What Are Liberty Caps – One Of The Most Potent Magic Mushrooms

What Are Liberty Caps – One Of The Most Potent Magic Mushrooms

Liberty caps (Psilocybe semilanceata) are a species of psilocybin mushroom. They are one of the most widely popular psilocybin mushrooms in nature, as well as one of the most potent. They have a recognizable appearance (reflected in the name “liberty cap”) and the first documented account of their psychoactive effects is an interesting one.

In this guide on liberty caps, we will take a look at the various aspects of these common and potent psilocybin mushrooms, including how you can identify them.

RELATED: Brain Damage From Alcohol May Be Reversed By Using Magic Mushrooms, Per Study

The History Of Liberty Caps

The history of liberty caps begins with the first recorded account of their psychoactive effects. On October 3 1799, Dr. Everard Brande was called to the London home of a poor family who was experiencing an array of symptoms. They felt they had been poisoned.

Brande wrote a full description of the incident for the Medical and Physical Journal. The father of the family, who Brande identified as “J.S.”, had begun his day as usual in the autumn. He went down to Green Park at dawn to collect small field mushrooms to serve to his family for breakfast as part of a broth.

But, about an hour after their breakfast, the family developed some strange and alarming symptoms. “J.S.” developed vertigo, a loss of balance, and black spots spreading across his vision. The rest of the family complained of poisoning, stomach cramps, and their extremities becoming cold. The father left the house to get some help. But within a few hundred yards, he fell into a confused state, having forgotten where he was going and why.

When Dr. Brande arrived, the family’s symptoms were ebbing and flowing.

They would experience intense symptoms, return to normal, and then develop their symptoms again. The family was convinced they were dying, except for the eight-year-old son, Edward, who had taken the largest dose of mushrooms.

He “was attacked with fits of immoderate laughter”, which neither his father nor mother could calm him down from. The doctor observed that Edward’s pupils were extremely dilated and that he was speaking nonsense.

Brande was unaware of the exact species of mushroom that had caused these symptoms. It was not until the late 1960s that the mushroom was conclusively became the Psilocybe semilanceata.

Additional Research

It was matched to an illustration of the small mushroom by the botanical artist James Sowerby, found in his book Coloured Figures of English Fungi or Mushrooms (1803). The artist had read the account from Brande and drew the mushrooms he thought were responsible.

The Swedish mycologist and botanist Elias Magnus Fries first described the species as Agaricus semilanceatus in his 1838 work Epicrisis Systematis Mycologici.

The German scientist Paul Kummer transferred the species to the Psilocybe genus in 1871.

The Danish mycologist Jakob Emanuel Lange named the species Panaeolus semilanceatus in 1936, which is a synonym for it.

A 1969 article in Transactions of the British Mycological Society established that liberty caps mushrooms contain psilocybin.

How Liberty Caps Got Their Name

The mushroom takes its common name from the Phrygian cap, also known as the “liberty cap”, which it resembles. The original liberty cap was a hat worn by freed slaves in the Roman world to mark their status. They were no longer property but not truly “free”. The hat was a symbol of both pride and shame.

Marcus Junius Brutus, who was involved in the murder of Julius Caesar in 44 BC, minted coins to advertise his part in the deed. The coin bore the abbreviation “EID MAR”, which stands for the Ides of March, the day Caesar was assassinated. The coin also features a pair of daggers and the distinctive liberty cap. The cap then came to be an elite political symbol, employed by emperors to stress the freedom that their absolute rule allowed them to enjoy.

However, in the 16th century, with a growing interest in — and emulation of — Roman antiquity, awareness of the liberty cap resurfaced. When the Dutch drove out the Spanish from Holland in 1577, coins featuring the liberty cap were minted. William of Orange also minted coins bearing the liberty cap, to commemorate his seizure of the English throne in 1688.

Further Findings

It wasn’t until the two great republican revolutions of the 18th century (the French and American revolutions) that the liberty cap became a popular icon. It blended with the visual form of the more ancient Phrygian cap and became not just a symbol but an actual item of headwear or decoration. Adrastos Omissi, a lecturer in Latin Literature at the University of Glasgow, writes the following.

“In France, on June 20 1790, an armed mob stormed the royal apartments in the Tuileries and forced Louis XVI (later to be executed by the revolutionaries) to don the liberty cap. Revolutionary groups in America declared their rebellion against British rule by raising a liberty cap upon a pole in the public squares of their towns. In 1781 a medal, designed by no less than Benjamin Franklin to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, Libertas Americana (the personification of American Liberty) is depicted with wild, free flowing hair, the pole and cap of liberty slung across her shoulder.”

The liberty cap later became associated with the species Psilocybe semilanceata. In 1812, the English poets Robert Southey and Samuel Taylor Coleridge published Omniana, a two-volume collection of table talk and musings. The two report the following.

