Amanita Muscaria: The Magical Mushroom of the North
Amanita muscaria (also known as fly agaric or fly aminita) is a 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 name of the mushroom is due to its large size and resemblance to a fly perched on a mushroom – from its cap being likened to an insect wing (especially a wing of a fly), and its stalk being the body.
The mushroom is best known for its psychoactive properties, which cause an altered state of consciousness when consumed due to the presence of ibotenic acid and muscimol (not present in synthetic pure cultures). These compounds are members of the alkaloid class of chemicals, which are defined as nitrogen-containing natural compounds with a multi-ring molecular structure.
Amanita muscaria is the most recognisable of the true toadstools, and can be distinguished from other species by its generally bright red cap covered with white warts, while the stipe, or stalk, is white. It is a large mushroom, with a characteristic roundish cap usually around 10–25 cm (4–10 in) diameter; however, it grows to as much as 50 cm (20 in) with a stem up to 15 cm (6 in). It is one of the most recognisable and widely encountered in popular culture.
It has been taken by some indigenous and pre-industrial peoples for its hallucinogenic properties.
The original method of preparation is unknown; however, popular modern methods use boiling or steaming, which destroys or weakens the mushroom’s psychoactive substances (Amanitin). Therefore, there has been a limited level of concurrence among modern users as to the proper preparation method.
The two most common modern methods of preparation are sautéeing and tea infusion. Amanita muscaria is generally considered poisonous, and ingestion can result in severe stomach aches and diarrhea that can last for days; there have been no reported human deaths from this mushroom as of 2010. However, despite its reputation as a poisonous fungus, there are several cases in which the mushroom has been consumed with no ill effects.
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