By Ina Woolcott
Psilocybe is a genus of small mushrooms that grow globally. This genus is well known for its species with hallucinogenic properties, commonly referred to as magic mushrooms, though the majority of species don’t contain hallucinogenic compounds. The hallucinogenic compounds responsible for the hallucinogenic effects are Psilocin and psilocybin.
The word psilocybe comes from Greek, which translated literally mean ‘bare headed’, referring to the mushroom’s plain cap.
Psilocybe are typically small, non-descript mushrooms, hard to tell apart from others when one doesn’t know how to tell them apart! Macroscopically, they are characterized by their small or sometimes medium size, their brown to yellow-brown coloration,
Hallucinogenic species generally have a blue staining reaction when the fruiting body is bruised. The blue-staining species of Psilocybe contain psilocin and psilocybin. The blue-staining reaction, is not entirely understand, but is thought to be a degradation reaction of psilocin. Thus, the extent to which Psilocybe fruiting body goes blue, is a direct link to the concentration of psilocin in the mushroom. Psilocybin is chemically far more stable than psilocin. Psilocin is largely lost when the mushroom is heated or dried. Some psychoactive species contain baeocystin and norbaeocystin, as well as psilocin and psilocybin.
The species in this genus are distributed world wide in most climates and habitats, high deserts being the exception. There are 60 species of Psilocybe in the USA, 25 of these are hallucinogenic. For the bluing Psilocybe, the largest species diversity is in the neotropics, from Mesoamerica to Brazil and Chile.
Many of the bluing species found in temperate areas, e.g. P. cyanescens, seem to have a natural attraction to landscaped areas mulched with woodchips. They are actually pretty rare in remote, natural settings away from where humans reside.
A popular myth is that Psilocybe mushrooms grow on dung – this is only true however for a minority of the species, P. coprophila and P. cubensis being examples. Many other species are found in forest humus soils or mossy, grassy environments.
* Psilocybe cubensis, Stropharia cubensis – this is the most commonly grown and consumed Psilocybe, as it is easy to cultivate.
* Psilocybe semilanceata – this is found in northern temperate climates and is also known as the liberty cap.
* Psilocybe cyanescens – found in the Pacific Northwest of North America, and also found in western Europe. Has the nicnames wavy-cap or wavies.
* Psilocybe azurescens – a highly potent species found in Oregon, but popular in outdoor cultivation, nicknamed azies.
Related article: History and Legal Status of Psilocybe Mushrooms