There are over a hundred psilocybin-containing mushrooms. They grow all over the world, but remarkably this was only a recent discovery.
Teonanácatl, or ‘sacred mushrooms’ were mentioned by Spanish chroniclers in the 16th century. The colonizers accused the Mexican population of devil worship and did their best to eradicate the practice. With success, as for centuries, no reports of sacred mushrooms were made.
At the start of the 20th century, the American botanist Safford concludes they actually never existed: the chroniclers must have mixed them up with the psychoactive peyote cactus. Some Westerners living in Mexico disagree and one of them sends a sample to Harvard, which inspires the young ethnobotanist, Richard Evans Schultes.
In 1938 he travels to Oaxaca and collects samples of Panaeolus sphinctrinus and Psilocybe cubensis. However, the species only draw worldwide attention after the search of the amateur mycologists Gordon Wasson and his wife Valentina Pavlovna. In 1955, after spending three summer vacations searching for teonanácatl in the Oaxaca highlands they finally succeed and are invited to attend a velada – a mushroom ceremony – with curandera Maria Sabina.
Wassons report in Life magazine is read by millions and soon Albert Hofmann, the inventor of LSD, is asked to extract the active ingredients, which he calls psilocybin and psilocin. He develops a synthesis route for both, along with some analogues. The synthetics are embraced by experimental psychiatry and tested for ‘psycholytic therapy’ in humans. However, they are only available for those with academic connections.
At the start of the 1960s, it’s widely believed psilocybin mushrooms solely occur in Mexico and the Oaxacan town Huautla de Jiménez transforms into a pilgrimage place for those who want to experience the wondrous effects of the mushrooms themselves. In later years more psilocybin containing species are found all over the world. Likewise, people start to experiment with techniques for home cultivation. The first guides are very complicated and almost never produced proper results.
In 1976, a San Fransisco based group, including the McKenna brothers and Terence’s wife Kat Harrison, publishes the ‘Magic Mushrooms Grower’s Guide. A Handbook for Psilocybin Enthusiasts‘ under the pseudonym O.T. Oss and O.N. Oeric. Their method - that makes use of a pressure cooker to sterilise substrates and uses ‘casing’ to enhance the yield - was further improved and spread by Psilocybe Fanaticus. They grow kits in the Azarius assortment make use of the same techniques (in different levels of difficulty), which is described in more detail below.
The life cycle of a mushroom
Mushrooms grow from spores (the ‘seeds’) that are spread when the veil on the underside of the cap opens. In the right environment the spores develop into mycelium: a network of white threads that can cover large areas of substrate. The mycelium is a living organism that may be compared to a plant. The mushroom is the fruiting body that ensures reproduction. When mature, they release their spores again, thereby completing the circle.
Mushroom cultivation is a slightly hazardous undertaking, as the developing mycelium is vulnerable for contamination. Sterilization of the substrate beforehand is necessary, as is inoculation in a clean and sterile environment. After two weeks to a month (depending on temperature and substrate size) the substrate will be fully colonized and it’s time to change environment. During incubation the mycelium should be kept in a dark and warm place. The fruiting still requires a protected environment, but also light and fresh air. In about two weeks the first mushrooms will be visible, they mature in another 7 days.
Different varieties of ‘magic mushrooms’
The species Maria Sabina used are known as Psilocybe caerulescens or ‘landslide’ mushrooms. Psilocybe cubensis is the most widespread of psilocybin mushrooms, as it’s the easiest one to cultivate at home. It comes in many subtypes like Cambodian, B+, Ecuador, Amazon, Golden Teacher and Koh Samui (Thai). These all differ in shape and looks.
Psilocybe cubensis is relatively variable in potency. In one batch (different flushes) very different concentrations of psilocybin have been found, ranging from 0.15–1.3 % of dry weight. Psilocin contents ranged from 0.11-0.33% of dry weight. Psilocybin itself has no psychoactive effect, but is transformed into psilocin (and the non-active phosphoric acid) when absorbed by the body. According to Hofmann a medium oral dose of psilocybin would be between 4-8mg, which would roughly correspond to 2 grams of dried mushrooms. However, because of its high variability it’s impossible to predict an exact dosage for Psilocybe cubensis.
