The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants: Ethnopharmacology and Its Applications

Datura discolor Bernhardi


Sacred Datura



This Italian techno-pop group took its name from the sacred datura plant. The album includes descriptions of hallucinations caused by “devil’s weed.” A path to eternity? (CD cover 1993, ZYX Music)




Solanaceae (Nightshade Family); Subfamily Solanoideae, Datureae Tribe, Dutra Section

Forms and Subspecies


Presumably none



Datura thomasii Torr.

Folk Names


A’neglakya, desert datura, é’’ee kamóstim (Serí, “plant that makes one squint”), é’’ee karóokkoot (Serí, “plant that makes one crazy”), hehe camóstim, hehe carócot, heilige datura, heiliger stechapfel, holy datura of the Zuni, malykatu (Mohave), sacred datura, sacred thornapple, Thomas’ thornapple, toloache



The history of this potently hallucinogenic species of Datura is shrouded in mystery. Although this genus is ethnopharmacologically highly interesting and has been the object of a great deal of research over the last century, many questions still remain (Avery 1959). There is also some taxonomic confusion (cf. Datura spp.). In the ethnobotanical literature, Datura discolor is usually listed as Datura innoxia or Datura meteloides (syn.). And indeed, the ranges of the two species overlap. Moreover, the ethnopharma-cological uses of both are almost identical, and the two species share many folk names. In the American Southwest, however, it has become customary to refer to Datura discolor as sacred datura or holy datura of the Zuni and to Datura innoxia as toloache or devil’s weed.


In the southwestern region of the United States, the thorn apple (Datura discolor) is known as sacred datura. (Photographed in Zion Canyon)




The primary range of this relatively rare thorn apple species extends across the American Southwest and northern Mexico. The plant has also occasionally been reported to occur in the West Indies.

Because of its high alkaloid content, Datura discolor is grown commercially in Egypt as a source of pharmaceutical scopolamine (Saber et al. 1970).



As with all Datura species, Datura discolor is propagated from seeds. Often, the seeds must simply be scattered over the ground. Seeds also can be grown in seedbeds or germination pots. They should be gently pressed into the soil or germinating substrate (0.5 to 1 cm deep) and watered regularly. The germination period is relatively short (five to ten days). The seedlings are somewhat sensitive. They do not tolerate direct or intense sunlight or complete shade. They will not survive excessive watering, yet if the soil or substrate dries out, the seedlings will die. The seedlings quickly grow into small, robust plants, which can then be repotted or planted in the ground. At this time, the plants will tolerate more exposure to the sun.

While most Datura species require relatively large amounts of water, they need little other care. Datura is self-sowing, so once it has been in a garden, it will likely be seen again in subsequent years.

Although the daturas are originally from subtropical and tropical zones, they adapt well to the climate of central Europe. In this area, seedlings should not be transplanted into the open until mid-May. Wild, self-sowing plants quickly adapt to local ecological conditions.



This annual plant develops a multibranched, bushy, prostrate, laterally growing herbage that is dark green in color, with soft, slightly serrated leaves. The white flowers have a striking trumpetlike shape and are sometimes tinged violet on the inside. The flowers grow from axils on the branches and point slightly sideways or almost straight up. They blossom in the evening, exuding a sweet, delicate, delicious scent. They wither during the course of the following day. The green fruits, which have only a few long thorns, are pendulous. They contain numerous black seeds (an important feature for identification). Apart from this, the plant is very similar to Datura innoxia, although it is somewhat smaller in every respect.

Psychoactive Material





Preparation and Dosage


A medicinal tea can be prepared from the dried, ground seeds of Datura discolor, cinnamon bark (Cinnamomum verum), the leaves of desert lavender (Hyptis emoryi Torr.), and sugar (Felger and Moser 1991, 320, 366*). Unfortunately, we have no information about dosages.

The dried leaves can be smoked alone, in kinnikinnick, or in other smoking blends. The fresh root can be chewed. Apart from this, the plant is used in the same manner as Datura innoxia.

Typically, preparations of Datura discolor must be dosed more carefully than those of Datura innoxia, as the former contains higher concentrations of alkaloids.

Ritual Use


According to the mythology of the Serí Indians, Datura discolor was one of the first plants of creation; as a result, humans should avoid contact with the plant (Felger and Moser 1991, 366*). Because inappropriate use can be very dangerous, the plant is used only by shamans.

In the American Southwest, the ritual use of Datura discolor is similar to that of Datura innoxia (see there). Datura discolor, however, is used much more rarely.



