department of Fisheries and Oceans/Submitted)
Sidney and Sooke record 57 crabbing violations in 2020

While recreational crab fishery has ‘compliance issues,’ no evidence of ‘large scale poaching’

Police seek information after a pedestrian was hit in a crosswalk at the intersection of Goldstream Avenue and Veterans Memorial Parkway on March 3.(Google Maps)
Witnesses sought in Langford pedestrian hit and run

Suspect is older man driving four-door, gold sedan

The University of Victoria has said some of its students were impacted by an off-campus exposure to COVID-19 last weekend. (Black Press Media file photo)
University of Victoria students impacted by off-campus COVID-19 exposure

UVic has not specified where the exposure occurred

Const. Mat Jones of the CRD Integrated Road Safety Unit joined a team of Saanich police officers and ICBC representatives cracking down on distracted driving at the McKenzie/Quadra intersection in Saanich on March 3. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)
‘Leave the phone alone’: 40 distracted driving tickets issued in two hours at Saanich intersection

Saanich police, CRD Integrated Road Safety Unit crackdown on drivers’ cell-phone use

Cleanup happens after an overnight flood Monday damaged areas of the Oaklands Community Centre. (Facebook/Oaklands Community Association)
Greater Victorians offer flood of support to Oaklands Community Centre

Blown hot water tank Monday night leaves staff cleaning up soggy mess

Health Minister Adrian Dix looks on as Dr. Bonnie Henry pauses for a moment as she gives her daily media briefing regarding COVID-19 for British Columbia in Victoria, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
7 additional deaths and 542 new COVID-19 cases in B.C.

Provincial health officials reported 18 new COVID-19 cases linked to variants of concern

(Black Press Media file photo)
POLL: How’s your butter?

Recent reports have some Canadians giving a second look to one of… Continue reading

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of March 2

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson (Office of the Chief Justice)
Judge questions whether B.C.’s top doctor appreciated right to religious freedom

Lawyer for province says Dr. Henry has outlined the reasons for her orders publicly

A sample of guns seized at the Pacific Highway border crossing from the U.S. into B.C. in 2014. Guns smuggled from the U.S. are used in criminal activity, often associated with drug gangs. (Canada Border Service Agency)
B.C. moves to seize vehicles transporting illegal firearms

Bill bans sale of imitation or BB guns to young people

The City of Duncan will implement a new pilot project targeting vandalism this spring. (File photo)
Graffiti trouble? Duncan will give you the brush and the paint to remove it

Initiative based on a successful project to protect Port Alberni from unwanted spray paint

BC Housing minister David Eby is concerned that Penticton council’s decision to close a local homeless shelter will result in a “tent city” similar to this one in Everett, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / Black Press file)
‘Disappointed and baffled’ B.C. housing minister warns of tent city in Penticton

Penticton council’s decision to close a local homeless shelter could create tent city, says David Eby

The first of Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s long-range maritime patrol aircraft—the Dash-8—becomes operational. (Photo supplied by PAL Aerospace)
Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s new De Havilland Dash-8-100 long-range surveillance air craft is capable of staying aloft for eight to 10 hours for a variety of missions up and down the B.C. coast. (Photo supplied by PAL Aerospace)
New plane will double DFO’s surveillance capacity in B.C.

The Dash-8 will fly out of Campbell River for enforcement, conservation missions

A recently published study out of UBC has found a link between life satisfaction levels and overall health. (Pixabay)
Satisfied with life? It’s likely you’re healthier for it: UBC study

UBC psychologists have found those more satisfied with their life have a 26% reduced risk of dying

Most Read