Other psilocybin mushrooms are found to have more stable concentrations of psilocybin and psilocin. Psilocybe azurescens is the most potent with 1.78% psilocybin and 0.38% psilocin in dry weight. Some varieties, like Psilocybe semilanceata, Psilocybe pelliculosa and Psilocybe Mexicana only contain psilocybin. Besides psilocybin and psilocin, baeocystine and norbaeocystine have been found in lesser amounts in most species. The exact composition likely contributes to their specific effects.
Other psilocybin containing species are for example Psilobye cynanescens, Panaeolus cyanescens, Panaeolus Subbalteatus, Psilocybe baeocystis, Psilocybe stuntzi. See also Botany of psychoactive mushrooms
Mushroom cultivation step by step
This guide will lead you through the process of mushroom cultivation using a Basic Growkit with spore syringe. If you want to go even more ‘back to basic’ into the cultivation process you can read how to make a spore print or how to make a spore syringe. This guide also works if you’re using your own ingredients.
Ingredients: What’s in the growkit?
- 900 ML vermiculite
- 220g rice flour
- 4 cultivation boxes (300ml) with air filter
- 2 filter bags
- 4 paperclips
- Pair of sterile gloves
- Mouth mask
- User manual
- Spore syringe*
*You can either choose a Basic Growkit including a spore syringe (3 varieties) or opt for the ‘Basic Ohne’ and make your own choice between our wide array of spore syringes.
Ingredients: What else do you need?
- Nail or safety pin
- Pressure cooker
- Alcohol (or another disinfectant)
- (Duct) tape
- Lighter or torch
- Aluminum foil
- Spray bottle
Step 1 Preparing the substrate
Different types of psilocybin mushrooms thrive well on different types of substrate. In nature, they can be found on either grass, wood (chips) or dung. Psilocybe cubensis naturally grew on dung, which probably explains their lower status in the Mexican teonanácatl cultus.
In-home cultivation usually rye or other grains (or a mixture) is used. Psilocybe Fantaticus used pulverized brown rice. The grains are mixed with vermiculite and water. Different ratios are possible. For cultivating sclerotia rice or grass seed is recommended as a substrate.
The basic growkit works with 220g of rice flour, which will be sufficient for 4 small filter boxes. Mix the rice flour in a bowl with 600g vermiculite and 300 ml water and stir well.
Use a nail or other type of pin to make 4 holes in the lid of each filter box. Fill up the cultivation boxes with the substrate until 1 cm from the top of the box. Top off with a 0.5-0.75 cm layer of vermiculite. This topping off is called ‘casing’: a method that highly improves the yield by providing some air exchange. Furthermore it acts as an barrier for contaminants.
Step 2 Sterilizing the substrate
Close the lids, but keep one side slightly open, so that pressure may escape. Wrap the cultivation boxes in a double layer of aluminium foil.
Preferably use a pressure cooker for sterilizing the substrate. An ordinary cooking pan might work as well (provided it has a lid that closes well), but it doesn’t guarantee all bacteria will be killed.
Put the wrapped boxes in in the pressure cooker. Put them in the accompanying basket or place a towel or cloth at the bottom to make sure the boxes don’t touch the pan (in order to prevent cracking). Fill with enough water, and let it steam for 60 minutes at 121°C to fully sterilize. (Increase to 90 minutes with an ordinary pan.)
A warm substrate will kill the spores, so let the boxes cool down completely before proceeding to the next step. This will take a couple of hours.
Step 3 Inoculation
The most riskful part of the process. Mycelium is very sensitive to contamination, so make sure you work in a completely clean and disinfected environment - for example, a bathroom or other small room that can be closed down. Disinfect not only your workplace but also the tools that you’re using. Wear protective gloves and a mouth mask.
Shake the spore syringe thoroughly for 5-10 seconds in order to evenly distribute the spores. Remove the safety cap from the needle and put it in a flame till it’s red-hot. Let it cool for 15-20 seconds.
Now you can remove the aluminium foil from the cultivation boxes. Inject about 2-3ml of spore suspension per cultivation box, using the four holes you prepared earlier. After injecting, seal the holes immediately with tape.