See Datura innoxia.

Medicinal Use


The Serí Indians of northern Mexico drink a tea made from the seeds to treat a swollen throat (Felger and Moser 1974, 428*).

The ethnomedical use of Datura discolor is similar to that of Datura innoxia.



The entire plant contains between 0.13 and 0.49% alkaloids (primarily tropane alkaloids), half of which is hyoscine (= scopolamine). The alkaloid concentrations of the plant can vary considerably as it grows. The highest concentrations have been found to occur in the stems during the fruiting phase (Saber et al. 1970).

The dried herbage contains 0.17% alkaloids. The principal alkaloid is hyoscine/scopolamine (0.08% by dry weight).Apohyoscine, norhyoscine, hyoscyamine, meteloidine, tropine, and c-tropine are also present.

The dried roots contain 0.31% alkaloids, chiefly hyoscine/scopolamine, along with norhyoscine, atropine, littorine, meteloidine, 3α,6β-ditigloyloxytropane, 3α,6β-ditigloyloxytropane-7β-ol, cuscohygrine (the primary alkaloid in the roots), tropine, and c-tropine (Evans and Somanabandhu 1974).



See Datura innoxia.

Commercial Forms and Regulations


Datura discolor is found only rarely in nurseries. Both the plant and the seeds are available without restriction.



See also the entries for Datura innoxia and tropane alkaloids.


Avery, A. G., ed. 1959. Blakeslee—the genus Datura. New York: Ronald Press.


Evans, William C., and Aim-On Somanabandhu. 1974. Alkaloids of Datura discolorPhytochemistry 13:304–5.


Saber, A. H., S. I. Balbaa, G. A. El Hossary, and M. S. Karawya. 1970. The alkaloid content of Datura discolor grown in Egypt. Lloydia 33 (3): 401–52.


“He who consumes the thorn apple drink believes that he is consorting with spirits and demons.”






(1855, 142*)



Datura fruits (thorn apples). Top, from left to right: Datura innoxiaD. discolorD. stramonium; bottom, from left to right: D. metelD. ceratocaulaD. quercifolia. (From Festi 1995, 118f.*)





Datura ferox Linnaeus


Chinese Datura


See Datura innoxia.

Datura innoxia Miller


Toloache, Mexican Thorn Apple




Solanaceae (Nightshade Family); Subfamily Solanoideae, Datureae Tribe, Dutra Section

Forms and Subspecies


Today, two subspecies are generally accepted:

Datura innoxia Mill. ssp. quinquecuspida Torr.

Datura innoxia Mill. ssp. lanosa (Bye)


This stamp from the small Southeast Asian country of Laos depicts the Mexican thorn apple (Datura innoxia = Datura meteloides) with an unusual violet-colored flower.




The taxonomy of this Datura species has resulted in many errors and divergent interpretations, as well as numerous synonyms (cf. Ewan 1944):


Datura guayaquilensis H.B.K.

Datura hybrida Tenore

Datura inoxia Mill.

Datura lanosa Barclay ex Bye

Datura metel Dunal non L.

Datura metel Sims non L.

Datura metel Ucria

Datura metel L. var. quinquecuspida Torr.

Datura meteloides DC. ex Dunal

Folk Names


A-neg-la-kia (Mazatec),110 a’neglakya (Zuni), chamico, chànikah, ch’óhojilyééh, ch’óxojilghéí (Navajo, “crazy maker”), dekuba (Tarahumara), devil’s weed, dhatura (Pakistani), dhaturo (Nepali), hehe camóstim (Serí, “plant that produces grimaces”), hehe carócot (Serí, “plant that makes crazy”), hierba del diablo, hierba hedionda, hippo-manes, hoozhónee yilbéézh (Navajo, “beautyway decoction”), hyoscyamus de Peru, Indian apple, Jamestown weed, jimsonweed, kâtundami (Pima), kiéli, kielitsa (Huichol, “bad kieli”), kiéri,111 kí-ki-sow-il (Coahuilla), kusi, loco weed,112 menj (Arabic/Yemen), Mexican thorn apple, mexikanischer stechapfel, moapa, moip, nacazcul, nacazul, nocuana-patao (Zapotec), nohoch xtóhk’uh (Mayan, “great [plant] in the direction of the gods”), ñongué blanco, ntígíliitshoh (Navajo,“great sunflower”), ooze apple, poison lily, pomum spinosum, rauchapfel, rikúi, rikuri, sacred datura, sape enwoe be (Tewa), solanum manicum, stechapfel, tapate, tecuyaui (Garigia), telez-ku, thorn apple, tikúwari (Tarahumara), tlapa, tohk’u, tolachi, tolguacha, toloa, toloache, toloache grande, toloatzin (“nodding head”), tolochi, tolohuaxihuitl (Aztec, “nodding herb”), tolovachi, toluache, toluah (“nodding”), uchurí (Tarahumara), u’teaw ko’hanna (Zuni, “the white flower”), wichurí, xtóhk’uh (Yucatec Mayan, “in the direction of the gods”), xtoku (Mayan, “in the direction of the gods”), yerba del diablo (Spanish, “devil’s herb”)


