My english teacher made us write "short and nasties," which are one page, double-spaced arguments about some literary thing. Also, he went to college (Occidental) with Obama, or, as he calls him, "Barry." Good times.

    Memory trick: pronounce psilocybin as "sigh-low-sigh-bin". I find that the repeated "sigh" sound helps me remember how the word is spelled. You can find the actual pronunciation here.

Summary

    There are 4 main parts to this book.

    The first part is the introduction. I think this is the most interesting part of the book. More on this in a bit.

    The second part (chapters 1-7) is an overview of psilocybin mushrooms. This includes historical and ecological information. It also includes "good tips for great trips", i.e. substance-use information, and some general tips on how to collect and identify.

    The third part is a field guide on various psilocybin genera (remember, King Phillip Came Over For Good Spaghetti). For each genera, Stamets gives a general overview, followed by a listing of relevant species. Panaeolus and Psilocybe are the genera he focuses on the most. He also talks a bit about deadly look-alikes.

    The fourth part is the appendix. This part includes various diagrams and a glossary. I referred to this section often, because the field guide part uses a lot of specific/unfamiliar terminology. The diagrams are quite useful, so I'll include them here. Excuse my crappy phone camera.

diagramA diagramB diagramC

    Question: what are sinuate and uncinate attachments? From diagram B, it appears that a sinuate attachment is similar to an adnexed attachment, except the attachment broadens close to the stem. Uncinate appears to be attached with a short hook.

Stamets' definition for uncinate fits this website's definition: "gill attachment in which they are attached with a short hook."

However, this website and the Lamella wikipedia page have different definitions. For one, they introduce the "emarginate" attachment, which appears to be equivalent to Stamets' sinuate. Further, their definition of sinuate seems to be equivalent to Stamet's definition of uncinate, and their interpretation lacks the uncinate type. That was kinda confusing. Basically, website emarginate == Stamet's sinuate, and website sinuate == Stamet's uncinate. If anyone knows what's going on here, drop me a line.

Also, am I the only one who thinks some of the drawings in diagram B are absolutely terrible?



    Alright, now that we're done summarizing, let's circle back to the intro. I said it was the most interesting part of the book, and that's because of the story Stamets' tells. I'll paraphrase it here.

In 1975, Stamets and some friends stumble across a motherlode of P. stuntzii near the University of Washington. They collect a crapton and trip. After his trip, Stamets goes to sleep. As he falls asleep, geometric patterns are still lighting up his field of vision. Several hours later, he has a dream.

In his dream, he desperately needs to return to his mountain cabin (and doesn't know why). While he's driving there, he comes across a broad river valley which has flooded. There are hundreds of dead cows floating in the water. After seeing this, the dream abruptly ends.

After waking, Stamets tells his friends about the dream. At first, they make fun of him. Then, one friend asks him when this catastrophe is going to strike. Stamets says that it'll happen soon, on a weekend, but isn't sure of the exact date. The friend points to December 1 on a calendar, which makes Stamets realize that that is the date.

Two weeks later, after torrential rains and nearly record-breaking snowfall, an unusual temperature inversion sweeps over western Washington. Temperatures soar in the mountains, and the sudden thaw quickly turns brooks into raging rivers. Stamets' cabin, located near a glacial creek, is in immediate danger. While driving there, he comes across a number of road blocks, forcing him to take a circuitous route. He finally gets to the cabin and packs up his stuff. When he leaves the next day and enters the Snohomish Valley, he stares in disbelief at hundreds of cattle who, stranded by the rising waters, had drowned overnight. It was December 1.

"This single event shattered my concept of linear time. The future can be foreseen" (7).

I feel like there might be some alternate explanation. Like he saw something similar on the news, or read about something similar, beforehand. But maybe not... something something collective unconscious.

Opinions

    This was an interesting and easy read. It took a while to get through the first few mushrooms of the field guide, mostly because of all the terminology. But soon it became second nature, and I started breezing through descriptions filled with words like appendiculate, sinuate, cespitose, cortinate, etc. Getting acquainted with the lingo should be fairly useful when reading about/discussing/collecting mushrooms.

    As Andrew Weil points out in the foreword, this book caters to "the collector, the scholar, or the prospective user." It's a great field guide, a good general overview of the subject, and has some useful tips for finding and eating these mushrooms. That being said, this book is more focused on collecting and identifying these mushrooms; around 60% of the book serves as a field guide, which can be compared to the single chapter on tripping. Overall, if your only interest is buying and eating these mushrooms, there are probably better books. However, if you're also interested in finding these mushrooms yourself, or learning about them, I would definitely recommend this book.

    Whenever I read about mushrooms, I'm always amazed by how little we know. Some species have been found only a handful of times in the wild. There are countless species which haven't been identified. And there are many open questions: why do mushrooms produce psilocybe?; given its relationship to humans, it's currently an evolutionary advantage, but what advantage would it have served in the past?. Like Stamets' newer book, Mycelium Running, this book is not an executive summary on the subject. Rather, it is a first step into a mysterious world.

Cool Stuff

  • Evidence has been found showing that indigenous Mesoamerican people used psilocybin mushrooms in shamanic ceremonies. This supports the theory "that modern-day mushroom cults are the remnants of an ancient religion practiced by the Aztec and Mayan civilizations" (11).

  • There's evidence suggesting Aristotle, Plato, Homer, and Sophocles would have consumed psilocybin mushrooms during religious ceremonies honoring Demeter, goddess of agriculture.

  • You're more likely to find psilocybes in "disturbed habitats of densely populated areas" (2), such as landscaping in urban cities, than in the wild.

  • The Stametsian rule for targeting psilocybin mushrooms: "If a gilled mushroom has purplish brown to black spores, and the flesh bruises bluish, the mushroom in question is very likely a psilocybin-producing species" (53). Note: do not use only this rule to identify mushrooms. You might die.


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