Convolvulaceae (Morning Glory Family); Subfamily Convolvuloideae, Argyreieae Tribe
Forms and Subspecies
Convolvulus corymbosa L.
Convolvulus corymbosus L.
Convolvulus domingensis Desr.
Convolvulus sidaefolia H.B.K.
Convolvulus sidaefolius Kunth
Ipomoea antillana Millspaugh
Ipomoea burmanni Choisy
Ipomoea corymbosa (L.) Roth
Ipomoea dominguensis (Desr.) House
Ipomoea sidaefolia (H.B.K.) Choisy
Ipomoea sidaefolia (Kunth) Choisy
Rivea corymbosa (L.) Hall. f.
The ololiuqui vine (Turbina corymbosa) in blossom. (Photographed in Xalapa, Mexico)
Aguinaldo (Cuba), a-mu-kia, angelito, badoh (Zapotec), badoh blanco (“white badoh”), badohshnaash, badoor, bejuco de San Pedro (“vine of St. Peter”), bidoh shnaash, bi-to, coatlxihuitl (Aztec, “snake plant”), coatlxoxouhqui (Aztec, “green snake” or “blue snake”), coatlxoxouqui, cuanbodoa, cuetzpallin (“wall lizard”), cuexpalli, flor de la virgen (Spanish, “flower of the virgin”), flor de pascua (Spanish, “Easter flower”), grüne schlange, guana-lace, hierba de la virgen (“herb of the virgin”), hierba María, hoja del norte (“leaf of the north”), huan-mei (Chinantec), huan-menha-sey, loquetica, loquetico (“the crazy one”), manta, mantecón, manto (“coat”), ma:sungpahk (Mixe, “bones of the children”), m’+’oo quia’ sée, mo-ho-quiot-mag, mo-so-lena (Mazatec), nicuanalaci, nocuana-laci, nosolena, ololiuhqui (Aztec, “that which causes turns”), ololiuqui, ololiuquiranke, ololiuqui vine, pamaxunk, pi-too (Zapotec), piule,312 quahn shnaash, sachxoit (Tepehuan), santa (“the saint”), Santa Catarina, schlangenpflanze, semillas de la virgen, señorita (Spanish, “lady”), tabentun, trepadora (“vine”), tumba caballo (“grave of the horse”), ua-men-hasey (Chinantec), weiße trichterwinde, xtabentum, xtabentun (Mayan, “jeweled cord”), xtabentún, yaga-bidoo, yerba de la serpientes, yerba de la virgen, yololique (Nahuat), yucu-yaha (Mixtec)
The ritual and medicinal use of the psychoactive seeds of the ololiuqui vine dates back far into the pre-Hispanic period. There has been evidence of the use of the “little gods” (= seeds) among the Aztecs and other Mesoamerican peoples since early colonial times. Sahagun documented the divinatory and medicinal uses. Hernandez was the first to discuss the plant and its properties. Ximenez described the plant and its use in Cuatrolibros de la naturaleza(1790). The most comprehensive report comes from Ruiz de Alarcón.
In the early twentieth century, it was thought that the use of ololiuqui had died out. The botanical source was also long uncertain. For example, ololiuqui had been interpreted as Datura innoxia or Lophophora williamsii (Safford 1915; Reko 1934). It was once even thought that ololiuqui must have been a poppy species (Papaver spp., Argemone mexicana) with narcotic properties (Cerna 1932, 305*).
The botanical identity of ololiuqui was first clarified in the 1940s by Richard Evans Schultes (Davis 1996, 94 ff.*; Schultes 1941). In the early 1960s Albert Hofmann isolated the active constituents, which he recognized to be ergot alkaloids that were closely related to the constituents of Claviceps purpurea and LSD (Hofmann 1961). From a chemotaxonomic perspective, this discovery was an absolute sensation. At the time, no one had thought it possible that a primitive fungus was able to biosynthesize the same substances as a highly developed flowering plant. For this reason, Albert Hofmann was greeted with severe skepticism and disbelief when his report was first published and when he made his first presentations on the subject.