A pre-Hispanic Mexican representation of the toloache fruit (Datura innoxia). (From Camilla 1995)




Toloache is the most ethnopharmacologically significant of all thorn apple species in the New World. Archaeological studies of ritual rooms dating to 1200 to 1250 C.E. have demonstrated that the prehistoric Pueblo Indians of the Southwest used the seeds for ritual purposes (Litzinger 1981, 64; Yarnell 1959). Our present state of knowledge does not allow us to say with certainty how long this thorn apple has been used in Mexico, although such use certainly has its roots in the prehistoric period. Today, many Mexican Indians still frequently use Datura innoxia for ritual and medicinal as well as aphrodisiac purposes.



The original range of Datura innoxia extended from the American Southwest and Mexico to Guatemala and Belize. From there, the species spread into the islands of the Caribbean. It was introduced into Asia at an early date. In India, it often occurs in association with Datura metel. It also grows wild in Greece and Israel (Dafni and Yaniv 1994*).



For information on cultivation, see Datura discolor.

Datura innoxia is grown commercially in Central America, North Africa, Ethiopia, India, and England for pharmaceutical purposes (as a source of scopolamine) (Gerlach 1948).



Datura innoxia is usually a 1- to 2-meter-tall annual plant; in the tropics, where it can grow to more than 3 meters in height, it can thrive as a perennial. The root can grow up to 60 cm long. The light to dull green plant is heavily branched and develops hairy leaves with serrated margins. The white, funnel-shaped flowers grow almost perpendicularly out of the axils. The flowers bloom at night, exuding a delicious scent, and begin to wither the following day. In central Europe, the plant flowers between June and September; in protected locations, the plant can produce flowers into November.

The fruits are pendulous and covered with numerous short thorns. The seeds have an ocher color with hints of orange. They are larger than the black seeds produced by Datura discolor and Datura stramonium and are easily mistaken for those of Datura metel and Datura wrightii.

Datura innoxia is very similar to the Asian Datura metel and is easily confused with this plant. It is in fact questionable whether the two species should be regarded as distinct. Recent phyto-chemical studies have shown that the two species are extremely similar (Mino 1994). It may be that they are actually subspecies or varieties of the same species. The two species (or forms) are most easily distinguished on the basis of their stalks. Datura innoxia has green stalks with soft hairs, while Datura metel has smooth stalks that are purple in color.

Datura innoxia is also easily confused with Datura discolor and Datura wrightii, although it occurs in a geographical area different from that of the latter two species.

Psychoactive Material


—Leaves (daturae innoxiae herba), fresh or dried




Preparation and Dosage


The dried leaves and flowers can be smoked alone or in combination with other herbs and substances (cf. smoking blends).

Shamans of the Yucatec Maya (hmenó’ob, “the doers”) use the leaves of Datura innoxia and tobacco (Nicotiana tabacumNicotiana undulata; cf. Nicotiana spp.) to roll cigars known as chamal. They typically use one leaf of each plant per cigar. A shaman will smoke this cigar until he has attained the altered state of consciousness he desires (which can differ considerably from one individual to the next).

The seeds and leaves may be crushed and treated with a fermenting agent to produce an alcoholic drink (Havard 1896, 39*). The roots are often used as an inebriating additive to pulque (see Agave spp.), beer, or chicha. The Tarahumara add the seeds to the maize beer, known as tesgüino, they brew (Bye 1979b, 35*). Both the tribes that live along the Colorado River and the Paiute fortified their beer with the seeds and leaves of Datura innoxia (Havard 1896, 39*).

The Yaqui Indians make an ointment by adding crushed seeds and leaves to lard; they rub this onto their abdomens to induce visions.

Fresh roots may be crushed and applied externally, chewed, or dried and powdered. Unfortunately, the literature does not provide any precise information about the amounts of roots that should be chewed or eaten.

