This section is from the book "Our Edible Toadstools and Mushrooms and How to Distinguish Them", by W. Hamilton Gibson. Also available from Amazon: Our Edible Toadstools And Mushrooms And How To Distinguish Them.
Section Of Fly-Amanita
Few species of mushrooms have such an interesting history as this. Its deadly properties were known to the ancients. From the earliest times its deeds of notoriety are on record.
This is quite possibly the species alluded to by Pliny as "very conveniently adapted for poisoning," and is not improbably the mushroom referred to by this historian in the following quotation from his famous Nat-ural History: "Mushrooms are a dainty food, but deservedly held in disesteem since the notorious crime committed by Agrippina, who through their agency poisoned her husband, the Emperor Claudius; and at the same moment, in the person of her son Nero, inflicted another poisonous curse upon the whole world, herself in particular."
Notwithstanding its fatal character, this mushroom, it is said, is habitually eaten by certain peoples, to whom the poison simply acts as an intoxicant. Indeed, it is customarily thus employed as a narcotic and an exhilarant in Kamchatka and Asiatic Russia generally, where the Amanita drunkard supplants the opium fiend and alcohol dipsomaniac of other countries. Its narcotizing qualities are commemorated by Cooke in his Seven Sisters of Sleep, wherein may be found a full description of the toxic employment of the fungus.
The writer has heard it claimed that this species of Amanita has been eaten with impunity by certain individuals; but the information has usually come from sources which warrant the belief that another harmless species has been confounded with it. The warning of my Frontispiece may safely be extended to the fly-amanita. Its beautiful gossamer veil may aptly symbolize a shroud.
By fixing these simple structural features of the Amanita in mind, and emphasizing them by a study of our Frontispiece, we may now consider ourselves armed against our greatest foe, and may with some assurance make our limited selection among this lavish larder of wild provender continually going to waste by the ton in our woods and pastures and lawns. For it is now a fact generally believed by fungologists, and being gradually demonstrated, that the edible species, far from being the exception, as formerly regarded, are the rule; that a great majority of our common wild fungi are at least harmless, if not positively wholesome and nutritious as food.
Forewarned and forearmed