The plant is very likely from tropical Mexico but is now very common in Cuba as well as on other islands of the West Indies and on the North American Gulf Coast. It also occurs in Central America; its southernmost occurrence is in the Amazon basin of southern Colombia (Richardson 1992, 69*). The plant was introduced into the Philippines at an early date and has now become wild there (Brenneisen 1994, 1014).
Propagation occurs via the seeds, which are preferably pregerminated or raised in growing pots until they are seedlings. Cultivation is not a particularly successful venture, as typically only a few seeds germinate. The plant requires a tropical climate and relatively large amounts of water and does not tolerate any frost (cf. also Ipomoea violacea).
The large, woody, perennial creeper (up to 8 m long) has cordate leaves (5 to 9 cm long, 2.5 to 6 cm wide) and flowering branches that grow from the leaf axils. The branches bear the funnel-shaped flowers in clusters or umbels. The sepals are only about 1 cm wide, while the white petals can attain a length of 5 cm. The fruits contain only one light brown or ocher seed. In Mexico, the plant flowers between December and March. The flowers are the source of a great amount of (psychoactive) honey. Most of the honey produced in Cuba is from Turbina corymbosa.
The genus Turbina is composed of twelve to fifteen species, some of which are similar in appearance, but only a few of which are known (Brenneisen 1994, 1013). They occur in tropical Africa and on New Caledonia (Schultes 1941, 20). The seeds of other Turbina species may also one day be found to contain psychoactive ergot alkaloids, as does Argyreia nervosa. Ololiuqui is the only New World species in the genus.
This is most likely the earliest non-Indian illustration of the ololiuqui vine (Turbina corymbosa). (From Francisco Hernandez, Rerum medicarum Novae Hispania thesaurus, Rome, 1651)
—Fresh or dried seeds (Turbina corymbosa seeds, pascua, piule,313 badoh, ololiuqui)
Preparation and Dosage
The fresh or dried seeds normally are added to such alcoholic drinks as mescal (cf. Agave spp.), aguardiente (sugarcane liquor; cf. alcohol), tepache (maize beer, chicha), and balche’ (Schultes 1941, 37). The fresh seeds, when crushed, are added to pulque (cf. Agave spp.) and allowed to steep. This drink, known as piule, can be drunk to attain hypnotic states.
Fifteen or more seeds can be ground and allowed to soak in one-half cup of water (Gottlieb 1973, 39*). The Zapotec say that a shamanic dosage consists of thirteen pairs of seeds (Fields 1968, 206); traditional dosages also are said to consist of fourteen or twenty-two seeds (Wasson 1971, 343). Because such traditional dosages did not elicit any effects among Western test subjects, experiments were conducted using larger quantities:
Ingesting 60 to 100 seeds led to apathy, indifference, and increased sensitivity to optical stimuli. After some 4 hours, there followed a longer-lasting phase of relaxation and well-being. In contrast, in eight male subjects, dosages of up to 125 seeds did not elicit any effects except vomiting. (Brennesien 1994, 1015)
Dosages as high as three hundred to five hundred seeds have also been tested, usually with unsatisfactory results and such severe side effects as vomiting, diarrhea, et cetera (Brenneisen 1994, 1016).
Literature from the colonial period mentions an ointment known as “sacred flesh” that was prepared from the ashes of burned insects, tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum, Nicotiana rustica), and ololiuqui seeds (José de Acosta, Historia natural y moral de las Indias . . . , Seville 1590).
The root is purportedly used for divinatory purposes, but the manner of preparation is unknown (Fields 1968, 206).
The plant and its psychoactive effects are discussed in some detail in the colonial literature:
Its leaves are slender, ropelike, small. Its name is ololiuhqui. It inebriates one; it makes one crazy, stirs one up, makes one mad, makes one possessed. He who eats of it, he who drinks it, sees many things that will make him afraid to a high degree. He is truly terrified of the great snake that he sees for this reason.