“There is a common fungus, which so exactly represents the pole and cap of liberty, that it seems offered by nature herself as the appropriate emblem of Gallic republicanism, — mushroom patriots, with a mushroom cap of liberty.”

They did not identify the precise mushroom they had in mind here.

However, in later mycological handbooks, Psilocybe semilanceata was identified as the liberty cap.

In 1894, the English botanist and mycologist Mordecai Cooke published his book Edible and Poisonous Mushroom, in which he refers to Psilocybe semilanceata as the “cap of liberty”.

The Appearance Of Liberty Caps Mushrooms

As well as resembling the famed cap, there are other aspects of the appearance of liberty caps that you should know about. This will help you to identify them. This species is more or less indistinguishable from Psilocybe pelliculosa. The latter differs in that it has smaller spores.

Description

  • Pileus. The cap of Psilocybe semilanceata is 5-30 mm in diameter and 6-22 mm tall. It varies in shape from sharply conical to bell-shaped, often with a prominent papilla (the nipple-shaped structure). The cap does not change significantly as the mushroom ages. And the cap margin initially rolls inwards, but it unrolls to become straight or even curled upwards as the mushroom matures. Also, the cap is hygrophanous, meaning it takes on different colors depending on how hydrated it is. When moist, the cap is ochre to pale brown to chestnut brown and darker in the center. When dry, the cap is much paler, more like a light yellow-brown color. The caps have a sticky surface when moist.
  • Gills. The underside of the mushroom’s cap has between 15 and 27 individual narrow gills, moderately crowded together. Their color is initially pale brown but they become dark gray to purple-brown with a lighter edge as the mushroom matures.
  • Stipe. A slender yellowish-brown stipe is 4-5 cm long and 1-3.5 mm thick. It is typically slightly thicker toward the base.
  • Veil. Liberty caps have a thin cobweb-like partial veil that does not last long before disappearing.
  • Taste and Odor. Farinaceous (like freshly ground flour).

Where Do Liberty Caps Grow?

Liberty caps grow solitarily or in groups on rich and acidic soil, usually in grasslands, such as meadows, pastures, or lawns. You can often find these mushrooms in pastures, where sheep and cow dung is fertilization. However, it does not grow directly on the dung, as Psilocybe cubensis mushrooms do.

The Mexican mycologist (and Psilocybe authority) Gastón Guzmán wrote in his 1983 monograph on psilocybin mushrooms that liberty caps are the world’s most widespread psilocybin mushroom species. This is because it is in a large number of countries, with widespread distribution in Europe — where they are a native species.

One can find liberty caps in the following countries.

  • Austria
  • Belarus
  • Belgium
  • Bulgaria
  • The Channel Islands
  • Czech Republic
  • Denmark
  • Estonia
  • The Faroe Islands
  • Finland
  • France
  • Georgia
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • Hungary
  • Iceland
  • Ireland
  • Italy
  • Latvia
  • Lithuania
  • The Netherlands
  • Norway
  • Poland
  • Russia
  • Slovakia
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland
  • Turkey
  • The United Kingdom
  • Ukraine
  • Pakistan

Liberty caps are also have wide distribution in North America. In Canada, you can find them in British Columbia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Ontario, and Quebec.

In the U.S., liberty caps most commonly grow in the Pacific Northwest, west of the Cascade Mountains. They grow abundantly in autumn and early winter.

The species is much less common in South America, with the mushroom being in Chile. It is native to New Zealand, too, where it grows in high-altitude grasslands.

A Potent Psilocybin Mushroom

Liberty caps are one of the most potent psilocybin mushrooms that exist.

The German chemist Jochen Gartz, in 1993, reported an average of 1 percent psilocybin in dried specimens of Psilocybe semilanceata, ranging from at least 0.2 percent to a maximum of 2.37 percent (the highest psilocybin concentration reported for a mushroom).

On average, Psilocybe azurenscens (considered the most potent psilocybin mushroom) contains more psilocybin (1.78 percent). Smaller specimens of liberty caps usually have the highest concentrations of psilocybin. However, the absolute amount is higher in larger mushrooms.

It’s important to be aware of the high potency of liberty caps before deciding to consume them. One needs to consume a lower dosage of liberty caps in comparison to Psilocybe cubensis in order to reach the same intensity of subjective effects.

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Sam Woolfe

View all posts by Sam Woolfe

Sam Woolfe is a freelance writer based in London. His main areas of interest include mental health, mystical experiences, the history of psychedelics, and the philosophy of psychedelics. He first became fascinated by psychedelics after reading Aldous Huxley's description of the mescaline experience in The Doors of Perception. Since then, he has researched and written about psychedelics for various publications, covering the legality of psychedelics, drug policy reform, and psychedelic science.

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