Foraging For Mushrooms In The Rain With Psychedelic Advocates

All photos by Jack Gorsline

An afternoon in the Arnold Arboretum with Bay Staters for Natural Medicine

For more than 150 years, visitors from all around the world have ventured to the Arnold Arboretum in Jamaica Plain to marvel at some of the very best fall foliage New England has to offer. Beneath that kaleidoscopic canopy, last Saturday, the park’s rich biodiversity was on full display for roughly two-dozen foragers trekking through the muddy, leaf-blanketed grounds. 

Despite torrential wind-twisted conditions, a cheery band of artists, activists, and psychedelic advocates reveled in the rain as we hunted for mushrooms big and small. Organized and led by James Davis, a Jamaica Plain resident and founder of the Boston-based Bay Staters for Natural Medicine, the event was meant for attendees to discover, identify, and learn about a dozen or so mushroom species that call the southwest side of the city home. 

Bay Staters was founded in 2020, and its organizers advocate for legalizing naturally occurring psychedelic chemicals, compounds, and plant-life such as psilocybin, the primary psychoactive chemical in magic mushrooms. The group’s leadership approach incorporates a blend of traditional advocacy, like political lobbying, and community building efforts that extend beyond standard bureaucratic engagement efforts and instead strive for the cultivation of a coalition bound together by shared values, interests, and artistries. 

JP’s 281-acre autumnal paradise was an ideal setting for such a utopian effort. In his will, whaling industry titan James Arnold designated the land to “the promotion of agricultural and horticultural improvements,” effectively making America’s first-ever public arboretum a place of tranquility, ecological diversity, and horticultural innovation. Home to more than 17,000 plant species, it has one of the world’s most spectacular public collections of flora, fauna, and fungi.

Despite the rain, I thoroughly enjoyed spending the day sloshing around the woods in search of non-psychoactive mushrooms like Hen of the Woods, Bear’s Head Tooth, and Lion’s Mane. (Ed. note: Please be careful if you’re foraging on your own and consult with an expert before consuming anything that may be poisonous.) Davis said the group aims to create opportunities “where people can make new friends who are also interested in nature and are interested in feeling better and living more fulfilled lives.” He noted that meetups like these have helped forge close friendships in a diverse coalition of open-minded New Englanders.

“A lot of the friendships that people make lead them to get more involved in their communities by volunteering in other ways,” Davis said. “That’s the really beautiful thing about what our events do.”

Next on their agenda, Davis and his team are expanding their events across New England, with a spooky season-themed luncheon in Provincetown this Thursday, followed by a Friday afternoon community potluck in Amherst, as well as a psychedelic documentary showcase in Hartford, Connecticut on Thursday, Oct. 28.

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