The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants: Ethnopharmacology and Its Applications

Little-Studied Psychoactive Plants


Minor Monographs


There are a great number of plants about which almost no ethnobotanical or phytochemical research has been carried out but that are said to have or have been demonstrated to have psychoactive effects. Moreover, some of these plants’ botanical identifications are questionable. In the case of some of the plants discussed in these minor monographs, information about their psychoactivity (e.g., in the case of Cymbopogon densiflorus) is contained only in notes found together with old herbarium specimens (Altschul 1975*; von Reis and Lipp 1982*). In other cases, very well-known plants that see occasional use for psychoactive purposes, such as ginger (Zingiber officinale), have had little real research into their psychoactive use, preparation, and application. For some plants we have no examples of preparations made with the psychoactive substances they yield (e.g., Gomortega keule). In other cases, plants whose psychoactive effects have been pharmacologically demonstrated have no known or reported traditional use (e.g., Mikania cordata). Many of the plants included in these minor monographs are used primarily as additives to other plant mixtures or products (e.g., Alchornea spp.). These plants do not exhibit psychoactive properties when used alone but have synergistic effects when combined with other substances.

This section will certainly provide many suggestions and impulses for future ethnopharmacological and phytochemical studies.

To the extent that it is possible, the minor monographs also include references to specialized literature. For many of the plants, however, the slim or sparse research situation means that there are no writings dedicated specifically to them.

The Genera Discussed in This Section


Ailanthus, Alchornea, Amaranthus, Anarmita, Archontophoenix, Armatocereus, Aspidosperma, Astragalus, Atherosperma

Benthamia, Bernoullia, Boophane, Brosimum, Bursera

Caesalpinia, Capsicum, Cardamine, Carissa, Castanopsis, Cecropia, Clematis, Comandra, Conium, Cordia, Cordyline, Coriaria, Crotalaria, Cymbopetalum, Cymbopogon, Cyperus, Cypripedium

Delphinium, Dictyoloma, Dictyonema, Dimorphandra, Dioscorea



Gaultheria, Gelsemium, Gloeospermum, Gomortega, Goodenia

Hedera, Helichrysum, Helicostylis, Hieracium, Hipomosa, Homalomena, Huperzia

Iresine, Iryanthera

Jasminum, Jatropha, Juanulloa


Lagochilus, Lancea, Leonotis, [lichen non ident.], Limonium, Lobelia, Lotus, Lucuma, Lupinus, Lycopodium

Macropiper, Magnolia, Malva, Manihot, Maquira, Matayba, Mentha, Metteniusa, Mikania, Mirabilis, Monadenium, Monodora, Mostuea

Neoraimondia, Nephelium

Ocimum, Osteophloeum, Oxytropis

Pancratium, Pandanus, Pedilanthus, Peperomia, Pernettya, Persea, Petunia, Peucedanum, Philodendron, Physalis, Pithecellobium, Polypodium, Pontederia, Pseuderanthemum


Ranunculus, Rauvolfia, Rhododendron

Sanango, Santalum, Scirpus, Sclerocarya, Scoparia, Securidaca, Senecio, Sida, Sloanea, Spiraea, Stephanomeria, Stipa

Teliostachys, Terminalia, Tetrapteris, Thamnosma, Thevetia, Tillandsia, Tribulus, Trichocline, Trichodesma

Umbellularia, Ungnadia, Urmenetea, Utricularia

Valeriana, Vanda, Voacanga


“From the 1930s to today, interdisciplinary activity in psychopharmacology, botany, and anthropology began uninterruptedly to increase. . . .


In spite of the pharmaceutical, phytochemical, and ethnobotanical advances that have been made in the past 125 years, there still remains a tremendous amount of work to be done on these ‘plants of the gods.’”






(1992, 185*)



The attractive devil’s tobacco (Lobelia tupa) is from southern Chile and develops magnificent flowers. Studies about and tests of the plant are lacking.


Ailanthus altissima (Mill.) Swingle


[syn. Ailanthus glandulosa Desf., Ailanthus peregrina (Buc’hoz) Barkl.]




Originally from China, the tree of the gods has now been introduced into Europe and North America (Zander 1994, 98*). An herbarium specimen collected in Pennsylvania in 1937 bears the note, “Seedling ‘of a possibly narcotic plant’ ” (von Reis and Lipp 1982, 146*). No research has been conducted to ascertain whether the tree actually does have psychoactive effects. The main agent (5%) is quassiine (= ailanthine), with the molecular formula C36H50O10(Reichert et al. 1949, 3:169*).

Alchornea spp.


(Euphorbiaceae; Acalyphoideae)


This tropical genus is composed of some seventy species, most of which are found in the Americas, although a few are native to Africa (Schneider 1992, 166). The South American Alchornea castaneifolia(Willd.) Juss. is used in Peru as an ayahuasca additive. The bark of this species, known as pájaro arbol (Spanish, “bird tree”), exhibits antifungal properties (Ott 1993, 403*). The Tikana Indians use the bark medicinally to treat diarrhea (Schultes and Raffauf 1986, 265*). It is not known whether the plant itself is psychoactive.

In Africa, the bushy species Alchornea floribunda Muell. Arg. is known as niando or malande. Found in the tropical regions between Sierra Leone and Zaire, it was formerly used ritually in the bieriancestor cult (Smet 1996*). The fresh or dried root (which is also known as niando) is sometimes added to iboga preparations (see Tabernanthe iboga). The plant is also used as a stimulant and inebriant in many parts of Africa (Raymond-Hamet 1952). It is regarded as a marijuana substitute (see Cannabis indica) and smoked as an aphrodisiac as well (De Wildeman 1920; Schneider 1992, 171). “The natives of the Congo add ground roots of A. floribunda to palm wine for several days to prepare a stimulating drink, niando. The drink serves both as an aphrodisiac and to maintain vigor for wars and tribal festivals” (Scholz and Eigner 1983, 78*). The effects have been described as follows: “As a narcotic hallucinogen, the root drug added to palm wine initially induces a phase of stimulation, then a profound fatigue with isolated fatal results” (Schneider 1992, 71).

In contrast to an earlier report (Paris and Goutarel 1958), the plant does not contain yohimbine, although it does contain the alkaloids alchorneine, isoalchorneine, alchorneinone, and pyrimidine along with imidazole derivatives (Khuong-Huu et al. 1972; Ott 1993, 403*). The quantity of alkaloids can vary considerably. It is usually the highest in the roots, where it can range from 0.6 to 1.2%. As a free base or in the form of a simple derivative, alchornine has antidepressive, spasmolytic, and anticholinergic properties (Schneider 1992, 170 f.).

The closely related African species Alchornea cordifolia (Schum. et Thonn.) Muell. Arg. is easily confused with A. floribunda. It has a number of ethnomedical uses. Its large leaves are used to package cola nuts (Cola spp.) for transport (Schneider 1992, 170). In West Africa, the dried leaves are used to brew a tonic (Assi and Guinko 1991, 26*).



De Wildeman, E. 1920. Le “Niando” succédané du chanvre au Congo belge. Congo 1:534–38.


Khuong-Huu, F., J.-P. Le Forestier, and R. Goutarel. 1972. Alchorneine, isoalchorneine et alchorneinone, produits isolés de l’Alchornea floribunda Muell. Arg. Tetrahedron Letter 28:5207–20.


Paris, R., and R. Goutarel. 1958. Les Alchornea africains. Présence de yohimbine chez l’Alchornea floribunda (Euphorbiaceae). Ann. Pharm. Fr. 16:15–20.


Raymond-Hamet. 1952. L’ Alchornea floribunda Müller ou Niando. Revue Internationale de Botanique Appliquée et d’Agriculture Tropicale 32:427–42.


Schneider, Kurt. 1992. Alchornea. In Hagers Handbuch der pharmazeutischen Praxis, 5th ed., 4:166–73. Berlin: Springer.


Amaranthus spp.




In South America, a number of Amaranthus species are roasted into ashes and used as llipta for chewing coca (see Erythroxylum coca). In Mexico, a chicha brewed from the seeds of Amaranthus caudatus L. is offered to Mother Earth and ritually consumed before the planting of a new field (Early 1992, 29). In Ecuador, the flowers of Amaranthus hybridus L. are decocted into a red liquid that is mixed with rum to produce a drink known as draque, which is used to purify the blood and regulate menstruation (Early 1992, 30). A species of Amaranthus was used by the Cherokee of North America for ethnogynecological and ceremonial purposes (Ott 1993, 403*).


The African niando bush (Alchornea floribunda) is one of the sacred plants of the Bwiti cult. (Photograph: Giorgio Samorini)



The prickly amaranth (Amaranthus spinosus) is from India.



Fruits of the Southeast Asian cocculus bush (Cocculus sp.) have toxic and psychoactive properties.


The Lodha, a tribal people from West Bengal, are said to smoke the dried, pulverized roots of Amaranthus spinosus L. (prickly amaranth, cauleyi, kateli, tanduliyah) as a hallucinogen. A paste of the plant is said to produce “temporary insanity.” In Ayurvedic medicine, the plant is considered a tonic and is used to treat hallucinations (Warrier et al. 1993, 1:107*) In Swaziland (Africa), the entire plant (Amaranthus spinosus) in burned to ashes and used as a snuff, either alone or mixed with tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum) (Ayensu 1978, 32*).

There is no information available about psychoactive substances in this genus (cf. also Iresine spp.).



Cole, John N. 1979. Amaranth from the past for the future. Emmous, Mich.: Reference Publications.


Early, Daniel K. 1992. The renaissance of amaranth. In Chilies to chocolate: Food the Americas gave the world, ed. Nelson Foster and Linda S. Cordell, 15–33. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.


Anarmita cocculus Wight et Arnott


[syn. Anarmita paniculata Colebrooke, A. baueriana Endl., A. jucunda Miers, A. populifolia (DC.) Miers, A. toxifera Miers, Cissampelos cocculus (L.) Miers, Cocculus lacunosus (Lam.) DC., C. populifolius DC., C. suberosus DC., Menispermum cocculus L., M. heteroclitumRoxb., M. lacunosum Lam.]


(Menispermaceae)—cocculus bush


This shrubby climber, a member of the Moonseed Family, is indigenous to eastern India. The round fruits, which are red when fresh and can be as large as 1 cm, are known as cocculus seeds (fructus cocculi), fish seeds, or crazy seeds (cf. witches’ ointments) (Schneider 1974, 1:90*). The fruits contain 1.5 to 5% picrotoxin, consisting of picrotoxinine and pikrotin, as well as bases of the berberine and aporphinal alkaloid types. Picrotoxin has stimulating effects on the central nervous system but can lead to coma and delirium. It is considered one of the most effective antidotes for barbiturate poisoning (Roth et al. 1994, 122*). Cocculus seeds were used in early modern times as an inebriating additive to beer (Tabernaemontanus 1731*).

Cocculus seeds are now illegal in Germany under the Cosmetic Law of June 19, 1985. Their only use today is in homeopathy. The closely related species Cocculus leaeba DC. and Cocculus pendulus are reputed to be psychoactive (Schultes and Farnsworth 1982, 187*; Schultes and Hofmann 1980, 368*).



Hänsel, Rudolf, and Renate Seitz. 1992. Anarmita. In Hagers Handbuch der pharmazeutischen Praxis, 5th ed., 4:267–72. Berlin: Springer.


Archontophoenix cunninghamiana (H. Wendl.) H. Wendl. et Drude


[syn. Ptychosperma cunninghamiana H. Wendl., Seafortia elegans Hook. non R. Br.]


(Palmae)—king palm


This frond palm, which can grow as tall as 25 meters, belongs to the Subfamily Arecoideae. Originally from Australia (Queensland, New South Wales), it bears round, red berries approximately 2 cm in size. The seeds inside are covered by wide fibers. The Papuas (Papua New Guinea) are said to chew the ripe seeds, which have an inebriating effect, as an alcohol substitute (Bärtels 1993, 43*). It is possible that the king palm was used to make palm wine.


The exotic cocculus seeds (Anarmita cocculus) were used as an inebriating beer additive during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. (Woodcut from Gerard, The Herball or General History of Plants, 1633)



Botanical illustration of a Southeast Asian cocculus bush. (Engraving from Pereira, De Beginselen der Materia Medica en der Therapie, 1849)


Armatocereus laetus (H.B.K.) Backeb.




This cactus, known in Peru as pishicol, is reputed to be psychoactive and is one of the plants of the San Pedro cult (see Trichocereus pachanoi). No chemical studies have been conducted (Ott 1993, 396*).

Aspidosperma quebracho-blanco Schlecht.


[syn. A. chakensis Speg., A. crotalorum Speg., A. quebracho Griseb., Macaglia quebracho O. Ktze., Macaglia quebracho-blanco (Schlect.) Lyons]


(Apocynaceae)—white quebracho


The white quebracho tree is found throughout Argentina (Chaco), Peru, and Bolivia. It grows up to 20 meters in height and has mythological, ritual, and ethnomedicinal significance. Among many South American Indian cultures, it is an important shaman’s tree that shamans occasionally climb to communicate with animal spirits (cf. Jatropha grossidentata). The tree, known as no’dik, yields a bark that the Pilagá Indians (Chaco) decoct to treat stomach upsets, cough, headaches, and syphilis. It also finds use as an analgesic and an abortifacient (Filipov 1994, 185*). The Ayoreo Indians, who live in Paraguayan Chaco, consider the tree, which they call ebedu, to be a panacea and they use it to treat all manner of ailments (Schmeda-Hirschmann 1993, 107, 108*).

The common name quebracho, “ax breaker,” is used for a number of species of hardwood trees: horco quebracho (Schinopsis haenkeana Engler), quebracho colorado chaqueño (Schinopsis balansae Engler), quebracho colorado santiagueño (Schinopsis quebracho-colorado [Schlecht.] Barkley et Meyer), quebrachillo (Diatenopteryx sorbifolia Radlk.), and quebracho blanco chico (Aspidosperma triternatum Rojas Acosta [syn. Aspidosperma quebracho-blanco Schlecht. ssp. brevifolium Hassl]) (cf. Santos Biloni 1990, 35, 107, 109, 199, 239*). In Peru, Quechua speakers refer to Aspidosperma quebracho-blanco as willca (kachakacha in Aymara); the name willca is usually used as a name for Anadenanthera colubrina (Santos Biloni 1990, 118*).

Quebracho bark has often been attributed with aphrodisiac powers with psychoactive effects (Schuldes 1995, 20*). The bark of Aspidosperma quebracho-blanco, which finds phytotherapeutic use for asthma, contains some thirty indole alkaloids, including six principal alkaloids (totaling at least 1%): quebrachine (= yohimbine), aspidospermine, quebrachamine, hypoquebrachine, and aspidosamine (Santos Biloni 1990, 119*). The fruits contain the indole alkaloid aspidospermatine; the leaves also contain indoles. Pharmacological studies are lacking (Hoffmann-Bohm 1992, 401 f.).



Hoffmann-Bohm, Kerstin 1992. Aspidosperma. In Hagers Handbuch der pharmazeutischen Praxis, 5th ed., 4:400–405. Berlin: Springer.



Botanical illustration of the white quebracho tree (Aspidosperma quebracho-blanco), a member of the Dogbane Family. (From Köhler’s Medizinal-Pflanzen, 1889)


Astragalus spp.


(Leguminosae: Fabaceae)—locoweeds


Of the more than five hundred species of this genus in North America, a few are referred to by the Spanish-English name locoweed, “crazy weed” (cf. Oxytropis spp.), and have toxic or psycho-tropic properties (Turner and Szczawinski 1992, 122*). Many Astragalus species of the North American prairies have cytotoxic properties, i.e., they kill cells and can thus be used in the treatment of cancer (McCracken et al. 1970). The common name of this plant refers to observations that grazing sheep, cattle, and horses “flip out” or “go crazy” after eating Astragalus or Oxytropis. In South Dakota, I once heard that the Dakota Indians used to and possibly still do eat (or perhaps smoke) locoweeds to produce visions. To date, no constituents with psychoactive or psychotropic effects have been found. The nitrogenous substance miserotoxin (or a derivative) may be responsible for these effects (Williams et al. 1975). Miserotoxin (= 3-nitro-1-propyl-β-D-gentiobioside) occurs especially in Astragalus miserDougl. var. serotinus (Gray) Barneby and in at least ten additional species (Majak and Benn 1988). Astragalus species also possess unusually high concentrations of selenium (Emboden 1976, 160*; Turner and Szczawinski 1992, 123*).

The Navajo utilize a hallucinogenic loco-weed, perhaps blue loco (known in Navajo as dibéhaich’iidii, “gray sheep scratcher”), together with Datura innoxia in magical rituals. They regard blue loco as a “life medicine” (Mayes and Lacy 1989, 59*).


Astragalus species are found throughout the world. In North America, some of them are known as locoweed. (Woodcut from Tabernaemontanus, Neu Vollkommen Kräuter-Buch, 1731)



Quebracho bark (Aspidosperma quebracho-blanco), which contains yohimbine, in its crude form.


The following species are said to be psycho-active: Astragalus amphioxys A. Gray, A. besseyi Rdb., A. cagopus, and A. mollissimus Torr. (Schultes and Farnsworth 1982, 187*; Schultes and Hofmann 1980, 367*). The Mexican species Astragalus amphioxis [1095] Gray is also attributed with such properties (Reko 1938, 187*).

The Old World species Astragalus micro-cephalus Willd. and Astragalus gummifer Labill. provide a gum (tragacanth) that is used in the production of incense (Scholz 1992).



Majak, Walter, and Michael H. Benn. 1988. 3-nitro-1-propyl-β-D-gentiobioside from Astragalus miser var. serotinusPhytochemistry 27 (4): 1089–91.


McCracken, D. S., L. J. Schermeister, and W. H. Bhatti. 1970. Phytochemical and cytotoxic evaluation of several Astragalus species of North Dakota. Lloydia 33 (1): 19–24.


Scholz, Eberhard. 1992. Astragalus. In Hagers Handbuch der pharmazeutischen Praxis, 5th ed., 4:405–17. Berlin: Springer.


Williams, M. Coburn, Frank R. Stermitz, and Richard D. Thomas. 1975. Nitro compounds in Astragalus species. Phytochemistry 14:2306–8.



The Tasmanian tree Atherosperma moschatum, known as “southern sassafras,” has a strong safrole scent.


(Photographed in the cold rainforest of Tasmania)



The rainforest tree Bernoullia flammea, shown here in front of a pyramid in Tikal (Guatemala), is also known as amapola (“opium”).


Atherosperma moschatum Labill.


(Monimiaceae)—southern sassafras, black sassafras


This tree, which can grow as tall as 45 meters, is found in the cool and temperate rain forests of Tasmania (Collier 1992, 24; Kirkpatrick and Backhouse 1989, 59). It is usually refered to as sassafras328 or, less frequently, as southern sassafras and should not be confused with the true Sassafras albidum of America.

Early European settlers prepared a tonic tea from the fresh or dried bark, which contains safrole and smells strongly of sassafras (Cribb and Cribb 1984, 172*). The settlers on the Australian mainland made a similar tea from the bark of what they called “real sassafras,” the closely related tree Doryphora sassafras Endl. (Collier 1992, 24; Cribb and Cribb 1984, 174*). The black wattle tree (Acacia decurrens; cf. Acacia spp.) was used in the same manner. Apparently the settlers learned to use these tea plants through trial and error and not from the Aborigines (Low 1992a, 34*).

Tea made from the bark of the trunk (eight strips, 5 to 7 cm in length, steeped in 1/4 liter of water for five to eight minutes) has a strong safrole taste and leaves a slightly numb but invigorating sensation in the mouth and throat. The effects are clearly stimulating; higher dosages produce the typical safrole effects. Of particular interest is the report that early settlers used the leaves and bark in place of hops (Humulus lupulus) to brew beer (Pettit 1989, 62). It is conceivable that the beer yeast metabolizes the safrole into an amphetamine derivative during the fermentation process. Home brewers in Tasmania allegedly still make a psychoactive sassafras beer.

In addition to the safrole-containing oil (cf. essential oil), the bark of Atherosperma moschatum contains several alkaloids: berbamine (main alkaloid), isotetradrine, isocorydine, atherospermidine, atherosperminine, spermatheridine, atheroline, moschatoline, and methoxyatherosperminine (Lassak and McCarthy 1987, 80*).



Collier, Phil 1992. Rainforest plants of Tasmania. Hobart, Australia: Society for Growing Australian Plants–Tasmania.


Kirkpatrick, J. B., and Sue Backhouse. 1989. Native trees of Tasmania. Hobart, Australia: Pandani Press.


Pettit, Rose. 1989. Tasmanien: Reisen auf der urwüchsigen australischen Insel. Alpers: SYRO.


Benthamia alyxifolia (Benth.) Tieghem




This Australian plant, which is similar to the true mistletoe (Viscum album L.; Loranthaceae), is a parasite on several plants, including Duboisia myoporoides (see Duboisia spp.). The leaves contain scopolamine and are smoked in Australia as an inebriant (Bock 1994, 85*). It is possible that the scopolamine is extracted from the host tree Duboisia myoporoides as a result of the mistletoe’s parasitic activity and is then incorporated into the plant’s own tissue.

Bernoullia flammea Oliver in Hook.


(Bombacaceae)—amapola blanca


This tree grows to a towering height of 40 meters in the tropical lowlands of Guatemala (El Petén), where it is known as amapola blanca, “white opium [tree]” (cf. amapola). It has a whitish bark and fire-red flowers, and its fruits are filled with winged seeds that are reminiscent of those of both Banisteriopsis caapi and the maple tree (Acer spp.; Aceraceae) (Lanza Rosado 1996, 22 ff.). The seeds are smoked by the Guatemalan people living in the area around the spectacular Mayan ruins of Tikal and are said to have a strong, opium-like effect (Rob Montgomery, pers. comm.; Brett Blosser, pers. comm.). The tree is known in Itza Maya as chunte’ and in Yucatec Maya as wakut.



Lanza Rosado, Felipe. 1996. Manual de los árboles de Tikal. Alicante and Barcelona: Agencia Española de Cooperación International.


Boophane disticha (L. f.) Herbert


[syn. Amaryllis disticha L., Haemanthus toxicarius Thumb., Boophane toxicaria (L. f.) Herb., Brunsvigia toxica Ker., Bufane toxicaria Herb., Buphane toxicaria Thunberg, Haemanthus lemairei (L. f.) Herbert; also Buphane, Boöphone, Boophone] (Amaryllidaceae)—fan lily, cowbane


The bulb of this African species of amaryllis is used in folk medicine and to manufacture arrow poisons. The Bushmen use it as a hunting poison (Neuwinger 1994, 4 f.*). It is also used in (ritual) suicides (Lewin 1912). Another use occurred in the secret initiation ceremonies of the South African Basuto. The young boys ate the crushed bulb together with other ingredients so that they could contact their ancestors. The first signs of inebriation were interpreted to mean that the spirit of adulthood had entered into them. A dried powder of the bulb also serves as a ritual and psychoactive incense:


The Sotho, among whom the plant enjoys a particularly high status (e.g., they call October, the month in which the plant flowers, mphalane es leshoma = Boophane stalk), utilize the “alcoholizing” properties of Boophane disticha during the preliminaries of initiation. A powder made from the bulb is mixed with other plants and heated, and the smoke is inhaled. It makes the initiates drunk as if from alcohol. When signs of intoxication appear, this taken as a sign that the spirit of manliness has entered into the youths. (Neuwinger 1994, 7*)


In West Africa, Securidaca longepedunculata, which contains ergot alkaloids, is used together with Boophane for psychoactive purposes (Neuwinger and Mels 1997).

