Fly agaric appears every year on the triangular shrubbery in Berkeley Road known as "The Village Green". It is probably the easiest species of fungus to recognise. Its name is derived from its use since medieval times to "stupefy flies". To achieve that objective you break the cap into small pieces which you scatter in platefuls of milk. According to Roger Phillips (Mushrooms and Other Fungi of Great Britain and Europe), it is used as a hallucinogen by the Lapps, who picked up the habit of eating it from their reindeer. On them and on the reindeer it has a similar effect. The muscles of the intoxicated person start to twitch and pull convulsively. This is followed by a death like sleep. Upon waking the person, or reindeer, is usually filled with elation and is physically very active. Most guides describe the fungus simply as poisonous.
Economics is rarely so fascinating. An unusual insight into its mechanics is afforded by Richard Holmes' The Age of Wonder (This is the third time I have mentioned this book of which I am now reluctantly nearing the end). In describing the visit of Captain Cook and Joseph Banks to Tahiti in 1769, Holmes draws attention to the importance of iron nails as a currency. "Much of the crews' time was spent bargaining with local girls for sexual favours. The basic currency was any type of usable metal object: there was no need for gold or silver or trinkets. Among the able seamen the initial going rate was one ships nail for one ordinary fuck..." "...Cook disapproved of sexual bartering and made regular attempts to regulate the trade in love making, ' quite unsupported' he later dryly observed by any of his officers. He remained philosophical, observing not without humour that there was a cautionary tale told about Captain Wallis' ship the Dolphin, when leaving Polynesian waters two years previously, so many nails had been surreptitiously prised out of her timbers that she almost split apart in the next Pacific storm she encountered".
.Plenty of berries are supposed to indicate a severe winter. But why? How do berries or the trees that bear them know? Holly has as good a crop of berries this year as I can remember. The trees are glowing like braziers. But then again, its been a particularly good year for wine, enough rain to swell the fruit and sun to ripen it. What's good for grapes should be good for holly. There's no lore that I have heard of that says a good vintage is followed by a hard winter. Or is there?