Step 4 Incubation
Now you can put the cultivation boxes in a warm, dark place. A temperature of 28°C is ideal, but room temperature (20°C) is acceptable. Lower temperatures will slow the growth process. Below 15°C mycelium is unable to grow.
The spores need two to four weeks to develop fully into mycelium. The substrate is fully colonised when you observe that all kernels are covered with white mycelium.
Other colours than white indicate the presence of bacterial or fungal contaminants. Contaminated boxes should be discarded. An exception can be made for blue bruising, which results from oxygenation of the psilocybin. Small yellow spots are the result of metabolites indicating a slow growth.
Step 5 Mushroom growing
In order to fruit the mycelium needs to be exposed to light and fresh air, so now it’s time to change the environment. Remove the lids from the cultivation boxes and place them in a filter bag.
Once fully colonized, the mycelium is less vulnerable to contamination, but it’s still important to work as clean as possible. So always wash your hands before you open a filter box or bag.
During growth, the top layer of vermiculite should be kept moist, but not soaking wet. Use a spray bottle and mist the vermiculite layer and inside of the bag once in a while. In general, humidity is high enough when you observe condensation on the inside of the bag.
Place the bag in a warm spot (20-25°C) in the light, but not in the sun or above a radiator. Check daily and mist when necessary. After 1-2 weeks you’ll observe the first pinheads appearing. They grow rapidly (another 1-2 weeks) into mature mushrooms.
Step 6 Harvest
Mushrooms grow in flushes and are preferably harvested all at once. (If there are a couple of tiny ones it’s also possible to leave them grow on for a few more days.) The best time to harvest is right before the veil on the underside of the cap breaks open. If you wait too long, the mushrooms will release their spores, which will colour the bag black or purple. Don’t worry if this happens: it won’t affect the quality of your mushrooms.
Carefully wash your hands with soap. Open the filter bag and take out the box. In order to harvest the mushrooms without damaging the mycelium, it’s best to take each stem with two finger tips and twist, while lifting it upwards. Try to not touch the substrate itself.
Stored in a paper bag fresh mushrooms will last in the fridge for a week. If you want to keep them longer you need to dry them, for example by spreading them out on kitchen paper and directing a fan to provide a constant air flow. Don’t place in direct sunlight as light deteriorates the active substances. Mushrooms exist for 90% of water, so generally 100 gram fresh mushrooms compares to 10 gram dried.
Step 7 Next flush
A cultivation box with mycelium can produce 3-5 ‘flushes’. (You’ll notice when the substrate is depleted.) Immediately after the harvest, you should water the substrate again and put it back in the filter bag. Repeat the steps for growth and harvest.
Different growkit types
In the Easy Growkit, the substrate is already sterilized, which means you can skip step 1 and 2. The used substrate is rye instead of rice flour. After incubation, you have to transfer the mycelium to a filter box and put it between layers of perlite and vermiculite. Read more about this method in our manual, which you can also find on the product pages.
The Ready-to-Grow – what’s in a name – is even easier: the substrate is already fully prepared. All you have to do is add some water and set up the filter bag. You’ll be able to harvest your first flush in 2-3 weeks.
For those who want to have a larger yield at once, there’s the Growkit Master (1400g), which contains a sterilized bag of rye, vermiculite, perlite, a cultivation box and a filter bag.
Azarius also provides plain boxes with sterilized rice or rye, a wide variety of spore prints and spore syringes and all other possible utensils needed for mushroom cultivation. Interested in growing truffles? Take a look at the Magic truffles Ready-to-Grow (three varieties). For outdoor mushroom cultivation, use the Psilocybe azurescens spawn bag. In contrast to Psilocybe cubensis, Psilocybe azurescens thrives well outdoors in the Northern European climate.
1. Which mushroom strain produces the largest harvest?
The largest yields have been with Psilocybe cubensis B+. A cultivation box of 1200cc produces maximally 400-600 g fresh mushrooms.
