Solanaceae (Nightshade Family); Subfamily Cestroideae, Salpiglossidae Tribe
Forms and Subspecies
Today, forty to forty-five species of Brunfelsia are botanically accepted (D’Arcy 1991, 78*; Schultes and Raffauf 1991, 34*). Several of these have importance as medicinal or ornamental plants or as additives to psychoactive preparations (Plowman 1977).
The genus Brunfelsia is named after the German physician, botanist, and theologist Otto Brunfels (ca. 1489– 1534), one of the fathers of botany. Brunfels produced an important work on herbalism, Contrafayt Kreuterbuch, in 1532. (Contemporary woodcut)
Species used for psychoactive purposes:
—Brunfelsia chiricaspi Plowman
Borrachero, chiricaspi, chiric-caspi,65 chiri sanango, covi-tsontinba-ko (Kofán), sanango, yaí uhahai (Siona, “jaguar Brunfelsia”)
—Brunfelsia grandiflora D. Don ssp. grandiflora66 [syn. B. calycina Benth. var. macrantha Bailey, B. tastevinii Benoist]
Borrachera, chinikiasip (Shuar), chiricaspi, chiric sanango, keya-honi, mucapari (Shipibo-Conibo)
—Brunfelsia grandiflora D. Don ssp. schultesii Plowman
Bella unión, borrachero, chipiritsontinbaka (Kofán), chiricaspi chacruco (Quechua), chiricaspi picudo, chiricaspi salvaje, chiricsanango, huha hay (Siona), sanango, uhahai
—Brunfelsia uniflora (Pohl) Benth.67 [syn. Brunfelsia hopeana (Hook.) Benth., Franciscea uniflora Pohl]
Bloom of the lent, boas noites, (“good nights”), camgaba, camgamba, (“tree of the gambá-opossum”), Christmas bloom, flor de natal, (“Christmas tree”), gerataca, good night, jerataca, jeratacaca (“snake bite medicine”), manaca, manacá, mercurio dos pobres (“poor man’s quicksilver”), Paraguay jasmine, Santa María, umburapuama (“medicine tree”), vegetable mercury, white tree
—Brunfelsia maritima Benth.
—Brunfelsia mire Plowman
The genus Brunfelsia was named for the German physician, botanist, and theologist Otto Brunfels (1489–1543). When the Portuguese arrived in northern Brazil, they were able to observe the use of Brunfelsia uniflora among the Indians. The inhabitants of the Amazon manufactured arrow poisons from extracts of the root. The payés, or shamans, used the root for healing and in magical activities (Plowman 1977, 290f.). The first description of the plant (Brunfelsia uniflora) was published in 1648 in Piso’s De Medicina Brasiliensi.
Today, Brunfelsia uniflora enjoys the greatest phytomedicinal and pharmaceutical importance in Brazil and is grown in plantations as the stock plant for the manaca root drug. The word manaca is derived from manacán, which means “the most beautiful woman of the tribe” and alludes to the bush’s beauty (Plowman 1977, 290). Because of their attractive flowers and colors, several Brunfelsia species (B. americana, B. australis, B. uniflora, B. pilosa) are now grown in tropical gardens throughout the world or raised as potted ornamentals.
The genus Brunfelsia is originally from northern (tropical) Brazil and the Caribbean Islands. Because most of its species are so beautiful, the genus has spread as an ornamental into all of the tropical zones of the world. It has also been successfully propagated in the frost-free areas of the Mediterranean region (Bärtels 1993, 180*).
The species with ethnomedical significance are all from the Amazon, where they are planted by many of the Indians. Brunfelsia chiricaspi is found only in primary forest (Plowman 1973a, 258f.; 1977, 305).
Most species of Brunfelsia are propagated by cuttings, root pieces, or scions. In cultivation, they rarely produce fruits. Brunfelsias require a tropical climate and thrive best in loose soil. Brunfelsia chiricaspi is not cultivated (Plowman 1977, 305).
