The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants: Ethnopharmacology and Its Applications

Cytisus canariensis (Linnaeus) O. Kuntze


Canary Island Broom


“In some places, time really does appear to have stood still, which makes it much easier for a researcher with access to a time machine (in other words, an ability to imagine and a nonjudgmental surrender to clearly perceivable ‘power fields’) to journey into the past. In the Canary Islands, the spirit of Tara, the power of the Great Goddess and her female and male servants, can be felt everywhere, and the magic cap the Goddess uses to hide herself from the excesses of the modern, hectic world exhibits countless gaps. The secrets of the islands begin directly behind the loud tourist beaches.”








Leguminosae (Legume Family); Subfamily Papilionoideae, Genisteae Tribe, Cytisinae Subtribe

Forms and Subspecies


The taxonomy of the genus Cytisus (= Genista) is rather confusing and ambiguous, especially with respect to the Canary Island species (cf. Kunkel 1993). One variety is occasionally described under the name Cytisus canariensis(L.) O. Kuntze var. ramosissimus (Poir.) Briq.



Cytisus attleyanus hort.

Cytisus canariensis Steud.

Cytisus ramosissimus Poir.

Genista canariensis L.

Folk Names


Canary Island broom, kanarischer ginster, kytisos, Spanish broom, spartion, spartium



Canary Island broom is from the island group of the same name. It may have been a ritual plant of the Guancha, the indigenous people of the islands who, in the fifteenth century, still possessed a Stone Age culture and venerated the Great Goddess (Tara) in painted ritual caves (see Braem 1995, 114–28). It was likely introduced into the New World at an early date, for many ships that were bound for New Spain stopped at the Canary Islands and, when they left, carried the islands’ native plants with them. Knowledge of the use of broom as an inebriant may have traveled along as well.


The bright yellow blossoms of Canary Island broom (Cytisus canariensis).


Yaqui shamans from northern Mexico use Canary Island broom for ritual purposes (Fadiman 1965). In the United States, the flowers are smoked as a tobacco substitute (cf. Nicotiana tabacum) (Fadiman 1965).



The bush is endemic to the Canary Islands. As a result of cultivation (as an ornamental), it can now be found in the entire Mediterranean region and in North, Central, and South America.



Propagation can occur via seeds as well as cuttings. The seeds should be pre-germinated in January before planting. The bush does not tolerate frost (Grubber 1991, 19*).



This evergreen bush can grow up to 2 meters in height. The small green leaves are tripartite. The aromatic, light yellow, labiate flowers develop on the upper ends of the branches. The plant flowers between May and July. The fruits are small pods (15 to 20 mm) that contain several small, beanlike seeds.

Canary Island broom is easily mistaken for other species of the genera Cytisus and Spartium (see Cytisus spp.).

Psychoactive Material



Preparation and Dosage


The flowers are dried and chopped. They can be rolled into cigarettes (joints) or placed in a pipe and smoked by themselves or together with other herbs (cf. smoking blends). The flowers can also be used to prepare an aphrodisiac drink:


The flowers of the Canary Island broom are dried over a low flame, then brewed with water, filtered, and drunk. After ingesting this liquid, a person is transported into a state of total euphoria, which includes more intense sensations of sexual arousal along with more intense perception, and a great deal of calm and quiet. (Stark 1984, 56*)


One dosage is the amount of dried leaves contained in one to three normal cigarettes (joints) (Fadiman 1965).

Ritual Use


A Yaqui shaman discovered the psychoactive use of this plant. After ingesting another psychoactive plant (most likely peyote; see Lophophora williamsii), he was shown in a vision that the flowers of the Canary Island broom should be smoked. Further study of the ritual use is needed.




Medicinal Use





Canary Island broom contains large quantities of cytisine (Ott 1993, 407*) and other alkaloids. Detailed chemical studies are lacking (Schultes and Hofmann 1980, 153*).



