Collage of Psilocybe Natalensis with South Africa nature background

An Enthusiast’s Guide to Psilocybe natalensis

Love for this South African mushroom is growing in the psychedelic community—but why?

DoubleBlind Mag

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Disclaimer: this article covers a legal theme.

Psilocybe cubensis is the best-known psilocybin mushroom, holding center stage in cultivator circles due to its wide distribution and the ease of its cultivation. The span of influence woven by its wide mycelial web has been deep and far-reaching, but its place at the top may not last forever: A South African mushroom, Psilocybe natalensis, is gaining ground in cultivation circles due to its ease of cultivation and perceptions that it facilitates a smoother, more positive experience. 

The Rise of Psilocybe cubensis

To understand what sets P. natalensis apart, it’s important to know how P. cubensis became so ubiquitous in the first place. P. cubensis first entered into cultivation circles courtesy of the McKenna brothers, from spores sourced during their adventures in the Colombian Amazon. Writing under pseudonyms, they published the game-changing Psilocybin: Magic Mushroom Grower’s Guide, popularizing the hobby of home psilocybin mushroom cultivation in the 1970s and effectively making psilocybin open-source.

READ: Types of Magic Mushrooms: 10 Shroom Strains You Should Know About

While its stress-free cultivation, rapid growth, and bountiful yields have helped secure its place in cultivation circles, not everyone is a fan of P. cubensis. Not all Mazatec shamans will use it, including the late Maria Sabina, for example. Even cubensis connoisseur kingpin Terrence McKenna swore off heroic doses of this mushroom altogether following a particularly harrowing experience with it in 1998. Richard Gutierrez, who played a key role in developing the popular “Penis Envy” strain of P. cubensis, notably does not like to partake of this mushroom himself, not having done so since the 1970s. In an interview with Hamilton Morris, he said that “it’s never been my mushroom of choice; I’ve always eaten [Psilocybe] cyanescens.”

A Contender for Psilocybe cubensis

Underside of mushroom close up
Natalensis underside. Image Courtesy of Matthew Monroe via Cultiv8rClub.com.

This all brings us to P. natalensis (sometimes referred to as “NSS” or “Natal Super Strength”), a newcomer to cultivation circles whose fan base appears to be rapidly growing. Its popularity appears to be down not just to its tenacity and the ease of its cultivation or its quick growth and bountiful yields, but also the effects ascribed to it. There are many testimonials attributing positive effects to the species when compared to P. cubensis. (The current prevailing scientific view is that any differences in effect attributed to different species of mushroom arise entirely from differences in set and setting factors—and dosage—rather than any qualities intrinsic to a particular mushroom. Not everyone resonates with this view, however.)

Curiously, the differences in the quality of effects people report in association with this species are fairly consistent, in spite of the inherent variation in the individuals consuming it, and the set and setting. Among the most commonly reported differences in comparison to P. cubensis are less nausea and body load issues, a smoother experience with an easier come up, a clearer headspace, and generally a more upbeat, positive and “friendlier” emotional tone to the experience, seemingly less prone to “dark clown energy” that some have attributed to the effects of P. cubensis. For some growers, P. natalensis are “cube killers,” and they will even forgo growing or ingesting P. cubensis from then on.

Aside from its revered experiential qualities, the ease of its cultivation makes it a contender for P. cubensis, being well suited to beginner growers given its resilient and tenacious nature. In the words of Matthew Monroe of Cultiv8r Club, P. natalensis “is a mushroom species that’s fun to grow, fast to grow, and shockingly easy to grow—to the point where I now recommend it as the mushroom that all first-time cultivators should start off with.”

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While the jury is still out on the possible modulating influence of other secondary compounds in these fungi, it is worth considering that we’ve barely scratched the surface of chemically profiling them, with one study concluding “that our understanding of the chemical diversity of these mushrooms is largely incomplete.” We should be mindful that fungi are master chemical alchemists, and exist not merely as packets of pure psilocybin, but as chemically complex organisms. There is a growing body of research suggesting that there may be more than psilocybin alone that contributes to the effect of these fungi.