He who hates people causes one to swallow it in drink and in food so as to make one mad. But it smells sour; it burns a little in the throat. It is applied on the surface alone to treat gout. (Sahagun, Florentine Codex 11.7*)
The Spanish physician Francisco Hernandez wrote about ololiuqui in his Rerum medicarum Novae Hispaniae thesaurus:
There is a plant in Mexico that is called snake-plant, a vine with arrow-shaped leaves, which is thus also called arrow plant. The seed is used in medicine. Ground and drunk with milk and Spanish pepper, it takes away pains, heals all manner of ailments, inflammations, and ulcers. When the priests of the Indians wish to commune with the spirits of the dead, they eat these seeds to induce a delirium and then see thousands of satanic figures and phantasms around them. (In Rätsch 1991a, 193*)
The Spanish missionary Hernando Ruiz de Alarcón has provided us with the most detailed reports of the Indian uses of magical plants (cf. Lophophora williamsii, Nicotiana rustica). His writings were published in 1629 under the title Treatise on the Heathen Superstitions That Today Live Among the Indians Native to This New Spain. (This work became a kind of “witches’ hammer,” providing the juristic basis for persecuting witches in the New World.) He has the following to say about the use of ololiuqui, which is equated with the use of peyote:
A comparison of the psychoactive seeds of the two vines traditionally used in Mexico: on the left are the light-colored seeds of Turbina corymbosa (= badoh blanco) and on the right the dark seeds of Ipomoea violacea (= badoh negro).
The so-called ololiuhqui is a seed like lentils or lentil vetch which, when drunk, deprives one of judgment. And the faith that these unhappy natives have in this seed is amazing, since, by drinking it, they consult it like an oracle for everything whatever that they want to know, even those things which are beyond human knowledge, such as knowing the cause of illnesses, because almost everyone among them who is consumptive, tubercular, with diarrhea, or with whatever other sickness of the persistent kind right away attributes it to sorcery. And in order to resolve this doubt and others like it, such as those about stolen things and of aggressors, they consult this seed by means of one of their deceitful doctors, some of whom have it as their job to drink this seed for such consultations, and this kind of doctor is called Pàyni, because of the job, for which he is paid very well, and they bribe him with meals and drinks in their fashion. If this doctor either does not have this function or wishes to excuse himself from that torment, he advises the patient himself to drink that seed, or another person for whose services they also pay as they do the doctor, but the doctor indicates to him the day and the hour in which he is to drink it, and he tells him for what purpose he will drink it.
Finally, whether it is the doctor or another person in his place, in order to drink the seed, or peyote, which is another small root and for which they have the same faith as for that other seed, he closes himself up alone in a room, which usually is his oratory, where no one is to enter throughout all the time that the consultation lasts, which is for as long as the consultant is out of his mind, for then they believe the ololiuhqui or peyote is revealing to them that which they want to know. As soon as the intoxication or deprivation of judgment passes from this person, he tells two thousand hoaxes, among which the Devil usually includes some truths, so that he has them deceived or duped absolutely. . . .
Also they make use of this drink to find things that have been stolen, lost, or misplaced and in order to know who took or stole them. . . .
When the wife leaves the husband or the husband the wife, they also take advantage of ololiuhqui, and in this case the imagination and fantasy work also, and even better than in the case of sicknesses, because in this second case conjectures follow that are the cause of more vehement suspicion, and thus it works with greater strength at the time of the intoxication, since it is easily seen that one person will be persuaded that another carried off his wife or stole his property. . . .
Finally these prophets make use of ololiuhqui or of peyote to solve these riddles, in the way already described. Then they say that a venerable old man appears to them who says that he is the ololiuhqui or the peyote and that he has come at their call in order to help them in whatever way might be necessary. Then, being asked about the theft or about the absent wife, he answers where and how they will find it or her. . . .