Fresh Boophane bulbs contain 0.31% alkaloids (buphanidrine, undulatine, buphanisine, buphanamine, nerbowdine, lycorine), which exhibit the same bioactivity as the tropane alkaloids in Datura (Hauth and Stauffacher 1961; Rauwald and Kober 1992, 527; Tupin 1912; Roth et al. 1994, 179*). Some of the alkaloids also have morphinelike structures and effects (Neuwinger 1994, 6 f.*). Overdoses can be fatal. Both the ethnographic and the ethnopharmacological literature contain numerous indigenous reports of distinct hallucinogenic effects. In Zimbabwe, the bulb is used to help the ancestor spirits appear (de Smet 1996, 142 f.*). The bulb also has folk medical uses; it is taken internally to treat hysteria and insomnia (Rauwald and Kober 1992, 528).



Hauth, H., and D. Stauffacher. 1961. Die Alkaloide von Buphane disticha (L. f.) Herb. Helvetia Chimica Acta 44:491–502.


Lewin, Louis. 1912. Untersuchungen über Buphane disticha (Haemanthus toxicarius). Archive für experimentelle Pathologie und Pharmakologie 68:333–40.


Neuwinger, Hans Dieter, and Dietrich Mels. 1997. Boöphane disticha—Eine halluzinogene Pflanze Afrikas. Deutsche Apotheker-Zeitung 137 (14).


Rauwald, Hans-W., and Martin Kober. 1992. Boophane. In Hagers Handbuch der pharmazeutischen Praxis, 5th ed., 4:526–28. Berlin: Springer.


Tutin, F. 1912. Über die Bestandteile von Buphane distachaArchive für experimentelle Pathologie und Pharmakologie 69:314.


Brosimum acutifolium ssp. obovatum (Ducke) C.C. Berg




The Amazonian Palikur and Wayãpi Indians use parts (which?) of this tree, known as tamamuri or congona, as hallucinogens, especially in initiation rites (Duke and Vasquez 1994, 32*). It is doubtful whether this vague information is correct. Coumarins (pyranocoumarins, furocoumarins) have been found in this species and in other Amazonian members of the genus (Gottlieb et al. 1972). Whether these have psychoactive effects, however, is unknown.



Gottlieb, O. R., M. Leão da Silva, and J. G. Soares Mia. 1972. Distribution of coumarins in Amazonian Brosimum species. Phytochemistry 11:3479–80.


Bursera bipinnata Engl.


[syn. Elaphrium bipinnatum (DC.) Schlecht.] (Burseraceae)—sacred copal


Today, this balsam bush is known in Mexico as copal amargocopal cimarróncopal chinocopal de santocopal de la virgincopaliopalo copal, and pom, and it is used as a ritual incense. Emmar (1937*) suggested that the tree was known as teuvetli in pre-Spanish times and that it was used in the preparations for Aztec human sacrifice (cf. Datura innoxia). It is said that a decoction made from the resinous bark was administered to the victims prior to the ceremony. The extract was probably mixed with pulque (cf. Agave spp.), for the prisoners were required to drink four bowls of pulque prior to the ceremony (Davies 1983, 244). This beverage produced a subdued or sedated state of consciousness but did not impair muscle coordination or the ability to move. Both were needed, for the victims had to ascend the steep steps of the temple pyramids before their hearts were cut out of their chests while they were still alive (Tyler 1966, 291*). Unfortunately, it is uncertain whether the Aztec tree teuvetli is botanically identical to Bursera bipinnata (Emboden 1979, 4*).


In South Africa, the fan lily (Boophane disticha), also known as cowbane, is called malgif, “crazy poison.” (From Neuwinger)



The strange and magical African root Boophane disticha. (From Lewin, “Untersuchungen über Buphane disticha [Haemanthus toxicarius],” 1912)



In Mexico, many species of the genus Bursera produce aromatic resins used as incense.



The yün-shih fruit (Caesalpinia decapetala).




Davies, Nigel. 1983. Opfertod und Menschenopfer. Frankfurt/M.: Ullstein.


Caesalpinia decapetala (Roth) Alston


[syn. Caesalpinia sepiaria Roxb.329]


(Leguminosae)—yün-shih, caesalpinia

This yellow-flowering climber is found in the Himalayas and in central Asia and China (Polunin and Stainton 1985, 89*). Known as yün-shih, the plant is used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat worm infestations, malaria, and inflammations. It is claimed that it was once used in China as a hallucinogen (Li 1978, 20*). According to ancient Chinese sources, the flowers “contain occult powers.” The Pên Ts’ao Ching, the famous herbal of Li Shih-chên, states:

[The flowers] make it possible for one to see spirits but make one idiotic if consumed in excess. When consumed over a long period of time, they produce levitation of the body and promote communication with the spirits.


In the herbal Tao Hung-ching, one can read:

[The flowers] dispel the evil spirits. When added to water or burned [i.e., as an incense], spirits can be called. . . . The seeds are like those of lang-tang [see Hyoscyamus niger]; when they are burned, spirits can be called.


The Chinese botanist Hui-Lin Li has suggested that these statements are indicative of a psycho-active use as well as of psychoactive effects of the flowers and seeds (Li 1978, 20*). Whether these text passages actually do refer to psychoactivity has not yet been established. After all, there are hundreds of plants that are used in magical rituals and spirit conjurations, even though they do not exhibit the slightest psychoactive effects (cf. Gessmann n.d.*; Mercatante 1980*; Schöpf 1986*). Still, an alkaloid of unknown chemical makeup has been discovered in Caesalpinia decapetala (Schultes and Hofmann 1992, 37*). Its method of action is unknown.

An Indian relative, Caesalpinia bonduc (L.) Roxb. [syn. Caesalpinia cristata L.], was once proposed as a candidate for soma. The beautiful paradise flower (Caesalpinia pulcherrima (L.) Sw. [syn. Poinciana pulcherrima L.]) is a symbol of the divine phallus in the cosmic vulva and is thus sacred to the Hindu god Shiva; C. decapetala is often mistaken for the yellow-blooming variety of the cultivated C. pulcherrima. The related American species Caesalpinia echinata Lam. is used in South America as an ayahuasca additive.

Capsicum spp.


(Solanaceae)—chili pepper


In the tropical regions of the Americas, there are many species (approximately forty) and cultivated varieties of chilies or chili peppers, most of which are used as spices (Andrews 1992). Chilies also have ethnomedical and ritual significance (Long-Solís 1986). The pods are used as medicines to treat a variety of diseases and have bactericidal properties (Cichewicz and Thorpe 1996). In higher dosages (30 to 125 mg), chilies are considered to be aphrodisiac (Gottlieb 1974, 19*). It is possible that they are psychoactive under certain circumstances. Indeed, chilies are used as


The climbing yün-shih shrub (Caesalpinia decapetala) is reputed to have psychoactive effects. (Illustration from the Chêng-lei pên-ts’ao, 1249)



One of the many forms of chili pepper (Capsicum sp.), a plant of the Americas, that the Indians have cultivated.


Carissa edulis (Forsk.) Vahl




The root of this member of the Dogbane Family is very popular in Kenyan folk medicine. A decoction of the root is drunk to treat headaches and as an aphrodisiac and stimulant. In Ghana, the root is used to treat diminishing virility. In South Africa, a stimulating and aphrodisiac tea is made from the stem. The plant contains indole alkaloids and may have psychoactive effects (Omino and Kokwaro 1993, 171, 176*).

Castanopsis acuminatissima




People from the Banz region of Papua New Guinea steam and eat the seeds of this tree.When consumed in sufficient quantity, they are said to have sedative or psychoactive effects similar to those of certain mushrooms (Russula,Boletus) (Schleiffer 1979, 91*).

additives to many different psychoactive products, including ayahuascabalche’beer, cacao (see Theobroma cacao), incense, kava-kava (see Piper methysticum), and snuff (cf. Nicotiana tabacum) (Weil 1976). The Kakusi Indians of Guyana use Capsicum species as a stimulant (Schultes 1967, 41*). The Waorani Indians of Ecuador cultivate Capsicum chinensis Jacq. and use the fruits as a stomachic. When the men are too strongly inebriated from ayahuasca, their women give them chilies to help them become sober (Schultes and Raffauf 1991, 35*).

In the “drug scene,” the dried remnants of rotten green paprika pods (Capsicum fructescens var. grossum) are sometimes used as a marijuana substitute (see Cannabis indica).

All species of this genus contain the hot compound capsaicin (chemically related to vanillin) (Weil 1976). Some species also contain flavonoids. Capsicum annuum L. contains steroidal alkaloids and glycosides (Schultes and Raffauf 1991, 35*).

Literature (selection)


Andrews, Jean. 1992. The peripatetic chili pepper: Diffusion of the domesticated capsicums since Columbus. In Chilies to chocolate: Food the Americas gave the world, ed. Nelson Foster and Linda S. Cordell. 81–93. Tucson: The University of Arizona Press.


Cichewicz, Robert H., and Patrick A. Thorpe. 1996. The antimicrobial properties of chili peppers (Capsicum species) and their uses in Mayan medicine. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 52:61–70.


Long-Solís, Janet. 1986. Capsicum y cultura: La historia del chilli. Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Económica.


Waldmann, Werner, and Marion Zerbst. 1995. Chili, Mais und Kaktusfeigen. Munich: Hugendubel.


Weil, Andrew. 1976. Hot! Hot!—I: Eating chilies. Journal of Psychedelic Drugs 8 (1): 83–86.


Cardamine sp.


[syn. Dentaria sp.] (Cruciferae)—pepper root, tooth root

There are reports that this little-known plant (possibly C. concatenata) was used as a hallucinogen by the Iroquois (Moerman 1986, 100, 604*). Unfortunately, chemical and ethnobotanical information is lacking (Ott 1993, 405*). The “cuckoo flower” (Cardamine pratensis L.) was once used to treat epilepsy (Millspaugh 1974, 88*).

Cecropia spp.


(Moraceae)—ant tree


In Mexico (Veracruz), Cecropia mexicana Hemsl. [syn. Cecropia obtusifolia Bert., Cecropia schiedeana Klotzsch]) is known as guaruma. The large, dried leaves are smoked as a marijuana substitute (see Cannabis indica); the effects are said to be similar to those produced by cannabis (Ott 1993, 405*). In Palenque, severe delirium effects have been observed in Cecropia smokers (Chan K’in Tercero, pers. comm.). In Mexican folk medicine, the fresh leaves are used to prepare a bath for relieving pain (Argueta et al. 1994, 706*). The plant contains sterols and tannins (pirogalole). The leaves contain various sugars (rhamnose, glucose, xylose), stigmasterol and three isomers, and 4-ethyl-5-(n-3-valeroil)-6-hexahydrocumarin (cf. coumarins) and 1-(2-methyl-1-nonen-8-il)-aziridin (Argueta et al. 1994, 706*). Tests on rats have demonstrated antihypertensive effects (Vidrio et al. 1982).

The leaves of a very similar species, Cecropia peltata L. [syn. Cecropia asperrima Pitt.], known locally as guarumbo or tzon ndue, contain leucocyanidin; the bark contains sterin and ursolic acid; and the latex has been found to contain the alkaloid cowleyine (Wong 1976, 115*). In Yucatán, a tea made from the leaves is consumed for diabetes (Argueta et al. 1994, 708*).

In South America, the leaves of various species are burned to ash and used as llipta for coca chewing (Erythroxylum coca).



Vidrio, H., et al. 1982. Hypotensive activity of Cecropia obtusifoliaJournal of Pharmaceutical Science 71 (4): 475–76.


Clematis virginiana L.


(Ranunculaceae)—Virginia clematis


The stems of this plant were reputedly used by the Iroquois of North America as a bath or wash to produce “strange dreams.” Unfortunately, no additional ethnographic or chemical information is available (Ott 1993, 406*). Other Clematis species are toxic and irritate the nervous system (Roth et al. 1994, 241*). In Bavaria, the sprouts of Clematis vitalba L. were once smoked as a tobacco substitute (cf. Nicotiana tabacum).

Comandra pallida




The North American Kayenta Navajo allegedly used this plant as a narcotic. No other information is available (Ott 1993, 406*).

Conium maculatum L.


(Apiaceae)—poison hemlock


Since ancient times, hemlock has “enjoyed” an infamous reputation as a poisonous plant, known as a killing poison (“Socrates’ cup”) and sedative, but it is also known as an aphrodisiac. According to Germanic legend, hemlock was avoided by both man and beast. It was said that only the toad, which would “suck its poison,” liked to live in its vicinity (Perger 1864, 184*). Hemlock thus stands in close association with the toad goddess, an earth deity venerated especially by Baltic tribes (the ancient Prussians) (Gimbutas 1983; cf. bufotenine).330

Saxo Grammaticus has described how Haddingus, who was raised by the giants but later became a favorite of Odin, was once visited at the hearth in the evening by an apparition of a woman who wore hemlock in her garb. This woman, interpreted as a shamanic helping spirit, placed her cloak around Haddingus and led him across a bridge, into the underworld, and to the realm of the dead (Lichtenberger 1986, 31 f.). In Scandinavia and England, hemlock was a magical plant closely associated with Wotan/Odin. This can be seen in the Norwegian name for the plant, woden-dunk, and the Anglo-Saxon wôde-hwistle, “rage reed/ Wotan’s whistle.” The English word hemlock, literally “hemp leek,” still recalls the rune magic lina laukaR. In Old High German, the plant was known as wuotscerling or wode-scerne, “rage hemlock” (Höfler 1990, 95*). Hemlock was one of the primary ingredients in the witches’ ointments. Andrés Laguna, a sixteenth-century physician from Lorraine, once found a vessel full of “witches’ ointment.” He analyzed its contents and found henbane (Hyoscyamus niger), mandrake root (Mandragora officinarum), and hemlock. He rubbed the ointment onto a woman, who then fell into trance.

In Bohemia, hemlock is reputed to have once been used as an additive to beer. Unfortunately, we know nothing about the effects of such a brew (Hansen 1981*). Perhaps all of the people who tried it died from overdoses . . .

The entire plant contains approximately 2% alkaloids. The fruits exhibit especially high concentrations, as much as 3.5%. The principal alkaloid is coniine (approximately 90% of the total alkaloid content); γ-coniceine, conhydrine, pseudoconhydrine, and methylconiine are also present (Teuscher 1992). Toxic effects include rapid paralysis, sensations of cold, lack of sensation, and, finally, death through respiratory paralysis (Roth et al. 1994, 259*).



Gimbutas, Marija. 1983. The Balts. London: Thames and Hudson.


Lichtenberger, Sigrid. 1986. Züge des Schamanentums in der germanischen Überlieferung. In Schamanentum und Zaubermärchen, ed. Heino Gehrts and Gabriele Lademann-Priemer, 28–41. Kassel: Röth.



The Mexican ant tree, Cecropia mexicana, is a typical tree of the tropical rain forest. The dried leaves are used as a marijuana substitute, although they have a high tar content. (Wild plant, photographed in the Selva Lacandona, Chiapas, Mexico)



Ashes of the leaves of the South American Cecropia are added to pinches of coca. (Photographed in Machu Picchu, Peru)



Poison hemlock (Conium maculatum) in bloom.


Teuscher, Eberhard. 1992. Conium. In Hagers Handbuch der pharmazeutischen Praxis, 5th ed., 4:970–75. Berlin: Springer.


Cordia boissieri DC.




It is said that the fruits of this Mexican plant have inebriating effects (von Reis Altschul 1975, 237*).

Cordyline fruticosa (L.) A. Chev.


[syn. Cordyline terminalis (L.) Kunth] (Agavaceae, previously Liliaceae)—ti


This Polynesian plant, which is now found throughout the world as an ornamental and potted plant, is called , or ti in Hawaii (Krauss 1993, 186*). There, the plant acquired a great significance in magical and religious rituals:


 received heavy ceremonial use as well and frequently was planted around heiau [temples]. Priests wore leaves about their necks as an indication of high rank or divine power, and it was among the plants customary on the altar of the hâlau hula, representing Laka, the goddess of hula [a sacred dance]. It was also valued as a charm against evil spirits. (Abbott 1992, 115)


An inebriating beverage was brewed from this Hawaiian magical plant:


On Hawaii and Samoa, the roots or rhizomes are used to prepare an inebriating beverage. Since the rhizomes contain sugar [saccha-rose], the drink may contain alcohol. The leaves of the plant are made into belts for dancing and loincloths. The root is also used to treat diarrhea and dysentery. Cordyline ti Schott [apparently a synonym] is also used on some South Seas islands to produce an inebriating drink. (Hartwich 1911, 811*)


It is unknown whether alcohol was the only active component of this drink, which was presumably similar to beer (cf. beer), or whether it also contained other psychoactive substances.



Abbott, Isabella Aiona. 1992. Lâ’au Hawaii: Traditional Hawaiian uses of plants. Honolulu: Bishop Museum Press.


Coriaria thymifolia H.B.K. ex Willd.


(Coriariaceae)—tannic sumac


This shrub is found in the high mountains from Colombia to Chile, where it is known as shanshi.

In Ecuador, its fruits are reportedly eaten to produce an inebriated state. The eater is said to experience “sensations of soaring through the air” (Alvear 1971, 22*; Schultes and Hofmann 1992, 40*). The effects are said to be similar to those produced by Petunia violaceaCoriaria thymifolia grows in Mexico as well; it has been suggested that it was the Aztec inebriant known as tlacopétatl (Díaz 1979, 93*). In the Las Huaringas region, a lake plateau in the northern Peruvian Andes, the local healers (curanderos) refer to Coriaria thymifolia as contra-alergica, “against allergies.” They use the herbage to prepare a bath additive (baño) that they use to wash patients suffering from allergic reactions. I was unable to learn of any psychoactive use there. Astonishing numbers of Coriaria thymifolia can be found in the area around Macchu Picchu.

The fruits contain catechol derivatives and probably several sesquiterpenes (Schultes and Farnsworth 1982, 178*). Other sources state that a toxic substance named coriamyrtine has been isolated from the plant. The effects are described as initially stimulating but then becoming less pleasant. Death from nervous exhaustion can result (Blohm 1962, 62*). Coriamyrtine is a sesquiterpene; other sesquiterpenes coriatine, tutine, and pseudotutine have also been reported (Emboden 1979, 175*).

The closely related species Coriaria ruscifolia L., which is known in Chile as deudewühuiquehuiqui, and matarratones (literally “killer of rats”), is reputed to be a hallucinogen. It is definitely poisonous. The fruits are made into rat poison in Chile (Mösbach 1992, 89*) and are said to be lethal for small children (Donoso Zegers and Ramírez García 1994, 46*). The Mapuche use a tea made from the leaves as an emetic (Houghton and Manby 1985, 94*).


The ti plant (Cordyline fruticosa), which the Hawaiians venerate as sacred, was formerly used as a magical plant and inebriant. (Photographed on Oahu, Hawaii)



A tannin sumac (Coriaria sp.) used in South America for psychoactive purposes.



Coriaria thymifolia. (Photographed near Machu Picchu, Peru)


Crotalaria sagittalis L.


(Fabaceae, Leguminosae)—rattle box


The Delaware-Okl Indians of North America regarded the root of this papilionaceous plant as “a very strong narcotic” (Moerman 1986, 140*). Other species of the genus contain potent liver toxins (Ott 1993, 406*). Also present are flavonoids (Fleurentin and Pelt 1982, 96 f.*), amino acids, and alkaloids, including neurotoxins (Pilbeam et at. 1979, 1983, 1983; Wong 1976, 126*). The dried seedpods of variousCrotalaria species can be used as rattles, hence the English name “rattle box.” In Argentina, the pods of Crotalaria incana L. are used to magically heal deafness (Schmeda-Hirschmann et al. 1987).

One related species, Crotalaria juncea L., is known as Bengali hemp, East Indian hemp, and Bombay hemp. These names suggest that the species may be psychoactive.



Pilbeam, David J., and E. Arthur Bell. 1979. Free amino acids in Crotalaria seeds. Phytochemistry 18:973–85.


Pilbeam, D. J., and A. J. Lyon-Joyce. 1983. Occurrence of the pyrrolizidine alkaloid monocrotaline in Crotalaria seeds. Journal of Natural Products 46:601–5.


Pilbeam, D. J., R. M. Pohlhill, and E. A. Bell. 1983. Free amino acids and alkaloids of South American, Asian and Australian Crotalaria species. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society 79:259–66.


Schmeda-Hirschmann, Guillermo, Lucia Franco, and Estebán Ferro. 1987. A magic use of Crotalaria incana pods. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 21:187–88.



Many species of cypress grass (Cyperus spp.) are used in South America for ethnopharmacological purposes, including as ayahuasca additives. (Wild plant, photographed in northwestern Argentina)



A grass from the genus Cyperus that is known in Amazonia as piripiri but has not yet been botanically identified is infested by a fungus that likely produces ergot alkaloids.


Cymbopetalum penduliflorum (Dunal) Baill.




This plant was known among the Aztecs as xochinacaztli,“ear flower”; the aromatic flower was called teonacaztli,331 “sacred ear,” and it was said that “it inebriates like mushrooms” (Sahagún). The dried flowers were smoked together with tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum) (Díaz 1979, 94*). Today, the flowers are used in Mexico as a spice for cacao drinks (see Theobroma cacao) and are known as hueynacaztli(Ott 1993, 406*). It has been suggested that this plant is the still unidentified Aztec inebriant poyomatli (Díaz 1979, 94*).

Cymbopogon densiflorus (Stendl.) Stapf




This perennial plant is found in the Congo, Gabon, and Malawi (cf. madzoka medicine). Medicine men in Tanganyika used to smoke an extract of the leaves of this citronella, which have a lemon scent, either alone or mixed with tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum), in order to induce divinatory dreams so that they could predict the future (von Reis and Lipp 1982, 10*). The leaves were used by magicians in central Africa (Krause 1909, 4). The genus Cymbopogonis rich in essential oils (Schultes and Hofmann 1992, 41*). The essential oil of C. densiflorus has been chemically investigated, and it does not contain any psychoactive compounds (Da Cunha 1972; Koketsu et al. 1976).



Da Cunha, A. P. M. A. 1972. Estudio químico e cromatográfico de oleo essencial de Cymbopogon densiflorus (Stendl.) Stapf, de Angola. Anais da Academia Brasileira de Ciencias 44 suppl.: 285–88.


Koketsu, M., L. L. Moura, and M. T. Magalhaes. 1976. Essential oils of Cymbopogon densiflorus Stapf and Tagetes minuta L. grown in Brazil. Anais da Academia Brasileira de Ciencias 48:743–46.


Krause, M. 1909. Die Gifte der Zauberer im Herzen Afrikas. Zeitschrift für experimentelle Pathologie und Therapie 6:1–4.


Cyperus spp.


(Gramineae-Poaceae)—sedges, piripiri


The Amazonian Sharanahua Indians use a Cyperus species that has been infested with the fungus Balansia cyperi Edgerton as an ayahuasca additive. This fungus is related to ergot (Claviceps purpurea) and contains as yet unidentified ergot alkaloids. Many species of Cyperus that are used ethnogynecologically appear to be infested with this or another fungus of the genus Balansia (Ott 1993, 396*).

The Ecuadoran Shuar, Achuar, and Aguaruna use various Cyperus species that they call piri-piri (including C. articulatus L., C. odoratus L., and C. prolixus Humb. et Kunth) not just as ayahuasca additives but also as psychoactive substances in their own right. Some Shuar shamans (uwishin) drink a tea made from the root that serves them in place of ayahuasca when they are making diagnoses. The tea enables them to enter into trance and communicate with the dead (Bennett 1992, 490, 492*). The neighboring Secoya utilize piripiri to dispel evil spirits and to induce labor (Cipoletti 1988). The Jívaro add Cyperusextracts to their drinking tobacco (see Nicotiana tabacum). The women of the Achuar Jívaro use the rhizome of the species Cyperus prolixus H.B.K., infested with Balansia cyperi Edgerton, to induce labor (Lewis and Elvin-Lewis 1990). The species Cyperus articulatus and Cyperus prolixus, when infested with Balansia cyperi, contain as yet unidentified ergot alkaloids (Plowman et al. 1990).

