Fun with Fungi

Just to manage your expectations before you waste five minutes of your life reading this – no so-called ‘magic mushrooms’ were used in the making of this blog. But oh, the magic that came anyway from my two fungi feasts.

In the clinical mental health world, mind-disturbing events are called ‘episodes’. I tend to avoid the clinical lexicon, but this word I shall claim because I like its literary connotation: I’ve had two wonderful episodes in the strange world of mushrooms. And ‘episodic’ implies there might be more…

The first was a Fungi Foray Walk I experienced with the Woodland Trust I was writing a piece for their website about the trip, and I thoroughly enjoyed the finding, touching and smelling of a variety of mushrooms – including some very psychoactive ones – under the auspices of the mycologist guide. Tasting was definitely not on the menu, and we were given strict instructions about hand washing with soap and hot water before our post-walk tea and biscuits.

I did as instructed, so in discussion with the mycologist about what happened to me later, he said he had noticed me intensively smelling and touching all our samples and had meant to tell me not to be such an enthusiastic smeller! But he let it go: he said it was very unusual, though not impossible, that spores had entered my respiratory system and subsequently my digestive system even though I’d not eaten any.

That night, after the walk, I had one of the most astonishing dreams of my life. Months later, I can still see the vibrant colours of whatever natural environment the dream had put me in. Certainly not one I recognise from anywhere on this planet! I can still hear the strange discordant music playing, and I can still see the gigantic butterflies and dancing woodland creatures who resembled no animals I have ever seen in this reality. There was an all-pervading rich heady smell of damp undergrowth and earthy foods such as mushrooms, potatoes, radishes, celery… the foods the mycologist had told us to look – or rather smell – out for when sniffing the fungi we discovered.

Unfortunately, I woke from the dream feeling – and then being – sick. And sick. And sick. Then, activity moved downwards. I will spare you the detail, but suffice to say, as the dream was an experience such as I’ve never had before, or since, so too was the sickness and diarrhoea.

The fun aspect (truly!) was the subsequent inability to consume anything except warm water and bites of dry toast for quite some time, meaning I lost almost a stone: for me, a good thing! And for many weeks afterwards, I continued to have wonderfully vivid dreams full of multi-coloured flowers and bizarre – though always benign – animals and insects.

Later, when normal eating had resumed – and, weirdly, I was craving mushrooms – I bought something slightly more exotic than the usual supermarket tasteless white blobs, but they were just brown and equally tasteless. I also experimented unsuccessfully with some dried products from an oriental delicatessen – might as well have poured salt down my throat. Then… oh, happy day… I came upon the Forest Fungi Cafe in Dawlish Warren, close to my home.

This second fungi episode was more routine – just brunch out with my grandson – though a magical experience in its own right. The display of the different edible mushrooms for sale was a treat in itself and I don’t think I’ve ever eaten growing things which looked, and tasted, so divine. Feast your eyes on these images of shiitake, yellow oyster, and hen of the woods, cultivated in Forest Fungi’s own growing sheds. And on that steaming bowl of tasteful morsels. Look and drooooool… they were delicious. Even their names are something other.

So, like my first fungi episode, this experience was on another planet. Though I hasten to assure you that unlike the first episode the following night, and days, were happy ones. My insides remained inside. I can also assure you that more heavenly ‘sprouting bodies’ (that’s what a mushroom is, apparently), floating in butter and served with truffle oil, will be consumed. My own body will be sprouting, as the lost stone returns.