Here it should be carefully noted how much these miserable people hide this superstition of the ololiuhqui from us, and the reason is that, as they confess, the very one they consult orders them not to reveal it to us. . . . And thus their excuse is ipampa àmo nechtlahueliz, which is as if to say “in order that the ololiuhqui will not declare himself to be my enemy.” (Ruiz de Alarcón, treatise I, chapter 6; 1984, 59–60, 65, 67)
This use of ololiuqui seeds has continued in the same manner with only slight variations into the present day among the Zapotec, Mixtec, Mazatec, and Mixe. Among the Mixe, the plant and its parts (seeds, et cetera) are regarded as apotropaic. Witches can be kept away from the house if the appropriate parts of the plant are used. The seeds are used in the same manner as mushrooms (cf. Psilocybe mexicana). Twenty-six seeds is given as a dosage (Lipp 1991, 190*). The Zapotec consider the plant sacred, “like a little god”; they ingest thirteen individual seeds or thirteen pairs of seeds (= twenty-six) for divinatory, clairvoyant, and medicinal purposes (Fields 1968). The seeds are powdered (if possible by a virgin), soaked in water, and then ingested. In some areas, they are purportedly also made into a snuff (Furst 1976b, 155*). As the seeds are being collected, the patient should direct the following prayer to the plant (Fields 1968, 206): “I come here to purchase something from you. With your permission, you will heal my illness.”
Several hours after the patient has ingested the seeds, things of importance are revealed to him in a dreamlike, hypnotic state. Two children (niige) or the badoh plant itself appear to the afflicted person and tell him the reasons for his illness. The patient usually stammers, and the curandera will interpret his sounds and words. After the session, she speaks with the patient about the messages from the plant (Fields 1968, 207).
In the area of the Maya (Yucatán), the medicinal and ritual use of the ololiuqui vine was documented during the colonial period. It was consistently listed under the name xtabentum, “jewel cord,” in the Mayan lexica and was described in the Libro dej Judío:
The plant, tabentun, is a vine that gets white flowers. It is common in the gardens. Its quality is “moderate” [humoral doctrine] and it has many effects; the most well known is for those who cannot urinate. It can open the channels in which there is a stone. The bees take honey from its flowers. (Rätsch 1986a, 232*)
A depiction of the World Tree on a stele from the Classic Mayan period, showing how the tree grows out of the “earth monster” and is entwined by a vine that may be interpreted as Turbina corymbosa.
Honey plays an important role in the cult of the Maya during the production of the mildly alcoholic ritual drink known as balche’, the use of which extends far back into the Classic Mayan period and is still found in the Yucatán today. Xtabentum honey is popular for making balche’ because it improves its effects. The seeds also are ingested with balche’. One Mayan shaman (h-mèn) had the following to say about xtabentum:
Especially when it is freshly harvested, ground, and taken as a drink; and when one drinks enough of it, one sees thousands of spirits, has contact with the devil and with hell. . . . When someone loses something valuable, we give him xtabentum to drink. Before he falls asleep, we repeatedly say into his ear: “Where is the lost object.” And we describe it. He becomes clairvoyant in the ensuing xtabentum sleep and sees where the object is. And if it was stolen, he will recognize the thief. Because the sleep is not deep, we can speak with him by calling to him repeatedly, as with people under hypnosis. He will give clear answers, although slowly and haltingly. In the inebriation of xtabentum, one also becomes weak and regrets his sins. He admits to everything if he is asked. (Leuenberger 1979, 83 f.*)
Pre-Columbian art contains many illustrations of plants and floral elements that can be interpreted as vines (e.g., as Ipomoea violacea). Some of the images contained in the wall paintings at Tepantitla (Teotihuacán) are particularly fascinating. Numerous vinelike plants bear white flowers whose petals contain disembodied eyes. Peter T. Furst views these as representations of the Turbina vine. They are in a direct iconographic association with a deity that was once interpreted as the (Aztec) rain god Tláloc (cf. Argemone mexicana) but probably represents a mother goddess (Furst 1974).
The Mayan codices also show vines that may represent ololiuqui (Rätsch 1986a, 232*). The Codex Magliabecchi contains a depiction of the plant as a climber on a field that is borne by rattlesnakes (cf. Guerra 1990, 177*).
The plant is depicted on a Cuban stamp that was issued at Christmas 1960–61 (Schultes and Hofmann 1992, 158*).
The Yucatec Maya use the plant medicinally as a diuretic and to treat wounds and bruises (Pulido S. and Serralta P. 1993, 20*). In Tecún Umán (Guatemala), the leaves are used to treat tumors (Fields 1968, 206). The plant finds use in Cuban folk medicine as an aid to parturition (Seoane Gallo 1984, 853*).