In Venezuela, Cyperus articulatus L.—like other psychoactive plants (e.g., Brugmansia spp.Iochroma fuchsioides)—is known as borrachera, “inebriating agent,” because of its psychoactive effects. In El Salvador, the plant finds folk medicinal use as an analgesic for treating tooth-aches (von Reis and Lipp 1982, 15*).



Cipoletti, M. S. 1988. El piri-piri y su significado en el shamanismo Secoya. Amazonia Peruana 8:83–97.


Lewis, Walter H., and Memory Elvin-Lewis. 1990. Obstetrical use of the parasitic fungus Balansia cyperi by Amazonian Jivaro women. Economic Botany 44:131–33.


Plowman, Timothy C., Adrian Leuchtmann, Carol Blaney, and Keith Clay. 1990. Significance of the fungus Balansia cyperi infecting medicinal species of Cyperus (Cyperaceae) from Amazonia. Economic Botany 44:452–62. (Includes a list of additional literature.)


Cypripedium calceolus (Willd.) Correll var. pubescens


[syn. Cypripedium calceolus L., Cypripedium luteum Ait. var. pubescens Willd., Cypripedium parviflorum Willdenow, Cypripedium pubescens Willd.]


(Orchidaceae)—yellow lady’s slipper

The North American Menominee Indians added this orchid to their sacred bundles to promote supernatural dreams (Moerman 1986, 604*). This possibly psychoactive plant was utilized by the neighboring Cherokee as a sedative and analgesic. The American colonists used the root as a substitute for the sedative valerian (Valeriana officinalis) to treat nervousness, hysteria, and insomnia (Emboden 1976, 166*; Millspaugh 1974, 683 f.*; Veit 1992, 1123). The aboveground parts of this orchid, which is now protected by law, probably contain cypripedine and similar chinones. To date, no investigations of the root have been carried out (Veit 1992, 1123).



Cribb, Philip. 1997. The genus Cypripedium. Cambridge, U.K.: Timber Press.


Veit, Markus. 1992. Cypripedium. In Hagers Handbuch der pharmazeutischen Praxis, 5th ed., 4:1122–24. Berlin: Springer.


Delphinium consolida L.


[syn. Consolida regalis S.F. Gray, Delphinium nudicaule]



The Mendocino Indians of California regarded this plant, a species introduced from Europe that is closely related to the common larkspur (Delphi-nium elatum L.), as a narcotic. It is questionable whether the plant does in fact have psychoactive properties. Only toxic glycosides and aconitine-like alkaloids (delphinium alkaloids) have been found in the genus (Ott 1993, 407*; Roth et al 1994, 296*). Other Delphinium species were used as ceremonial medicine (Moerman 1986, 150*). In the Himalayas, leaves of Delphinium brunonianum are mixed with Nicotiana rustica and smoked (Atkinson 1989, 756*).

The Cappella Indians of California used the root of Delphinium consolida L. as a sleeping aid for children (Emboden 1976, 160*). It contains aconitine-like diterpene alkaloids, delphinine, delphinedin, and ajacine (Emboden 1979, 176*; Wren 1988, 167*). The diterpenoid alkaloid tricornine occurs in a very rare Californian species, Delphinium tricorne Michx. (Pelletier and Bhattacharya 1977).



Pelletier, S. William, and J. Bhattacharya. 1977. Tricornine, a new diterpenoid alkaloid from Delphinium tricornePhytochemistry 16:1464.


Dictyoloma incanescens DC.




The bark of this tree contains N,N-dimethyl-5-methoxytryptamine (= 5-MeO-DMT) (Pachter et al. 1959*). It may be suitable as an ingredient in ayahuasca analogs. 5-MeO-DMT was first discovered in this plant.

Dictyonema sp. nov.


(Basidiolichenes, Dictyonemataceae)—lichen


The Waorani, who live in the Ecuadoran region of Amazonia, appear to have a psychoactive use for this lichen. It is said that the Waorani shamans formerly called the lichen nenendape and used it as a ritual entheogen (Davis and Yost 1983). Mixed with several unidentified mosses (Bryophyta) known as quiguiwai, the lichen was made into a tea that a shaman would drink when he wanted to cast a spell over or magically kill a person (Davis and Yost 1983, 163, 170, 209*). To date, only one other lichen has been reported to have psychoactive effects (cf. Lichen non ident.).


Sedges (Cyperus spp.) are occasionally infested by fungi that can introduce psychoactive metabolites into the plant material. (Woodcut from Gerard, The Herball or General History of Plants, 1633)



Many species of larkspur (Delphinium spp.) are cultivated as ornamentals.



The seeds of the South American tree Dictyoloma incanescens, in which 5-MeO-DMT was first demonstrated to occur naturally.




Davis, E. W., and J. A. Yost. 1983. Novel hallucinogens from Ecuador. Botanical Museum Leaflets 29 (3): 291–95.


Dimorphandra parviflora




The seeds of this Brazilian tree are used to prepare paricá snuffs (cf. Virola spp.). The seeds likely contain alkaloids and may have psychoactive effects (Ott 1993, 407 f.*). It is possible that the botanical name is incorrect or out of date.

Dioscorea composita Hemsl.


(Dioscoreaceae)—barbasco, camotillo


This tuberous plant is alleged to have psychoactive effects:

The camotillo induces not an inebriation but rather a latent semiconscious state that does not manifest itself until long after consumption. Affected persons become indifferent to their surroundings and external impressions. Thinking becomes restricted and is typically concerned with an event that lies far back in their life that they, in the manner of a mono-maniac, continually attempt to reconstruct in their daydreams. (V. Reko 1938, 191*)


It is said that Empress Charlotte of Mexico was robbed of her wits by this agent (cf. Datura innoxia).

In Malaysia, the root tuber of a wild yam species (Dioscorea triphylla Lam. [syn. Dioscorea daemona Roxb., Dioscorea hirsuta Blume]), known locally as gadong, is attributed with narcotic powers. A hallucinogenic paste is mixed from the green shoots, opium (cf. Papaver somniferum), seeds of Datura metel, and the green inner bark of Glycosmis citrifolia (Rutaceae) (Gimlette 1981, 220, 222*).

Dioscorea tubers are occasionally used in beer brewing.

Elaeophorbia drupifera (Thonn.) Stapf


(Euphorbiaceae)—ayañ beyem


This little-known African spurge may have psychoactive effects (Schultes and Hofmann 1980, 367*). In West Africa, the herbage is used to treat animal bites and as a purgative (Ayensu 1978, 123*). The latex of the fresh plant is occasionally dripped into the eyes of initiates of the Bwiti cult in order to induce more powerful visions (see Tabernanthe iboga).

Ferraria glutinosa (Bak.) Rendle


(Iridaceae)—gaise noru noru


The San, or !Kung Bushmen, of the western Kalahari Desert conduct collective healing dances in which they strive to attain an ecstatic trance state. The dancers achieve the healing trance (kia) by dancing for hours, sometimes in combination with the consumption of dagga (Cannabis sativa) or the plant they call gaise noru noru (also called !kaishe) (Dobkin de Rios 1986). A drink concocted from the root was apparently used more often in earlier times. One Bushman provided the following description of its effects:


Everybody at the dance, every man at the dance, drank it. . . . Anybody who danced would take it. The thing is that those who hadn’t reached kia yet would drink more than those who had already reached kia. We elders who had experienced kia long ago would just drink a little of the preparation. . . . You start to feel something moving around in your stomach, in your chest, and in your back, a pulsating feeling in your back like a jabbing. . . . You feel your front spine starting to pulsate with your heartbeat and starting to tremble. . . . The reason I say this gaise noru noru is powerful is because you just didn’t take it. You had to be washed, and you had to be fed certain foods. Certains [sic] foods were prohibited to you, and meat that was hunted, the blood of it, was rubbed on you. Then you were washed again with something else. All that is associated with this gaise noru noru. And that’s why I say it was powerful. (In Katz 1982, 284, 286, 293)


It is possible that the plant used to be smoked or dropped in a tortoise shell onto hot coals and the smoke inhaled (Winkelman and Dobkin de Rios 1989, 56). The root contains substances that have been little studied but may possibly have hallucinogenic or psychoactive effects. Other species of the genus Ferraria and related plants have potent toxic properties (Winkelman and Dobkin de Rios 1989, 54).

The botanical identification of gaise noru noru as Ferraria glutinosa has been occasionally called into question but does appear to be correct (Dobkin de Rios 1984, 205, 208; 1986). The ethnomusicologist Richard Katz has reported another plant, called gwa, that was used in a drumming dance to induce kia. Unfortunately, this plant has not been botanically identified (Dobkin de Rios 1984, 205 f.). The Bushmen may also have used other plants to induce kiaAlbizia anthelmintica A. Brongn. (Leguminosae), Cassia spp. (Leguminosae), Cissampelos mucronata A. Rich (Menispermaceae; contains psychoactive compounds), Loranthus oleaefolius Cham. et Schlectend. (Loranthaceae; said to contain scopolamine), and Plumbago zeylanica L. (Plumbaginaceae). The ethnographic literature, however, contains references only to folk medicinal uses (Winkelman and de Rios 1989, 54 f.). It is hoped that additional research into these questions will be carried out.


This rock art by an ancestor of the Bushmen in Nicosasanatal (South Africa) depicts the collective dance of ecstasy in which Ferraria glutinosa and other psychoactive plants were used. (From Müller-Ebeling 1991)



Botanical illustration of Gelsemium sempervirens. (From Köhler’s Medizinal-Pflanzen, 1887)



Only the signs pointing toward a Mapuche settlement (southern Chile) recall the endangered keule or queule tree (Gomortega keule), the mysterious plant from which the locale took its name.




Dobkin de Rios, Marlene. 1984. Review of Boiling Energy by Richard Katz. Transcultural Psychiatric Research 21 (3): 103–210.


———. 1986. Enigma of drug-induced altered states of consciousness among the !Kung Bushmen of the Kalahari desert. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 15:297–304.


Katz, Richard. 1982. Boiling energy: Community healing among the Kalahari Kung. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.


Müller-Ebeling, Claudia. 1991. Die Ekstase-Tänze der Buschleute. In Von den Wurzlen der Kultur, ed. C. Rätsch, 189–204. Basel: Sphinx Verlag.


Winkelman, Michael, and Marlene Dobkin de Rios. 1989. Psychoactive properties of !Kung Bushmen medicine plants. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs 21 (1): 51–59.


Gaultheria sp.




An herbarium specimen of an unknown Gaul-theria species collected by J. A. Steyermark in Venezuela in 1971 bears a note stating that this member of the Heath Family, closely related to Pernettya spp., is known as borrachera, “drunken maker” (von Reis and Lipp 1982, 227*). In Chile, a number of different Gaultheria species are used to manufacture chicha. In North America, Gaul-theria procumbens L. (mountain tea, Canadian tea, Labrador tea) is used as a tea substitute (Lewin 1980 [orig. pub. 1929], 352*). The leaves contain essential oils and gaultherine (Roth et al. 1994, 367*).

Gelsemium sempervirens (L.) Jaume St.-Hil.


[syn. Gelsemium nitidum Michx.]


(Loganiaceae)—Carolina jessamine

This aromatic wild jasmine is from North America, where Indians have long used it as a medicinal plant (Rätsch 1991a, 146*). The Aztec-speaking peoples of Mexico call this yellow-flowered climberxomil-xihuite, “paralyzing poison.” The neighboring Otomí Indians know it as beho-sito, “glass coffin.” The root was allegedly used as a poison in trials by ordeal. The effects are said to be quite drastic: “The person who has been poisoned enters a paralyzed state while remaining fully conscious, with open eyes; they cannot move, and yet they perceive with terrible clarity all of the things that are occurring around them” (V. Reko 1938, 168*). This pattern of effects is strongly reminiscent of that of the Haitian zombie poison. It is said that Mexicans used to add the root to schnapps (alcohol) to lend it a special effect (Reko 1938, 167*).

Profound psychic alterations with strong hallucinations occur even when Gelsemium is used for medicinal purposes (Lewin 1980 [orig. pub. 1929], 192*). It is for this reason that Gelsemium has repeatedly been characterized as a psycho-active plant or even a hallucinogen (Emboden 1976, 165*; Schultes and Hofmann 1980, 367*). The entire plant, but especially the root, contains indole alkaloids: gelsemicine, gelsemine, gelse-dine, and sempervirine, some of the effects of which resemble those of strychnine. Gelsemine paralyzes the central nervous system (Blaw et al. 1979; Roth et al. 1994, 368 f.).



Blaw, M. E., M. A. Adkisson, D. Levin, J. C. Garriott, and R. S. A. Tindall. 1979. Poisoning with Carolina jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens). Journal of Pediatrics 94:998–1001.


Gloeospermum sphaerocarpum Tr. et Pl.




The Amazonian Waunana Indians drink a cold-water extract of the leaves of this plant, which they call tamarillo, as a “ceremonial hallucinogen” (Duke and Vasquez 1994, 81*). Additional ethnopharmacological research is required.

Gomortega keule (Moldenke) I.M. Johnst.


[syn. Gomortega nitida Ruíz et Pavón] (Gomortegaceae)—keule


This tall tree, the only species in the Family Gomortegaceae (related to the Family Lauraceae), is endemic to southern Chile. The Mapuche Indians call it keulequeulequeuli (pronounced kay-ulay), linge, or hualhual (literally “vicinity”) and may once have used it as a psychoactive substance. The round fruits have inebriating effects, especially when fresh, and may even be hallucinogenic, possibly as a result of the essential oils they contain (Schultes and Farnsworth 1982, 180*). The opposite lanceolate leaves are said to contain an essential oil (Schultes and Hofmann 1980, 334*). A number of derivatives of methoxylated coumarins have been detected (D. McKenna 1995, 101*). Chemical studies of the fruits have not yet been conducted (Ott 1993, 408*).

Unfortunately, this fruit tree is very rare. It is found only in a single one-hundred-square-mile expanse (Schultes and Hofmann 1980, 334*) in the coastal area between Maule and Arauco, somewhat south of Concepción (Mösbach 1992, 79*). The tree appears to be on the brink of extinction.

The plant was first described by the Spanish botanist Don Hipólito Ruíz, who encountered it on a 1777–1788 expedition to Peru and Chile. He reported that the leaves have a sour-astringent taste and, when chewed, stick to the teeth as a result of their resin content. Rubbed between the fingers, they exude a scent reminiscent of that of rosemary and turpentine. “The beautiful fruits are as large as small chicken eggs, are shiny, have a yellow color, and invite one to eat them. But you will get a headache if you eat too many of them” (Schultes 1980, 97*).

The yellow fruits contain an extremely hard stone. They ripen toward the end of April and are used to make marmalade (Donoso Zegers 1995, 94*). They are regarded as culinary delicacies. A fishing village of the Mapuche (“earthlings”), on the coast some 50 km north of Valdivia, is named Queule after this mysterious tree. None of its residents seems to have any knowledge of the tree or of its purported psychoactive use. The fruits may formerly have been used in the preparation of chicha; for this reason, they are still reputed to be psychoactive.

Goodenia spp.




In the ethnobotany of the Aborigines, plants of the genus Goodenia enjoy a certain reputation as healing and food plants as well as pituri or pituri substitutes (O’Connell et al. 1983, 109). The Goodeniaceae are well represented in Australia. In addition to the genus that gave the family its name, Scaevola taccada (pipe tree) is especially important. This bushy shrub is a typical coastal plant that grows in sandy soil. The Aborigines use the juice of the fruits as an eye remedy and as an antidote for animal stings and bites. The ends of the branches are hollow; they are used as pipes for smoking pituri (Wightman and Mills 1991, 46 f.).

In the language of the Alyawara, Goodenia lunata J.M. Black is called ngkulpa ankirriyngka. The Alyawara mix the dried leaves with plant ashes (primarily from Ventilago viminalis Hook.; Rhamnaceae) and chew the result. They place it in the same folk taxonomic category as wild tobacco (Nicotiana spp.) (O’Connell et al. 1983, 109*). Macerations of the fresh leaves are used in a manner similar to those made from wild tobacco, namely for poisoning the watering holes of the emu (98*). When smoked or chewed, the leaves of Goodenia lunata appear to have mild psychoactive effects.



Wightman, Glenn, and Milton Andrews. 1991. Bush Tucker Identikit: Common native food plants of Australia’s top end. Darwin: Conservation Commission of the Northern Territory.


Hedera helix L.


[syn. Hedera caucasigena Pojark, Hedera chrysocarpa Walsh, Hedera helix var. chrysocarpa Ten., Hedera taurica Carr., Hedera helix var. taurica Tobler]



Ivy is an ancient sacred plant that was associated with the cult of Dionysos, the god of wine, inebriation, and ecstasy. Dioscorides described three types of ivy,332 one of which bore the same name as the god,Dionysos. Plutarch, the philosopher, oracular priest, and disciple of Dionysos, wrote in his Roman Questions (112) that ivy contains “powerful spirits” that produce outbursts of madness and cramps. Ivy could induce an “inebriation without wine,” or a type of possession in those who had a natural tendency to enter ecstatic states. When ivy leaves are added to wine (see Vitis vinifera), the resulting mixture is able to produce a delirium, “a confusion that can otherwise be produced only by henbane” (see Hyoscyamus niger). The Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder also wrote of the psychoactive effects:


The little-studied Australian Goodenia lunata is used as a pituri substitute. (Wild plant, photographed in Tasmania)



Many authors of antiquity characterized ivy (Hedera helix) as a psychoactive plant. (Wild plant, photographed in northern Germany)


[Ivy] confuses the mind, cleanses, when drunk in excess, the head; taken internally, it damages the nerves, but is healthy for these same nerves when applied externally. . . . As a drink, [all species of ivy] are diuretic, soothe headaches, especially in the brain. . . . The berries, which are the color of saffron, provide certain protection against inebriation when they are taken beforehand as a drink. (Pliny 24.75/78)


Ivy has been linked to the Dionysian ecstasy of the maenads (= female bacchantes, bassarides; cf. Vitis vinifera) primarily through the work of Robert Graves and his book The White Goddess. It has been rumored that Graves wrote this book while under the influence of psilocybin. Otherwise, the ancient sources would be difficult to interpret in this manner:


October was the season of the Bacchanal revels of Thrace and Thessaly in which the intoxicated Bassarids rushed wildly about on the mountains, waving the fir-branches of Queen of Artemis (or Ariadne) spirally wreathed with ivy—the yellow-berried sort—in honour of Dionysus . . . , and with a roebuck tattooed on their right arms above the elbow. They tore fawns, children and even men to pieces in their ecstasy. The ivy was sacred to Osiris as well as to Dionysus. Vine and ivy come next to each other at the turn of the year, and are jointly dedicated to resurrection. . . . It is likely that the Bassarids’ tipple was “spruce-ale,” brewed from the sap of silver-fir [Abies cephalonica Loud.] and laced with ivy; they may also have chewed ivy-leaves for their toxic effect. Yet the main Maenad intoxicant will have been amanita muscaria. (Graves 1966, 183*)


The botanical identity of the inebriating ivy is a total mystery: “However, the Dionysian ivy was not the one native among us but the northern Indian with the yellow berries, of which it is said that it grows only on the mountain of Meros, near Indian Nysa” (Duerr 1978, 213*). This may refer to Himalayan ivy (Hedera nepalensis K. Koch [syn. Hedera himalaica Tobl.]), which bears orange-yellow fruits.

Some subjects who have smoked the dried leaves have reported them to be inebriating.

Ivy leaves contain glycosides, inositol, chlorogenic acid, hedera tannic acid, malic acid, formic acid, and triterpene hedera saponines (α-hedrine), as well as the trace elements arsenic, zinc, copper, manganese, iodine, lithium, and aluminum. The alkaloid emetine has been found in Egyptian specimens (Horz and Reichling 1993, 399). In the toxicological literature, it is noted that “a 3-year-old child ate a large amount and had hallucinations” (Roth et al. 1994, 391*). To date, however, no truly inebriating substances have been found in ivy. Francesco Festi has worked extensively on the botany and phytochemistry of ivy and has not found the slightest evidence of the presence of psychoactive compounds (F. Festi, pers. comm.).

It may be that the ancient word for ivy was a catchall phrase for climbing plants. There are vines (Convolvulus tricolor) in the Mediterranean region whose seeds contain lysergic acid derivatives. Or “ivy” may have been a designation for another plant that is no longer known or able to be identified but which had potent inebriating effects and contained psychoactive compounds.333 Imagine that a medical historian of the future finds an article written in the present that notes, “Grass has potent effects when smoked.” He might think that people were smoking grass from their lawns as an inebriant. If he were to smoke it himself, he would find that it produces no such effects. How would he know that “grass” is a common and generally understood name for hemp (Cannabis sativa or Cannabis indica) and for its female flowers?



Horz, Karl-Heinrich, and Jürgen Reichling. 1993. Hedera. In Hagers Handbuch der pharmazeutischen Praxis, 5th ed., 4:398–407. Berlin: Springer.


Helichrysum foetidum (L.) Moench


(Compositae: Asteraceae)—stinking strawflower


It is said that the magician-physicians of the African Zulu made a powder of this strawflower that they inhaled or smoked in order to induce a divinatory trance. This vague information comes only from a note belonging to an herbarium specimen of this plant and has no other ethnographic support (von Reis and Lipp 1982, 303*). Helichrysum stenopterum is said to have been used in the same manner (de Smet 1996, 142*; von Reis and Lipp 1982, 303*). Various derivatives of phloroglucinol have been detected in this plant (Jakupovic et al. 1986). Other members of the genus have yielded coumarins and diterpenes(D. McKenna 1995, 101*; Schultes and Hofmann 1992, 44*). Helichrysum serpyllifolium, which has been characterized as “Hottentot tea,” is drunk as an infusion (Lewin 1980 [orig. pub. 1929], 352*).


One of the difficult-to-identify species of strawflower (Helichrysum sp.).




Jakupovic, J., J. Kuhnke, A. Schuster, M. A. Metwally, and F. Bohlmann. 1986. Phloroglucinol derivatives and other constituents from South African Helichrysum species. Phytochemistry 25:1133–42.


Helicostylis tomentosa (Poepp et Endl.) Rusby




In Amazonia, the inner bark of this tree, known locally as misho chaqui, is said to be used as a hallucinogen. Animal tests have shown that rats exhibit the same symptoms after ingesting this plant as they do when inebriated with Cannabis (Buckley et al. 1973; Duke and Vasquez 1994, 86*).

The magicians of the Caribs and Africans living in the wilds of Guyana used various species of the genus Helicostylis (H. pedunculata Benoist) to induce visions (Schultes and Farnsworth 1982, 184*). The reddish sap of this sacred tree is made into a raw drug known as takini (D. McKenna 1995, 101*; Schultes and Hofmann 1992, 45*).



Buckley, J. P., R. J. Theobald Jr., I. Cavero, et al. 1973. Preliminary pharmacological evaluation of extracts of takini: Helicostylis tomentosa and Helicostylis pedunculataLloydia 36:341–45.


Hieracium pilosella L.


(Cichoriaceae; Compositae/Asteraceae)—hawkweed, hairy hawkweed, long-haired hawkweed


This plant was originally native to Eurosiberia but is now common in Switzerland and has spread even to North America (Lauber and Wagner 196, 1204*).

