And yet another guide for growing mushrooms at home — this time focused on a single species, Psilocybe cubensis. So, does anyone really need another book about growing magic mushrooms? Certainly there are many out there, plus a lot of information on the internet. Let‘s see what this one provides.
The contents: Dedication, Disclaimer, Introduction, Chpt 1—Mushroom Basics, 2—Sourcing Your Spores, 3—Good Practice and Sterile Technique, 4—Equipment and Supplies, 5—Making Your Own Hardware, 6—Basic PF Tek, 7—Liquid Culture, 8—Grain, 9—Bulk Substrate Method and Pasteurization, 10—Agar, 11—Troubleshooting and Contaminants, 12—Drying Mushrooms and Storing Spores, 13—Consuming Your Shrooms, 14—Microdosing and the Future of Psilocybin as Medicine, Glossary (including definitions of such esoteric terms as candy thermometer and contamination, and where we learn that strain isolation is the process of isolating a strain), Resources, Index, and, finally, About the Authors.
Starting with the last item … Given the emphasis the UK-based authors place on security and anonymity, including wearing a Mexican wrestler mask when their faces might otherwise appear in a photograph, I‘m guessing their names are made up. Although the claim is made that one of the authors (Mandrake) is a scientist (with both Dr. and PhD attached to his name on cover and title page), the author information gives no indication of what institution awarded the degree and in what field. The presentation of the science, especially the mycological/biological material, is flawed (more on this below) and leads me to wonder about the advertised credential.
On to the main purpose of the book — to teach one how to grow magic mushrooms. It is abundantly clear that the authors know how to grow Psilocybe cubensis and their advice for doing that is what most people who buy this book will be after. The advice and procedures seem sound and the many images of dense fruitings of P. cubensis provide ample proof that their version of the PF Tek method works. However, occasional inconsistencies or mistakes occur, such as listing recipe ingredients in one place as volumes and elsewhere as parts, and the relative volumes not agreeing with the parts. In discussing lemon tek as a means of consuming the mushrooms, they first state that there‘s little evidence that soaking the mushrooms in the acidic lemon juice promotes the conversion of psilocybin to psilocin, leading to a much quicker onset of the therapeutic effects. But later, in the recipe for ginger and lime chocolates, they state that The lime juice works in the same way as in the lemon tek method above, meaning that there is a fast come-up and the trip seems incredibly intense. These sorts of details aren‘t critical but they will cause some head-scratching and necessitate trial-and-error on the part of a potential grower/user.
The many step-by-step photos for the different parts of the grow process are effective. However, the decorative and other supporting photos are mostly disappointing and largely unnecessary. All of the more or less close-ups suffer from being out of focus over much of the image — in a few cases, nearly the whole picture is fuzzy. Of the decorative photos, about 175 are redundant or contribute nothing to illustrating the techniques. Instead they show, for instance, a photo of four buttons captioned They‘re not pretty, but they‘re still potent! and an out-of-focus singleton This mushroom has made it! Good work, mushroom. The book could have been shortened by probably 40 pages or more by leaving them out, with no downside, and it might even have resulted in a lower price.
I‘m not much of a mushroom eater, but I do know that munching on dried mushrooms is not at the top of most mycophiles‘ favorite recipes list (although I have seen a recipe for bolete chips). So, for those wishing to indulge and not looking forward to spending 10 minutes choking them down while trying not to retch everything up like a cat with a magical hairball, the chapter Consuming Your Shrooms should be quite welcome. Several of the recipes include ginger to help reduce the nausea that many users experience and I was drawn particularly to the one for ginger and lime chocolates. When it comes to consumption (especially if using capsules), one should note that Haze and Mandrake apparently grow only, or at least primarily, P. cubensis and likely have developed strains that are relatively consistent in potency. Thus they feel confident in specifying amounts of mushroom that will provide a specific dose (One of the benefits of making capsules is that you can be sure of getting an exact dose every time). However, different species vary quite a bit in their psilocybin content and it is likely that different strains of a given species also do. So stay aware of this and err on the side of caution. As the authors say, always dose low and take more if necessary.
Most folks know that possessing psilocybin-containing materials is illegal in North America. So it is probably no surprise that, like most similar books, this one offers a silly disclaimer, The material offered in this book is presented as information that should be available to the public. The aim of the Publisher is to educate and entertain. Whatever the Publisher‘s view on the validity of current legislation, we do not in any way condone the use of prohibited substances or breaking the law. Even though the publisher produced a book that tells one exactly how to break the law and offers advice for not getting caught. At least the authors‘ version is funnier, we recommend that all cultivation be done in Spain, where it‘s legal and where they serve a damn good local beer on a hot afternoon.
Although I‘m not sure another book on how to grow mushrooms at home with the PF Tek method is needed, this one will serve its purpose of showing you how to do that, albeit for only one species. A little trial and error will be required, and North American products comparable to the UK ones mentioned in the book will have to be identified, but these shouldn‘t present major challenges.
However, if you do opt for this book, be aware that there are many errors in the presentation of the science. For instance, mushrooms are sexual reproduction structures produced by fungus mycelia and can be considered as analogous to the fruits of plants. The mycelium is not the mushroom, and referring to fruits of the mushroom and The mycelium is really the mushroom itself, while the top part is simply the expression of the fruit are just plain wrong. Molds are filamentous fungi and yeasts are unicellular fungi. Haze and Mandrake often refer to them as though they are something separate from fungi with statements such as it‘s hard to tell mold from mycelium. Of course it is, because the mold is the mycelium of a fungus. Spores do not mate. Most molds do no harm to human health yet Haze and Mandrake seem paranoid about any exposure to them. They seem to forget bleu and camembert cheeses, and Quorn mycoprotein, for instance. Why do they wear gloves when picking the mushrooms and when making spore prints? Rhizomorphic and tomentose mycelia are different hyphal morphologies produced by a single fungus. They aren‘t different strains and, throughout, it appears the authors don‘t understand what strains actually are. And they get the physics backwards in saying that things move from areas of low pressure to areas of high pressure.
Obviously there are aspects of this book that could stand improvement. However, if growing magic mushrooms is your goal then, with a modicum of trial and error, it should provide most of the guidance you need, including how to avoid having the local sheriff catch wind of your endeavor. Just look elsewhere if you want to understand fungal biology and the other science that underlie successful cultivation.
Review by Steve Trudell, 2017