The fresh seeds (only in the embryo) contain 0.012 to 0.07% indole or ergot alkaloids (ergoline alkaloids). The primary alkaloid is ergine (= 5R,8R-(+)-lysergic acid amide, LA-111 = ergo-basin), which comprises 50% of the total amount. The most important secondary alkaloid is erginine (= isoergine, 5R,8S-(+)-isolysergic acid amide); also present are small amounts of chanoclavine, elymoclavine, and lysergol. Terpene glycosides (e.g., epicorymbosin) and galactomannanes have also been detected (Brenneisen 1994, 1014; Cook and Kealand 1962).
The leaves and stalks, but not the roots, also contain psychoactive indole alkaloids. The concentration in the dried leaves ranges from 0.016 to 0.027% and in the dried stems from 0.01 to 0.012% (primarily ergine and erginine = isoergine) (Brenneisen 1994, 1014).
Ololiuqui seeds do not produce psychedelic effects like those of Psilocybe spp., LSD, or N,N-DMT. Instead, they produce a hypnotic state similar to that induced by Ipomoea violacea. The Indians report powerful visions, even with very low doses. It is possible that the ololiuqui experience is particularly amenable to cultural conditioning. Or perhaps the seeds invoke visionary effects only when they are ingested by a qualified shaman.
While the main active constituent ergine has been demonstrated to produce psychoactive effects, these are not comparable to those produced by LSD. Rather, ergine induces a kind of trance or twilight sleep with dream images (Brenneisen 1994, 1015 f.).
“With the studies of ololiuqui, my work in the area of hallucinogenic drugs nicely came full circle. It now formed a circle, one could say a magical circle; the starting point was the studies on the production of lysergic acid amides of the type of the naturally occurring ergot alkaloid ergobasin. These led to the synthesis of lysergic acid diethylamide, of LSD. The work with the hallucinogenic substance LSD then led to studies of the hallucinogenic magic mushroom teonanacatl, from which the active principles psilocybin and psilocin were isolated. The concern with the Mexican magic drug teonanacatl led to work on a second Mexican magic drug, ololiuqui. In ololiuqui, lysergic acid amides, including ergobasin, were once again found to be the hallucinogenic substances, and this closed the magical circle.”
LSD—MEIN SORGENKIND [LSD— MY PROBLEM CHILD]
(1979, 149 f.*)
Lysergic acid amide (LSA, ergine)
This pre-Columbian representation of a plant on a wall painting in Tepantitla, Teotihuacán, can be interpreted as Turbina corymbosa.
Commercial Forms and Regulations
Although the plant is not subject to any legal restrictions, it is almost impossible to obtain. Plant material cannot be procured even in Mexico. Seeds are sometimes available from ethno-botanical suppliers (in very limited quantities). Unfortunately, many seeds that are sold as ololiuqui actually come from Ipomoea spp. (usually devoid of active constituents) or some other Convolvulaceae.
The liquor known as xtabentum is available for purchase in Mérida or Valladolid (Yucatán). But it is doubtful whether this is actually made with honey from Turbina corymbosa.
See also the entries for Ipomoea violacea, Ipomoea spp., and ergot alkaloids.
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———. 1963. The active principles of the seeds of Rivea corymbosa and Ipomoea violacea. Botanical Museum Leaflets, Harvard University 20:194–212.
———. 1964. Mexican witchcraft drugs and their active principles. Planta Medica 12:341–52.
———. 1971a. The active principles of the seeds of Rivea corymbosa (L.) Hall f. (ololiuhqui, badoh) and Ipomoea tricolor Cav. (badoh negro). In Homenaje a Roberto J. Weitlaner, 349–57. Mexico: UNAM.
———. 1971b. Teonanácatl and ololiuqui: Two ancient magic drugs of Mexico. Bulletin on Narcotics 23 (1): 3–14.
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A group of musicians who perform in the techno style known as “psychedelic trance” took their name from the Aztec magical plant ololiuqui. (CD cover, Spirit Zone Records, 1996)