READ: A Quick Guide To Blue Magic Gym (Gymnopilus aeruginosus)

The Uniqueness of Psilocybe natalensis

Single Psilocybe natalensis
Fruiting Natalensis. Image Courtesy of Matthew Monroe via Cultiv8rClub.com

The species was discovered in the KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa and described as new to science in 1995 by Jochen Gartz, Michael Smith, Derek Reid, and Albert Eicker. This was corroborated by more recent genetic sequencing conducted by mycologist Alan Rockefeller (with a consistent six nucleotide difference reported when compared to P. cubensis sequences). P. natalensis is part of the Hymenogastraceae family, and a closely related sister species to P. cubensis.

Like P. cubensis, P. natalensis is highly variable in potency (testing in the range of 0.6 to 1.81 percent alkaloids), with most people considering it as potent or exceeding the potency of the more potent strains of P. cubensis such as Penis Envy. Some people recommend starting out with a 1 g dose (dry) to test the waters, and as a precaution some recommend halving one’s normal P. cubensis dosage when consuming P. natalensis. Some analyses reveal that P. natalensis can sometimes harbor minor alkaloids such as baeocystin and aeruginascin. It has been chemically profiled and found to harbor antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds, in addition to tryptamines.

Some people prefer microdosing with P. natalensis over P. cubensis, given that it is widely considered to be smoother on one’s system, and lacking in body load issues. P. natalensis is also a cold-tolerant species, colonizing substrate and fruiting at temperatures as low as 60 F (15.6 C), although growing times will be significantly extended.

One distinctive feature of P. natalensis is its thick, rhizomorphic, rapidly growing mycelium which has a tendency to overlay when putting it into fruiting conditions. The aggressive nature of its mycelium and its speed at colonizing substrate makes it a more contamination-resistant species to work with than P. cubensis. Given that contamination is the number one cause of cultivation failures, this quality could make this species a particular boon to the beginner grower. Some growers have sampled the mycelium overlay that can form during fruiting and have found it to be potent.

Cloning and isolation work over the coming years with P. natalensis will likely yield a myriad of different cultivars, following in the footsteps of P. cubensis before it, with strains selected for potency. Some are already beginning to emerge, such as low-spore, squats, black caps, and green caps. Some breeders such as Yoshi Amano have also been working on cross-breeding P. natalensis with its closely related sister species P. cubensis, seeking to produce hybrid cultivars (such as yellow umbo) that combine positive qualities of both species.

Psilocybe natalensis Identification

Superficially, P. natalensis bears a very close resemblance to the closely related P. cubensis, although differs in its genetics, less persistent annulus, habitat preference, and in the behavior of its mycelium.

How To Identify P. natalensis: Spore Prints, Bruising, and Other Features

P. natalensis cannot be reliably differentiated from P. cubensis on its appearance alone given their close resemblance. Mycologist Alan Rockefeller undertook some of its initial genetic profiling and noted that its taxonomic work is still a work in progress, saying, “there is no public holotype sequence of Psilocybe natalensis, and without comparing to the holotype we can’t know for sure that the species being cultivated is the real P. natalensis.”

Cap: Small- to medium-sized (tending to be 1.4 to 6 cm broad), cone shaped or bell shaped when young, becoming almost flat with age but retaining a slight, central bump. Sticky on top, sometimes with pieces of the universal veil attached. Brown when young, then fading, especially at the edges. Bruises blue.

Stem: 40 to 120 mm long by 2 to 10 mm thick. Tallish, relative to the cap’s size, white when young and becoming yellowish with age. Mature specimens have a stem ring, the remnants of the partial veil, that appears almost black because spores collect on it. Bruises blue.

Gills: Covered by a veil initially, then gray with white edges, becoming purple-black as the spores mature.

Geographical region

P. natalensis is found scattered to gregarious on fertilized soils in arid, open grasslands located in the KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa, originally collected at an elevation of 1,500 m. (The full extent of its range remains unclear, however.) Unlike P. cubensis, which also has a preference for fertilized pastures, natalensis doesn’t appear to have a preference for fruiting directly off dung when observed in the wild.

Psilocybe natalensis spores

Spores are sub-ellipsoid, and the spore print is purple-black. This species cannot be accurately identified on the appearance of its spores alone, when compared to other closely related species like P. cubensis.

