Liberty cap mushroom (Psilocybe semilanceata) identification
We highly recommend using both the video and the notes below. You are welcome to responsibly reproduce and distribute this information however you like, except if you’re seeking profit, but please cite and link to us.
Remember, in many jurisdictions psilocybin-containing fungi are illegal to possess. Providing this information does not constitute an endorsement of collecting them, but is intended to help you reduce the associated risks if you choose to do so. So make sure you are making an informed decision before collecting and using liberty caps. There are some further tips below the checklist. Even correctly identified liberty caps have the capacity to cause unwanted and even harmful effects if you consume them, and these risks can be minimised but never eliminated.
Liberty cap mushroom checklist
Distribution Can be found in suitable habitat throughout temperate regions worldwide, (from Iceland near the Arctic circle to Assam, India near the Tropic of Cancer) but best known from Europe and North America.
Season and climatic conditions
Commonly found in autumn. In Northern Hemisphere season begins (around August) in cool, wet, high altitude areas, then spreads. Season peaks around September/October in British Isles, and ends when hard frosts arrive. Occasionally found in spring, apparently, (especially in North America)
Commonly found in open grassland pasture or grassy fields grazed by animals (e.g. sheep), where the soil isn’t chemically fertilised or ploughed. Can be near sea-level or uplands. Prefers moist, acid soils. Occasionally other grassy places like parks, lawns, golf courses, cemeteries, sports pitches etc. Always found among grass, sometimes alongside sedges and reeds. The mushroom sprouts from a mycelial network that decomposes dead grass in the matted turf.
Fruiting pattern Commonly found growing near others, often scattered in loose groups. Occasionally found growing alone (e.g. at the edges of the season), or in clusters (but not attached to each other).
Overall shape Always relatively tall and slender for a mushroom, a narrow stalk topped by a small cap. (think semilanceata which means ‘somewhat lance-like”).
Cap size Always relatively small compared to familiar mushrooms. Cap size at maturity (i.e. underside opened, gills exposed) is very variable but roughly around an average thumbnail size. Occasionally up to triple that size, but still with thin and springy flesh, never solid, thick and heavy.
Variable, but is usually like a pointy cone or bell outline from the side. Caps are often slightly wonky and asymmetrical. A selection will not all look the same. It can range from higher than it is wide, like an elf’s hat, to (slightly) wider than it is high.
Cap margin (bottom edge) curves slightly inwards, and may have irregular creases. Occasionally the margin flares outwards, especially in very old specimens.
Typically a prominent ‘nipple’. Sometimes with an ‘areola’. n.b. The tip of a cone shape is NOT a protruding nipple. Lots of other mushroom caps are cone shaped, with a tip.
Occasionally the nipple is not prominent, (but other specimens from the same collection should show prominent nipples).
WHEN MOIST, the cap has a smooth, slippery surface texture, like greasy skin, and shines like semi-gloss paint. The cap flesh is translucent and brown, like caramel sauce, so you can see the darker vertical lines of the gills through. A thin, transparent, fragile jelly skin (pellicle) separates from the cap if you ‘peel’ it.
WHEN DRY, the cap has a smooth surface, with a gentle sheen like eggshell paint. The cap is opaque and ivory-white/yellow, you can’t see the gills except perhaps at the thin margin of the cap. It can’t be peeled.
The flesh is thin and flexible but not fragile.
Stem description Equal thickness all the way up, except maybe slightly thicker at base. Commonly slightly wiggly or has a few subtle natural and individual kinks.
Always long and thin, variable length, but rarely much shorter than a thumb or longer than a hand. Width is more consistent, similar to a match.
Fairly tough and stringy, with a smooth slightly fibrous silky surface texture.
Creamy white, creamy yellow, to orange, can be darker orange-brown towards base, or if soggy or bruised. MAY bruise or dry slightly grey-BLUE, especially at the base.
Stem never has an actual ring, (a physical structure made of solid mushroom stuff). but often has a slight dark spore zone; a dark-stained ring around the stem about a cap’s distance below the cap edge.