In Denmark, the yellow-blossomed herbage, known as håret høgeurt, is smoked in joints. One gram is said to produce good psychoactive or euphoriant effects (Larris 1980). The plant is known as hawkweed in the United States and was used by the Iroquois for ethnomedicinal purposes (Ott 1993, 409*). The leaf rosette (without the roots) of the blooming plant, which is common to meadows and moorlands, is collected and dried in the shade. It is sold in pharmacies and herb shops under the names herba auriculae muris and hieracii pilosellae herba. It contains tannins, flavonoids, and umbelliferone. It is used in folk medicine to treat and strengthen the eyes (as a tea or eyewash). The German name for the plant, habichtskraut (“goshawk’s weed”), is derived from the belief that goshawks receive their excellent vision from this plant (Pahlow 1993, 146*). This belief may be rooted in Old Germanic shamanism. In Germany, the plant formerly was reputed to offer magical protection against witches and magic (Perger 1864, 133*). Also known as little mouse ears or nail weed, the plant is said to be harmful to sheep (Chamisso 1987, 228*).

Today, hawkweed is usually sold in German pharmacies under the name pilosellae herba. When I smoked about 1 g, I felt slightly euphoric and cannabis-like, but relatively weak, effects.



Larris, S. 1980. Forbyde Hallucinogener? Forbyd Naturen at Gro! 4th ed. Nimtoffe: Forlaget Indkøbstryk.


Hipomosa carnea




This plant, which is supposedly also known as flore or chalviande, is said to be used as a hallucinogen in the coastal region of Ecuador (Alvear 1971, 23*). Whether the botanical identification given by Alvear is correct is more than doubtful. It may be that the plant being referred to is actually Ipomoea carnea, which is also called matacabra (“goat killer”) (see Ipomoea spp.).

Homalomena sp.




This tropical araliaceous plant is said to have been used as a hallucinogen in Papua New Guinea. The leaves of this plant (possibly Homalomena belgraveana Sprague) were ingested together with the bark of Galbulimima belgraveana (F. Muell.) Sprague334 [syn. Himantandra belgraveana F. Muell.] and the root of Zingiber zerumbet (L.) Sm. [syn. Alpinia speciosa] (see Zingiber officinale). This allegedly produced strong visions followed by intense dreams (Barrau 1958). Since this plant is known locally as maraba, the same name given to Kaempferia galanga and Galbulimima, the botanical identity of this purported hallucinogen is still in question. Chemical studies are lacking (Schultes and Hofmann 1995, 45*).


In former times, hawkweed (Hieracium pilosella) was hung in many German houses as a protection against witchcraft (woodcut from Tabernaemontanus 1731)



Dried hawkweed (Hieracium pilosella) herbage is used as a mild acting marijuana substitute.



Many species of the genus Homalomena, which is found throughout Southeast Asia, have not yet been botanically described, even though they are likely used for ethnomedicinal purposes (a Homalomena sp. from Malaysia).


The species Homalomena cordata Schott and H. versteegii Engler are used in New Guinea for rain and love magic, respectively (Ott 1993, 409*). Chemical studies of these species are also lacking (D. McKenna 1995, 101*). The ginger-scented rhizome of the East Indian species Homalomena aromatica was once used as an aphrodisiac (Hirschfeld and Linsert 1930, 180*). In Papua New Guinea, an ointment is made from the stem of a Homalomena species known as iva iva together with coconut oil (cf. Cocos nucifera) (von Reis and Lipp 1982, 10*).



Barrau, Jacques. 1958. Nouvelles observations au sujet des plantes hallucinogènes d’usage autochtone en Nouvelle-Guinée. Journal d’Agriculture Tropicale et de Botanique Appliquée 5:377–78.


Huperzia selago (L.) Bernh. ex Schrank et Mart.


[syn. Lycopodium selago L., Urostachys selago (L.) Herter]


(Lycopodiaceae)—devil’s claw

This club moss (cf. Lycopodium clavatumLycopodium spp.), which is found in circumpolar and Antarctic regions and is also known as fir club moss, heckenysop, devil’s clover, and selago, is an ancient Celtic-Germanic magical plant that was highly esteemed among the Druids:


It was gathered with great care, no iron instrument was allowed to touch it, even bare hands were unworthy of this honor. A special covering, or “sagus,” was used with the right hand. This covering had to be consecrated and secretly received from a holy personage with the left hand. It could be collected only by a white-clad druid with bare feet that had been washed in clear water. Before he collected this plant, he had to make an offering of bread and wine; after this, the plant was carried away from the place in which it grew in a new, clean cloth. In the “Kadir Taliesin,” selago is referred to as “the gift of god,” and in modern Welsh as the “gras duw,” or the “grace of god.” This plant was viewed primarily as an amulet that protected its possessor against all harm. (Schöpf 1986, 58*)


The herbage contains 0.1 to 0.9% total alkaloids, which have been characterized as “selagine” and comprise lycopodines, arifoline, pseudoselagine (= isolycodoline), selagine, and lycodoline. The entire plant can induce vomiting, dizziness, wooziness, and unconsciousness in humans (Roth et al. 1994, 407*).

Iresine spp.



Various species of this genus are used in South America as ayahuasca additives. Some species, under the name cimora or timora, are added to San Pedro drinks (see Trichocereus pachanoi). Iresine species also are said to be the main ingredient or at least one of the main ingredients in the mysterious South American magical drink cimora (Ott 1993, 409*). Unfortunately, chemical studies are lacking.

Betacyanin has been detected in the herbage of the Caribbean Iresine herbstii Hook. f. (Wong 1976, 119*).

Iryanthera juruensis Warb.


(Myristicaceae)—forest cacao


This small tree, also known as cedro ajua, huapa, pucuna huapa (“blowpipe huapa”), or sacha cacao (“forest cacao”), provides a resin that is used in the manufacture of snuff. It may be psychoactive. Active substances have not yet been detected (Ott 1993, 409*).

The Amazonian Indians (Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Brazil) produce a snuff from Iryanthera macrophylla (Benth.) Warb. that may be psycho-active. One analysis found 5-MeO-DMT in this plant material (Schultes 1985, 131); later studies have been unable to confirm this (Ott 1993, 409*).

The Bora and Witoto formerly used Iryanthera ulei Warb. as an oral hallucinogen. 5-MeO-DMT has also been found in the bark of this plant. Iryanthera longiflora Ducke is said to be a hallucinogen as well (Davis and Yost 1983, 186*).



Schultes, Richard Evans. 1985. De Plantis Toxicariis e Mundo Novo Tropicale Commentationes XXXV: Miscellaneous notes on biodynamic plants of the northwest Amazon. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 14:125–58.


Devil’s claw (Huperzia selago) has certain psychoactive effects and is an ancient Celtic-Germanic ritual plant. (Woodcut from Tabernaemontanus, Neu Vollkommen Kräuter-Buch, 1731)



Some species of the genus Iresine, from the Family Amaranthaceae, are used in the manufacture of South American shamans’ drinks (ayahuasca, cimora).


Jasminum spp.




The flowers of several jasmine species are the source of the aromatic jasmine oil (oleum jasmini), which contains eugenol and plays an important role in the perfume industry (cf. essential oils). Moreover, two African species have been reported to have psychoactive effects. In Abyssinia, the leaves of Jasminum floribundum R. Br. (known as hab el tsalim) are used as an “inebriating agent”; the leaves of Jasminum abyssinicum R. Br. are used in Eritrea for the same purpose (Hartwich 1911, 811*). The constituents are unknown. Gelsemium sempervirens is also known as yellow jasmine.

Jatropha grossidentata Pax et Hoffm.


(Euphorbiaceae)—purgative nut


In the shamanism of the Ayoré Indians of Paraguay, the dried root of the plant, known as caniroja, is smoked in order to communicate with animal spirits and to initiate novices into shamanism. The shamans (naijna) occasionally climb into a quebracho tree (Aspidosperma quebracho-blanca) and sit in its crown, where they smoke the roots. In this way, they are able to speak directly to the animals (Schmeda-Hirschmann 1993, 108, 109*). During a self-experiment under the supervision of one of the last Ayoreo shamans, no psychotropic effects of any kind could be observed. However, rhamnofolane and diterpenes have been found in the roots (Jakupovic et al. 1988; Schmeda-Hirschmann et al. 1992), which require further investigation (the active principle in Salvia divinorum is also a diterpene). In South America, other Jatropha species are regarded as aphrodisiacs (Schultes 1980, 104*). In northern Peru, Jatropha macrantha Arg. is known locally as huanarpo macho and is one of the most famous aphrodisiacs for men. Further study is needed to ascertain whether this species has psychoactive effects.



Jakupovic, J., M. Grenz, and G. Schmeda-Hirschmann. 1988. Rhamnofolane derivatives from Jatropha grossidentataPhytochemistry 27:2997–98.


Schmeda-Hirschmann, G., F. Tsichritzis, and J. Jakupovic. 1992. Further diterpenes and a lignan from Jatropha grossidentataPhytochemistry 31:1731–35.


Juanulloa ochracea Cuatrecasas




This nightshade is known in Colombia as ayahuasca and may possibly be utilized as an ayahuasca additive (Ott 1993, 410*; Schultes and Raffauf 1991, 39*). It may also have been used alone for psychoactive purposes. In the region of Limón (Costa Rica), the leaves and stems are used to treat wounds (Schultes 1978a, 192*). The alkaloid parquine (cf. Cestrum parqui) has been detected in the genus, which is composed of some twelve species (Schultes 1979b, 151*; Schultes and Raffauf 1991, 39*).

Kaempferia galanga L.


(newly written as Kempferia galanga) (Zingiberaceae)—galanga


A member of the ginger family, galanga is also known as the galgant-spice lily, resurrection lily, and hinguru-piyali. It is found in the tropical regions of Africa and in Southeast Asia. The very aromatic rootstock (rhizome), which often looks like a hand and is usually referred to as maraba, is used throughout the range of the plant as a spice and as a remedy for treating digestive ailments. Kaempferia has a strong, refreshing taste. In Malaysia, the root formerly was added to an arrow poison made with Antiaris toxicaria (Schultes and Hofmann 1995, 47*). Kaempferia galanga is one of the ingredients in the Indonesian spice mixture known as jamu (Rehm 1985) and is the main ingredient in those mixtures that are produced for tonic and aphrodisiac purposes (Macmillan 1991, 424*). In Japan, the root is sometimes used in the manufacture of incense. In Thailand, the root and young leaves are added to curries. The crushed root, mixed with whiskey (cf. alcohol), is applied as a paste to the forehead and scalp as a folk medicine for treating headaches (Jacquat 1990, 117).

The inhabitants of the area around Mount Hagen (Papua New Guinea) supposedly use or once used the rhizome as a hallucinogen, similar to Homalomena spp. (Barrau 1962). “The root is used as a spice and inebriant throughout all of Southeast Asia. . . . The rhizome induces hallucinations (without any side-effects)” (Bremness 1994, 180*). A European report states that ingestion of the powdered root produces “a surprising clarity of thought and alterations in vision” (Schuldes 1995, 46*).

The rootstock is rich in essential oils, the composition of which is unknown. It may contain psychoactive substances (Schultes and Hofmann 1992, 47*). Reports following ingestion of the powder often indicate mild or even no effects (Schuldes 1995, 95*). This may be due to the fact that the experimenters did not use genuine Kaempferia roots, for galanga is a name that has produced much confusion. Another member of the ginger family, galgant (Alpinia officinarum Hance [syn. Languas officinarum]), is known by the name galanga or little galanga. It too is used as a spice (Norman 1991, 64*). In Germany, Alpinia galanga (L.) Willd. [syn. Galanga major Rumpf., Maranta galangaL., Languas galanga Sw.] is known by the name large galanga root, and Alpinia officinarum by the name little galanga root (Jacquat 1990, 118; Norman 1991, 45*; Seidemann 1993, 180*).


The packaging of a traditional Indonesian jamu mixture, whose main component (20%) is Kaempferia galanga and which also includes gingerroot (Zingiber officinale), licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra), and sindora fruits. This jamu is recommended as a potent aphrodisiac and tonic for both men and women. The finely crushed herbal ingredients are mixed with some lukewarm water, freshly pressed curcuma juice, and a raw egg (if desired) and drunk in the morning, preferably before breakfast. The drink, of course, should be consumed daily!



The most renowned aphrodisiac in Peru is huanarpo macho (Jatropha macrantha), which is reputed to have psychoactive effects. The raw plant material, seen here, is macerated with high-proof alcohol.



Galanga (Kaempferia galanga), found throughout Southeast Asia, produces a very aromatic rhizome.




Barrau, Jacques. 1962. Observations et travaux récents sur les végétaux hallucinogens de la Nouvelle-Guinée. Journal d’Agriculture Tropicale et de Botanique Appliquée 9:245–49.


Jacquat, Christiane. 1990. Plants from the markets of Thailand. Bangkok: Editions Duang Kamol.


Rehm, Klaus D. 1985. Jamu—die traditionellen Arzneimittel Indonesiens. Curare, Sonderband 3/85:403–10.


Lancea tibetica Hook. f. et Thoms.




In Ladakh, India, the root of this plant (known locally as depgul) is roasted, crushed, and either smoked together with tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum) or drunk in milk. The product is called berzeatsink and is said to have potent stimulant and activating effects (Navchoo and Buth 1990, 320*).


The true galanga root (from the stock plant Kaempferia galanga) is only rarely found in trade. It is usually confused with the rootstock of galgant (Alpinia galanga [syn. Languas galanga], Alpinia officinarum [syn. Languas officinarum]). In this illustration from an early modern herbal, the rhizome of “large galgan” is probably identical to Kaempferia galanga. (Woodcut from Tabernaemontanus, Neu Vollkommen Kräuter-Buch, 1731)



Seeds and herbage of Lagochilus inebrians.



The South African wild dagga (Leonotis leonurus) in bloom.


Lagochilus inebrians Bunge


(Labiatae)—intoxicating mint


This bushy mint is native to the central Asian steppes of Turkistan and Uzbekistan. It is gathered in autumn and hung on the rafters to dry over the winter. The leaves are used to make a tea that is sweetened with honey and induces a mild state of euphoria, although it also can be used as a sedative (D. McKenna 1995, 103*). In Russian folk medicine and phytotherapy, the plant is also used to treat allergies and skin diseases and to promote blood coagulation (Schultes and Hofmann 1992, 47*).

The dried material (leaves) contains up to 17% lagochiline, a diterpene alkaloid (the average is around 3%; Schultes 1970, 41*; Tyler 1966, 287*). Numerous studies are available in the Russian literature. The plant is, or at least was, listed as a natural tranquilizer in the Russian pharmacopoeia (D. McKenna 1995, 103*; Scholz and Eigner 1983, 78*).

Leonotis leonurus (L.) R. Br.


(Labiatae)—lion’s tail, lion’s ear


This South African bush bears orange blossoms and is purported to have hallucinogenic effects (Schultes and Hofmann 1980, 367*). In Africa, it is known by the names dachadaggha, and wild dagga, “wild hemp” (cf. Cannabis indica). The Hottentots (Khoikhoi; Heusaquas) and Bushmen smoke the buds and leaves as inebriants (Schleiffer 1979, 93 ff.*; Schuldes 1995, 48*). This bush may be one of the inebriating plants subsumed under the name kanna(cf. kannaMesembryanthemum spp.Sceletium tortuosum). The resinous leaves and the resin rubbed off or extracted from them are smoked either alone or mixed with tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum) (Grubber 1991, 44*). In northern California, many people now smoke the leaves and orange flowers. Chemical studies are lacking (Ott 1993, 411*). The rather bitter-tasting smoke of flowers grown in California has a mild psychoactive effect reminiscent of that of both Cannabis and Datura. In eastern South Africa, the closely related species Leonotis ovata is reportedly used for the same purpose (Schleiffer 1979, 93*).

Another closely related species, Leonotis nepetaefolia (L.) R. Br., is used in Caribbean folk medicine. The leaves and flowers of this species have yielded bound oils, bitter principles, diterpenes,coumarins, and resins (Argueta V. et al. 1994, 229*; Puroshothaman et al. 1974a, 1974b; Wong 1976, 136*). In Mexico, this plant is known as flor de mundo, “world flower,” or mota. The name mota is normally used to refer to marijuana (cf. Cannabis indica); this may indicate that the plant is used as a marijuana substitute. The extract of this plant has antispasmodic effects and appears to inhibit acetylcholine and histamine (Argueta V. et al. 1994, 229*).



Puroshothaman, K. K., et al. 1974a. 4,6,7-trimethoxy-5-methylchromon-2-one, a new coumarin from Leonotis nepetaefoliaJournal of the Chemical Society, Perkin Transactions 1 (1): 2594–95.


———. 1974b. Nepetaefolinol and two related diterpenoids from Leonotis nepetaefoliaJournal of the Chemical Society, Perkin Transactions 1 (1): 2661.


Lichen non ident.

(family non ident.)—jievut hiawsik

The Pima and O’odham (= Papago) Indians both use the name jievut hiawsik, “earth flower,” to refer to lichens that live on rocks. One species, which unfortunately has not been identified botanically, exudes a strong scent, has an ashen gray color, and lives on rocks and old, dry wood. The lichen once had a religious significance. It was mixed with tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum) and smoked during the summer dances (cf. kinnikinnick). It is said to have an effect similar to that of marijuana (Cannabis indica) and to “make young men crazy.” The Pima believe that a man can conquer any woman after he has smoked the lichen (Curtin 1984, 77). Until now, lichens have been almost completely unknown as psychoactive substances in ethno-pharmacology (cf. Dictyonema). Recently, beard lichens have found use as incense.



Curtin, L. S. M. 1984. By the prophet of the earth: Ethnobotany of the Pima. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.



Indian tobacco (Lobelia inflata), with flowers and fruits.


Limmonium macrorhabdos O. Kuntze




In Ladakh, the sun-dried leaves of this plant, known as staspak, are drunk in the form of a cold-water extract (the powder is left in the water for about one week). The drink, called staspakchek, is said to produce strong inebriating effects and even to be dangerous (Navchoo and Buth 1990, 320*).

Lobelia inflata L.


(Campanulaceae)—Indian tobacco, pukeweed This delicate lobelia is native to North America, where it is known by the names pukeweed and Indian tobacco. The plant was used ceremonially by the North American Crow Indians and played a role in the love magic of the Pawnee and Mesquakie (Ott 1993, 411*). Lobelia is one of the ingredients in kinnikinnick and other smoking blends. The Indians also smoked the plant medicinally for asthma, bronchitis, irritations of the throat, and coughs. The herbage is finding increasing use as a tobacco substitute (see Nicotiana tabacum), especially among people who are trying to quit tobacco. Smoked by itself, lobelia is clearly psychoactive. It has both sedative and stimulating effects, which can surprise those who have no prior knowledge of the plant.


The herbage contains more than twenty piperidine alkaloids. The main alkaloid, α-lobeline, is a nicotine antagonist (Szôke et al. 1993) and is used as a nicotine substitute for medical withdrawal (Krochmal et al. 1972, 216). The α-lobeline content is almost twice as high in cultivated plants as in wild specimens (approximately 1.05 to 2.25% of dry weight; Krochmal et al. 1972, 216).

In Mexico, a closely related species, Lobelia cliffordtiana L., is numbered among the hierbas locas, the “herbs that make one crazy” (Martínez 1987, 427*; Reko 1938, 185*). It too may be suitable as an inebriating ingredient in smoking blends. An Asian species, Lobelia nicotianaefolia, is known as rasni or “wild tobacco.” The long, tobacco-like leaves of this plant, which can grow up to 3 meters in height, are said to be poisonous but can be smoked (Macmillan 1991, 430*). The name Lobelia longiflora L. is an outdated synonym for Hippobroma longiflora (L.) G. Don, which is one of the ingredients in the South American cimora drink (Zander 1994, 312*).



Krochmal, Arnold, Leon Wilken, and Millie Chien. 1972. Plant and lobeline harvest of Lobelia inflata L. Economic Botany 26:216–20.


Szôke, É., A. Krajewska, and A. Nesmélyi. 1993. NMR characterization of alkaloids from Lobelia inflataPlanta Medica 59 suppl.: A704.


Lobelia tupa L.


(Campanulaceae)—tupa, devil’s tobacco


This large lobelia, the flowers of which are fiery red, is found in the wild in South America in the Andes and their foothills. It is cultivated throughout the world as an ornamental. The most common name for this conspicuous plant is tupa, which can be translated as “spot,” “point,” “sunspot” or even “mark of disgrace.” Many inhabitants of the Andes consider this campanulaceous plant to be toxic and avoid it. Since it is often called tabaco del diablo (“devil’s tobacco”), it was once thought that it might have psychoactive or even hallucinogenic effects (Schultes and Hofmann 1992, 47*). However, there is no ethnographic evidence indicating that devil’s tobacco is or ever was used ritually for psychoactive purposes.

In Chile, Lobelia tupa and several other species are referred to as trupatupa, or tabaco del diablo (Lobelia excelsa Bonpl., Lobelia polyphylla H. et A.; cf. Mösbach 1992, 105*). The Mapuche use the name tupa to refer to a related species, Lobelia salicifolia Sweet, which they use as a medicinal plant to treat flu (they make a tea from the leaves). The latex is said to induce severe inflammation of the eye and of the digestive tract, together with vomiting and diarrhea (Houghton and Manby 1985, 100*).

Lobelia tupa has been shown to contain piperi-dine alkaloids; these do not, however, have any unequivocal psychoactive effects. As with Lobelia inflata, the principal alkaloid in the leaves is α-lobeline (Kaczmarek and Steinegger 1958). Lobelamidine and norlobelamidine are also present (Kaczmarek and Steinegger 1958; Schultes and Farnsworth 1982, 177*). Smoking the dried leaves strongly stimulates the production of saliva and an immediate stimulation occurs that is similar to that produced by Lobelia inflata and Nicotiana tabacum. The white smoke is relatively easy to inhale and produces almost no irritation (cf. smoking blends).



Kaczmarek, F., and E. Steinegger. 1958. Untersuchungen der Alkaloide von Lobelia tupa L. Pharm. Helvetica Acta 33:257–62.


———. 1959. Botanische Klassifizierung und Alkaloidvorkommen in der Gattung LobeliaPharm. Helvetica Acta 34:413–29.


Lotus wrightii (A. Gray) Greene


(Leguminosae)—deervetch, Wright’s horn clover


The Navajo Indians regard this plant as a “life medicine” and use it ritually in hunting (Vestal 1958, 32*). The Apache used the roots as an inebriating additive for their homemade beer (see beer). It is possible that the root cortex contains alkaloids, e.g., tryptamines, which are also found in many other plants of the same family.

Lucuma salicifolia H.B.K.


(Sapotaceae)—zapote borracho


The Aztecs of Mexico called the fruits of this Sapodilla Family species, the flesh of which is bright yellow, cozticzápotl (“dizzy-making fruit”), cochiz tzapotlzapote somnífero, or zapote blanco. It is said that excessive consumption of the fruits can result in a peculiar state of inebriation not unlike that produced by alcohol. This is why the fruit is now known primarily as zapote borracho, “drunken zapote” (Martínez 1987, 1154*). Mexican farmers are said to use it to produce a state of inebriation.“In Oaxaca and Puebla, zapote fruits are purchased by barkeepers (as well as by housewives) and added to brandy (as we do with other fruits and rum). They impart a beautiful, cognaclike color to cheap alcohol and are said to make this ‘stronger,’ i.e., the inebriating effects that the drinker desires are manifested more rapidly than after the consumption of normal brandy” (V. Reko 1938, 151 f.*).