Indoor plants (B. uniflora, B. pauciflora) must be watered regularly with water that has been allowed to stand. Between April and August, they should be fertilized every fourteen days.
The species discussed here are very similar in appearance and are all easily mistaken for one another. They usually form evergreen shrubs that can grow as tall as 3 meters. The leaves are alternate and elliptical in shape, and they taper to a point. Their upper side is leathery and dark green, while their underside is pale green. The flowers, which are typically borne on short stalks, are almost always violet but are sometimes white or in rare cases yellow (Brunfelsia americana) or creamy white (Brunfelsia undulata). Often, a plant will bear both white and violet flowers simultaneously. The fruits, which only rarely develop, are round green berries. The seeds are relatively large.
The flowers fade after only a few days. The flowers of the species Brunfelsia pauciflora are dark violet the first day, light lilac the second, and almost white on the third day. As a result, this popular ornamental species is also popularly known by the name yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
At night some species (e.g., Brunfelsia americana) exude a sweet scent that has inebriating effects and is reminiscent of the scent of Brugmansia suaveolens. In tropical regions, brunfelsias bloom throughout the year. As potted plants in temperate zones (central Europe), the flowering period lies between spring and late summer.
Those species that are cultivated as ornamentals are quite similar in appearance to and are easily confused with those used for psychoactive purposes. Even a trained botanist can have difficulty identifying the species. The species Brunfelsia hopeana (= B. uniflora) and Brunfelsia pilosa Plowman, for example, are almost always regarded as one and the same (Plowman 1975, 47). For this reason, it can be assumed that the species’ identifications provided in the ethnobotanical literature are not reliable. Accordingly, as a rule this monograph will not differentiate among species that are used for the same purpose (unless absolutely accurate data are available).
Brunfelsia maritima is deceptively similar to B. grandiflora and has even been confused with the latter in herbarium specimens. B. grandiflora is also frequently confused with Brunfelsia latifolia (Pohl) Benth. and Brunfelsia bonodora (Vell.) Macbr. (Plowman 1977, 298).
Brunfelsia grandiflora ssp. schultesii Plowman is distinguished from B. grandiflora ssp. grandiflora solely on the basis of its much smaller flowers and fruits. There is no ethnobotanical distinction made between the two subspecies or forms; both are known as chiricaspi,“cold tree,” and each is used in the same manner (Plowman 1973a; 1977, 299).
—Roots (manaca roots, manacá, radix manaca, radix brunfelsiae)
In Brazil, several species are used as sources for manaca roots: Brunfelsia uniflora, Brunfelsia australis, and Brunfelsia spp.
Preparation and Dosage
There are a variety of traditional and pharmaceutical preparations of the raw drug. Leaves can be steeped in hot water (Schultes 1966, 303*). Leaves and stalks can also be decocted in boiling water. As little as 100 mg/kg of an extract of manaca root (B. uniflora) is sufficient to produce pharmacological effects (Iyer et al. 1977, 358).
For medicinal purposes, Brunfelsia grandiflora can be prepared in several ways. Scrapings of the bark can be added to cold water or chicha (maize beer). The bark of other trees (remo caspi: Pithecellobium laetum Benth.; chuchuhuasi: Heisteria pallida Engl.; huacapurana: Campsiandra laurifolia Benth.) can be added to potentiate the dosage. Unfortunately, the amount of bark used to make the extract is not known. The root can also be added to alcohol. Here, 50 g of the root cortex is added to 1 liter of aguardiente (cane sugar spirits). One shot glass of this is taken before every meal (Plowman 1977, 300).
The Jíbaro produce a type of ayahuasca using Banisteriopsis spp., Brunfelsia grandiflora, and a botanically unidentified vine known as hiaji. First the Banisteriopsis pieces are boiled for fourteen hours, after which the other ingredients are added and the entire mixture boiled down until a thick solution results (Plowman 1977, 303).