Gills and spores
Gills fairly crowded, pale when immature, darkening to dark purple-brown at maturity. Gill edge slopes steeply up, gills not attached to the stem until the very top. Always has very dark purple-brown spores. Never rust-brown or any other shade. Taking a spore-print is the best way to check this, but cannot be done without collecting the mushroom.
Notes on collecting liberty caps
1. It’s best not to collect lots of unidentified mushrooms and then try to identify them later. Not only is this ecologically disruptive, but you lose the contextual information of how and where they grow, and which of them grew together. The mushrooms will be less fresh and may have lost some features, and you are more susceptible to ‘cherry-picking’ and confirmation bias to make ‘false positive’ identifications among your large sample, and to mix up ‘wrong’ mushrooms with ‘right’ mushrooms that grew separately. Remember there are literally thousands of species of small mushroom, and the liberty cap is just one of them, so you will probably not stumble upon them by chance, without knowing about them. So watch the video and learn exactly what to look for before you pick anything.
2. Study the checklist and video in advance, then perhaps when you find 5 or more promising ‘candidate mushrooms’ growing near each other, refer to the resources to try to make a secure identification in the field. You could take quality photos in-situ (including views under the cap) so you can check with an experienced identifier. You can post photos to The Shroomery or Reddit. Whilst there are many skilled identifiers in these places, it would be risky to place total reliance onto internet strangers. Instead, have a good idea yourself first, and see if other people add certainty or raise doubts. The Shroomery also has some excellent resources on liberty cap identification. If you want another virtual foraging trip on YouTube to further train your eye, Sentient Pebble knows his liberty caps.
3. If you choose to collect the mushrooms, re-check the identification at home (consider taking a spore print) before promptly drying the collection for safe preservation and storage. Careful storage minimises risks by increasing the predictability and consistency of the potency. Food dehydrators are best for this. Then store them in an airtight container in the dark with a silica gel desiccant sachet. Stored properly, they last almost indefinitely, so you have all the time you might need for preparing yourself. Store away from curious children or anyone else who could be at risk.
4. It is best not to take any chances with foraging, and to just leave anything you are not convinced are liberty caps. Aside from the tiny risk of dangerous or fatal toxicity, it also could be distressing to trip on a collection of liberty caps which include enough misidentified ‘imposter’ mushrooms to upset your stomach. Even if you do only have liberty caps, it can induce distressing and distracting health worries to trip on liberty cap mushrooms if you are not 100% confident about your identification, especially as all psychedelics can cause and exaggerate minor physical sensations (e.g. sweating, nausea and weakness) that can be mistaken for poisoning. So being able to relax in absolute confidence of what you have collected is an invaluable part of the ‘set and setting’ that maximise the chance of a good psychedelic experience. Remember though that making a serious or deadly misidentification is extremely rare, (and hopefully even rarer if you’re reading this and have watched the video) despite many thousands of people using foraged psychedelic mushrooms. Passing nausea and even vomiting can be a side-effect of even purified medical-grade psilocybin in a minority of individuals, (and indeed a normal symptom of feeling nervous about a psychedelic journey) so if you have carefully identified the mushrooms and yet experience mild symptoms, do not fear the worst and assume you have poisoned yourself. These symptoms normally pass after a while. 5. Carefully identifying your liberty caps is just the first step of an endless learning path you can take to have a more rewarding and lower-risk relationship with mushrooms. We’ll be sharing more guidance with members of the Forest in future, so please join. In the meantime, do as much reading, watching, talking and listening as you can. Look for the resources that suit you best, because feeling a sense of resonance and trust in your sources is fundamentally important to feeling secure and ready to have a psychedelic experience. However, try to remain open to diverse perspectives, to avoid the risks of ignoring facts or wisdom you might not want to hear. For example, you might feel most at home with a practical evidence-led approach, you might feel most supported by an approach from an experienced guide for whom using liberty caps is a spiritual practice. If you are new to psychedelics, remember that you also do not need to start by plunging in with a high-dose liberty cap experience. Doses of less than 1 dry gram of these potent mushrooms can have significant effects.