Both zapote blanco, “white zapote,” and zapote dormilte, “sleep-inducing zapote” (Casimiroa edulis Llave et Lex. [syn. Casimiroa sapota Orst., Fagara bombacifolium Krug et Urbán, Zanthoxylum bombacifolium A. Rich, Zanthoxylum aracifolium Turcz.]; Rutaceae), have also been identified as cozticzápotl (Argueta V. et al. 1994, 1413*). They also are reputed to have sedative and hypnotic effects. The seeds, burned to ashes, were ingested by the Aztecs as a sleeping agent (Navarro 1992, 94*). Even today, a tea made from the leaves is used in Mexican folk medicine for sleep disorders and to regulate and stimulate dreaming (Argueta

V. et al. 1994, 1413*). The seeds of Casimiroa edulis have been found to contain the alkaloids N-benzoyltyramine, methylhistamine, casimiroin, fagarine, and casimiroidin as well as coumarins (scopoletin) (Aebi 1956; Argueta V. et al. 1994, 1414*; Emboden 1979, 6, 173*). The leaves contain methylhistamine and dimethylhistamine as well as rutin (Argueta V. et al. 1994, 1414*). The Aztec name cozticzápotlhas also been interpreted as referring to Calea zacatechichi (Lara Ochoa and Marquez Alonso 1996, 123*).



Aebi, A. 1956. The isolation of casimiroidin from the seeds of Casimiroa edulisHelvetica Chimica Acta 39:1495.


Lupinus spp.


(Fabaceae)—lupines, wolf’s beans


Several species of lupine (Lupinus albus L., L. angustifolius L., L. luteus L.) are found in the Mediterranean region. In ancient times, they were used for medicinal (described in Dioscorides 2.132), ritual, and apparently psychoactive purposes. The pilgrims who came to the Greek death oracle of Acheron (near Ephyra, Thesprotia, northern Greece)—the entrance to Hades—were required to eat large quantities of lupine seeds so that they could contact the souls of the dead (Dakaris 1989). “A strict diet was used to psycho-logically prepare them for communicating with the underworld in the narrow passages of the labyrinthine shrine. . . . The consumption of the alkaloid-containing lupine seeds induced in the pilgrims the state of inebriation that the priests desired and diminished their faculties of perception, preconditions that were necessary for the initiated to be able to feign a genuine communication with the shadow figures of the deceased” (Baumann 1982, 146*). Since the oracular priests jealously guarded their secrets, we unfortunately know nothing precise about the ways in which the lupines were actually used (Vandenberg 1979*). It is likely that, in addition, sulfur was burned as a fumigant (Dakiris 1989, 160).

“Zapote. Tree belonging to the Sapatoceae. The Cora in the Mexican Sierra Madre occidental hang its branches on their huts to protect the newborn from evil demons.”






(1996, 290*)


According to other sources, the pilgrims ate not lupine seeds when they visited the oracle but “pig beans,” which were probably Hyoscyamus. These induced “states of dizziness, unreal sensory perceptions, and passivity” (Dakaris 1989, 162 f.). Lucian described a séance in which the sea onion was used as a magical plant (cf. moly).

Lupine seeds contain a number of toxic substances: lupanine, 13-hydroxylupanine, angustifoline, 13-tigloyloxylupanine, albine, multiflorine, α-isolupanine, 4-hydroxylupanine, ammodendrine, anagyrine, and sparteine (Roth et al. 1994, 473*). Lupanine is chemically related to cytisine. A new alkaloid, (–)-(trans-4’-β-D-glycopyranosyloxy-3’-methoxycinnamyl)-lupinine, has been detected in the yellow lupine (Lupinus luteus) (Murakoshi et al. 1979). However, nothing is known about the pharmacology of this substance.

Lupine seeds were once brewed as a coffee substitute (Coffea arabica). In Mexico, the lupine species Lupinus elegans H.B.K. is known as hierba loca, “crazy herb” (Martínez 1987, 427*). It may have inebriating effects (cf. Astragalus spp.).



Dakaris, Sotiris. 1989. Das Totenorakel am Acheron. In Tempel und Stätten der Götter Griechenlands, ed. Evi Melas, 157–64. Cologne: DuMont.


Murakoshi, Isamu, Kazuo Toriizuka, Joju Haginiwa, Shigeru Ohmiya, and Hirotaka Otomasu. 1979. (–)-(Trans-4’-β-D-glycopyranosyloxy-3’-methoxycinnamyl)-lupinine, a new lupin alkaloid in Lupinus seedlings. Phytochemistry 18:699–700.



In ancient times, yellow lupine, also known as wolf’s bean (Lupinus luteus), apparently was associated with magical practices and lycanthropy (transformation of a human into a wolf).



Some species of the genus Lupinus appear to contain psychoactive substances.



The condor plant, Lycopodium magellanicum. (Photographed at Laguna Shimbe, northern Peru)





Lycopodium clavatum L.


(Lycopodiaceae)—club moss


Lycopodium clavatum L. and other club mosses indigenous to Europe (Lycopodium spp.; cf. also Huperzia selago) are known by a variety of common names, including Druid’s foot herb, Druid’s foot, Druid’s plant, Druid’s flour, Druid’s foot flour, witches’ plant, witches’ flour, witches’ flour plant, witches’ dust, snake moss, devil’s claw, devil’s claw flour, devil’s rubbish, and disquiet. The spores are known as witches’ flour, Druid’s flour, lightning powder, dusting powder, and moss powder. These names suggest an ancient use in pagan rituals and strong associations with witchcraft. One German name, bärlapp, means “uterine ointment” (Beckmann and Beckmann 1990, 196*).

Lycopodium clavatum and similar species (L. cernuum L., L. hamiltonii Spreng., L. serratum Thunb., L. subulifolium Wall. ex Hook. et Grev.) are found also in Nepal. There, the club moss is sacred to the Hindu god Vishnu and is used in garlands and other objects at his festivals.

Club moss (Lycopodium clavatum L.) contains a toxic or psychoactively effective alkaloid complex that is generally referred to as “clavatine” which even includes nicotine (Roth et al. 1994, 477*).

Lycopodium spp.


(Lycopodiaceae)—condor plants, condoros


In northern Peruvian curanderismo, a variety of club mosses are used by folk healers as medicinal plants, amulets, and additives to the San Pedro drink (cf. Trichocereus pachanoi). In the northwestern lowlands, club mosses are normally subsumed under the name cóndorcondor, or condor plant. In the highlands of Huancabamba and Las Huaringas, they are known as huaminga. Only one as yet unidentified species is included among the magical plants of the category hornamo (cf. Senecio spp.). Club mosses are also used as bath additives and for magical defense during healing rituals (Giese 1989, 227f.*).


A bundle of condor plants (Lycopodium spp.) from the witches’ market in Chiclayo, Peru.


Condor Plants Used in Northern Peruvian Curanderismo

Lycopodium spp. cóndor purga


hierba de condorillo

hornamo lírio

hornamo loro

huaminga misha

huaminga oso

trenza amarilla

trenza shimbe

Lycopodium affine Hook. et Grev. condorillo

Lycopodium clavatum L. trencilla verde

Lycopodium contigum Kltz. trencilla blanca

Lycopodium crassum H.B.K. trencilla

Lycopodium magellanicum condoro

Lycopodium reflexum condoro

Lycopodium saururus hierba del cóndor cóndor misha

Lycopodium spurium trencilla del lago

Lycopodium tetragonum condorillo de quatro filos

Lycopodium vestitum trencilla blanca

When condorillo or cóndor misha is added to the San Pedro drink, the plant spirit appears to the curandero as a condor. At the behest of the healer, the condor can go on astral journeys and fulfill small tasks. As a result, he can remedy harmful magic and bring the lost soul back to a patient suffering from susto, “fright” (Giese 1989, 249*). There may even be some club moss species with psychoactive effects:

It is possible that Lycopodium sp. also augments the hallucinogenic effects of the San Pedro drink. Manuel, a plant dealer from Trujillo, said that the plant that he called “trenza shimbe” and appears to be the same as “cóndor misha” serves to improve the “visionary sight.” (Giese 1989, 228*)


One plant dealer at a “witches’ market” in Chiclayo in July 1997 told me that condoro, which I was able to identify as Lycopodium magellanicum, has hallucinogenic effects, especially when combined with Trichocereus pachanoi.

More than one hundred alkaloids have been found in the genus Lycopodium (Gerard and MacLean 1986). To date, it is uncertain whether there are any psychoactive alkaloids among these. Six alkaloids have been detected in the Chilean species Lycopodium magellanicum (Loyola et al. 1979).

It is possible that a psychoactive use of club mosses is known in Chile or was practiced in former times. Lycopodium paniculatum A.N. Desv. is called llanca-lahuén, “precious medicine,” in Mapuche and is known in the local Spanish as licopodiopimpinela, and palmita (Mösbach 1992, 55*). The Mapuche use another species, Lycopodium gayanum Remy et Fée, which they call ngalngal, as a sedative medicine. In the local Spanish, it is known as harina de los brujos, “flour of the witches” (Mösbach 1992, 55*).



Gerard, Robert V., and David B. MacLean. 1986. GC/MS examination of four Lycopodium species for alkaloid content. Phytochemistry 25 (5): 1143–50.


Loyola, Luis A., Glauco Morales, and Mariano Castillo. 1979. Alkaloids of Lycopodium magellanicumPhytochemistry 18:1721–23.


Macropiper excelsum (Forster) Miq.


(Piperaceae)—Maori kava


Since Piper methysticum does not grow in New Zealand, the Maoris looked for a substitute when they settled the islands. They found it in the form of an indigenous pepper species, which they used like Piper methysticum to produce a kavalike drink. The plant contains an essential oil with the active substances myristicin and elemicine (Bock 1994, 98*).

Magnolia virginiana L.


[syn. Magnolia glauca L.] (Magnoliaceae)—Virginia magnolia, swamp sassafras


The Rappahannock Indians snuffed the leaves and bark of this North American tree as a mild inebriant (cf. snuff). Chemical studies and additional ethnographic data are lacking (Ott 1993, 412*). Virginia magnolia, which has a safrole scent, is also known in the United States as swamp sassafras (Grieve 1982, 716*). It contains an essential oil that clearly includes a high quantity of safrole (cf. Sassafras albidum).


Because of its aromatic leaves, the North American Magnolia virginiana is also known as sweet bay.


Another magnolia species has been associated with the Aztec inebriant poyomatli. Magnolias have been shown to contain alkaloids, e.g., magnoflorine (Roth et al. 1994, 479*).

Malva rotundifolia



An herbarium specimen collected by E. Bacon in Afghanistan in 1939 bears the remark “the seeds make one drunk” (von Reis and Lipp 1982, 178*).

Matayba guianensis



A note attached to an herbarium specimen collected by J. A. Steyermark in Venezuela in 1945 reads, “Fruit poisonous or makes one ‘loco’ [= crazy] when eaten” (von Reis and Lipp 1982, 169*).

Manihot anomala Pohl ssp. anomala



The dried root of this manioc species, which is known as sienejna, is used by the Ayoreo Indians of Paraguay to initiate a shaman (naijna) so that he can communicate with the spirits (Schmeda-Hirschmann 1993, 108*). But not all of the Ayoreo believe that this plant works. It is said that the shaman feels as though he is drunk when he smokes sienejna. In this state, the spirits of the animals (especially those of iguanas, poisonous snakes, and birds) meet him in the shape of small people so that they may let him know of their whereabouts (Schmeda-Hirschmann 1993, 109*). Smoking experiments, however, have not revealed any type of hallucinogenic or other psychotropic effect (Schmeda-Hirschmann 1993, 111*). Chemical studies and other experiments are still needed.

Maquira sclerophylla Ducke


[syn. Olmedioperebea sclerophylla] (Moraceae)—rapé dos indios


In the central Amazonian region (Xingu) of Brazil, the bark and perhaps the seeds of this tree, which can grow as tall as 30 meters and is known locally as rapé dos indios, are made into a snuff that is purported to have hallucinogenic effects and is consumed at religious festivals (Schultes and Raffauf 1990, 318*). This practice has apparently died out (D. McKenna 1995, 101*). The powder is said to stimulate the central nervous system and cause euphoria and visual hallucinations. Unfortunately, pharmacological studies of these effects using human subjects have not yet been conducted (Carlini and Gagliarid 1970; D. McKenna 1995, 101*). One experiment with rats and guinea pigs revealed—as is typical—little but amphetamine-like reactions (Carvalho and Lapa 1990). Earlier studies demonstrated the presence of coumarins. Later investigations revealed the presence of cardiac glycosides as well (Ott 1993, 412*).



Carlini, E. A., and R. J. Gagliarid. 1970. Comparação das acões farmacológicas de estratos brutos de Olmedioperebea calophyllum e Cannabis sativaAnais do Academia Brasileira dos Ciencies 42:400–412.


Carvalho, João Ernesto de, and Antonio José Lapa. 1990. Pharmacology of an Indian-snuff obtained from Amazonian Maquira sclerophyllaJournal of Ethnopharmacology 30:43–54.


Mentha pulegium L.




This mint species, once known as blechon or glechon, was apparently an ingredient of kykeon, the potion drunk by initiates to the Eleusinian mysteries (Ruck 1995, 142*). Aristophanes, in Pax, mentions a drink containing pennyroyal that was named kykeon and which Hermes, the messenger of the gods, recommended as a protection against disease. Pennyroyal was also used to produce love drinks and was considered an obscene metaphor for a woman’s pubic hair and a symbol of illicit sexuality. The herbalist Bodin (1591) identified it with Homer’s nepenthes. Pennyroyal was one of the most renowned abortifacients of antiquity and was used medicinally to treat cramps in the lower abdomen (Rätsch 1995a, 237 f.*). In ancient times, it was also burned as an incense. In South America, the dried plant is still used as a ritual incense and is offered to the earth goddess Pachamama (Ott 1993, 412*).


Pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium) plays a significant role in ethnogynecology and as a ritual incense.


A medicinal use of pennyroyal can still be found in the folk medicine of Cyprus, where fresh leaves are eaten in salad to treat male impotency. They are also consumed as a tea for stimulant and tonic purposes.

Pennyroyal has medicinal and ritual significance for the pagan Berber peoples of the Atlas Mountains (Morocco) that may have its roots in ancient ideas. A tea made from the herbage is drunk to treat abdominal pains, colic, rheumatism, and flatulence and as a tonic and digestive. During the summer solstice, the plant is burned as a ritual incense to protect humans and animals against misfortune. The feast consumed on the night of the summer solstice consists of snails that have been cooked in salt, pepper (Piper nigrum; cf. Piper spp.), pennyroyal, and thyme (Thymus spp.). Eating this preparation ensures good health throughout the coming year. The medicinal properties of the plant are said to be best when the plant is collected shortly before the solstice. It is used externally to treat wounds and is taken internally to treat coughs and colds (Venzlaff 1977*).

Hildegard von Bingen had the following to say about the psychoactive effects of pennyroyal: “He who has pains in the brain so that he is ill should add pennyroyal to wine and boil it, and he should lay it on his head while still warm, and he should tie a cloth over this, so that the brain is warm and suppresses the madness in him” (Physica 1.126).

Pennyroyal contains 1 to 2% essential oil, 80 to 94% of which is pulegone, a substance that can induce abortions in animals and humans (Boyd 1992). Piperitone and (-)-limonene also occur (Roth et al. 1994, 493*). Use of the plant as an abortifacient can be dangerous (Gunby 1979, Vallance 1955), and deaths have been reported (cf. Focus [1994] 32:95). Higher dosages of oleum pulegii can produce delirium and an anesthesia-like paralysis. Apart from the essential oil, no psychoactive compounds have been isolated (Ott 1993, 412*).



Boyd, E. L. 1992. Hedeoma pulegioides and Mentha pulegium. In Adverse effects of herbal drugs, ed. P. A. G. M. de Smet, K. Keller, R. Hänsel, and R. F. Chandler, 151–56. Berlin: Springer.


Gunby, P. 1997. Plant known for centuries still causes problems today. Journal of the American Medical Association 241 (21): 2246–47.


Vallance, W. B. 1955. Pennyroyal poisoning, a fatal case. Lancet (1955): 850-851.


Metteniusa edulis Karst.


[syn. Pentandria monogynia L., Gamopetalae nuculiferae Endl.]


(Metteniusaceae)—macagua, urupagua, canyí

The three species of the genus Metteniusa in Colombia thrive primarily in cloud forests. These trees bear large fruits (Gentry 1993, 474 f.*). The genus constitutes its own family but is also assigned to the families Alangiaceae and Icacinaceae (Brako and Zarucchi 1993, 573*). Karsten has even seen a certain resemblance to the Convolvulaceae:

The fruit and seed formation of this tree—whose bitter-tasting seeds are a not unimportant source of nourishment for the tribe of Arguaco Indians who inhabit the peaks of the mountains of St. Marta—isolate it from its natural relatives, the Cordiceae and the Asperifoliae. (Karsten 1858, 1:80)


In the Sierra Madre de Santa Marta, the tree is known as canyí. It is said to have ritual significance for the Kogi of Colombia.335 The priests (mamas) attribute strong psychoactive effects to the tree’s chestnutlike fruits (Reichel-Dolmatoff 1977, 285*). Whether this plant truly is psychoactive is questionable, for it is eaten as a food in Venezuela, albeit after having been cooked (Lozano-C. and Lozano 1988, 26).

Another species, Metteniusa tessmanniana (Sleumer) Sleumer [syn. Aveledoa tessmanniana Sleumer], is found in Peru (Brako and Zarucchi 1993, 573*).



Karsten, Hermann. 1858–61. Florae Columbiae, I. Berlin.


Lozano-C., Gustavo, and Nulia B. de Lozano. 1988. Metteniusaceae. Vol. 11 of Flora de Colombia. Bogotá: Universidad de Colombia.



Fruits and seeds of the tree Metteniusa edulis, which the Kogi use to obtain a psychoactive product. (From Karsten, Florae Columbiae, 1858–61)


Mikania cordata (Burm) B.L. Robinson




This shrub is common throughout the hot zones of India. The leaves are used in traditional medicine to treat itchiness and as a wound plaster. Neuropharmacological studies in animals (mice) have demonstrated that the root extract induces profound behavioral changes, particularly the disappearance of aggressive behavior. The root extract appears to have strong narcotic effects upon the central nervous system as well as analgesic properties (Bhattacharya et al. 1988).

In the medicine of the Andean Callawaya, a closely related species (Mikania scandens Willd., known as guaco) is used together with other plants (see Erythroxylum cocaCytisus spp.) to treat rheumatism (Bastien 1987, 131*).



Bhattacharya, Siddhartha, Siddhartha Pal, and A. K. Nag Chaudhuri. 1988. Neuropharmacological studies on Mikania cordata root extract. Planta Medica 54:483–87.


Mirabilis multiflora (Torr.) Gray


[syn. Quamoclidion multiflorum Torr.; cf. Schultes and Farnsworth 1982, 189*]


(Nictaginaceae or Nyctaginaceae)—four-o’clock

The so-called Hopi hallucinogen belongs to the four-o’clocks, those amazing flowers whose blossoms always close at the same time each late afternoon. Known as so:’ksi or so’kya, the plant produces red flowers and a long, deeply penetrating root. Hopi medicine men chewed the root or drank the juice pressed from it in order to obtain diagnostic visions (Whiting 1939, 75). Twenty-eight to 57 g of the root is said to result in a “half-hour of gaiety.” The Zuni Indians bake a bread using flour made from the root and, interestingly, use the bread as an appetite suppressant (Moerman 1986, 293*). The active principles are unknown (Ott 1993, 413*). The botanical name Mirabilis nyctaginea is also sometimes applied to this questionable hallucinogen (Moerman 1982, 81 f.*).

On the basis of this information from the older ethnographic literature and the superficial similarities between this genus and the nightshades, many closet shamans believe that another four-o’clock,Mirabilis jalapa L., is also psychoactive. The seeds of this plant, which is now cultivated throughout the world as an ornamental, are used ethnomedicinally as an antibacterial and anti-inflammatory agent (Kusamba et al. 1991). It is unknown whether the tuberous root has psychoactive effects. The Pima Indians of northern Mexico use the leaves to brew a tonic for the elderly (Pennington 1973, 221*).



Kusamba, Chifundera, Kizungu Byamana, and Wa Mpoyi Mbuyi. 1991. Antibacterial activity of Mirabilis jalapa seed powder. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 35:197–99.


Whiting, Alfred F. 1939. Ethnobotany of the Hopi. Museum of Northern Arizona Bulletin no. 15. Flagstaff.: Northern Arizona Society of Science and Art.


Monadenium lugardae N.E. Br.


(Euphorbiaceae)—tshulu, mhlebe


This South African spurge is used for folk medicinal purposes in Eastern Transvaal (Mpumalanga) and is reputedly psychoactive (Schultes and Hofmann 1980, 367*). Ingestion of a large piece of the root tuber (how much?) is said to cause hallucinations and delirium. The local diviners sometimes swallow pieces of the root in order to obtain prophetic visions. The plant contains bioactive alkaloids (Gundiza 1991; de Smet 1996, 143 f.*) and may contain methylamines (Emboden 1979, 184*).



Gundiza, M. 1991. Effect of methanol extract from Monadenium lugardae on contractile activity of guinea-pig ileum. Central African Journal of Medicine 37:141–44.


Monodora myristica Gaertner


(Curcubitaceae)—Jamaican nutmeg, calabash nutmeg tree


In West Africa, this treelike curcubit is known as pebe. Its seeds are reputedly used to establish contact with the water spirits (mamiwata). Apparently they are ingested and also smeared on the arms. The seeds are used by the Pygmies as a stimulant and to treat headaches. With a scent reminiscent of that of nutmeg, they are also used as a substitute for the true nutmeg (Myristica fragrans), which may also represent a pebe for contacting the water spirits (Wagner 1991; cf. also Ott 1993, 413 f.*). The seeds contain an essential oil in which myristicin or safrole may be present; this would make them a useful psychoactive substance. African slaves introduced the plant into the Caribbean, where the seeds are used as a spice (Bärtels 1993, 69*).


This four-o’clock (Mirabilis sp.) bears a strong resemblance to the nightshades and may be regarded as psychoactive for this reason. (Wild plant, photographed in southern Mexico)



The treelike curcubitaceous Monodora myristica, which has a scent like that of nutmeg.


Another curcubit species (Echinocystis lobata Torr. et Gray) is rumored to be psychoactive or even hallucinogenic (Schultes and Farnsworth 1982, 188*; Schultes and Hofmann 1980, 367*).



Wagner, Johanna. 1991. Das “dawa” der mamiwata (Ein möglicherweise pharmakologischer Aspekt des westafrikanischen Glaubens an Wassergeister.) Integration 1:61–63.


Mostuea spp.




In Gabon, the species Mostuea gabonica Baillon and Mostuea stimulans Chevalier, known locally as sata mbwanda or sété mbwundè, are regarded as potent aphrodisiacs. Their effects are said to be identical to those of Tabernanthe iboga. The roots of the plants, which have a taste like that of cola nuts (Cola spp.), produce euphoria and inebriation. The root was chewed extensively throughout the night and was swallowed by itself or mixed with iboga to produce sexual excitation (Chevalier 1946, 1947). Alkaloids are present in the genus Mostuea. The root cortex of Mostuea stimulans contains 0.33% alkaloids of an unknown structure. They have a pharmacological activity like sempervirine and gelsemine (cf. Gelsemium sempervirens) and effects similar to those of strychnine (de Smet 1996, 144*).



Chevalier, A. 1946. La Sata mbwanda racine stimulante et aphrodisiaque employée par les Noirs du Gabon et son identification botanique. Comptes Rendus de l’Academie des Sciences 223:767–69.


———. 1947. Les Mostuea africains et leurs propriétés stimulantes. Revue de Botanique Appliquée 27:104–9.


Neoraimondia arequipensis (Meyen) Backeb.


[syn. Neoraimondia macrostibas (Schum.) Britt. et Rose] (Cactaceae)


This South American cactus from northern Peru has the reputation of being psychoactive or hallucinogenic (Schultes and Farnsworth 1982, 187*). It is one of the ingredients of the psycho-active cimoradrink. It apparently contains β-phenethylamines.

Nepeta cataria L.