Smoking the dried leaves produces effects that have been described as mildly psychedelic without unpleasant side effects or aftereffects (Allen and Allen 1981, 211*). A small dose (one cigarette per person) produced sensations of relaxation with positive feelings for some two hours. Higher dosages (two to three cigarettes) produced an increase in intellectual abilities (clarity, flexibility) as well as an increase in alertness. Although there have been reports of sharpened perception and greater intensity of colors, hallucinations have not been observed. Closing the eyes stimulated the imagination. The effects lasted a maximum of five hours. Apart from a (rare) slight headache the following day, no side effects or aftereffects have been reported (Fadiman 1965).

Commercial Forms and Regulations


The plant is available as an ornamental in nurseries.



See also the entries for Cytisus spp. and cytisine.


Braem, Harald. 1995. Magische Riten und Kulte: Das dunkle Europa. Stuttgart and Vienna: Weinbrecht.


Fadiman, James. 1965. Genista canariensis: A minor psychedelic. Economic Botany 19:383–84.


Kunkel, Günther. 1993. Die Kanarischen Inseln und ihre Pflanzenwelt. 3rd ed. Stuttgart: Gustav Fischer.


“The magical beliefs have the following to say about broom: ‘Whoever has become ill as a result of enchantment with formulae, he must urinate down through an upside-down broom made of broom, and then he will become healthy.’ ”






Cytisus spp. and Relatives


Broom Species




Leguminosae (Legume Family); Subfamily Papilionoideae, Genisteae Tribe, Genistinae (previously Cytisinae) Subtribe


The originally Old World genus Cytisus (= Genista) encompasses some fifty species, twenty-three to thirty-three of which are found in Europe (Wink 1992, 1124). Many species contain the alkaloids anagyrine, cytisine, lupanine, N-methylcytisine, and sparteine (Allen and Allen 1981, 210*). Chinolizidine alkaloids (of the sparteine type) are of chemotaxonomic significance (van Rensen et al. 1993).

Cytisus scoparius (L.) Link [syn. Genista angulata Poiret, Genista glabra Spach, Genista hirsuta Moench, Genista scoparia (L.) Lam., Genista scoparius DC., Genista vulgaris Gray, Sarothamnus ericetorum Gandoger, Sarothamnus obtusatus Gandoger, Sarothamnus scoparius (L.) Wimm. ex W.D.J. Koch, Sarothamnus vulgaris Wimm., Spartium angulosum Gilib., Spartium glabrum Mill., Spartium scoparium L.]—Scotch broom

The use of Scotch broom for inebriating purposes is allegedly based upon the observation that sheep behave in an excited and peculiar manner after eating the plant (Brown and Malone 1978, 8*).

For several years, dried Scotch broom flowers have been regarded as a “legal high” and used in smoking blends. Users have repeatedly reported mild euphoric effects and distinct synergistic effects when the flowers are mixed with other substances, especially Cannabis sativa.

The common name of the plant is derived from the fact that its branches were once used to make brooms. Witches are said to have made their flying brooms from Cytisus (Ludwig 1982, 143*). Perhaps this use, and its association with witches’ flight, is what led to the plant’s psychoactive use (cf. witches’ ointments).

Broom flowers are used in folk medicine as a dehydrating agent and blood purifier. In phyto-therapy, their sole use is as a decorative drug in tea mixtures (Wink 1992, 1128).

The aboveground parts of broom as well as its seeds contain the alkaloid sparteine (= lupinine), sarothamnine, and genisteine. Cytisine does not appear to be present (Brown and Malone 1978, 9*), although the flowers do contain phenethylamine derivatives (tyramine, etc.) (Wink 1992, 1127). For this reason, they should not be used in combination with MAO inhibitors (see Peganum harmalaayahuasca analogs). Sparteine binds to nicotinergic acetylcholine receptors (Wink 1992, 1130). This property may account for the weak psychoactive effects.







“They joined together the flowers of oak, broom, and meadow queen and, with the help of their magic, created the most beautiful and perfect maiden in the world.”




Cytisus spp.—broom species


Some Cytisus species contain cytisine and were apparently frequently smoked as tobacco substitutes (Nicotiana tabacum).

