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Discovery of New Magic Mushroom Reveals First Recorded Traditional Uses in Africa
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Discovery of New Magic Mushroom Reveals First Recorded Traditional Uses in Africa

Seraiah Alexander
Seraiah Alexander
July 08, 2024
3 min

Two newly identified species of hallucinogenic mushrooms, Psilocybe ingeli and Psilocybe maluti, have been described in southern Africa, thanks to the efforts of researchers from Stellenosch University (SU) and citizen mycologists. The findings, published in the journal Mycologia, have not only advanced our understanding of fungal biodiversity in the continent but also unveiled the first recorded traditional use of hallucinogenic mushrooms in African healing practices. 

Documenting the new species

Psilocybe maluti was found in 2021 by citizen mycologist Daniella Mulder on her small property in the Free State Province of South Africa. The mushroom had distinct characteristics, such as its bulb-shaped, enclosed ‘secotioid’ cap. Mulder took photographs and assessed the macro features of the mushroom, then sent the specimens to Andrew Kilian, a prominent citizen mycologist in Somerset West, for further examination. Yet the unique appearance of this mushroom led them to send samples to Breyten van der Merwe at SU for DNA sequencing and genetic analysis. Upon closer analysis, scientists confirmed that psilocybe maluti was, in fact, an entirely new species. 

Then, in 2023, another citizen mycologist, Talan Moult, discovered Psilocybe ingeli in the pasturelands of KwaZulu-Natal. P. ingeli stood out due to its hemispheric cap and exposed gills, leading Moult to also describe and document the mushroom and send it off to Breyten van der Merwe for testing. Further analysis confirmed the novelty of P. ingeli, adding yet another species to the Psilocybe genus. 

Traditional use

While the traditional use of psilocybin mushrooms has been well-documented across central and southern Mexico, there isn’t much known about their use across Africa. Ancient murals drawn on cave walls in Algeria are potentially the oldest historical evidence of these mushrooms being consumed, and scientists have explored the hypothesis that ancient Egyptians may have used them as well.

However, much of the oral tradition and cultural knowledge throughout Africa has been erased, or at least substantially altered, due to the impacts of colonialism. Indigenous practices were often suppressed, and colonial powers imposed their own cultural ideas, which led to the loss of many traditional practices and knowledge. Smaller tribes across the continent may still use psilocybin mushrooms, but such practices are largely undocumented. Furthermore, many of these indigenous communities may be reluctant to share their knowledge with outsiders because of historical mistrust. 

Nonetheless, researchers managed to uncover the traditional use of P. maluti from the Basotho traditional healers in the mountainous kingdom of Lesotho, marking the first recorded instance of psilocybin mushrooms being used in African healing practices. 

In an effort to record the use of mushrooms by indigenous groups in Southern Africa, citizen mycologist Cullen Taylor Clark teamed up with Mamosebetsi Sethathi, a traditional healer from the region. Together, they documented how P. maluti, locally referred to as “koae-ea-lekhoaba,” is used in the spiritual and medicinal rituals of the Basotho people. By documenting these practices, Clark and Sethathi have not only preserved a vital aspect of Basotho heritage but have also opened a window into a previously undocumented area of African ethnobotany. 

The role of citizen scientists in mycology

Without the help of citizen scientists, these findings would not have been possible. Although there are likely more psilocybe species in southern Africa, the discovery of the two mushrooms demonstrates the critical role citizen scientists play in expanding scientific knowledge of fungal diversity. According to experts, over 2 million species of fungi are yet to be discovered, so the more hands on deck, the better. Thanks to mushroom enthusiasts like Daniella Mulder, Talan Moult, and Cullen Taylor Clark, we’re one step closer.

Reflecting on the significance of such contributions, Professor Karin Jacobs of SU emphasizes, “There are only a handful of mycologists in Africa documenting local biodiversity. Considering the vast mycological diversity on the continent, it is a daunting task. Collaborating with citizen mycologists is, therefore, hugely beneficial. In addition to more material, collaboration also opens avenues for conversation and exploration, which can lead to documenting mycophilia (the love of mushrooms) on the African continent.”


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science
Seraiah Alexander

Seraiah Alexander

Content Editor

Table Of Contents

1
Documenting the new species
2
Traditional use
3
The role of citizen scientists in mycology

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