2. Which mushroom species is most potent?
Psilocybe azurescens is widely considered to be the most potent of magic mushrooms, with 1.78% psilocybin and 0.38% psilocin in dry weight. Other wood chips inhabiting species like Psilocybe cyanescens and Psilocybe subaeruginosa are relatively potent too, as are the dung inhabiting species Panaeolus cyanescens and Panaeolus tropicalis. Psilocbye semilanceata, which grows on pasture is considered potent as well, but its cultivation is extremely difficult.
Psilocybe cubensis is slightly less potent but much easier to cultivate, which is the reason why it's so popular. The exact alkaloid content of Psilocybe cubensis actually varies greatly, even from one specimen to another within the same species.
3. Which mushroom species is easiest to cultivate?
Psilocybe cubensis is most easy to cultivate and therefore most widespread. We recommend Cambodian, Ecuador, Thai or Mazatapec for beginners. Z-strain is the fastest grower and Golden Teacher in generally produces the largest shrooms (13-20cm).
4. Do different species have different effects?
The main alkaloids in psychoactive mushrooms are psilocybin, psilocin and in smaller amounts baeocystin and norbaeocystin. The exact amounts and proportions vary among different species and strains. Other substances, that don’t have a psychoactive effect by themselves, might have a slightly modifying effect on these active alkaloids, which may account for subtle differences in effects between different species.
5. Does it matter what type of substrate I use?
Different types of psilocybin mushrooms thrive well on different types of substrate. In nature, they can be found on either grass, wood (chips) or dung. For home cultivation grains like rye or rice (flour) are mostly used. Truffles (sclerotia) can best be grown on a substrate of rice or grass seed.
6. How long can I keep my growkit?
A basic growkit that isn’t colonized yet, can be stored for a long time. Just take out the spore syringe and put it in the fridge, where it will last about 12 months. Once the mycelium has developed (which is the case in ready-to-grow kits), it’s best to set it up within a month. To know when a growkit was produced, check the production date on the outside of the box. Best is to store a growkit refrigerated. If this is not the case preservation time will slightly diminish.
7. How long can I keep a spore syringe?
A spore syringe could be stored best in a refrigerator at 2-8°C. There it will last for at least a year, probably longer. In general, spores can stay alive for hundreds of years, but light and temperature changes will diminish their shelf life. Take a syringe out of the fridge 12 hours before use.
8. How do I know my growkit ran bad?
The most common problem with storing unused growkits for too long is that they dry out. The mycelium dies so it won’t fruit anymore. Another possibility is that your growkit becomes contaminated. In this case the mycelium turns any other colour than white and the kit needs to be discarded. There are two exceptions: don’t worry too much about yellow spots. They are a sign the incubation period is taking too long: you should start fruiting as soon as possible. Bruising may cause blue spots, which aren’t harmful either.
9. How long does it take before I can harvest my first mushrooms?
After inoculation it takes 2 to 4 weeks in a warm, dark place in order to fully colonize the substrate. Then you can open the filter boxes and place them in a filter bag. In this protected environment the first pinheads will show up after 1 – 1.5 week. Another 1.5 week later you can harvest your first mushrooms. In total you can have 3 or more flushes from the same growkit, taking 2-3 weeks each.
To be sure you’ll have your shrooms in time, start your growkit at least 1,5 month before the first harvest. With a ready-to-growkit, you will have your first harvest in 2-3 weeks.
Literature/ Read more:
-Peter Stafford. Magic Mushrooms. 2003 (1978). Ronin Publishing, Berkeley CA.
-PF Tek. Psylocybe Fanaticus. 2001 Edition (first published 1992).
-Arno Adelaars. Alles over paddo’s. 1999 (1997). Uitgeverij Ooievaar.
-Dale Pendell. Pharmako Gnosis. 2005. Mercury House, San Francisco.
-Richard Evans Schultes, Albert Hofmann and Christian Rätsch. Plants of the Gods. Their Sacred, Healing, and Hallucinogenic Powers. Revised and expanded edition. 1998 (1992). Healing Arts Press, Vermont.
-‘How to grow magic mushrooms?’ on YouTube.
-Photo gallery of psilocybin mushrooms (on website of mycologist Paul Stamets)
-Online forum and database on magic mushrooms.