health benefits of liberty cap mushrooms

liberty cap mushroom: Look-Alikes, Identification & More


What is a liberty cap mushroom? Put simply, it is a species of psilocybin mushroom, known as Psilocybe semilanceata. Liberty caps are one of the most widely popular psilocybin mushrooms in nature and one of the most potent. They have a recognizable appearance (reflected in the name “liberty cap”), and the first documented account of their psychoactive effects is an interesting one.

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In this guide on liberty caps, we will look at the various aspects of these common and potent psilocybin mushrooms, including how you can identify them.

The History Of liberty cap mushroom 

The history of liberty caps begins with the first recorded account of their psychoactive effects. On October 3, 1799, Dr. Everard Brande was called to the London home of a poor family who was experiencing an array of symptoms. They felt they had been poisoned.

Brande wrote a full description of the incident for the Medical and Physical Journal. The father of the family, who Brande identified as “J.S.”, had begun his day as usual in the Autumn. He went down to Green Park at dawn to collect small field mushrooms to serve to his family for breakfast as part of a broth.

But, about an hour after their breakfast, the family developed some strange and alarming symptoms. “J.S.” developed vertigo, a loss of balance, and black spots spreading across his vision. The rest of the family complained of poisoning, stomach cramps, and their extremities becoming cold. The father left the house to get some help. But within a few hundred yards, he fell into a confused state, having forgotten where he was going and why.

When Dr. Brande arrived, the family’s symptoms were ebbing and flowing.

They would experience intense symptoms, return to normal, and then develop their symptoms again. The family was convinced they were dying, except for the eight-year-old son, Edward, who had taken the largest dose of mushrooms.

He “was attacked with fits of immoderate laughter”, from which neither his father nor mother could calm him down. The doctor observed that Edward’s pupils were extremely dilated and that he was speaking nonsense.

Brande was unaware of the exact species of mushroom that had caused these symptoms. It was not until the early 1960s that the compound responsible for the effects of the mushroom, Psilocybe semilanceata, were discovered.

Additional Research

The species responsible was matched to an illustration of the small mushroom by the botanical artist James Sowerby, found in his book Coloured Figures of English Fungi or Mushrooms (1803). The artist had read the account from Brande and drew the mushrooms he thought were responsible.

The Swedish mycologist and botanist Elias Magnus Fries first described the species as Agaricus semilanceatus in his 1838 work Epicrisis Systematis Mycologici.

The German scientist Paul Kummer transferred the species to the genus Psilocybe in 1871.

The Danish mycologist Jakob Emanuel Lange named the species Panaeolus semilanceatus in 1936, which later became a synonym for the species.

Chemist Albert Hofmann, mycologist Roger Heim, and lab technician Hans Tscherter reported the presence of Psilocybin in P. semilanceata in 1963.

How liberty cap mushroom Got Their Name

The liberty cap mushroom takes its common name from the Phrygian cap, also known as the “liberty cap”, which it resembles. The original liberty cap was a hat worn by freed slaves in the Roman world to mark their status. They were no longer property but not truly “free”. The hat was a symbol of both pride and shame.

Marcus Junius Brutus, who was involved in the murder of Julius Caesar in 44 BC, minted coins to advertise his part in the deed. The coin bore the abbreviation “EID MAR”, which stands for the Ides of March, the day Caesar had been assassinated. The coin also features a pair of daggers and the distinctive liberty cap. The cap then became an elite political symbol, employed by emperors to stress the freedom that their absolute rule allowed them to enjoy.

In the 16th century, awareness of the liberty cap resurfaced with a growing interest in — and emulation of — Roman antiquity. When the Dutch drove out the Spanish from Holland in 1577, coins featuring the liberty cap were minted. William of Orange also minted coins bearing the liberty cap to commemorate his seizure of the English throne in 1688.

Further Findings on liberty cap mushroom 

It wasn’t until the two great republican revolutions of the 18th century (the French and American revolutions) that the liberty cap became a popular icon. It blended with the visual form of the more ancient Phrygian cap and became not just a symbol but an actual item of headwear or decoration. Adrastos Omissi, a lecturer in Latin Literature at the University of Glasgow, writes the following.

“In France, on June 20 1790, an armed mob stormed the royal apartments in the Tuileries and forced Louis XVI (later to be executed by the revolutionaries) to don the liberty cap. Revolutionary groups in America declared their rebellion against British rule by raising a liberty cap upon a pole in the public squares of their towns. In 1781 a medal, designed by no less than Benjamin Franklin to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, Libertas Americana (the personification of American Liberty) is depicted with wild, free-flowing hair, the pole and cap of liberty slung across her shoulder.”

