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.

 

Just Posted

West Shore RCMP, Search and Rescue, Langford Fire continue search for missing Langford man

31-year-old Joshua Bennett of Langford went missing on March 9

Sooke painter highlights Emily Carr at all-portrait show

Whether or not you are a fan of Emily Carr’s work, check… Continue reading

Search and rescue volunteers work to keep waterways safe

Over 1,000 volunteers help keep mariners safe; headquarters based in Sooke

Victoria police search for missing man and vehicle and travel trailer

Last seen on March 17 driving white Honda Ridgeline bearing B.C. licence plate CG 4316

Red-tailed hawk’s own bill is killing him

‘Most birds with this syndrome will starve to death without treatment’

VIDEO: Can you believe it? This B.C. hill pulls cars backwards up a slope

Sir Isaac Newton had clearly never been to this Vernon anomaly when he discovered gravity

Victoria meme accounts unite residents

Poking fun at common frustrations around Greater Victoria brings laughs

Paramedic staff shortage at critical level: B.C. union

A number of units were out of service due to lack of staffing in Lower Mainland, union says

B.C. lottery winner being sued by Surrey co-workers

They claim he owes them $200,000 each, in a lawsuit filed in B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver

BIG READ: The two sides of the Strait of Georgia roe herring fishery

The case for the Strait of Georgia roe herring fishery Comox fisherman,… Continue reading

Fraser Health under fire again for taxiing homeless man from Langley to Hope

Patient sent to Hope shelter because a spot in the man’s home community couldn’t be located

Dead sea lion discovered on Hornby Island shoreline

Reports indicate animal was shot in the head

Celina Caesar-Chavannes quits Liberal caucus, sits as independent MP

The Whitby, Ont., MP has been a vocal supporter of Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott

Island SPCA overwhelmed by 45 cats taken from Comox Valley property

Many of the cats will be transferred to branches in Nanaimo and Victoria

Most Read