For smoking, up to four leaves is regarded as an appropriate dosage for eliciting aphrodisiac effects. Consuming the plant in this manner effectively rules out the possibility of overdose. Teas made from the leaves must be dosed with care. As little as one large leaf can be sufficient to induce profound hallucinations. Because alkaloid concentrations can vary considerably (see “Constituents”), and because individuals react quite differently to tropane alkaloids, detailed information about dosages is rarely provided. Thirty to forty seeds is regarded as a potent visionary or hallucinogenic dosage. However, as few as ten seeds can lead to profound perceptual changes. For information about lethal dosages, see Datura stramonium.

In Pakistan, 150 g of leaves, fruits, or flowers is regarded as a lethal dose (Goodman and Ghafoor 1992, 40*). This amount appears to be quite high.


The typical upright, funnel-shaped flower of the Mexican thorn apple (Datura innoxia), also known as toloache


Ritual Use


In Aztec medical texts, toloache is cited numerous times as a remedy, especially for fever (Rätsch 1991a, 254ff.*):


Toloa. It is also a fever medicine. It is drunk in a weak infusion. And where gout is, it is applied to it, one is rubbed with it there. It soothes, dispels, wards off [pain]. It is not inhaled and it is not breathed in. (Sahagun, Florentine Codex 11:7*)


The written sources do not contain any clear indications that the plant was used as an inebriant. Since ritual and magical use occurs throughout modern Mexico, it can be assumed that the potent inebriating powers of Datura innoxia were also being utilized in pre-Hispanic times. It has even been suggested that victims destined for human sacrifice were given a Datura drink to prepare them for their death (Rätsch 1986a, 234*). The administration of Datura preparations for initiatory purposes also appears to have been known in Mesoamerica (cf. Datura wrightii).


The thorny fruit of Datura innoxia typically hangs straight down.


In the Yucatán (southern Mexico), Datura innoxia, which is known as xtohk’ùh (“in the direction of the gods”), is a rare plant. But it is frequently planted in house gardens as both an ornamental and a source of drugs. The hmenó’ob (shamans) use Datura not just as a medicine but first and foremost as a ritual drug. When divining with a quartz crystal (ilmah sastun), they either smoke cigars (chamal) rolled from datura leaves or eat datura seeds (Rätsch 1987*). They say of the cigars and the seeds hach mà’lo’ ta wòl, “they are very good for your consciousness.” In the resulting inebriated state, the shaman is able to see things in the crystal that can provide insights into questions posed beforehand (e.g., pertaining to stolen or lost objects, the causes of illness, sorcery). Some modern Mayan shamans also use tarot cards113 (which were introduced into Mexico some one hundred years ago) when they perform divinations (Rätsch 1988b). Occasionally, they may smoke Datura before laying out the cards. Eating the seeds enables the h-mèn to travel to yuntsil balam,“the jaguar lord,” when a sick person has lost his ah-kanul,“protector spirits.” The aromatic flowers are also regarded as an excellent offering for the gods (Rätsch and Probst 1985, 1138). Among the Maya, use of the plant as an aphrodisiac (smoking the dried leaves) and a love magic (presenting the flowers to the desired person) is also common (Kennedy and Rätsch 1985; Rätsch and Probst 1985).


Jugo de toloache, a Mexican magical drink made from Datura innoxia, is used in love magic.


In urban brujería,114 toloache plays an important role in the preparation of magic powders (verdadero polvo de toloache), in the manufacture of aphrodisiac ointments and bath additives, and in love magic. In some parts of central Mexico, Datura innoxia is venerated in churches as a quasi-Catholic healer known as Santo Toloache, who is called upon to effect love magic.

Many Mexicans look upon the plant with respect, timidity, or disdain. It has an intimate connection to dark practices that may appear eerie to the ignorant (Madsen and Madsen 1972*). The plant has a reputation for causing insanity,115 of being toxic, and of being misused by the brujos (“sorcerers”) for harmful magic. According to many Mexican shamans, toloache is especially dangerous because it gives its users power. The Huichol regard it as a “bad plant of the gods” and usually associate it with sorcery (cf. Solandra spp.). Carlos Castaneda received the following explanation of the magical properties of the “devil’s weed” from his teacher, Don Juan:


