One of the more persistent myths about the fly-agaric mushroom, Amanita muscaria, the familiar red and white-spotted mushrooms of fairy-tale, the uber-shroom, is this: that in the Arctic, where there is a history of intentional fly-agaric use, people wait to find a reindeer intoxicated on the mushrooms, then collect and drink its urine to get high.
While it's true that the active ingredients of the fly-agaric, ibotenic acid and muscimol, are excreted unmetabolised, that human urine can be, and is, thusly consumed, and that reindeer do get off on the mushroom, the reindeer-urine part of the story always seemed to me to be a little far-fetched, a confabulation. When researching Shroom I could find no evidence for it. I mean, think about it - how would you actually collect urine from a bemushroomed reindeer staggering about the tundra?
Well, it turns out I was wrong.
This week I made my annual visit to the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance and there I met a reindeer herder, with herds in both Britain and Scandinavia. We got chatting and I asked him whether it was true that reindeer have a taste for human urine. Quite true. They'll lap it up from the snow. And then, unprompted, he told me the following story.
Once, while living amongst the Saami, his hosts started feeding reindeer with fly-agarics, which the deer consumed with some relish. Waiting for nature to take its course, the fruits of micturition were collected in a bucket (strapped to the animals' flanks perhaps?), boiled up in a pot (I'm guessing to concentrate the brew or perhaps to make it more potable) and shared round.
"I don't drink and I've never taken any drugs" he told me. "But I took some when they passed it round. Well, you have to, don't you? They expect it. Anyway, I was high as a kite I was, high as a kite. There was an old eighty year old grandmother with us, and I fancied her, that's how high I was. High as a bloody kite!"
So there you have it. A report from a credible witness that some Saami do drink fly-agaric-imbued reindeer urine and that the effects are palpable. I stand corrected.