Monday, September 22, 2014

For Alice, the Vikings and ... Santa Claus?

Amanita muscaria
A beautiful and abundant mushroom that grows everywhere in the Boreal Forest, including right here at Bow Narrows Camp, is Amanita muscaria.
This mushroom is the quintessential toadstool. It is highly hallucinogenic and probably deadly as well.
It is the famed mushroom that Alice nibbled in Alice and Wonderland and then shrank in size and had such a fantastic adventure.
It is also the fungus that the Vikings ate before battle, making them fight in such an insane fury that they were called "berserkers." Research has shown that one of the active chemicals in A. muscaria prevents a person from using the part of the brain that registers fear.
A chubby, red-and-white 'shoom
Some scholars also think Amanita muscaria had a role to play in the story about Santa Claus. Although the ones I photographed above are yellow or orange in colour, they also come in bright red. And when they first pop out of the ground, they are very chubby, you could say jolly-looking. And they have those white spots. They are red and white and 'jolly.'
Then there is the part in the poem The Night Before Christmas. If you remember, Santa and his reindeer are tiny, much like Alice.
The reindeer are also a link. Reindeer, or caribou, are known to eat the mushroom and then act peculiar. They jump about like they were trying to fly.
Some animal, probably squirrels, eat the ones here in the yard. Just a nibble. Apparently that is all it takes.
If you are thinking of "tripping" on this 'shroom, you better read the following first: in some areas, A. muscaria isn't just hallucinatory, it is deadly. It is listed in mushroom books simply as poisonous.
I have never known or even heard about anyone using the fungus recreationally here in Northwestern Ontario, not even the First Nations people who seemed to have a use for every plant. There is probably a good reason for that.
There are also other Amanita species that are absolutely fatal and they look a great deal like A. muscaria. In fact, I can't swear the mushrooms I have photographed here are not those species.
My advice is to leave them alone. 
Must have been "flying" squirrels that nibbled these

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I like your caption under the bottom picture Dan. "Flying Squirrels" Not sure everyone caught that, so I thought I would point it out.
Dave M.