The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants: Ethnopharmacology and Its Applications

Tabernaemontana spp.


Tabernaemontana Species



The Indians refer to this Tabernaemontana species from southern Mexico as u nek’ tsimin, “the genitals of the tapir.” (Photographed in Yaxchilan, Chiapas, Mexico)



Tabernaemontana species, showing the typical flower of the genus.



One Tabernaemontana species common in Belize is called “dog testicles” because of its fruit. (Wild plant, photographed in Belize)




Apocynaceae (Dogbane Family); Subfamily Plumerioideae, Tabernaemontaneae Tribe, Tabernaemontaninae Subtribe



Ervatamia spp.

Peschiera spp.

Folk Names


Throughout the world, the suggestive appearance of the fruits of many Tabernaemontana species has led to them being named for the genitals of various mammals: dog’s testicles, u nek’ pek’ (“the testicles of the dog”), u nek’ tsimin (“the testicles of the tapir”), äh toon tsimin (“the penis of the tapir”), et cetera.



The genus Tabernaemontana is composed of some 120 tropical and several subtropical species (Sierra et al. 1991). Most occur in tropical rain forests, especially in Central and South America and in Africa (Schultes 1979). In Africa, many species are used for ethnomedicinal purposes (Omino and Kokwaro 1993*).

Linnaeus developed the genus name to honor the naturalist and “father of botany” Jakob Theodor, called Tabernaemontanus (1522–1590). Phytochemical studies of the genus have only recently taken place.Indole alkaloidsdominate; several species have been found to contain ibogaine and voacangine (cf. Tabernanthe ibogaVoacanga spp.). As a result, this genus is of special interest in the search for new psychoactive plants. Several species with psychoactive effects and uses have already become known.



Most species in the genus are bushy shrubs, shrubby herbs, climbers, or small trees. They have evergreen, lanceolate, more or less tapered leaves that frequently have a leathery upper surface. The pentacuspidate flowers often grow in clusters from the leaf axils. The fruits are always symmetrically bipartite with a more or less conspicuous constriction; they often appear remarkably similar to the scrotums of higher mammals. Some fruits turn luminously red as they ripen. The presence of whitish or yellowish latex in the bark is a characteristic of the genus.

Tabernaemontana coffeoides Bojer ex DC.


This plant is used in Madagascar as a stimulant. It contains voacangine and other alkaloids. Voacangine can be transformed in vitro to ibogaine (Ott 1993, 401*).

Tabernaemontana crassa Bentham


This midsize tree is from the rain forests of West Africa, where the local populace uses it for various folk medicinal purposes. The latex is applied externally to treat wounds and fleshworms. An extract of the leaves is ingested for fever. One especially popular application involves using the leaves as a local anesthetic, e.g., in the treatment of dislocations and broken bones (Agwu and Akah 1990). Whether the plant was or is also used for psychoactive purposes (as a narcotic) is still unknown.

Tabernaemontana dichotoma Roxburgh ex Wallich—divi kaduru


In India, the root and stem cortex of this species are used in folk medicine to treat wounds as well as snakebites and centipede bites (Perera et al. 1985, 2097). The bark is also regarded in India as a drug that can induce delirium—that is, have psychoactive effects (Ott 1993, 401*; Perera et al. 1983). In Sri Lanka, divi kaduru is regarded as a “forbidden fruit” and included in the same folk taxonomic category as Strychnos nux-vomica (goda kaduru); kaduru means “poisonous.” Muslims call the fruit “the forbidden fruit of the Garden of Eden,” while Europeans living in Sri Lanka call it “Eve’s apple.” The seeds are said to have potent narcotic and hallucinogenic effects, and folk healers consider them the equal of the seeds of Datura metel (Perera et al. 1984, 233 f.). The bark has been found to contain twenty-two alkaloids of the ibogaine type, including the stimulating vobasine and ibogamine (Perera et al. 1985).

