How to Identify Liberty Cap Mushrooms

The dainty, ribbed and pointed cap on slender stems belie a potentially poisonous little edible growing in grasslands around the world. The Liberty Cap mushroom, also known as a magic mushroom for its psychedelic effects, has long been used as a hallucinogenic in many cultures around the world for thousands of years. While some say it is safer to ingest than processed drugs for a fast feeling of euphoria that can last for hours, the Liberty Cap mushroom can also be dangerous to ingest.

The Magic Mushroom or Liberty Cap (Psilocybe semilanceata)
credit: Juan Ramón Ramos Rivero/iStock/GettyImages
How to Identify Liberty Cap Mushrooms

Liberty Cap Mushroom Facts

  • The Liberty Cap mushroom is also known as a magic mushroom. The flesh of Liberty Cap mushrooms contains the psychoactive compounds of psilocybin.



  • There are nearly 200 varieties of psilocybin mushrooms growing in damp, grassy areas all over the world.

  • It is wildly abundant in forests and glens. It is also one of the most potent types of mushrooms found on the floors of wooded areas and in grassy knolls.

  • The Liberty Cap mushroom is a dainty and potentially deadly mushroom. The pointy-capped plant has its benefits and its risks.

  • The Liberty Cap has a long growing season, continually sprouting from August to November.

Shape of Liberty Cap Mushrooms

While the different types of edible mushrooms that are stuffed on grocery shelves can be confusing to identify, Liberty Cap mushrooms have a distinct shape that can alert mushroom pickers.

Liberty Cap mushrooms are so called because of the distinctive hat they wear on their weaving stalks. The bell-shaped, conical caps are barely an inch in diameter. The caps come to a pointy head and are chartreuse to brown in coloring. They have long lines that radiate down the moist caps. As they mature, the color fades from a rich taupe to a grayish brown.

The grooves that run from the nipple-like top down to the rounded-edged bottom tend to fade as the mushroom dries out. This can make dried psilocybe semilanceata mushrooms harder to distinguish from their less-dangerous and passive counterparts.

Where Liberty Cap Mushrooms Grow

The tiny-capped mushrooms prefer wet areas that are undisturbed by foot traffic or grazing by farm animals. They can be found growing in thick numbers in grassland habitats. Liberty caps also like to grow in cooler areas like the Pacific Northwest of the United States, but they're also becoming more common in the UK as temperatures increase over the cooler months. Normally it takes a freeze for the fungi to die off.

Identifying Magic Mushrooms

It can be rather difficult to identify mushrooms that you have picked from the wild. There are many different types of magic mushrooms aside from the Liberty Cap. To know if you are picking magic mushrooms when foraging for the spongy edibles, there are a few distinct things to look for.

  • Search in the lower areas of meadows and fields.

  • Liberty Caps are common on the west coast of the United States, particularly in the northwestern states of Washington and Oregon.

  • If the cap leaves behind dark, purplish-brown spores when placed on a piece of paper while drying out, it is more than likely a Liberty Cap mushroom.

Dangers of Picking Wild Mushrooms

If you are not sure what a psychedelic-inducing mushroom looks like, then you probably shouldn't traipse through the woods randomly picking mushrooms.

It can be hard to distinguish a nonpsilocybin mushroom from a magic mushroom that will alter your state of mind. The accidental ingestion of psilocybin mushrooms can create lasting psychological effects. Because they are natural, ingesting them can produce unpredictable results.

Types of Magic Mushrooms

There are dozens of species of psychedelic mushrooms that grow in fields and forests around the world. The average size of the magic mushroom species is tiny. They grow to just 3 inches with a 1-inch cap.

  • Psilocybe semilanceata – This is the actual Liberty Cap mushroom. It adores a damp place to grow its delicate stems and caps. It doesn't like dung but does like a wet, marshy ground with good, natural fertilizer. It can be mistaken for psilocybe pelliculosa, which can be a serious mistake. The psilocybe semilanceata is much stronger than its cousin psilocybe pelliculosa.

  • Psilocybe baeocystis – Found growing in cheery groups along the tops of rotting logs, mounds of peat or mulch, this dark-brown capped mushroom also goes by the names of blue bell and bottle cap.

  • Psilocybe cubensis – Larger than other varieties in this genus, this type of magic mushroom is the most common. It is also called a golden cap or Mexican mushroom. It can be identified by its reddish-brown cap over a pale yellow or white stem. The skin of this magic mushroom turns bluish when it is crushed while still fresh and sticky. It enjoys mounds of dung where it can proliferate.

Dangers of Magic Mushrooms

The United States Drug Enforcement Administration classifies psilocybin as a Schedule 1 controlled substance. This means the DEA views it as a dangerous drug that can be abused with no medical importance.

It can cause some problems such as:

  • Irregular breathing
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Potential psychotic states
  • Potential seizures
  • Increase in blood pressure
  • Temporary vision problems

It is nearly impossible to truly gauge the exact amount of psilocybin you are ingesting when munching on dried magic mushrooms or sipping on Liberty Cap-infused teas.

History of Magic Mushrooms

Hallucinogenic mushrooms have been used in religious ceremonies and for medicinal purposes for more than 7,000 years. Mayan and Aztec cultures in Mesoamerica used the psilocybin mushrooms until Spanish conquerors forbade the use of them around the 15th century as a way to control the society's culture.

What Is Psilocybin?

The psilocybin that is found in Liberty Cap mushrooms is a known hallucinogenic. It is created from the DNA of the mushroom as it blossoms from its moist foundation into a pointy-capped edible.

How to Eat Liberty Cap or Magic Mushrooms

Generally, any type of magic mushroom, including the Liberty Cap, is eaten after it has gone through a drying process. The mushrooms can be gritty or chalky when eaten whole and without any accompaniments.

The stems and caps of psilocybin mushrooms can also be gently boiled in a tea to be sipped. It has a strong, earthy scent and taste. Honey or sugar can be added to the tea without adversely affecting the potency of the mushrooms.

Magic mushrooms are often put on top of pizza, made into a chunky paste and spread on bread like a tapenade or baked into pasta dishes. This can lower the effect of the mushroom's psychedelic properties. The more food you digest with the mushrooms, the more it will affect the way that the edibles are metabolized in your system.

Typical Magic Mushroom Dose

It can be hard to overdose on magic mushrooms. However, complications can arise when ingesting any natural ingredient that will affect your mindset and mood.

It takes .2 to .5 grams of dried magic mushrooms to begin to feel the effects of the psilocybin. Height, weight and metabolism affect how a person may feel when ingesting magic mushrooms.

For a lengthy psychedelic experience that can last between three and six hours, the average adult should take a moderate dose of 1 to 2.5 grams.


Kimberley McGee

Kimberley McGee

Kimberley McGee is an award-winning journalist with 20+ years of experience writing for a variety of clients, including The New York Times, Las Vegas Review-Journal Home section and other national publications. As a professional writer she has researched, interviewed sources and written about home improvement, interior design and related business trends. She earned a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Her full bio and clips can be viewed at www.vegaswriter.com.