A is for Amanita Muscaria

The white spots can wash off in a heavy rain storm
What is it? Amanita Muscaria or Fly Agaric

Culinary Aspects? Contains muscarine*, or more specifically muscimol, a powerful hallucinogenic. However, this is a very odd mushroom; in itself it isn't necessarily poisonous, but it can be and therein lies the entire 'problem' with mushrooms in general. The most recognisable of all mushrooms is also probably the most misunderstood and the weirdest in terms of how it kind of defies a lot of mushroom logic. The short answer to the question, however, is no (sort of...).

Where have I found it?  Pretty much as common as muck, which probably explains their familiarity to people. The bright red with white blobs is pretty easily recognised. Red = danger and the white flecks don't exactly make it look appealing. I have found this in woods just south of Mallaig, in the West Highlands of Scotland; in the New Forest (more predominantly on the western side) and in several places in Northampton: Harleston Firs; Bradlaugh Fields; Lings Woods; Hardingstone.

Interesting 'facts'? When I said fly agaric isn't edible, I wasn't being strictly truthful. fly agaric is poisonous, but like some other mushrooms we'll come to over the coming months, how to determine whether they are unsafe to eat or not is a complete unknown. As well as containing muscarine, they also contain muscimol, but you could have the biggest mushroom in the world and there might barely be a trace of it, or you could have the smallest fly agaric ever that is absolutely soaked in the stuff. Equally, the big one might have loads, the small one none and in between sizes could vary as widely as the colours of a rainbow. Fly agaric is the real reason why mushrooms are probably mistrusted; why Lewis Carroll had them depicted in Alice in Wonderland and why when we think of magic mushrooms we think of fly agaric.
You could eat one a day for a year and never so much as get a buzz from one, that is how unpredictable these mushrooms are; but, just to throw another spanner in the works, they do contain trace elements of muscarine which is a potentially deadly poison and is present in most of the 'deadly' poisonous mushrooms. The thing that makes fly agaric so unique is that, and this is anecdotal rather than fact based, rarely anyone dies from eating them, but, there is always a risk - especially as the levels of muscarine can be as unpredictable as the levels of muscimol. The muscimol is highly desired, but the muscarine makes it a gamble not worth taking, especially as muscarine can build up in your system and kill you slowly over a period of time (like the Brown Roll Rim can, which we'll get to on B).
Fly agaric have migrated south, but they have always been a mushroom that likes the cold and damp and are most prolific in Lapland. The reindeer herders discovered that their deer ate the mushrooms but were not affected by the poisons (or the drugs); so they could 'process' the fly agaric and they did this by feeding the reindeer the mushrooms and then collecting their urine to drink. They got all the hallucinogenic properties without the poisonous side affects. However, they had to drink reindeer piss to achieve this.

They tend to grow in coniferous forests, under beech trees
and in the vicinity of ferns.
The genus 'amanita' has a number of deadly poisonous mushrooms in its lists, these include Destroying Angel, Panther Cap and Death Cap, but also have the highly prized Caesar's Mushroom, which doesn't grow over here but is much-loved in Italy. In the UK we have the Blusher - a pinkish coloured relation to the Caesar's - and the Tawny Grisset, which are both amanitas and edible, but, you know, even if I was 100% sure, I'm still not convinced I'd want to eat them.

* (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muscarine)
Other Wiki mushroom links:

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