Article image

Mushroom magic: New species discovered in Africa

Two new species of psychoactive mushrooms in the genus Psilocybe have been identified in southern Africa, bringing the total to six known indigenous species. 

Despite Psilocybe being among the most well-known and studied psychoactive mushrooms, these new species, Psilocybe ingeli and Psilocybe maluti, were only recently discovered. 

The findings were detailed in a paper published in the journal Mycologia by researchers from Stellenbosch University (SU) and citizen mycologists.

The researchers noted that although there are no studies on the origin of the genus Psilocybe, it is possible that the genus originates from Africa.

Citizen scientists find new mushroom species

Psilocybe ingeli was discovered in 2023 in KwaZulu-Natal by Talan Moult, a self-taught citizen mycologist. 

Psilocybe maluti was found in 2021 on a small holding in Free State by Daniella Mulder, who sent photos of the mushrooms to Andrew Killian, one of South Africa’s leading citizen mycologists based in Somerset West. 

Both of the specimens were then sent to Breyten van der Merwe at SU for DNA sequencing and analysis in the lab of Prof. Karin Jacobs.

Traditional use of mushrooms

The paper also highlights the traditional use of P. maluti by Basotho traditional healers in Lesotho. According to the researchers, this appears to be the only recorded first-hand report of hallucinogenic mushrooms being used traditionally in Africa. 

Cullen Taylor Clark, a citizen mycologist and co-author, worked with Mamosebetsi Sethathi, a Mosotho traditional healer, to document the use of P. maluti (locally known as koae-ea-lekhoaba) in traditional healing practices.

This forms part of a larger effort led by Clark to document the use of mushrooms by indigenous groups in southern Africa.

“These two species were sent to me by citizen scientists. It would be impossible for a single researcher to cover a fraction of an area these mushroom enthusiasts have access to. This is the only way we will be able to further studies in African mycology,” Van der Merwe said.

Promoting a love of mushrooms

“There are only a handful of mycologists in Africa documenting local biodiversity,” Jacobs added. “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.”

These collaborative efforts underscore the critical role of citizen scientists in expanding our understanding of mycological diversity and traditional uses of mushrooms in Africa.

The research not only highlights new mushroom species but also the cultural significance and potential benefits of these fungi.

History of psilocybin mushrooms

The history of psilocybin mushrooms is deeply connected to human culture, spirituality, and medicine. Archaeological evidence shows that magic mushrooms were used by indigenous peoples for thousands of years. 

This is particularly true in Central and South America. The ancient Aztecs called these psychedelic fungi “teonanácatl,” meaning “flesh of the gods.” They used them in religious ceremonies to induce visions. 

Spanish chroniclers in the 16th century documented these rituals. However, colonial authorities often suppressed the practice, considering it heretical.

Renewed attention 

In the 1950s, psilocybin mushrooms gained renewed attention. R. Gordon Wasson, an American ethnomycologist, participated in a traditional mushroom ceremony in Mexico. His 1957 publication in Life magazine caught the public and scientific community’s interest. 

Soon after, Albert Hofmann, the Swiss chemist known for discovering LSD, isolated psilocybin and its active metabolite, psilocin.

The 1960s saw extensive research into psilocybin’s therapeutic potential. Scientists explored its efficacy in treating depression and anxiety. 

However, the counterculture movement and its anti-establishment sentiments led to a backlash. The United States prohibited psilocybin and other psychedelics under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970.

Scientific interest

Recently, scientific interest in psilocybin has surged again. Modern studies highlight its benefits for mental health therapies. The compound shows promise in treating treatment-resistant depression, PTSD, and end-of-life anxiety. 

This renewed focus acknowledges the historical significance of psilocybin mushrooms. It also explores their potential for future medical applications.

The study is published in the journal Mycologia


Like what you read? Subscribe to our newsletter for engaging articles, exclusive content, and the latest updates.

Check us out on EarthSnap, a free app brought to you by Eric Ralls and


News coming your way
The biggest news about our planet delivered to you each day