Tabernaemontana heterophylla Vahl.—sanango


The Tukano Indians of the Brazilian Amazon give old people who are becoming slow and forgetful a tea made from the leaves twice a day for two weeks (Schultes 1993, 132*). Sanango, a word that essentially means “memory,” is a name given to a number of Amazonian plants (Schultes 1979, 186). Whether this species is psychoactive or merely a brain tonic is an open question. It is possible that the leaves are used as an ayahuasca additive.

Tabernaemontana muricata Link ex Roemer et Schultes


The leaves and white flowers are dried in the sun and used as a stimulating additive to chicha made from Manihot esculenta. Such chicha is said to be especially good for the elderly. The leaves and flowers contain alkaloids (Schultes 1979, 186).

Tabernaemontana pandacaqui Poir. [syn. Ervatamia pandacaqui (Poir.) Pichon, Tabernaemontana wallichiana Steub.]


The root of this species, which is common in Thailand, is used in folk medicine to treat fever, pain, and dysentery. Pharmacological studies have demonstrated that an alcohol extract of the root, stem, leaves, and flowers has potent analgesic effects (Taesotikul et al. 1989b). To date, nothing is known about any psychoactive effects upon humans. The root has been found to contain 3S-hydroxyvoacangine, an indole alkaloid of the voacangine type that also occurs in Voacanga spp. Alkaloids of the ibogaine type are also present (Sierra et al. 1991).

Tabernaemontana rimulosa Woodson ex Schultes


In Venezuela, a few leaves of this species, boiled in milk, are drunk as a sleeping agent (Schultes 1979, 186).

Tabernaemontana sananho Ruíz et Pavón—sanango


In Amazonia, the sanango tree, which can grow as tall as 5 meters, is regarded as a cure-all; the leaves, the root, and the latex-rich bark are all used in folk medicine (Schultes 1979, 187 ff.). The leaves of the tree are used psychoactively as an additive to ayahuasca and also are combined with Virola spp. to produce an orally efficacious hallucinogen. The plant is also called uch pa huasca sanango and is known as a “memory plant,” a reference to the fact that its inclusion in a psychoactive preparation causes a person to better remember the experiences he or she has had while under the influence of that preparation. It is added to ayahuasca so that a person can, afterward, more clearly recall the visions he or she saw.


The raw drug of Tabernaemontana sananho consists of stem pieces.



Dried leaves, flowers, and fruits of Tabernaemontana sananho.


In Ecuador, the plant is known as sikta and is available in raw form (short branch pieces) at local markets.

The Jíbaro drip the freshly pressed juice into the nostrils of their dogs so that they may be better able to locate prey. The plant is also known as yacu zanango.298

It is rich in alkaloids (Schultes 1983a, 270*).

Tabernaemontana tetrastachys H.B.K.—uchusanango, saticu


The Makuna Indians call this plant beé-e-ge and use its latex as stimulating eyedrops (cf. Tabernanthe iboga). A few drops is said to dispel tiredness and sleep (Schultes 1979, 189).



Indole alkaloids are common in the Family Apocynaceae. To date, the approximately 120 species of the family have been found to contain 256 alkaloids, of which many are ibogaine analogs. Several species even contain pure ibogaine. Many Tabernaemontana species contain high concentrations of indole alkaloids, primarily tabernanthine, ibogaine, and ibogamine alkaloids (Achenbach and Raffelsberger 1980; van Beek et al. 1984). Other species, e.g., Tabernaemontana campestris (Rizz.) Leeuwenberg [syn. Peschiera campestris (Rizz.) Rizz.], contain voacangine, the main active constituent in Voacanga spp., and similar alkaloids (Gower et al. 1986). Biochemical studies have shown that the genus’s production of indoles is open to influence and can be modified (Dagnino et al. 1992). Many of the alkaloids have stimulant effects (van Beek et al. 1984).



Some of the species that were originally assigned to the genus Tabernaemontana are now viewed as belonging to a genus of their own, PandacaIndole alkaloids of the ibogaine type also occur in the genus Pandaca.