Cats seem to be magically attracted to this plant (and to its varietals), which is frequently grown as an ornamental, and they appear to feel a strong psychoactive effect—hence its name (Siegel 1991a*). The dried leaves can be smoked alone or in smoking blends. The extract can be sprayed onto other smoking herbs. A tea made from equal parts of catnip and damiana (Turnera diffusa) (add 2 tablespoons of each to 1/4 liter of water and allow to steep for five minutes) is said to have mild euphoriant effects (Schuldes 1995, 54*).

Catnip contains an aromatic essential oil composed of nepetalactones, dihydronepetalac-tone, and isodihydronepetalactone. It also contains the psychoactive alkaloid actinidine. There are many reports of the psychoactive efficacy of smoking catnip leaves, including some from sources that may be taken seriously (Ott 1993, 414 f.*; Schultes 1970, 42*).

Amazingly, the active substances in catnip (nepetalactones) are also found in the animal kingdom. They have been demonstrated to be present in the toxin of Myrmacomecocystus, a genus of ant from California. As part of their initiations, some California Indians swallowed these ants alive (wrapped in eagle down) to induce altered states of consciousness. The ants apparently bit into the stomach lining, thereby introducing the active principles into the blood. The ritual use of psychoactive ants was very similar to the use of Datura wrightii (Blackburn 1976*).



Jackson, B., and A. Reed. 1969. Catnip and the alteration of consciousness. Journal of the American Medical Association 207:1349–50.



Catnip (Nepeta cataria).


Nephelium topengii (Merr.) H.S. Lo




This Southeast Asian tree may be identical to a plant that ancient Chinese sources refer to as lung-li, which was said to have hallucinogenic effects (Li 1978, 24 f.*). Nephelium, however, contains only toxic cyanogenic glycosides (Schultes and Hofmann 1995, 51*; Schultes and Farnsworth 1982, 187*). This botanical identity is questionable (Li 1978, 24*).

Ocimum micranthum Willd.


[syn. Ocimum guatemalense Gandoger] (Lamiaceae, Labiatae)—small-flowered basil, American basil


In Amazonia, where this plant is known as alba-hacairoropichana albaca, or pichana blanca, it is said that this basil species is hallucinogenic (Duke and Vasquez 1994*). The leaves are used as an ayahuasca additive. The herbage has ethno-medicinal use as an analgesic in Mexico and Guatemala (Alcorn 1984, 715*; Ott 1993, 416*). The plant is known as xkakaltun in the Yucatán, where it is regarded as a honey plant (Barrera M. et al. 1976, 263*) and is used in an abortifacient medicine (Rätsch and Probst 1983). The Siona Indians call the aromatic plant gõnõ ma’nya, “chicha perfume,” and it is similarly known as kõnõ na’nya among the Secoya (Vickers and Plowman 1984, 16*). It apparently was once used as a chicha additive. In Brazil, where the plant is known as mangericão, it is used in the Candomblé cult as an ingredient in the initiatory drink (see madzoka medicine). It has folk medicinal significance in the Caribbean. The plant contains an essential oil (Wong 1976, 137*) whose constituents include camphene, cineol, linalool, myrcene, cis-trans-ocimene, α-pinene, β-pinene, α-terpineol, aromandrene, β-caryophyllene, β-elemene, Δ-elemene, γ-elemene, α-humulene, neriol, and eugenol (Argueta V. et al. 1994, 89*; Maia et al. 1988).

Sacred basil (Ocimum sanctum L. [syn. Ocimum tenuiflorum L.]), a relative that is better known by the names tulasitulsi, and madura-tala (Knecht 1985), is not itself psychoactive,336 although it is chewed as a substitute for betel quids (Macmillan 1991, 424*).



Knecht, Sigrid. 1985. Die heilige Heilpflanze Tulasi. In “Ethnobotanik,” special issue, Curare 3/85:95–100.


Maia, J. G. S., et al. 1988. Uncommon Brazilian essential oils of the Labiatae and Compositae. Dev. Food Science 18:177–88.


Rätsch, Christian, and Heinz J. Probst. 1983. Kräuter zur Familienplanung. Sexualmedizin 12 (4): 173–76.



Ocimum micranthum, a basil species found throughout tropical America, where it is used for ethnopharmacological purposes.


Osteophloeum platyspermum (DC.) Warburg




It has recently been discovered that the Ecuadoran Quecha use a tree that they call anya huapahuachig caspihuapallauta caspi, or machin cara yura (“monkey bark tree”) as a hallucinogen. It is possible that this tree was already in use for this purpose in pre-Columbian times, for the infor-

mants explained that their ancestors used this plant to communicate with phantoms and spirits. The red sap from the trunk, which is ingested orally, must be boiled before use and is sometimes mixed with guando (Brugmansia spp.) and tzicta (Tabernaemontana sananho Ruíz et Pav.; see Tabernaemontana spp.). The Quechua drip some of the red sap into the nostrils of their dogs so that they are better able to hunt. A chemical quick test (Dragendorff test) has confirmed the presence of alkaloids (Bennett and Alarcón 1994). The Makú Indians drink the sap of the tree, which they call tugnebãnpe, to treat colds (Prance 1972a, 20*). In the region around Manaus, the leaves are smoked as a treatment for asthma (Schultes 1978b, 230*; 1983b, 347*).



Bennett, B. C., and Rocío Alarcón. 1994. Osteophloeum platyspermum and Virola duckei (Myristicaceae): Newly reported as hallucinogens from Amazonian Ecuador. Economic Botany 48 (2): 152–58.


Oxytropis spp.


(Leguminosae: Fabaceae)—locoweeds


Several species from the genus Oxytropis are known in North America by the Spanish-English name locoweed, “crazy weed” (cf. Astragalus spp.), and have toxic or psychotropic properties (Turner and Szczawinski 1992, 122*). The Indians used some species for medicinal purposes (Johnston 1970, 314*). Several species were used as a ritual or medicinal wash during sweathouse ceremonies (Moerman 1986, 320 f.*). In Mexico, the species Oxytropis lamberti Pursh. is called hierba loca,“crazy herb” (Martínez 1987, 427*; Reko 1938, 185*).

Pancratium trianthum Herbert


(Amaryllidaceae)—pancrat lily, kwashi


This African sea lily, known as kwashi, is said to be a popular hallucinogen among the Bushmen of Botswana. Cut into slices, the bulb is rubbed into incisions made on the scalp (de Smet 1996, 142*).


The Mediterranean pancrat lily (Pancratium maritimum) is similar to the related African species and bears enchanting flowers.



One of the many species of screw pine (Pandanus sp.) found throughout Southeast Asia.


Among the some fifteen species in the genus, this species is considered the most poisonous; it contains a variety of cardiac toxins (Schultes and Hofmann 1992, 52*). A Russian study isolated trisperidine, tacettin, hippeastrine, pancratine, galanthamine, lycorine, hordenine, and two unidentified bases from the bulb (Munvime and Muravjoza 1983). The main alkaloid in the bulb of the Mediterranean Pancratium maritimum L. is lycorine (Sener et al. 1993). Lycorine, which is present in many amaryllis species, causes paralysis of the central nervous system (Roth et al. 1994, 854*).



Munvime, F. D., and D. A. Muravjova. 1983. Alkaloids of Pancratium trianthum Herb. Farmatsiya 32:22–24.


Sener, B., S. Koenuekol, C. Krukl, and U. K. Pandit. 1993. Alkaloids of lycorine and lycorenine class from Pancratium maritimum L. Archiv für Pharmazie 326:61–62.


Pandanus sp.


(Pandanaceae)—screw tree

In Papua New Guinea, the fruit of an as yet unidentified Pandanus species is said to be used or to have been used as a hallucinogen. Unfortunately, we have no dependable ethnographic or ethnobotanical information about this. The fruits of several Pandanus species have been found to contain N,N-DMT (Schultes and Hofmann 1992, 52*). The species Pandanus antaresensis St. John is used in Papua New Guinea as an analgesic (Ott 1993, 401*). The Australian Aborigines make a wine from the fruits of Pandanus spiralis R. Br. (Bock 1994, 147*).

In Nepal, the screw pine (Pandanus nepalensis St. John [syn. Pandanus furcatus auct. non. Roxb.]) is considered sacred to Ganesha, the Hindu elephant-headed god. The leaves of the kevada or aromatic screw pine Pandanus odoratissimus L. [syn. P. tectorius auct. non. Soland. ex Parkinson], which is called ketaka in Sanskrit, are offered to his father Shiva (Majupuria and Joshi 1988, 170 f.*). In Ayurvedic medicine, the leaves are used as a tonic aphrodisiac, while in Thailand they are often used as a cooking spice (Norman 1991, 66*). In Hawaii, root tips that grow above the ground are used together with sugarcane juice to make a tonic (Krauss 1981, 6*). The flowers contain a stimulating essential oil composed of benzyl benzoate, benzyl acetate, benzyl alcohol, geranol, linalool, guiacol, phenethyl alcohol, and aldehydes (Majupuria and Joshi 1988, 171*). In India, the ripe spadix of Pandanus tectorius Parkins. ex Du Roi [syn. Pandanus odoratissimus L. f.] is the source of the so-called kewda perfume, one of whose uses is to aromatize smoking tobacco (Nicotiana rusticaNicotiana tabacum) (Bärtels 1993, 122*).

In the Seychelles, a number of species known as vacoa are regarded as aphrodisiacs (Müller-Ebeling and Rätsch 1989, 72*).

Pedilanthus spp.




In Peru, Pedilanthus retusus Benth. is known locally as misha. This name is typically used as a folk taxonomic catchall for the various angel’s trumpets (Brugmansia spp.) but is also occasionally given to other psychoactive plants (cf. Lycopodium spp., cimora). At the Institute for Traditional Medicine in Lima, it is claimed that Pedilanthus retusus is a potent hallucinogen, for it is said to contain a substance similar to mescaline.

Peperomia spp.


(Piperaceae)—tsemtsem, dwarf pepper


The Shuar of the Ecuadoran rain forest use this epiphytic, tropical pepper plant as a “mild hallucinogen.” Parents given newborns who are just a few days old leaves that they have chewed. Older children are given the plant so that they may find their dream souls (arutam) (cf. Brugmansia suaveolensNicotiana tabacum) (Bennett 1992, 492 f.*). The leaves apparently are also used as an ayahuasca additive.


A South American peperomia (Peperomia sp.), also known as dwarf pepper.



The master plant piri-piri (Peperomia galioides), which is used in the San Pedro cult.



Peat myrtle (Pernettya mucronata).



Found from Costa Rica to southern Chile, Pernettya prostrata is reputed to be a psychoactive plant.



In South America, many species of the genus Pernettya were or still are used to prepare inebriating drinks. (Wild plant, photographed in Valdivia, southern Chile)


Several Peperomia species contain alkaloids (Schultes and Raffauf 1990*). Peperomia galioides H.B.K., which is known in Peru as piri-piri,337 is added to the San Pedro drink (cf. Trichocereus pachanoi) to lend the psychoactive effects “more clarity, brightness, and distinctness” (Giese 1989, 252*).

In Trinidad, the dried leaves of Peperomia emarginella (Sw.) C. DC. are smoked for asthma. The essential oil has antispasmodic effects (Wong 1976, 114*).

Pernettya spp.


(Ericaceae)—peat myrtle


Several species of this South American member of the Heath Family are reputed to be psychoactive. The fruits of macha-macha (see macha), an Andean species (Pernettya prostrata [Cav.] Sleumer var. pentlandii [DC.] Sleumer) from Cochabamba (Bolivia), are said to cause dizziness when eaten in excess: “The fruit has a soporific property. A tame monkey who ate the berries of plants I had set aside to preserve became totally drunken” (Steinbach in Schultes 1967, 279; von Reis Altschul 1975, 215*) Some species and varieties are considered toxic (Pernettya prostrata var. purpurea [D. Don] Sleumer, Pernettya mucronata [L. f.] Gaudich. ex Spreng.). Pernettya prostrata (Cav.) DC. may be known as macha or macha-macha, “drunk,” in Quechua. This information, however, is questionable (Franquemont et al. 1990, 66*).

In Chile, Pernettya furens (Hook. ex DC.) Klotzch is known as huedhued or hierba loca, “crazy herb,” and is said to cause mental confusion and possession (Schultes and Hofmann 1992, 53*). The fruits of Pernettya parvifoliaBenth., known as taglli, are reputed to have toxic and hallucinogenic properties (Alvear 1971, 23*; Schultes and Farnsworth 1982, 179*). Andromedotoxins (= grayanotoxins) have been detected (Ott 1993, 417*). Pernettya mucronata, which is sometimes grown in Europe as an ornamental, also contains acetylandromedole (= andromedotoxin) (Roth et al. 1994, 549*). Sesquiterpenes have been demonstrated in Pernettya furens (Hosozawa et al. 1985).

Whether the fruits have psychoactive effects and were or are used culturally for psychoactive purposes is questionable. It is likely that the ripe fruits were used solely as a material for brewing chicha. Other species are used in Chile to prepare chicha (Mösbach 1992, 100*). In northern Peru, folk healers (curanderos) use a Pernettya species known as toro-maique as an inebriating additive to the San Pedro drink (cf. Trichocereus pachanoi). The addition of this plant is said to give the drink “more power”; the spirit of the plant appears to the healer in the form of a bull (Giese 1989, 228*). In Venezuela, various species of the genus (perhaps including P. prostrata) are called borracheritaborracheroborracheraborracherito, or chivacú (Blohm 1962, 74*; von Reis and Lipp 1982, 228*). In South America, all plants with psychoactive or inebriating effects are typically subsumed under the name borrachero. For this reason, it is entirely possible that the Venezuelan peat myrtle exhibits some type of psychoactivity.


Probably the earliest depiction of an American peat myrtle (Pernettya ciliata Schlect. et Cham.). (From Hernández, 1942/46 [Orig. pub. 1615]*)




Hosozawa, S., I. Miura, M. Kido, O. Munoz, and M. Castillo. 1985. Sesquiterpenes from Pernettya furensPhytochemistry 24 (10): 2317–23.


Schultes, Richard Evans. 1967. De Plantis Toxicariis e Mundo Novo Tropicale Commentationes I. Botanical Museum Leaflets 21 (9): 265–84.


Persea indica (L.) Spreng.




This tree, a relative of the avocado (Persea americana Mill.), belongs to the indigenous flora of the Canary Islands, where it is known as viñatigo. It is said that a person should not take a siesta or sleep under the tree because doing so will provoke a state of inebriation. Goats eat the foliage and branches with gusto, because it makes them “drunken.” A psychoactive use has not yet been determined (vries 1993).



vries, herman de. 1993. Über die Wirkungen von Persea indica (L.) Spreng. Integration 4:57.


Petunia violacea Lindl.


(Solanaceae)—petunia, shanín


It is said that the Indians of the Ecuadoran highlands smoke this plant, known as shanín, the effects of which resemble those of Coriaria thymifolia. The plant is said to give its user “the feeling of rising into the air or floating weightlessly away” (Alvear 1971, 23*; Schultes and Hofmann 1992, 53*). Chemical studies to date have not detected the presence of any alkaloids (Butler at al. 1981; Ott 1993, 417*). It is possible, however, that new diterpenesmay be present, as they have been found in a relative, Petunia patagonica (Speg.) Millan (Guerreiro et al. 1984). Ketones have also been found in the genus (Elliger et al. 1990).



Butler, Edward Grant, Trevor Robinson, and Richard Evans Schultes. 1981. Petunia violacea: Hallucinogen or not? Journal of Ethnopharmacology 4 (1): 111–14.


Elliger, Carl A., Anthony C. Waiss Jr., Marby Benson, and Rosalind Y. Wong. 1990. Ergostanoids from Petunia parodiiPhytochemistry 29 (9): 2853–63.


Guerreiro, Eduardo, J. de Fernandez, and O. S. Giordano. 1984. Beyerene derivatives and other constituents from Petunia patagonicaPhytochemistry 23 (12): 2871–73.


Peucedanum japonicum Thunb.




This Japanese species of master plant is also found in China. Known as fang-k’uei, the species is mentioned in the herbal Tao Hung-ching: “feverish persons should not take it, for it stupefies and enables spirits to appear.” This passage has been interpreted as indicating a possible psychoactivity (Li 1978, 21*).

The roots (radix peucedani, qian hu, zenko) of several closely related species are used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat disorders of the lung and spleen (Paulus and Ding 1987, 376). The root of Peucedanum decursivum(Miq.) Maxim. is regarded as a nerve tonic and aphrodisiac (Stark 1984, 95*). The roots of the species known as zenko (Peucedanum praeruptorum Dunn) are used in Japanese kampo medicine to treat fever, shivering, and headaches (Tsumura 1991, 175*).

Alkaloid-like substances do occur in the genus PeucedanumCoumarins have been detected in Peucedanum japonicum (Schultes and Hofmann 1992, 54*). Additional chemical studies are needed (Ott 1993, 417*).


Asian species of Peucedanum have been used as aphrodisiacs and tonics in Chinese medicine since ancient times. (Illustration from the Ch’unghsiu cheng-ho pen-ts’ao)


Philodendron scandens K. Koch et Sello


(Araceae)—heartleaf philodendron


A note attached to an herbarium specimen collected in Peru in 1969 reads, “Narcotic, used to induce sleep” (von Reis and Lipp 1982, 20*). The principal agent of the allergologically efficacious plant is thought to be 5-heptadecatrin-8(Z),11(Z), 14(Z)-benzylresorcinol (Roth et al. 1994, 559*). A related Montrichardia species is used as an ayahuasca additive.

Physalis spp.


(Solanaceae)—Physalis species


The genus Physalis is composed of some 120 species and is thus the largest genus of its family (Lu 1986, 80*). Several species are regarded as toxic, some are raised as ornamentals popular for their unusual flowers (Chinese lanterns), and others have ethnomedical significance. Physalis pubescens L. and Physalis peruviana L. (Cape gooseberry) are the two species most commonly grown for their fruit. Very mild toxic effects have been observed following consumption of a large number of berries of Physalis peruviana (Roth et al. 1994, 560*). The calyx, which surrounds the seeds like a lantern, can be smoked. It has definite psychoactive effects that tend to be narcotic in nature.


The violet-flowered petunia (Petunia violacea) is a common ornamental.


Physalis angulata L., a species from the northwestern Amazon, is said to be mildly narcotic. Its juice finds use in Brazilian folk medicine as a treatment for earaches (Schultes and Raffauf 1991, 43*). Physalis minima, a species from the Caroline Islands known as poowa, bears fruits that are said to have an inebriating effect when consumed in excess (von Reis Altschul 1975, 269*).

The roots of some species of the genus have yielded tropane alkaloids as well as alkaloids of the hygrine type (von Reis Altschul 1975, 269*). The Jew’s cherry or lampion flower, Physalis alkekengi L. (cf. halicacabon), contains the mildly toxic bitter principles physaline A, B, and C (Roth et al. 1994, 560*).


This may be one of the earliest illustrations of an American species of Physalis. (From Hernández, 1942/46 [Orig. pub. 1615]*)



The papery bladder that surrounds the Physalis fruit is reminiscent of a Chinese lantern. When smoked, it produces mild narcotic effects.



The South American leguminous tree Pithecellobium discolor.



A polypody (Polypodium sp.) growing on the trunk of a tree.


Pithecellobium spp.


[sometimes written as Pithecolobium] (Leguminosae)—jurema branca


The genus Pithecellobium encompasses some two hundred species. It is closely related to and is easily confused with the genus Mimosa. In the Brazilian Amazon, the name jurema is usually given to Mimosa tenuiflora [syn. Mimosa hostilis], which is used to prepare an ayahuasca-like drink. However, several species of the genus Pithecellobium, e.g., P. diversifolium (known as jurema branca, “white jurema”), also appear to be used for that purpose (Rätsch 1988, 83*).

In Brazil, the use of a vinho do jurema made from Pithecellobium has become established among the followers of various cults of West African origin. Apparently the use is connected with the Camdomblé god Ossain, who is regarded as a great magician, protector, and discoverer of healing herbs. Psychoactive and other constituents of the genus are largely unknown. Alkaloids and flavonoids have been detected (Schultes and Raffauf 1990, 251*).

The species Pithecellobium laetum Benth., which is known as remo caspipashaquillo, or shimbillo, contains alkaloids and is used as an ayahuasca additive. In Mexico, the species Pithecellobium arboreum (L.) Urb. and P. donnellsmithii Britt. et Rose are known as frijolillo (Martínez 1987, 1189 f.*). This name is also used for Sophora secundiflora.

Polypodium sp.


(Polypodiaceae)—polypody, tree fern


The Spanish botanist Hipólito Ruíz (1754–1816), who traveled through South America in the eighteenth century, provided the first descriptions of many plants and returned with extensive collections of botanical materials. In his Relación, he reported a number of experiences and provided ethnobotanical notes from Peru and Chile (Schultes 1980, 89*). Ruíz described a polypody known as cucacucaincapcocam, or coca del Inca under the binomial Polypodium incapcocam (nomen nudum), whose botanical identity even Richard E. Schultes was unable to determine. Ruíz noted that the Indians had informed him that the Incas used the leaves of this plant instead of coca (see Erythroxylum coca). Moreover, the powdered plant was said to be used (how?) in place of tobacco (Nicotiana spp.) in order to “clear the head” (Schultes 1980, 89*).

Whether Polypodium does indeed have psychoactive effects remains to be seen, although it is possible. Interestingly, the root of one species of the genus Polypodium whose identity has not been specified is ingested orally together with the seeds of Anadenanthera colubrina. It may contain MAO-inhibiting β-carbolines (or other substances with the same effects). The root of the common polypody (Polypodium vulgare L.), also known as sweet angel, contains small amounts of an essential oil, tannin, bitter principles, and sweet-tasting saponins (Pahlow 1993, 119*).

It is quite possible that there are other psychoactive ferns; even German folklore contains tales of filices, “ferns” (e.g., the worm fern, Aspidium filix-mas)—also called irrwurz (“confused root”)—that have magical powers, make the devil appear, and can make one invisible (Marzell 1964, 33 ff.*; Schöpf 1986, 84 f.*). There are also ferns that were added to beer. In Mexico, a fern known as itamo real338 (Pellaea cordata J. Sm.) is said to have inebriating effects (Díaz 1979, 93*).

Pontederia cordata L.




In the Colombian region of the Amazon, this plant is known as amarrón borrachero (“hazelwort inebriator”). It is used as an ayahuasca additive but may also possibly be used alone for psychoactive purposes (Schultes 1972, 141*). The plant is used ethnomedicinally to treat facial paralysis (Schultes 1981, 5*). There is also a North American variety: Pontederia cordata L. var. lancifolia.

Pseuderanthemum sp.




A note on an herbarium specimen collected by Killip and Smith in Peru in 1929 describes this as a “narcotic plant” (von Reis and Lipp 1982, 281*). The Spanish name dormidero means “sleep inducer.”

Quararibea spp.




The genus Quararibea consists of some twenty-nine species (Schultes 1957, 249). In Mexico, the aromatic leaves (“cacao flowers”) of the small tree Quararibea funebris (La Llave) Vischer [syn. Lexarza funebris La Llave, Myrodia funebris Benth.] are used as a spice for cacao drinks (see Theobroma cacao) (Rosengarten 1977; Schultes 1957). They have been described as a possible hallucinogen and also have been identified as the mys-

terious Aztec inebriant poyomatli. According to Jonathan Ott, who has experimented with these flowers as well as cacao preparations containing them, Quararibea flowers are not psychoactive (Ott 1993, 418*). However, several interesting substances are present (γ-butyrolactones, alkaloids) that may indeed have psychotropic effects (Raffauf and Zennie 1983).