The liberty cap later became associated with the species liberty cap mushroom a. In 1812, the English poets Robert Southey and Samuel Taylor Coleridge published Omniana, a two-volume collection of table talk and musings. The two report the following.

“There is a common fungus, which so exactly represents the pole and cap of liberty, that it seems offered by nature herself as the appropriate emblem of Gallic republicanism, — mushroom patriots, with a mushroom cap of liberty.”

They did not identify the precise mushroom they had in mind here.

However, in later mycological handbooks, Psilocybe semilanceata was identified as the liberty cap.

In 1894, the English botanist and mycologist Mordecai Cooke published his book Edible and Poisonous Mushroom, in which he refers to Psilocybe semilanceata as the “cap of liberty”.

The Appearance Of Liberty Caps Mushroom

As well as resembling the famed cap, there are other aspects of the appearance of liberty caps that you should know about. These features will help you identify them. This species is more or less indistinguishable from Psilocybe pelliculosa. The latter differs in that it has smaller spores.

Liberty Cap Identification

Liberty Cap Mushroom Cap: The cap of Psilocybe semilanceata is 5-30 mm in diameter and 6-22 mm tall. They vary in shape from sharply conical to bell-shaped, often with a prominent papilla (the nipple-shaped structure). The cap does not change significantly as the mushroom ages. The cap margin initially rolls inwards, but it unrolls to become straight or even curled upwards as the mushroom matures. Also, the cap is hygrophanous, as it dries out it takes on lighter colors. When moist, the cap is ochre to pale brown to chestnut brown and darker in the center. When dry, the cap is much paler, more like a light yellow-brown color. The caps have a sticky surface when moist.

Liberty Cap Gill: The underside of the mushroom’s cap has between 15 and 27 individual narrow gills, moderately crowded together. Their color is initially pale brown but they become dark gray to purple-brown with a lighter edge as the mushroom matures.

Liberty Cap Stem: A slender yellowish-brown stipe is 4-5 cm long and 1-3.5mm thick. It is typically slightly thicker toward the base.

  • Spores: Liberty cap spores are ellipsoidal and smooth.
  • Taste and Odor: Farinaceous (like freshly ground flour).

What are Liberty Caps?

Scientifically known as psilocybe semilanceata, liberty caps, or simply ‘libs’, are the most well-known and common magic mushroom found in the UK – and many other countries.

They are responsible for the first documented psychedelic trip in England, when, in 1799,  a family ate some libs they had picked in London’s St. James’s Green Park. An account of their experience is published in the London Medical and Physical Journal and can be read

Liberty caps contain the compound psilocybin, which is responsible for the psychedelic, or “magic”, effects of the mushroom. Psilocybin and psilocybin mushrooms are a controlled substance in the UK.

Mushrooms themselves, including liberty caps, are the fruiting body, or reproductive organ, of a fungal organism that is mostly underground. Mushrooms grow from mycelium, which is a network-like fungal mass that lives in soil.

How strong are liberty cap mushroom ?

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Although small, liberty caps pack a psychedelic punch. In fact, by percentage of dry weight, they are more potent than psilocybe cubensis, which is one of the most commonly cultivated magic mushrooms.

A number of tests on the potency of liberty caps have given varied results. Generally, however, it’s thought that they contain between 0.5-2.5% psilocybin by dry weight, with an average of 1%.

While quite potent, as they are quite small – and shrink even further when dried – you need to pick a lot if you want to have a full dose (2-3.5g dried).

Identifying liberty cap mushroom

Liberty cap mushrooms look like a little hat on a stick. They are small, growing to a height of around 5-10cm. If it’s smaller or bigger than this, it’s probably not a liberty cap.

It’s cap, or hat, is between 0.5cm to about 2.5cm in diameter. Generally, the cap is about as big a thumbnail.


Liberty caps come in two colours. They start off a dark caramel colour. The surface is a bit shiny or oily as well as translucent, so you can see the vertical lines of the gills through the cap.

As the sun dries the cap, it transforms from the top and spreads downwards, becoming  opaque and cream coloured. The gills are no longer visible except round the rim of the cap where dark gills can just be seen.

The caps can darken again as it gets old, soggy and mushy.

When liberty caps are moist, it’s possible to peel a very thin transparent jelly skin. This is not a common feature of mushrooms, so makes a good identifier of libs.

Cap shape

The cap shape of liberty caps is pretty distinctive, but can also vary somewhat. They generally have a pointy bell shape, which is taller than it is wide, with the bottom edge, or the ‘margin’, tucked in slightly.

