LONDON — “Shrooms in the queen’s garden” may sound like a trippy 1960’s song title, but it’s actually a fact.
Hallucinogenic mushrooms have been discovered on the grounds of Buckingham Palace in London — which is home to Britain’s Queen Elizabeth. Celebrity gardener Alan Titchmarsh spotted the red-and-white fly agaric — also known as Amanita muscaria .
While filming a U.K. gardening show, Alan Titchmarsh, a well-known horticulturist, saw the red-and-white fly agaric. The mushroom, also known as Amanita muscaria, is known to have psychoactive properties if ingested. A spokesman for Buckingham Palace confirmed the discovery and noted: “There are several hundred fungi species in the palace garden, including a small number of naturally occurring fly agaric mushrooms,” he said.
Titchmarsh described the discovery as “a surprise,” adding: “I won’t be eating any.” Neither, it seems, will any members of the royal family. Officials have made clear that fungi from the garden are not used in palace kitchens.
Amanita muscaria, commonly known as the fly agaric or fly amanita, is a mushroom and psychoactive basidiomycete fungus, one of many in the genus Amanita. Native throughout the temperate and boreal regions of the Northern Hemisphere, Amanita muscaria has been unintentionally introduced to many countries in the Southern Hemisphere, generally as a symbiont with pine and birch plantations, and is now a true cosmopolitan species. It associates with various deciduous and coniferous trees.
The quintessential toadstool, it is a large white-gilled, white-spotted, usually red mushroom, one of the most recognizable and widely encountered in popular culture. Several subspecies with differing cap colour have been recognised, including the brown regalis (often considered a separate species), the yellow-orange flavivolvata, guessowii, formosa, and the pinkish persicina. Genetic studies published in 2006 and 2008 show several sharply delineated clades that may represent separate species.
Although it is generally considered poisonous, reports of human deaths resulting from eating the mushroom are extremely rare. After parboiling—which removes the mushroom’s psychoactive substances—it is eaten in parts of Europe, Asia, and North America. Amanita muscaria is noted for its hallucinogenic properties, with its main psychoactive constituent being the compound muscimol. The mushroom was used as an intoxicant and entheogen by the peoples of Siberia, and has a religious significance in these cultures.
There has been much speculation on possible traditional use of this mushroom as an intoxicant in places other than Siberia, such as the Middle East, India, Eurasia, North America, and Scandinavia. The American banker and amateur ethnomycologist R. Gordon Wasson proposed that the fly agaric was the soma of the ancient Rig Veda texts of India; since its introduction in 1968, this theory has gained both followers and detractors in anthropological literature.
The Dead Sea Scrolls scholar John Marco Allegro also proposed that early Christianity sprang from cultic use of the fly agaric in Second Temple Judaism, and that the mushroom itself was used by the Essenes as an allegory for Jesus Christ.