The Peruvian inebriant espingo, which has not been clearly identified, has also been interpreted as the fruit of a Quararibea species. In Amazonia, Quararibea species are used as ayahuasca additives, and they are also added to Peruvian San Pedro preparations (see Trichocereus pachanoi). The Kofán Indians use Quararibea putumayensis Cuatr. in the manufacture of arrow poisons (Ott 1993, 418*).



Raffauf, Robert F., and Thomas M. Zennie. 1983. The phytochemistry of Quararibea funebrisBotanical Museum Leaflets 29 (2): 151–58.


Rosengarten, Frederic, Jr. 1977. An unusual spice from Oaxaca: The flowers of Quararibea funebrisBotanical Museum Leaflets 25 (7): 183–202.


Schultes, Richard Evans. 1957. The genus Quararibea in Mexico and the use of its flowers as a spice for chocolate. Botanical Museum Leaflets 17 (9): 247–64.


Ranunculus sp.




In ancient China, a species of the genus Ranunculus (perhaps Ranunculus acris L. var. japonicum Maxim.) was known by the names shui lang and maoken. Unintentional consumption was said to result in a kind of delirium (Li 1978, 24*). The genus contains glycosides (protoanemonin) (Frohne and Pfänder 1983, 173*; Schultes and Hofmann 1995, 54*). Whether there really is a psychoactive species is questionable.


The fern is one of the Germanic magical plants. Whether it is in fact psychoactive is unknown, but possible. (Woodcut from Tabernaemontana, Neu Vollkommen Kräuter-Buch, 1731)



The cacao flower tree Quararibea funebris, a native of Oaxaca (Mexico).



The buttercup (Ranunculus acris), a Ranunculaceae, is associated with an ancient Chinese magical drug.


Rauvolfia serpentina (L.) Bentham ex Kurz


[formerly spelled Rauwolfia] (Apocynaceae)—snakeroot


Rauvolfia, or snakeroot, is occasionally regarded as a psychoactive plant. This is due primarily to theoretical considerations concerning the yohimbane-type alkaloids, here represented by corynanthine, isorauhimbine, and yohimbine(Kähler 1970). The principal active agent, however, is the alkaloid reserpine; its primary effect is hypotensive, although it also has sedative properties. Rauvolfia thus induces sleep (Hänsel and Henkler 1994, 369). Reserpine appears to work in a manner similar to the neuroleptica and played a significant role in the study of the function of the monoamine transmitter in the nervous system (D. McKenna 1995, 103*). It is conceivable that certain as yet unknown methods of preparation could yield psychoactive effects. In addition, the some sixty species in the genus may very well include some that contain much higher concentrations of yohimbine and induce very different effects. Apart from Rauvolfia serpentina, the pharmacologically most important species are the African Rauvolfia vomitoria Afzel and the American Rauvolfia tetraphylla L. [syn. Rauvolfia canescens L., R. hirsuta Jacq., R. heterophylla Roem. and Schult.], which is also sometimes referred to as borrachero (“inebriator”; cf. Brugmansia) (Morton 1977, 243–57*). Most of the species are tropical and are found in both the Old and the New Worlds. Many species have ethnomedicinal significance. β-yohimbine has been detected in Rauvolfia vomitoria (Hofmann 1955; Stoll et al. 1955). In India, Rauvolfia serpentina has a long history as an antidote for snakebite (Jain 1991, 153*). Circumcised boys in Kenya use Rauvolfia caffraSond. [syn. R. natalensis Sond.], known locally as mwererererendetomomure, or mutu, as a tea for inducing sleep. The stalks are used as a fermentation agent for making beer (Omino and Kokwaro 1993, 173*).

Literature (selection)


Hänsel, Rudolf, and Günter Henkler. 1994. Rauvolfia. In Hagers Handbuch der pharmazeutischen Praxis, 5th ed., 6:361–84. Berlin: Springer.


Hofmann, Albert. 1955. β-Yohimbin aus den Wurzeln von Rauvolfia canescens L. Helvetica Chimica Acta 38:536 ff.


Kähler, Hans Joachim, and coworkers. 1970. Rauwolfia Alkaloide: Eine historische, pharmakologische und klinische Studie. Mannheim: Boehringer.


Stoll, Arthur, Albert Hofmann, and R. Brunner. 1955. Alkaloide aus den Blättern von Rauvolfia canescens L. Helvetica Chimica Acta 38:270ff.



This illustration may be the earliest European representation of the Indian snakeroot (Rauvolfia serpentina). (Woodcut from Garcia da Orta, Colloquies on the Simples and Drugs of India, 1987 [orig. pub. 1563])



The leaves of the Caucasus rhododendron (Rhododendron caucasicum) have a resinous aroma and were once inhaled as an inebriating incense.



The aromatic high mountain rhododendron (Rhododendron lepidotum) is an important source of incense in the Himalayas. (Wild plant, photographed in Langtang, Nepal)



The yellow-blossomed Rhododendron cinnabarinum is found in the Himalayas. Burned as an incense, this plant has potent effects upon yaks.



The flowers of the Pontic alpine rose (Rhododendron ponticum) contain a nectar that bees transform into a psychoactive honey. (Photographed near the Aletsch glacier, Switzerland)


Rhododendron caucasicum Pallas and Rhododendron spp.


(Ericaceae)—Caucasus alpine rose, rhododendrons The Osset live in the mountains of the northern Caucasus and are thought to be later descendants of the ancient Scythians. The Oriental scholar Julius Klaproth visited the Osset during the nineteenth century and returned with a description of a divination ritual in which the Caucasus rhododendron (whether the botanical identification is correct remains open) was used as a psychoactive incense (Klaproth 1823, 2:223 f.):


He described their ardent devotion to the prophet Elias, who was regarded as their greatest protector. In caves consecrated to him, they [the Osset] offered goats and consumed their flesh; after which they spread the skins out under a large tree and honored these in a special fashion on the prophet’s feast day so that he would keep away the hail and grant them a bountiful harvest. The Osset would often go to these caves to inebriate themselves on the smoke of Rhododendron caucasicum, which would cause them to sleep deeply. The dreams that appeared to them under these circumstances were interpreted as prophecies. (Ginzburg 1990, 165)


The Caucasus rhododendron (section Pontica) is a broad bush that grows to only about 1 meter in height. The flowers are creamy or pale yellow, sometimes with pink spots. The plant typically blooms from April to May and is found primarily at an altitude between 1,800 and 2,700 meters. It is found across northeastern Turkey and the Caucasus Mountains (Cox 1985, 175). Its evergreen leaves are weakly aromatic. Rhododendron caucasicum is only rarely encountered in rhododendron gardens, for it is much more difficult to cultivate than are other species.

In Nepal, the closely related Rhododendron lepidotum Wall. ex Donn (in two forms: var. album Davidian and var. minutiforme Davidian; cf. Cox 1985, 113f.) is still used today as a ritual and shamanic incense, the effects of which are very subtle (see incense). In Tibet and China, other rhododendron species are also used as incense. The yellow-flowered Rhododendron cinnabarinum Hook f. is found in the high mountains of Sikkim. Its smoke is said to have a profound effect on yaks, producing a strong inebriation and altering their behavior. It is possible that it also has psychoactive effects upon humans.

In Nepal, the leaves of a Rhododendron species are mixed with tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum) for smoking. A snuff is made from the bark of a Rhododendron species and tobacco leaves (Hartwich 1911, 108*).

Other rhododendron species, e.g., the rusty-leaved alpine rose (Rhododendron ferrugineum L.) and the Pontic rhododendron (Rhododendron ponticum L.), yield a psychoactive/toxic honey. The Tartars made a tea from the leaves (ten or more) of the gold-yellow alpine rose (Rhododendron chrysanthum Pall. [syn. Rhododendron officinale Salisb., Rhododendron aureum Georg]) that is said to have produced a state of inebriation (Roth et al 1994, 612*). There is also a cultivar, Rhododendron x sochadzeae, resulting from a cross

between R. ponticum and R. caucasicum (Cox 1985, 175 f.). This rare ornamental variety may have potent psychoactive effects.

The aromatic species of rhododendron contain relatively high concentrations of essential oil. Mongolian species contain primarily limonene, aromadendrene, caryophyllene, Δ-candinene, βselinene, and gurjunene (Satar 1985).

It is would be an interesting task to investigate a possible cultural link between rhododendron forests and psilocybin mushrooms. Rhododendron groves are a preferred habitiat of some psycho-active mushrooms, e.g., Psilocybe cyanescens.



Cox, Peter A. 1985. The smaller rhododendrons. Portland, Ore.: Timber Press.


Ginzburg, Carlo. 1990. Hexensabbat. Berlin: Wagenbach.


Klaproth, Julius. 1823. Voyage au Mont Caucase et en Géorgie. 2 vols. Paris.


Satar, S. 1985. Analyse der ätherischen Öle aus drei Rhododendron-Arten der Mongolischen Volksrepublik. Pharmazie 40 (6): 432.


Sanango racemosum (Ruíz et Pav.) Barringer


[syn. Gomara racemosa Ruíz et Pav., Gomaranthus racemosus (R. et P.) Rauschert, Sanango durum Bunting et Duke]



This rare and mysterious bush is related to Desfontainia spinosa. It is found in the rain forests of Amazonia at altitudes up to 100 meters (Brako and Zarucchi 1993, 619*) and is endemic to Peru (Gentry 1993, 564*). The leaf is used as an inebriant. Reports circulate of its wondrous effects. However, there have been few ethnopharmacological investigations into this promising plant.


The leaves of the mysterious Amazonian magical plant Sanango racemosum.


Santalum murrayanum (Mitch.) Gardner


(Santalaceae)—bitter quandong


This Australian tree is a relative of sandalwood (Santalum album L.; cf. incense). The Aborigines of Lake Boga use the bark as a narcotic. From it, they produce an inebriating drink known as cootha (Bock 1994, 108*). The bark of the trunk contains 0.21% alkaloids, which have strong toxic effects above a certain dosage (2g/kg) (Collins et al. 1990, 65, 128*).

The leaves and wood of gumamu, the closely related species Santalum lanceolatum R. Br., were used by the Bardi during healing rituals as a medicinal incense (Lands 1987, 17). It is said that this treatment was “too strong” for children; this incense may be psychoactive. Alkaloids have been found in the leaves, trunk wood, and bark (Collins et al. 1990, 65*).



Lands, Merrilee, ed. 1987. Mayi: Some bush fruits of Dampierland. Broome, Australia: Magabala Books.


Scirpus spp.


(Cyperaceae)—bakana, simse


In Northern Mexico, the Tarahumara use a species from the genus Scirpus as a hallucinogen. They call the plant bakánoabakánawabakánowa, or bakana. The ethnobotanist Robert Bye has stated that this grass is the most important hallucinogen of the central and western Tarahumara (= Rarámuri), being even more important than peyote (Lophophora williamsii) (Bye 1979b, 35*). Little is known about the ritual use:


Bakánowa is another medicinal plant used in rituals. A ceremony known as simse is associated with and named after the plant simse, bot. Scirpus sp. It is regarded as a source of vigor and is ritually venerated, especially by older women and men, who nourish it with offerings. Bakánowa is a kind of counterpart to híkuri [= peyote]. The plant is sought for in the western Sierra Tarahumara. The ceremonial circle with the offering altar also faces to the west, while the ritual semantics depict the híkuri to the east. The bakánowa root is clearly a potent drug that is not ingested in most cases but [is] merely ritually venerated. Here, some healers use a notched piece of wood, as in the híkuri rites. (Deimel 1996, 12)


Nourishing the plant with offerings is considered important for health. One Tarahumaran healer said, “If god onorúame, the goddess maria mechaka, or the dead or the sacred plants híkuri and bakánowa go hungry, humans will become ill” (Deimel 1996, 12).

The root is used in folk medicine as an anal-gesic and to treat the insane. The plant is regarded as a protective amulet and as a remedy for all mental illnesses. This is why it is periodically brought offerings. Anyone who treats the plant poorly will be punished with disease. Eating the root tuber is said to induce a deep sleep accompanied by visions and allows one to travel to other dimensions. Unfortunately, the species the Tara-humara use has not yet been identified.

Alkaloids have been found in one species of the genus Scirpus (Bye 1979b, 36*). These may be ergot alkaloids (cf. Cyperus spp.) that are deposited as metabolites of a parasitic fungus.

In South America, Scirpus species have been used since pre-Columbian times to produce mats and other woven goods, including some intended for ritual use (Towle 1952, 232 f.).



Deimel, Claus. 1996. Híkuri ba—Peyoteriten der Tarahumara. Ansichten der Ethnologie 1. Hannover: Niedersächsisches Landessmuseum.


Towle, Margaret Ashley. 1952. Plant remains from a Peruvian mummy bundle. Botanical Museum Leaflets 15 (9): 223–46.


Sclerocarya caffra Sond.




This tree, a relative of the cashew (Anacardium occidentale L.), can grow as tall as 18 meters. It supposedly is or was consumed in South Africa for its inebriating properties (Lewin 1980 [orig. pub. 1929], 297*). It is possible that marula was the kanna plant or one of the plants known as kanna (Schultes and Farnsworth 1982, 174*). The closely related species Sclerocarya schweinfurthiana Schinz. has also been characterized as psychoactive (Lewin 1980, 297*; Schultes and Farnsworth 1982, 187*). Constituents are unknown (Emboden 1979, 191*).

Scoparia dulcis L.


(Scrophulariaceae)—vacourinha, sweet broom


In Amazonia, this plant is referred to as bati matoshi or piqui pichana, and its dried leaves are smoked as a marijuana substitute (see Cannabis indica) (Duke and Vasquez 1994, 154*). In Brazil, the herbage finds folk medicinal use as an astringent and antispasmodic (Grieve 1982, 427*). The plant is known in central Africa as osimmiseng, and its leaves are used in a magical medicine for spells with “worms” (Akendengué 1992, 170*). Members of the Bastar tribe (India) make the leaves into pills that are swallowed to treat “weakness of the semen” (Jain 1965, 244*). The plant contains labdane (diterpenes).

Securidaca longepedunculata Fresenius




A native of western and tropical southern Africa, this tree is used in many cultures as a poison in trials by ordeal and in ordeals for uncovering witchcraft (Neuwinger 1994, 682 ff.*). In West Africa, it is used together with Boophane disticha for psychoactive purposes. This species is also venerated as a fetish tree in West Africa and is used to provide magical protection from the “evil eye” and the illnesses of the deceased. The plant is one of the most renowned and legendary medicinal plants and abortifacients in Africa. The Nigerian Haussa call it uwar magunguna, “mother of medicine.”

Among the Kusase, who live in the extreme northeast of Ghana, the plant is used as a psycho-active substance when a new baga (“diviner”) is being initiated. A snuff is made of pelig roots (Securidaca longepedunculata), datin-vulin roots (Ipomoea mauritiana Jacq. [syn. Ipomoea digitata auct. non. L., Ipomoea paniculata (L.) R. Br.]; cf. Ipomoea spp.) or bailla/punung-buur roots (Tinospora bakis), the root cortex of the zurmuri pepper (Piper guineenseSchumach. et Thonn., also known as ashanti pepper; cf. Piper spp.), red nansus pepper (Schinus molle L.; cf. chicha), and the dried head of a bat. The snuff is blown into the initiate’s nose, whereupon he falls into a trancelike state. The Ngindo of Tanzania use a flour made from the root as a snuff for headaches (Neuwinger 1994, 685*).

In Ethiopia, smoke from the root is inhaled as a medicinal incense to treat flatulence. In Gambia, “crazy” people burn the root cortex and inhale the smoke (Neuwinger 1994, 684*).

The root contains methylsalicylate, the bark contains the alkaloid securine, and the leaves have yielded tannins, saponins, terpenes, et cetera (Lenz 1913). Securine has stimulating effects upon the central nervous system and can produce effects like those of strychnine (Neuwinger 1994, 686). The root contains various indole alkaloids, particularly the psychoactive elymoclavine, from the family of the ergot alkaloids (Costa et al. 1992).



Costa, C., A. Bertazzo, G. Allegri, O. Curcuruto, and P. Traloli. 1992. Indole alkaloids from the roots of an African plant, Securidaca longepedunculataJournal of Heterocycl. Chem. 29:1641–47.


Lenz, W. 1913. Untersuchungen der Wurzelrinde von Securidaca longepedunculataArbeiten aus dem Pharm. Inst. d. Univ. Berlin 10:177–80.


Senecio spp.




Many species of this genus, which encompasses some 1,300 species and is found throughout the world, are said to be psychoactive (Schultes and Farnsworth 1982, 188*; Schultes and Hofmann 1992, 56*) or are at least associated with psycho-active plants or preparations (see Lophophora williamsiiTrichocereus pachanoi). The Mexican species Senecio cardiophyllus Hemsl. is even referred to as peyote(Martínez 1994, 384*). Many Senecio species are used in South America as ritual incense (Aldunate et al. 1981*). In the Andes regions, they are known as cundur-cundur and appear to be mythologically associated with the condor, an animal sacred to the Indians. A Senecio species known as chula-chula is chewed together with coca (see Erythroxylum coca). Many Senecio species contain alkaloids of the pyrrolizidine type (Röder and Wiedenfeld 1977; Schultes and Hofmann 1992, 56*). Cyanoglycosides have also been found (Schultes 1981, 43*). The alkaloid jacobine, together with other pyrrolizidines, passes into the honey that is produced from these plants (Frohne and Pfänder 1983, 66*).

In Nepal, various yellow-blooming crucifers are used as ritual offerings. A psychoactive use is unknown.



Röder, Erhard, and Helmut Wiedenfeld. 1977. Isolierung und Strukturaufklärung des Alkaloids Fuchsisenesionin aus Senecio fuchsiiPhytochemistry 16:1462–63.



A number of Senecio species are used in Mexico and South America to prepare psychoactive drinks and as ritual incense. (A Senecio species from Argentina)


Sida acuta Burm. f.




This prostrate or sometimes bushy plant with yellow flowers is found in the tropical zones of Central and South America. The Cuna Indians (Darien, Panama) esteem the plant, which they call kwala, as a “mystical medicine” (Duke 1975, 292*). A tea made from the leaves is consumed in Bangladesh to help induce sleep (Ott 1993, 419*).

Among the Maya, this species is known as chichibeh (“the little one on the path”). On the Mexican Gulf Coast, its leaves, like those of the closely related Sida rhombifolia L., are smoked as a marijuana substitute (see Cannabis indica). The two species are known locally as el macho, “the male” (S. rhombifolia), and la hembra,“the female” (S. acuta) (Schultes and Hofmann 1980, 347*). Both of these Sidaspecies apparently contain ephedrine (Schultes and Hofmann 1992, 56*). When drying, the herbage of Sida acuta exudes a distinct aroma of coumarin. The leaves are said to contain saponins. Several studies of Caribbean and Philippine specimens of Sida acuta have demonstrated the presence of asparagine and ephedrine in the roots (Wong 1976, 132*). The alkaloids choline, pseudoephedrine, β-phenethylamine, vasicine, vascicine, vasinole, and vasici-none have been found in all parts of Sida rhombifolia. The stem contains the indole alkaloids hipaphorine, hipaphorine methylester, and cryptolenine. The leaves contain traces of an essential oil. The seeds contain sesquiterpenes (gosipol, et cetera) (Argueta et al. 1994, 615*).

Sloanea laurifolia




An herbarium specimen collected by J. A. Steyermark in Venezuela in 1945 bears the note “Fresh fruit are said to produce a kind of loco [= crazy] feeling. . . . [T]he ground fruit is boiled” (von Reis and Lipp 1982, 175*). The fruit is also known as arepa de maiz,“maize breads” (cf. Zea mays).

Spiraea caespitosa Nutt. ex Torr. et A. Gray


[syn. Petrophyton caespitosum (Nutt. ex Torr. Et Gray) Rydb., Spirea caespitosum] (Rosaceae)—meadowsweet


The North American Navajo-Kayenta Indians are said to have used this bushlike plant as a narcotic (Moerman 1986, 466*). However, it contains only salicylic acid and should therefore be effective solely as an analgesic (Ott 1993, 420*; Grieve 1982, 525*).

Stephanomeria pauciflora (Torr.)


A. Nels.


(Asteraceae)—blue gum

The root of this plant is said to have been used by the Navajo-Kayenta Indians as a narcotic (Moerman 1986, 469*). It is questionable whether this information is correct, for the root is also used as a kind of chewing gum (Vestal 1952, 53*). The chemistry of the plant is unknown (Ott 1993, 420*). It is, however, regarded as a “life medicine.” Perhaps it is a psychoactive chewing gum.

Stipa spp.


(Gramineae)—sleepy grass


Various species of the genus Stipa are found from Texas to Guatemala. In the White Mountains of the region of the Rio Grande, Stipa vaseyi Scribn. [syn. Stipa robusta (Vasey) Scribn.] is known by the name popoton sacaton, which is probably of Aztec origin (Emboden 1979, 191*). This grass is said to have inebriating effects and in Guatemala supposedly is used as a sleeping agent. A related species, Stipa viridula, is purported to have a narcotic effect (Emboden 1976, 161*). It has recently been claimed that another species native to the American Southwest, Stipa robusta, exhibits strong psychoactive effects. This sleepy grass lives in a symbiotic relationship with a fungus (Acremonium) that is thought to produce the ergot alkaloid D-lysergic acid amide (cf. Turbina corymbosa) in the seeds. It has been claimed that a dosage of nine seeds will produce LSD-like effects (DeKorne 1995, 127*). Ethnographic evidence for any psycho-active use is lacking.


Sida acuta herbage is thought to contain ephedrine. (Wild plant photographed in Belize)



The herbage of Sida rhombifolia is smoked as a marijuana substitute. (Wild plant photographed in northwestern Argentina)



Meadowsweet (Spirea spp.) contains analgesic salicylic acid derivatives.



Several American species from the genus Stipa are known by the name sleeping grass and consumed as sedative teas. (Stipa ichu from Chiapas, Mexico)


Teliostachys lanceolata Nees var. crispa Nees ex Martius




This Acanthaceae, known as toé negro (cf. Brugmansia suaveolens), is used by the Colombian Kokama Indians both as an ayahuasca additive and as a psychoactive substance in its own right. For this purpose, ten leaves are boiled for seven hours over a low flame. The effects are said to be strong. A person loses his or her vision for three days, but during this time he or she can communicate with the spirit of the plant (Schultes 1972, 139*). Chemical studies of the plant have demonstrated that the leaves are devoid of alkaloids (Ott 1993, 402*). The plant is added to ayahuasca only when it is intended for use in “witchcraft” (Duke and Vasquez 1994, 167*).

Terminalia bellirica (Gaertner) Roxburgh


(Combretaceae)—bahera,bellerian myrobalan


The Lodha of West Bengal eat the dried seeds of this plant in order to induce hallucinations. In Southeast Asia, the seeds are known for their narcotic properties. They are used in traditional Chinese medicine as an anthelmintic agent, in Kerala to treat asthma, and in Nepal as a laxative (Ott 1993, 420*). In India, the tree (known as vibhitika) is associated with the goddess Kali and is used in black magic to kill enemies (Gupta 1991, 94*).

Bellerian myrobalan is closely related to black myrobalan (Terminalia chebula [Gaertn.] Retz.), which is venerated as a sacred tree in Nepal and India. It is said that the god Indra, inebriated on soma, was imbibing the drink of immortality (amrita, ambrosia) and let fall a drop from heaven to earth; from this drop the myrobalan tree arose. In Tantra, eating myrobalan is said to summon the goddess Shri, the erotic consort of Vishnu (Majupuria and Joshi 1988, 109*).

Myrobalan (Sanskrit harîtaki) is an attribute of the Tibetan Medicine Buddha (Bhaisajya-guru) and symbolizes the “elixir of long life.” The second attribute of the Medicine Buddha is the begging bowl, carved out of lapis lazuli, that is filled with amrita (= ambrosia), the “divine nectar of enlightenment” (cf. soma) (Birnbaum 1982, 123 ff.).