Some can be slightly wider than they are tall, but will still have some height to them. If a cap is more like an umbrella than a cone, it’s not a liberty cap.

The nipple

The best known feature of the liberty caps is the nipple on the top. While the nipple on top can be a good indicator of a lib, other species (including poisonous ones) also have a similar nipple-like peak, so don’t rely solely on this feature to identify liberty caps.

Often, the nipple on liberty caps can be a different colour to the rest of the cap.

Remember, you can’t identify liberty caps on any one feature. You must consider all of the features together.

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liberty cap mushroom

The stem

liberty cap mushroom stems have a wonkiness to them. They are less like straight sticks and more like wiggle strings. Although they are wiggly, they do not easily collapse and feel solid.

The stem surface is smooth, but look closely and you can see silky, twisted fibres that make up the stem.

They are equally thick all the way down, but get a tad thicker at their base where they connect with their mycelium (the underground part of a fungal organism).

When young, the stems are light coloured and slowly turn more yellowy-brown as they age. They also darken when picked and handled. They won’t bruise blue, like other ‘magic’ mushrooms containing psilocybin.

The gills and spores

The gills of mature liberty caps are dark due to the purple-black spores they are producing.

Where to find liberty caps

You shouldn’t have to go far to find some liberty caps in the UK. Local parks, common recreational areas, race tracks, woodland and country paths are all potential growing spots.

They generally appear alone or in small clusters on rich soil in pastures, meadows and parkland. They don’t grow on cow or sheep dung, but are common in areas where livestock may roam.

In fact, they are often found in London’s Hyde Park, Primrose Hill and Richmond Park.

You’ll maximise your luck by going out the day after a night of light rain. You may even want to check the same locations more than once as mushrooms can spring up overnight.

Dry weather and cold are not conducive to hunting mushrooms. If it’s uncharacteristically hot or there’s frost on the ground, don’t bother.

A Potent Psilocybin Mushroom

Liberty caps are one of the most potent psilocybin mushrooms that exist.

The German chemist Jochen Gartz, in 1993, reported an average of 1 percent psilocybin in dried specimens of Psilocybe semilanceata, ranging from at least 0.2 percent to a maximum of 2.37 percent (the highest psilocybin concentration reported for a mushroom).

On average, Psilocybe azurenscens (considered the most potent psilocybin mushroom) contains more psilocybin (1.78 percent). Smaller specimens of liberty caps usually have the highest concentrations of psilocybin. However, the absolute amount is higher in larger mushrooms.

It’s important to be aware of the high potency of liberty caps before deciding to consume them. One needs to consume a lower dosage of liberty caps in comparison to Psilocybe cubensis in order to reach the same intensity of subjective effects.

So, you may be wondering how many liberty caps to eat if you want a light, medium, or strong trip. We would generally recommend 0.5-1 g, 1-2 g, and 2-4 g, respectively.

Common FAQs About Liberty Caps

How to grow liberty cap mushroom

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liberty cap mushroom

Growing liberty cap mushrooms is incredibly difficult because they require decaying grass roots in order to grow. Ultimately, creating the ideal environment to grow liberty cap mushrooms is a challenging task, so foraging for them in grassy patches of land is much easier.

Are liberty cap mushrooms poisonous?

Liberty cap mushrooms are not poisonous, and they are edible. However, there are some reports of hospitalization after ingesting liberty caps. As potent psychedelic mushrooms, liberty cap mushrooms have the same psychoactive compounds as other magic mushrooms containing psilocybin and psilocin.

How to identify a liberty cap mushroom.

The first step to identifying liberty cap mushrooms is knowing where and when to look for them. Liberty cap mushrooms grow in the fall and spring in grassy areas like lawns, meadows, and fields. The next step in identifying liberty caps is knowing potential lookalikes in your region, especially ones that may be poisonous.

Finally, you need to know what to look for in the mushroom’s cap, gills, and stem.

The cap of liberty cap mushroom measures between 0.2 to 1 inch in diameter. It can vary in color depending on moisture, but is usually a cream or brown color with a pronounced bump on the top that looks pimple-like. The cap also has striations that are more obvious as the mushroom gets older and in dry conditions. The gills of the liberty cap are narrow, densely formed, and an olive gray hue. As the spores mature the gills turn a more purple or black color. The liberty cap stem is usually between 2 and 4 inches in height and 0.04 to 0.14 inches in diameter. It’s a cream color and can have a blue tinge near the base of the stem. The stem is very slender and can be wavy, but its fibrous nature makes it quite strong unlike that of lookalikes. Liberty cap mushrooms have a musty scent.

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