In colonial Peru, a plant that was used as a medicinal incense may have been a Cytisus species. The source notes, “Another herb, chuquicaylla, similar to broom, is used as a fumigant for fever” (in Andritsky 1989, 267*).


Genista spp.—broom

Species of the genus Genista are easily confused with Cytisus canariensis and with Spartium spp. Dyer’s greenweed (Genista tinctoria L.) contains the alkaloid cytisine, as does the German broom (Genistra germanica L.): “Some alkaloids of Genista species exhibit hallucinogenic effects” (Roth et al. 1994, 372*). No information is available that would suggest that these plants were used traditionally for psychoactive purposes.


Spartium junceum L. [syn. Sarothamnus junceus Link, Spartianthus junceus (L.) Link]—Spanish broom

Spanish broom is easily mistaken for Canary Island broom (Cytisus canariensis). Spanish broom has a rich alkaloid content and high concentrations of cytisine. It also appears to induce psycho-active effects:


The drug evidently has weak hallucinogenic properties: One artist repeatedly drank decoctions of Spanish broom flowers as a “cardio-tonic,” as he believed that he was using Cytisi scoparii flos. He reported that afterward he experienced very intense dreams, during which he had seen very colorful images. . . . After ingesting a tea infusion of seeds and branch tips (dosage unknown), a woman is said to have experienced vomiting, disturbances of vision, and feelings of drunkenness. (Wink 1994, 771)


In the highlands of Ecuador, this originally European plant is known as retama. Drunk as a tea, it is said to have abortifacient or prophylactic effects. The dried flowers are smoked there to treat asthma (Schultes 1983a, 262*). In southern Peru, the flowers are ground and added to chicha, (brewed from maize) in order to make it “more inebriating” (Franquemont et al. 1990, 82*). The bush is also called retama in Peru and is ingested together with markhu(Ambrosia peruviana Willd.), guaco (Mikania scandens Willd.; see Mikania cordata), Coca (Erythroxylum coca), rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis L.; cf.Fabiana imbricata), and nijnd (Myrica pubescens H. et B. ex Willd. var. glandulosa Chev.) to treat rheumatism (Bastien 1987, 131*).



See also the entries for Cytisus canariensis and cytisine.


van Rensen, I., M. Veit, R. Greinwald, P. Cantó, and F.-C. Czygan. 1993. Simultaneous determination of alkaloids and flavonoids as a useful tool in chemotaxonomy of the genus GenistaPlanta Medica 59 suppl.: A592.


Wichtl, Max. 1989. Besenginsterkraut. In Teedrogen, ed. Max Wichtl, 91–93. Stuttgart: WVG.


Wink, Michael. 1992. Cytisus. In Hagers Handbuch der pharmazeutischen Praxis, 5th ed., 4:1124–33. Berlin: Springer.


———. 1994. Spartium. In Hagers Handbuch der pharmazeutischen Praxis, 5th ed., 6:768–72. Berlin: Springer.


“Herbs on the fire: Broom, nightshades, thorn apple.—How that crackles and fumes.

The old man extinguishes the lantern, bends over the pan, and inhales the toxic smoke;

he can barely remain standing, it sedates him so.

And the terrible buzzing in the ears!”



Opposite page, left column, from top to bottom:



Scotch broom (Cytisus scoparius), found throughout central Europe, is smoked as a tobacco substitute.



Scotch broom (Cytisus scoparius).



A cultivated variety of broom.



The southern broom (Cytisus australis).



Spanish broom (Spartium junceum) occurs throughout the entire Mediterranean region. (Photographed on Crete)



Broom (Spartium junceum) was introduced into South America. This specimen was photographed in the Altiplano of Peru.



The dried flowers and leaves of two species of broom are smoked for inebriating purposes. The upper illustration shows Scotch broom (Cytisus scoparius), a very common plant in Germany, while the lower illustration is of Spanish broom (Spartium junceum), which is more common in southern Europe. (Woodcut from Tabernaemontanus, Neu Vollkommen Kräuter-Buch, 1731)