Birnbaum, Raoul. 1982. Der Heilende Buddha. Bern: O. W. Barth/Scherz.


Tetrapteris methystica Schultes


[syn. Tetrapteris styloptera Jusseiu] (Malpighiaceae)—caapi, pinima


This little-known, yellow-flowered climbing bush was first described in 1954 by Richard E. Schultes. The Makú, who live on the Río Tikié (Amazonia), call it caapi (cf. Banisteriopsis caapi) and use it for ritual purposes (Schultes 1954, 204). They manufacture from the bark a psychoactive drink that apparently has effects like those of ayahuasca and is used in a similar manner. The bark may contain β-carbolines (Schultes and Hofmann 1992, 58*).

The Tanimukas call the closely related yellow-flowered Tetrapteris styloptera Jussieu—most likely a synonym—weé-po-awk. They use the powdered bark medicinally as a hemostatic (Schultes 1983, 137).

Tetrapteris mucronata Cav., known as caapipinima, also appears to be used for psychoactive purposes (Schultes and Hofmann 1992, 66 f.*).



Schultes, Richard Evans. 1954. Plantae Austro-


Americanae IX: Plantarum Novarum vel Notabilium Notae Diversae. Botanical Museum Leaflets 16 (8): 179–228.


———. 1983. De Plantis Toxicariis e Mundo Novo Tropicale Commentationes XXXI: Further ethnopharmacological notes on malpighiaceous plants of the northwestern Amazon. Botanical Museum Leaflets 29 (2): 133–37.



The seeds of bellerian myrobalan (Terminalia bellirica) purportedly are used as a hallucinogen in West Bengal. (Woodcut from Tabernaemontanus, Neu Vollkommen Kräuter-Buch, 1731)


Thamnosma montana Torr. et Frem.


(Rutaceae)—turpentine broom


Shamans of the North American Kawaiisu Indians were said to drink a tea from this plant so that they could become “crazy like coyotes,” i.e., transform themselves into these animals (Moerman 1986, 481*). The plant contains numerous coumarins that may have psychoactive effects. It is also possible that it contains N,N-DMT (Ott 1993, 420*).

Thevetia spp.


(Apocynaceae)—rattle tree


The genus Thevetia is composed of nine species, known as rattle trees or tropical oleander (Anzeneder et al. 1993, 61*). The peels of the fruits are hard and are used to make rattles and clappers for Indian dances.


The Peruvian rattle tree (Thevetia peruviana) is planted in tropical gardens around the world for its beautiful flowers.



A number of tillandsias. (Photographed in northern Peru)


One species whose identity has not been clarified is known in Colombia and the surrounding regions as cabalonga blanca. It is considered a weaker relative of the true cabalongaCabalonga blanca is said to have magical powers and psychoactive effects and is used as an ayahuasca additive.

In Mexico, Thevetia thevetioides (H.B.K.) K. Schum. is known as yoyotl and is used in folk medicine as a cardiac stimulant and analgesic (Jiu 1966, 252*). Thevetia peruviana (Pers.) Schum. [syn. T. neriifolia Juss.], known as yellow oleander, is originally from Peru but is now cultivated as an ornamental in all tropical zones of the world, and it is the species whose chemical makeup is best known. The seeds are rich in cardiac glycosides, e.g., peruvoside (Steinegger and Hänsel 1972, 193*). Eight to ten seeds is reportedly the lethal dose for an adult (Roth et al. 1994, 699*). In the Mexican state of San Luis Potosí, Thevetia peruviana is known as palo de San Antonio, “tree of St. Anthony” (Aguilar Contreras and Zolla 1982, 196*). The name may very well be derived from a psychoactive effect (see Claviceps purpurea). On the Gulf Coast of Mexico, in the territory of the Huastec, the plant is known as cabalonga de la huasteca (Aguilar Contreras and Zolla 1982, 196*).

Tillandsia spp.



Tillandsias are epiphytes that grow on typical American flora. In pre-Columbian Peru, they were used as a stuffing in the false heads of mummies (Towle 1961, 31*). Tillandsias appear on Mochican ceramic paintings in connection with winged shamans (Andritzky 1989, 169 f.*). It may be that a psychoactive use was once known but has now been forgotten. The plant depicted in the paintings of the Mochica is sometimes interpreted as Tillandsia purpureaRuíz et Pav. (Ott 1996, 108*). Flavonoids have been found in this species (Arslanian et al. 1986). The Tarahumara Indians refer to Tillandsia mooreana Smith as waráruwi, “peyote companion” (cf. Lophophora williamsii), and presumably used it as a peyote substitute (Ott 1996, 108*). The Tarahumara use a related species, the ball moss (Tillandsia recurvata [L.] L.), which they call muchiki chabóame, as a cough medicine (Deimel 1989, 61). This plant was previously identified as Tillandsia inflata Mez. (Bye 1975).

In Brazilian ethnomedicine, Tillandsia usneoides (L.) L. (Spanish moss) is used as an analgesic. It is said that a watery extract of this plant induces “visions” (Ott 1996, 420*).



Arslanian, R. L., et al. 1986. 3-n=methoxy-5-hydroxyflavonols from Tillandsia purpureaJournal of Natural Products 49 (6): 1177–78.


Bye, R. A. 1975. Plantas psicotrópicas de los Tara-humaras. Cuadernos Cientificos CEMEF 4:49–72.


Deimel, Claus. 1989. Pflanzen zwischen den Kulturen: Tarahumaras und Mestizen der Sierra Madre im Noroeste de México. Ethnobotanische Vergleiche. Curare 12 (1): 41–64.



Ethnographic objects first brought the tropical rattle tree (Thevetia spp.) to the attention of Europe. The hard fruit husks were used as rattles for Indian rhythm instruments and dance belts and anklets. (Woodcut from Tabernaemontanus, Neu Vollkommen Kräuter-Buch, 1731)



Winged shamans with featherlike tillandsias. (Painting on a Moche ceramic vessel, from Kutschner 1954)


Tribulus terrestris L.


(Zygophyllaceae)—small caltrops

In Ayurvedic medicine, Tribulus terrestris is utilized as an aphrodisiac and as a geriatric agent. This plant, also known as zama or zimpating, produces fruits that are used in Ladakh to fortify beer. The young branches and ripe fruits also are crushed and consumed in milk. High dosages (how high?) are said to produce delirium (Navchoo and Buth 1990, 319, 320*). The plant has been shown to contain steroids and sapogenin along with some five alkaloids, including harmane, harmine, and harmol (Ott 1993, 426*; Festi and Samorini 1997, 26).

In Baluchistan (Pakistan), 10 to 20 g of the dried fruits (ghur gan) are ground, mixed with water, and drunk to increase the sexual abilities of men. The ground fruits (gurgandako) of the closely related species Tribulus longipetalusViv. [syn. Tribulus alatus Del.] are used as a medicinal snuff for treating stuffy noses (Goodman and Ghafoor 1992, 55*).



Festi, Francesco, and Giorgio Samorini. 1997. Tribulus terrestris L. (tribolo/caltrop). Eleusis 7:24–32.


Trichocline spp.


(Compositae: Mutisieae)—coro


In the Chaco region of northern Argentina, a number of species of the genus Trichocline are utilized as psychoactive substances. Locals call them coro or contrayerba.339 Jesuit reports from the eighteenth century describe how the Calchaqui Indians used the ground roots to strengthen their chicha (beer made from maize or other plants). The Mocovies, Toba, and Mataco340 smoke the powdered root alone or mixed with tobacco (cf. smoking blends). The smoke is said to have medicinal effects upon stomachaches. Today, the root is also burned alone or with tobacco as an incense. The most commonly used species are Trichocline reptans (Webb.) Rob., Trichocline exscapa Griseb., and Trichocline dealbata (Hook. et Arn.) Griseb. (Zardini 1975, 649 f.; 1977). Unfortunately, no chemical studies of the root have been conducted to date. The roots supposedly are sold at herb stands in Argentinian markets in the Chaco region. In Salta, a seller from Germany offered imported calamus roots (Acorus calamus) as coro.



Zardini, Elsa M. 1975. Revision del genero Trichocline (Compositae). Darwiniana 19:618–733.


———. 1977. The identification of an Argentinian narcotic. Botanical Museum Leaflets 25 (3): 105–7.


Trichodesma zeylancium R. Br.


(Boraginaceae)—bush tobacco Also known as cattle bush, this shrubby plant has blue flowers and lanceolate leaves and was once used as an inebriant (Webb 1969). In Australia (Arnhem Land), the dried leaves formerly were used as a substitute for tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum) (Low 1990, 190*). The entire plant contains 0.01 to 0.07% alkaloids (Collins et al. 1990, 31*).




Webb, I. J. 1969. The use of plant medicines and poisons by Australian Aborigines. Mankind 7:137–46.


Umbellularia californica (Hook. et Arn.) Nutt.


(Lauraceae)—California bay


This evergreen tree is known variously as California laurel, California bay, California olive, Oregon myrtle, pepperwood, headache tree, and California sassafras (Fuller and McClintock 1986, 184*). Its leaves are rich in an essential oil with a high concentration of safrole; the principal constituent, however, is umbellulone (Fuller and McClintock 1986, 184*). The bark of the trunk is said to contain 5-MeO-DMT(Rob Montgomery, pers. comm.). No traditional psychoactive use of this plant is known (cf. Sassafras albidum). The leaves are used in folk medicine for headaches (hence the common name headache tree), colic, and diarrhea (Grieve 1982, 716*). In California, the leaves are used as a spice in place of those of the true bay tree (Laurus nobilis).


The caltrop (Tribulus spp.) is related to Syrian rue (Peganum harmala) and may be useful as a source of βcarbolines. (Woodcut from Tabernaemontanus, Neu Vollkommen Kräuter-Buch, 1731)



The psychoactive roots of various Trichocline species are known in South America as contrayerba. They may have served as the model for this European illustration. (Woodcut from Gerard, The Herball or General History of Plants, 1633)



The very pungent-smelling leaves of the California bay tree (Umbellularia californica) contain safrole. The bark of the tree is alleged to contain 5-MeO-DMT. (Wild plant photographed in Occidental, California)


Ungnadia speciosa Endl.


(Sapindaceae)—Mexican horse chestnut


It has been suggested that the seeds (sometimes called Texas buckeyes) of this small tree were once used for psychoactive purposes in northern Mexico and Texas (Schultes and Hofmann 1992, 59*). The black seeds, which are 1.5 cm in length, have been found in archaeological contexts together with peyote (Lophophora williamsii) and mescal beans (Sophora secundiflora) (Adovasio and Fry 1976*). Ungnadia seeds contain cyanogenetic compounds (Seigler et al. 1971).


The Mexican horse chestnut (Ungnadia speciosa) may be one of the psychoactive plants longest used by humans.



The small plant Urmenetea atacamensis, used as a coca substitute, thrives in the driest desert in the world. (Wild plant, photographed in the Atacama Desert, northern Chile)




Seigler, D., F. Seaman, and T. J. Mabry. 1971. New cyanogenetic lipids from Ungnadia speciosaPhytochemistry 10:485–87.


Urmenetea atacamensis Phil.


[formerly also referred to as Retanilla ephedra


(Vent.) Brogn.] (Compositae)—coca del suri

This plant, which can grow up to 10 cm in height, is found only in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile—the driest desert in the world—where the local oasis dwellers know it as coquilla,“little coca,” or coca del suri, “coca of the suri bird.” Until recently, the whitish, downy leaves were chewed either alone or together with llipta as a coca substitute (see Erythroxylum coca). The inconspicuous plant is used as a source of nourishment by the ostrichlike cursorial birds known as suri. A tea of the leaves is used as a treatment for altitude sickness (puna) (Aldunate et al. 1981, 218*).

Chewing the leaves produces a slight sensation of numbness in the mouth. A mild psychoactivity (cocalike stimulation) was also observed. Smoking the dried leaves (a good dosage is 0.3 g) produces clear psychoactive effects that are initially somewhat narcotic and then more stimulating. The effects are similar to those produced from smoking dried coca leaves (see Erythroxylum coca). Chemical studies are lacking.

Utricularia minor L.


(Lentibulariaceae)—little bladderwort


In Ladakh, this insectivorous plant is known as lingna. There, the dried and powdered leaves are roasted on a flat stone, after which the powder is mixed with water and put in a bottle, which is then buried for ten to fifteen days. The Ladakhis enjoy this drink (lingeatzish) primarily in winter. It is said to have very inebriating effects and can cause death if consumed in excess (Navchoo and Buth 1990, 320*).


Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) is renowned for its folk medicinal uses as a sleeping and calming agent.



The aromatic roots of the Himalayan valerian species Valeriana jatamansi are used as a ritual incense.


Valeriana officinalis L.




Valerian is an Old Germanic ritual and healing plant. It was sacred to the goddess Hertha, who rode upon the red deer. Wieland, the shamanic smith of the Germanic mythological world, used the root to heal diseases. For this reason, valerian was also known as velandswurt, “Wieland’s root” (Weustenfeld 1995, 13*). In earlier times, valerian was hung on houses as a protection against witches and witchcraft, evil spirits, and devils. The root was also used as a fumigant to keep away the devil (cf. incense). In the early modern period, valerian root was regarded as an aphrodisiac and was used to treat the “sacred disease” (epilepsy) (Knoller 1996, 12 f.). It was also known as theriac root, for it was an important ingredient in the panacea theriac (Weustenfeld 1995, 15*).

Valerian (along with the variety Valeriana officinalis L. var. sambucifolia Mikan.) is also called cat weed and is renowned for the power it has to attract cats (cf. Nepeta cataria). The sedative effects that the root has upon the nervous system are quite well known (Pahlow 1993, 64*). Valerian roots are sometimes characterized as a “legal high” with psychoactive powers (Schultes and Hofmann 1980, 368*). In particular, a tea made of equal parts of valerian root and kava-kava (Piper methysticum) is said to produce “beautiful dreams” (Schuldes 1995, 76*). When mixed with hops (Humulus lupulus), valerian yields a potent tea for inducing sleep (cf. also diazepam).

In South America, Valeriana longifolia H.B.K. is regarded as a panacea and stimulant for elderly people suffering from infirmity. There, various Valeriana species are referred to as contrayerba (cf. Trichocline spp.). Valeriana adscendens Turz. is known as hornamo morado in Peru, where it is used as an additive to San Pedro drinks (cf. Trichocereus pachanoi). The North American Blackfeet Indians smoke the roots of Valeriana sitchensis Bong, known as tobacco root, either alone or mixed with tobacco (see kinnikinnick) (Johnston 1970, 320*). In India and Nepal, the aromatic root of Valeriana jatamansi (DC.) Jones [syn. Valeriana wallichii DC.], known as samyo or muskbala, is used as a fumigant or as an ingredient in incense for magical and religious rites (Shah 1982, 298*; Shah and Joshi 1971, 421*). The aromatic root of jatamansi or masi, the closely related species Nardostachys jatamansi (D. Don) DC., is even more highly regarded; it is used both as an incense and to treat epilepsy (Shah 1982, 297*). Whether these two incenses have psycho-active properties, as is sometimes asserted, remains an open question. The sesquiterpene ketone valeranon, which is present in Valeriana officinalisValeriana jatamansi, and Nardostachys jatamansi, is presumably responsible for the sedative (tranquilizing) effects (Hörster et al. 1977).

The alkaloid actinidine has been found in the genus (Schultes 1981, 42*). Of interest for further research into a possible psychoactivity beyond the sedative effects is the finding that an aqueous extract influences the central nervous system neurotransmitter GABA (γ-aminobutyric acid; see Amanita muscariaibotenic acidmuscimole) (Santos et al. 1994).



Gränicher, F., P. Christen, and I. Kapetanidis. 1992. Production of valepotoriates by hairy root cultures of Valeriana officinalis var. sambucifoliaPlanta Medica 58 suppl. (1): A614.


Hörster, Heinz, Gerhard Rücker, and Joachim Tautges. 1977. Valeranon-Gehalt in den unterirdischen Teilen von Nardostachys jatamansi and Valeriana officinalisPhytochemistry 16:1070–71.


Knoller, Rasso. 1996. Baldrian. Niederhausen/Ts.: Falken Taschenbuch Verlag.


Santos, Maria S., Fernanda Ferreira, António P. Cunha, Arsélio P. Carvalho, and Tice Macedo. 1994. An aqueous extract of Valeriana influences the transport of GABA in synaptosomes. Planta Medica 60:278–97.


Vanda roxburghii R. Por.


(Orchidaceae) [syn. Vanda tesselata (Roxb.) G.


When bees sip nectar from these beautiful orchids, which are found in Sri Lanka, India, and Burma (Myanmar), they soon fall to the ground in a narcoticized stupor (cf. honey). In India, a psychoactive use of this plant is said to have been derived from observations of this occurrence: “Ayurvedic shamans used the flower in a decoction to achieve the hypnotic narcosis of their office, permitting them a transcendent state of being” (Emboden 1979, 17*).

No active principles are known (Emboden 1979, 194*).

Voacanga spp.


(Apocynaceae)—voacango bush

The bark and seeds of the African species Voacanga africana Stapf341 contain up to 10% indole alkaloids of the iboga type (cf. Tabernanthe ibogaibogaine) and reportedly induce stimulating and hallucinogenic effects (Bisset 1985b; Oliver-Bever 1982, 8). The principal alkaloid is voacamine. African sorcerers are said to use the seeds to produce visions. In West Africa, the bark is utilized as a hunting drug and stimulant (Schuldes 1995, 77*). It also is regarded as a potent aphrodisiac. The bark of Voacanga bracteata Stapf is used in Gabon to get “high” (most likely as a marijuana substitute; cf. Cannabis indica). It contains 2.46% alkaloids (voacamine, voacamine-N-oxide, 20-epi-voacorine, voacangine) that, although closely related to the compounds found in Tabernanthe iboga, apparently produce only mild depressant effects (de Smet 1996, 145*; Puiseux et al. 1965).

Voacanga dregei E. H. Mey. is also said to produce hallucinogenic effects (Schultes and Hofmann 1980, 366*). West African sorcerers ingest the seeds of Voacanga grandiflora (Miq.) Rolfe for visionary purposes. Unfortunately, the details of this use are still unknown, as the sorcerers keep their knowledge secret.



Bisset, N. G. 1985a. Phytochemistry and pharmacology of Voacanga species. Agricultural University Wageningen Papers 85 (3): 81–114.


———. 1985b. Uses of Voacanga species. Agricultural University Wageningen Papers 85 (3): 115–22.


Bombardelli, Ezio, Attilio Bonati, Bruno Gabetta, Ernseto Martinelli, Giuseppe Mustich, and Bruno Danieli. 1976. 17-O-acetyl-19,20-dihydrovoachalotine, a new alkaloid from Voacanga chalotianaPhytochemistry 15:2021–22.


Oliver-Bever, B. 1982. Medicinal plants in tropical West Africa I: Plants acting on the cardiovascular system. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 5 (1): 1–71.


Puiseux, F., M. P. Patel, J. M. Rowson, and J. Poisson. 1965. Alcaloïdes des VoacangaVoacanga africana Stapf. Annales Pharmaceutiques Françaises 23:33–39.


Zea mays L.


(Gramineae: Poaceae)—maize


First cultivated in Mexico some four thousand years ago, maize is the single most important source of nourishment for many Central and South American Indians. Grains of maize (ferment) are also used to brew numerous beers as well as chicha (Wedemeyer 1972).

Corn silk (stigmata maydis) plays a role in Indian medicine. It also has some significance in modern phytotherapy, where it is used as a diuretic (Czygan 1989; Rätsch 1991a, 174–78*). In addition, it is “smoked by the Indians in Peru as an inebriant” (Roth et al 1994, 742*; Czygan 1989, 326). In the “drug scene,” corn silk is smoked for inebriating purposes, both alone and as an ingredient in smoking blends. In North America, corn silk is one of the ingredients in the ceremonial “tobacco” kinnikinnick. The silk (or, more precisely, styles) contains up to 85% alkaloids of an as yet unknown structure (possibly from the family of the ergot alkaloids or tryptamine derivatives) that are able to induce states of excitation and delirium when inhaled (Roth et al. 1994, 742*).

Literature (selection)


Czygan, Franz-Christian. 1989. Maisgriffel. In Teedrogen, ed. Max Wichtl, 325–26. Stuttgart: WVG.


Wedemeyer, Inge von. 1972. Mais, Rausch- und Heilmittel im alten Peru. Ethnomedizin 2 (1/2): 99–112.


Zingiber officinale Roscoe




Ginger comes from the tropical rain forests of Southeast Asia, but it has been planted throughout tropical Asia for at least three thousand years (Norman 1991, 62*) and is now planted in tropical areas around the world. It has acquired an ethnopharmacological significance among many American Indian peoples. It is frequently used both as a spice and as a medicine, e.g., for upset stomachs (Rätsch 1994b, 58*). In Ecuador, where ginger is known as ajej, the Shuar, Achuar, and Aguaruna all use it as a hallucinogen. The shamans ingest ginger to obtain magical power (Bennett 1992, 493*). The Cariña rub a mixture of gingerroot and tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum) onto the eyelids of apprentice shamans so that they may be able to see the spirits of the forest. Ginger is also one of the initiatory plants of the novice shamans on the Indonesian island of Siberut:


Voacanga grandiflora produces fruits that resemble testicles. African sorcerers use the fruit as a visionary inebriant.



Corn silk (Zea mays) contains a psychoactive alkaloid.



Used throughout the world as a spice, ginger (Zingiber officinale) also has a certain significance as a magical shamanic drug.



Indians use ginger (Zingiber officinale), which they cultivate in the American tropics, for both medicinal and psychoactive purposes. (Photographed in Chiapas, Mexico)


Finally, every novice is given “seeing” eyes. He goes with the teacher to a secluded spot in the vicinity and must make a promise never to betray the secret. . . . Old shamans explain that the novice is called upon to massage a small disease stone out of a spear that he has brought with him and which the ancestors have placed inside as a test. After he has attempted this for a while without success, the master shows him how it is done. Afterward, burning ginger juice is dripped from a little bottle into the novice’s eyes and he becomes able “to see.” The master then asks him what he sees. (Schefold 1992, 116)


Ginger extracts have clear effects upon the central nervous system, but whether they are able to induce hallucinations (in what dosages?) is questionable (Bennett 1992, 490*). The use of ginger as an aphrodisiac is widespread. The Secoya number ginger among the nuni, the plants of supernatural origin (Vickers and Plowman 1984, 33*).

In Papua New Guinea, the roots of bitter ginger, a wild ginger species (Zingiber zerumbet [L.] Sm.), are known as kaine. They purportedly were used together with a Homalomena species (Homalomenasp.) as a hallucinogen (cf. also Kaempferia galanga). In the South Pacific, a ginger species is used for magical purposes. On the Gazelle Peninsula (formerly New Pomerania), ginger leaves and roots are used in all magical acts.

For these reasons, ethnologists have characterized ginger as the “mandrake root of the indigenous people” (cf. Mandragora officinarum) (Meier 1913).



Meier, P. Joseph. 1913. Die Zauberei bei den Küstenbewohner der Gazelle-Halbinsel, Neupommern, Südsee. Anthropos 8:1–11, 285–305, 688–713.


Rätsch, Christian. 1992. Nahrung für den Feuergott—Die Ingwergewächse. Dao 4/92:48–49.


Schefold, Reimar. 1992. Schamanen auf Siberut. In Mentawai Schamane: Wächter des Regenwaldes, Charles Lindsay, 105–17. Frankfurt/M.: Zweitausendeins.


Schulick, Paul. 1996. Ginger: Common spice and wonderful drug. 3rd ed. Brattleboro, Vt.: Herbal Free Press.



Poison hemlock Conium maculatum L. (From Giftgewächse [Poisonous Plants], 1875)