When used for psychoactive and magical purposes, the wild-growing Brunfelsia chiricaspi is preferred over the cultivated varieties of Brunfelsia grandiflora (Plowman 1973a, 259).
Brunfelsia can also be smoked. Men and women of the Yabarana roll cigarettes out of manaca bark and tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum) (Wilbert 1959, 26 f.*).
The typical yellow flowers of Brunfelsia americana.
Brunfelsia australis can have both white and violet flowers simultaneously.
The South American Brunfelsia grandiflora ssp. grandiflora is one of the shamanic plants known as chiricaspi.
Brunfelsia grandiflora ssp. schultesii, named for the botanist Richard Evans Schultes, is a rare shamanic plant.
In Ecuador, Amazonian Indians use Brunfelsia grandiflora as a hallucinogen. The shamans of the Shuar drink a tea of the leaves and stems in order to induce “strong feelings” that they can then use for healing purposes (Bennett 1992, 493*). The Siona scrape the bark of B. grandiflora ssp. schultesii and drink a cold-water extract of this. Two mouthfuls are said to be an effective dosage (Vickers and Plowman 1984, 29f.*). They drink the extract “to obtain visions and alleviate pains.” The Brunfelsia extract is often drunk prior to the ingestion of ayahuasca or combined with yoco (cf. Paullinia spp.)(Plowman 1977, 305). The shamans of the Kofán drink Brunfelsia grandiflora to diagnose diseases. The shamans of the Lama Indians, who live in northern Peru, regard B. grandiflora as a spiritual leader. They consume it during their initiation and receive from it special powers that they can use to heal as well as to cause diseases (Plowman 1977, 303).
Both subspecies of Brunfelsia grandiflora are used as ayahuasca additives and are said to potentiate its effects (Schultes and Raffauf 1991, 34*). In Iquitos, urban ayahuasqueros say that Brunfelsia grandiflora makes ayahuasca more powerful and induces acoustical effects “like rain in the ear.” During a new moon, the Witoto on the Río Ampiyaco (Peru) add brunfelsia to ayahuasca (they add pieces of the bark to cold ayahuasca) to obtain power (Plowman 1977, 303).
The beautiful Brunfelsia maliformis from Jamaica is one of the rarest members of the genus.
Fruits and seeds of Brunfelsia grandiflora ssp. schultesii.
The prostrate shamanic plant Brunfelsia mire is almost unknown and has been little studied.
Brunfelsia pauciflora var. calycina is a popular ornamental from Brazil.
Brunfelsia pauciflora cv. Floribunda compacta, a plant found in tropical gardens.
The green fruit of Brunfelsia plicata, from Jamaica.
Brunfelsia uniflora is the source of the manaca root drug.
Apparently none; cf. ayahuasca.
In Brazil, the manaca root is used as a remedy for syphilis and as an abortifacient (Bärtels 1993, 180*). It is used in folk medicine to treat rheumatism, syphilis, yellow fever, snakebites, and skin diseases (Iyer et al. 1977, 356). It is a very important fever medicine; chiricaspi means “cold tree” and refers to the plant’s ability to lower body temperature (Schultes and Raffauf 1991, 34*).
The stalks of Brunfelsia grandiflora are grated and added to cold water. The resulting solution is rubbed over or massaged into areas affected by rheumatism. A cold-water extract is also drunk to treat arthritis and rheumatism (Plowman 1977, 300).
A homeopathic preparation made from manaca roots was introduced around 1862. Franciscea uniflora (essence of fresh root), as it was known, was an important agent for a time (Schneider 1974, 1:198*).
In the older literature, the constituents were listed as brunfelsia alkaloids with such names as franciscaine, manacine, brunfelsine (Brandl 1885), and even mandragorine (cf. Mandragora officinarum)—all obsolete names for the “only little understood chemical components” of the roots (Schultes 1979b, 154*).