Tabernaemontana van heurkii Muell. Arg. now bears the botanically valid name Peschiera van heurkii (Muell. Arg.) L. Allorge. The leaves and the stem bark contain twenty indole alkaloids, some of which have antibacterial properties (Muñoz et al. 1994).



See also the entry for indole alkaloids.


Achenbach, Hans, and Bernd Raffelsberger. 1980. 19-ethoxycoronaridine, a novel alkaloid from Tabernaemontana glandulosaPhytochemistry 19:716–17.


Agwu, Ijere E., and Peter A. Akah. 1990. Tabernaemontana crassa as a traditional local anesthetic agent. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 30:115–19.


Dagnino, D., J. Schripsema, and R. Verpoorte. 1992. Comparison of two cell lines of Tabernaemontana divaricata with respect to their indole alkaloid biosynthetic and transformation capacity. Planta Medica 58 suppl. (1): A608.


Delle Monache, G., et al. 1977. Studi sugli alcaloidi di Tabernaemontana sananho R. et P. Atti Acc. Naz. Lincei 62:221–26.


Gower, Adriana E., Benedito da S. Pereira, and Anita J. Marsaioli. 1986. Indole alkaloids from Peschiera campestrisPhytochemistry 25 (12): 2908–10.


Muñoz, V., C. Moretti, M. Sauvain, C. Caron, A. Porzel, G. Massiot, B. Richard, and L. Le Men-Olivier. 1994. Isolation of bis-indole alkaloids with antileishmanial and antibacterial activities from Peschiera van heurkii (syn. Tabernaemontana van heurkii). Planta Medica60:455–59.


Perera, Premila, Duangta Kanjanapoothi, Finn Sandberg, and Robert Verpoorte. 1984. Screening for biological activity of different plant parts of Tabernaemontana dichotoma, known as divi kaduru in Sri Lanka. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 11:233–41.


———. 1985. Muscle relaxant activity and hypotensive activity of some Tabernaemontana alkaloids. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 13:165–73.


Perera, P., G. Samuelsson, T. A. van Beek, and R.Verpoorte. 1983. Tertiary indole alkaloids from leaves of Tabernaemontana dichotomaPlanta Medica 47:148–50.


Perera, P., F. Sanberg, T. A. van Beek, and R. Verpoorte. 1985. Alkaloids of stem and rootbark of Tabernaemontana dichotomaPhytochemistry 24 (9): 2097–104.


Schultes, Richard Evans. 1979. De Plantis Toxicariis e Mundo Novo Tropicale Commentationes. XIX: Biodynamic Apocynaceous plants of the northwest Amazon. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 1:165–92.


Sierra, Marta I., Robert van der Heijden, Jan Schripsema, and Robert Verpoorte. 1991. Alkaloid production in relation to differentiation in cell and tissue cultures of Tabernaemontana pandacaquiPlanta Medica 57:543–47.


Taesotikul, T., A. Panthong, D. Kanjanapothi, R. Verpoorte, and J. J. C. Scheffer. 1989a. Cardiovascular effects of Tabernaemontana pandacaquiJournal of Ethnopharmacology 27:107–19.


———. 1989b. Hippocratic screening of ethanolic extracts from two Tabernaemontana species. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 27:99–106.


van Beek, T. A., F. L. C. Kuijlaars, P. H. A. M. Thomassen, R. Verpoorte, and A. Baerheim Svendsen. 1984. Antimicrobially active alkaloids from Tabernaemontana pachysiphonPhytochemistry 23 (8): 1771–78.


van Beek, T. A., and M. A. J. T. Van Gessel. 1988. Alkaloids of Tabernaemontana species. In Alkaloids: Chemical and biological perspectives, ed. S. W. Pelletier, 6:75–226. New York: Wiley & Sons.


van Beek, T. A., R. Verpoorte, A. Baerheim Svendsen, A. J. M. Leeuwenberg, and N. G. Bisset. 1984. Tabernaemontana (Apocynaceae): A review of its taxonomy, phytochemistry, ethnobotany and pharmacology. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 10:1–156.