Wandering through the woods today we were welcomed by the most amazing display of fungi that I can remember seeing. Most spectacular were the dozens of fly agaric mushrooms growing by the path.
Firstly it should be pointed out that they are not just very poisonous but also contain a strong hallucinogenic. I don’t know this from experience but I’m happy to accept other people’s and leave well alone.
There are lots of legends attached to fly agarics. One is that the Lapps feed them to their reindeer. Apparently one can drink the reindeer’s urine and enjoy the psychedelics but without the poison, it having been filtered out by the reindeer’s kidneys.
Personally I’d reckon that if you’re the kind of person prepared to drink reindeer pee in pursuit of your jollies then you probably a) don’t need the drugs anyway and b) are probably immune to the toxins in the mushrooms. After all if you’ve survived so long despite yourself a poisonous mushroom is unlikely to do for you.
Another legend is that the red and white fly agaric is remembered in the person of father Christmas – you know the flying reindeer and all that. How that fits in with the idea that FC first donned red and white in the 1930s for a Coca Cola ad campaign (red and white being Coke’s corporate colours) I don’t know. Then again Coca Cola originally contained cocaine. Whichever way you look at it Father Christmas’s reputation has been thoroughly compromised by the druggy circles he seems to have been moving in. One could almost forgive him the association with Will Ferrell.
There were several other types of mushroom including some pretty dramatic purple ones. The colour doesn’t come out well in the picture but it was apparent in the flesh.
I’d really like to learn more about fungi. I remember spending a few days in Scotland and buying the end of a box of chanterelles that someone had picked to sell at a school fete. I can’t remember if the ended up being used in paste or a risotto but I do remember that they were absolutely delicious.
On another holiday in Southern Tuscany we were staying on the slopes of Mount Amiata, known for its mushrooms, especially porcini. The advice was to drive around until we saw a beaten up old car parked in the roadside and to look out for dodgy looking men in shell suits. Apparently these mysterious forest creatures are mushroom hunters.
We found one but of course he was too smart to lead us to his stash. We went back to the little house we’d rented with a bad of unidentified mushrooms that we compared to those on a chart on the kitchen wall. Most were apparently poisonous while a few others could have been fine but they could equally have been deadly poisonous.
We didn’t eat them. Death by mushroom is gruesomely mediaeval.