Microscoping image of psilocybe spores against white background
Natalensis spores.

Psilocybe natalensis Cultivation

Bowl of Mushrooms
Harvested Natalensis. Image Courtesy of Matthew Monroe via Cultiv8rClub.com.

P. natalensis can be grown in the same way as P. cubensis, using the same techniques and substrates, but there are a few tweaks you can make that might be helpful.

Tek

To summarize, P. natalensis can be grown using the same substrates as P. cubensis. It will grow happily on various substrates (or substrate mixtures) including various grains (such as brown rice, oats, rye grain, wheat, birdseed, non-hulled millet, grain sorghum, and popcorn), and bovine and equine dung and straw.

The growing process starts with spores or a tissue culture, which is then used to inoculate grains, which are then used to inoculate a bulk substrate, which is then fruited once colonized. If starting with a spore print, agar plates or jars can be inoculated, then a healthy clean mycelial culture can be used to inoculate grain jars, or jars of liquid nutrient solution, to create liquid culture for subsequent grain jar inoculations. Colonized grain can then be used to inoculate bulk substrate which may include coconut coir, vermiculite, and well-aged horse manure. A pinch of gypsum added to this can supply minerals to the growing mycelium and may help support good yields during fruiting. Pre-mixed substrate can also be sourced if desired. P. natalensis will colonize and fruit happily in the indoor temperature ranges favored by humans. It will also grow in PF Tek jars or Uncle Ben’s rice bags like P. cubensis.

Given that P. natalensis mycelium can form a thick layer of mycelium during fruiting, some growers have reported success combating this by using a higher substrate to spawn ratio than they typically would when fruiting P. cubensis, opting for a one to three (or four, or higher) spawn to substrate ratio. Applying a casing layer during fruiting is optional when fruiting P. natalensis (much like with P. cubensis), but experimentation by some growers has suggested that doing so will result in higher yields. Some growers feel that P. natalensis benefits from a little more fresh air exchange than P. cubensis during fruiting.

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Pins 

Growers report seeing pins two to four weeks after spawning their tub and placing it in fruiting conditions.

Legality of Psilocybe natalensis

The legality of P. natalensis and other psilocybin fungi is complex, and it is important to be acquainted with the laws in your locale. It is also worth noting that the laws are rapidly evolving, so it is important to keep up to date with any changes in legislation. 

In some places it is illegal to possess spores and mushrooms, while in other areas it is legal to possess spores (for “microscopy purposes”) due to them not containing any psilocybin. While the DEA recently confirmed that at a federal level in the United States, psychedelic mushroom spores are legal to possess prior to germination, laws may vary by state. Purchasing or possessing psilocybin mushroom spores is currently illegal in California, Georgia, and Idaho. 

A growing number of cities and states in the U.S. are adopting decriminalization, with around two dozen cities across the country having decriminalized psilocybin fungi. State wise, Colorado and Oregon have decriminalized and permitted use of psilocybin fungi in licensed facilities. Oregon may be recriminalizing psilocybin fungi and other substances, but supervised use at licensed locations will remain an option.

Growing psilocybin mushrooms is legal in other countries such as the Bahamas, the British Virgin Islands, Jamaica, Nepal, Samoa, and the Caribbean island nation of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. In Brazil, while psilocybin and psilocin are classified as illegal, this only extends to the molecules themselves and not the fungi containing the molecule. Psilocybin mushrooms are also decriminalized in Austria, the Czech Republic, Portugal, and partially decriminalized in Spain.

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DoubleBlind is a trusted resource for news, evidence-based education, and reporting on psychedelics. We work with leading medical professionals, scientific researchers, journalists, mycologists, indigenous stewards, and cultural pioneers. Read about our editorial policy and fact-checking process here.

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DoubleBlind Magazine does not encourage or condone any illegal activities, including but not limited to the use of illegal substances. We do not provide mental health, clinical, or medical services. We are not a substitute for medical, psychological, or psychiatric diagnosis, treatment, or advice. If you are in a crisis or if you or any other person may be in danger or experiencing a mental health emergency, immediately call 911 or your local emergency resources. If you are considering suicide, please call 988 to connect with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

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