The species Brunfelsia uniflora, B. pauciflora, and B. brasiliensis contain the non-nitrogenous compound scopoletin (= 6-methoxy-7-hydroxycoumarin). The alkaloid cuscohygrine, which also occurs in Atropa belladonna and Erythroxylum coca, has been isolated from an unidentified species of the genus (Mors and Ribeiro 1957; Schultes 1979b, 155*).
Brunfelsia uniflora and B. pauciflora contain the alkaloids manacine and manaceine as well as aesculetine. The concentration of manacine is highest in the bark (of B. uniflora), reaching 0.08% (Roth et al. 1994, 175*).
The peculiar effects of the manaca root were described at an early date: heavy salivation, slackness, general sedation, partial paralysis of the face, swollen tongue, and blurred vision. There were also more drastic reports: “wild deliria and persistent feeblemindedness.”“One kind of manacá has the property of causing intoxication, blindness, and the retention of urine during the day; but after having drunk the infusion of the root or bark of this tree, a man is always happy in his hunting and fishing” (Plowman 1977, 292).
Laboratory studies of the scopoletin extracted from Brunfelsia uniflora (= B. hopeana) have demonstrated clear depressive effects upon the central nervous system (Iyer et al. 1977, 359). “Manacine stimulates glandular secretion and kills by respiratory paralysis. Manacein has similar effects” (Roth et al. 1994, 175*).
Brunfelsia chiricaspi is said to be the most psychoactively potent of all brunfelsias. However, the effects do not seem particularly alluring. They begin within just a few minutes and are first manifested as tingling, numbness, et cetera (similar to when an arm or leg has fallen asleep). These are followed by a profound sensation of coldness and an inability to move, foaming at the mouth, shaking, and nausea. Aftereffects include dizziness and exhaustion. The feelings of dizziness and weakness persist into the following day (Plowman 1977, 306f.). Plowman, one of the few researchers to have actually tried the drink, compared the overall effects to those of nicotine (on nonsmokers). He assumes that brunfelsia is added to ayahuasca in order to achieve a higher concentration in the body or a stronger effect upon bodily processes. The shamans could then use the resulting condition to heal specific ailments.
Jonathan Ott (per oral communication with the author) notes that he almost died as a result of a self-experimentation with brunfelsia. To date, there are no reports of pleasant visionary experiences. However, for understandable reasons, few psychonauts have dared to explore the depths of the brunfelsia state.
Commercial Forms and Regulations
Some brunfelsias (usually Brunfelsia pauciflora and Brunfelsia uniflora) are sold in nurseries as ornamentals. Manaca root is officinal in Brazil and is listed in the Brazilian pharmacopoeia. In principle, manaca roots are available without restriction.
“The juice of this plant [Brunfelsia grandiflora] plunges them [the Indians] into a kind of intoxication or stupefaction which lasts a little more than a quarter of an hour and from which they acquire magical powers, enabling them to heal all sorts of diseases through incantations. While the effects of the drink act on their brains, they are unable to fall asleep. They believe they see all kinds of fantastic animals: dragons, tigers [= jaguars], wild boars, which attack them and tear them to bits, etc. This action of honi lasts four or five hours depending on the quantity ingested.”
PATER C. TASTEVIN IN “BRUNFELSIA IN ETHNOMEDICINE” (PLOWMAN 1977, 302)
The first illustration of the Brazilian manaca root Brunfelsia uniflora (= Brunfelsia hopeana). (Engraving from Piso, De Medicina Brasiliensi, 1648)
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———. 1973b. The South American species of Brunfelsia (Solanaceae). PhD diss., Harvard University.
———. 1975. Two new Brazilian species of Brunfelsia. Botanical Museum Leaflets 24 (2): 37–48.
———. 1977. Brunfelsia in ethnomedicine. Botanical Museum Leaflets 25 (10): 289–320.
———. 1979. The genus Brunfelsia: A conspectus of the taxonomy and biogeography. In The biology and taxonomy of the Solanaceae, ed. J. G. Hawkes et al., 475–91. London: Academic Press.