The second portion of the devil’s weed is used to fly. . . . The unguent by itself is not enough. My benefactor said that it is the root that gives direction and wisdom, and it is the cause of flying. As you learn more, and take it often in order to fly, you will begin to see everything with great clarity. You can soar through the air for hundreds of miles to see what is happening at any place you want, or to deliver a fatal blow to your enemies far away. As you become familiar with the devil’s weed, she will teach you how to do such things. (Castaneda 1968, 92*)


Datura innoxia plays an important role in Indian divination. The Náhuatl-speaking peoples, and those who belong to the language family of the Maya, use the thorn apple as a prophetic and oracular plant. The Mixtec are said to ingest Datura innoxia as a traditional hallucinogen for divinatory purposes (Avila B. 1992*). Many tribes of the Southwest (the Colorado River and Paiute tribes and the Coahuilla) smoked the leaves and added them to drinks (chicha, pulque; cf. Agave spp.) to induce a prophetic delirium (Barrows 1967, 75*).

Datura innoxia is sacred to the Navajo, who view it with great respect and use it because of its great potency. The Navajo have many names for datura, including ch’óhojilyééh, “producing madness,” and hoozhónee yilbéézh, “Beautyway decoc-tion” (Brugge 1982, 92). The Navajo collect the thorn apple, which is ritually addressed as “little white hair,” according to a specific ritual. They begin by sprinkling maize pollen over the plant and uttering the following prayer: “Little white hair, forgive me for taking you. I do not do this out of arrogance. I would like you to heal me. I will take only as much as I need” (Abel 1983, 193).

In many Navajo healing ceremonies, visions and dreams play a central role. The medicine men or shamans learn from the visions and attain powers they can then use for healing (Haile 1940). During the ceremony known in the literature as the Beautyway, preparations of Datura are ingested to produce such visions (Brugge 1982, 92). The Navajo medicine men also use the thorn apple to treat hallucinations.116In secret ceremonies, the seeds are eaten as well.

The Navajo ingest small portions of Datura to protect themselves from the attacks of witches (Simmons 1980, 154). At the same time, the magical powers of the plant are also used for both positive and negative love magic (Hill 1938, 21), in which a person attempts to mix Datura into the food or smoking tobacco of the person he desires (Tierney 1974, 49).

The Navajo ajilee ceremony has been described in the ethnographic literature under the names Excess Way, Prostitution Way, and Frenzy Witchcraft. Ajilee is the name of a myth, a magical song, and a ritual in which the performer is transformed into a Datura spirit and is able to gain power over the women he desires as well as the game he wishes to hunt (Haile 1978; Luckert 1978). Ajilee is not one of the main healing rituals, and some Navajo (especially those who have been Christianized) regard it as witchcraft. Four magical plants, including Datura innoxia and probably also Argemone mexicana and the locoweeds (Astragalus spp.), play a central role in the ajilee myth and ritual. The ritual is intended to summon desired women (especially virgins from the Hopi and Pueblo Bonito) for sexual enjoyment. The same songs are also used to attract game. The ritual is also used to heal people who are suffering from sexual excesses as well as women who have been forced to prostitute themselves (Haile 1978). The person conducting the ritual is transformed into Datura innoxia, and the plant’s aphrodisiac effects give him magical power over the woman he desires. As a result of the confusing and stupefying effects of Datura, the ritual performer also gains power over animals (Haile 1978, 26, 35ff.).

It is said that a few medicine men who perform Datura divinations, also known as criminal telepathy, live in the region to the east of the Lukachukai Mountains. They use the plant to detect thieves and locate lost objects (Simmons 1980, 154).

The Apaches use the powdered root in secret ceremonies as a ritual medicine. The Coahuilla utilize it to ceremonies as a ritual medicine. The Coahuilla utilize it to produce ritual delirium. The Costa-noan smoke dried leaves as a hallucinogen. The seeds are mixed with tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum) to make a “love medicine” that is smoked during rituals of love magic. Hopi medicine men chew the root to induce a visionary state for diagnosing diseases (cf. Mirabilis multiflora). The Luiseño give their youths juice from the roots during their initiations (cf. Datura wrightii). The Shoshone brew a hallucinogenic tea for secret rites (Moerman 1986, 148f.*).


The Cultural Significance of Datura innoxia among the Navajo


(From Müller-Ebeling and Rätsch 1998)


—Agent for inducing visions

—Love magic


—Hunting magic

—Divination (criminal telepathy)

—Diagnosis (of disease causes)


—Magical protection

—Agent of pleasure


The plant was introduced into Baluchistan (Pakistan) from the Americas. Now growing wild, it is a well-known inebriant that is referred to by the Sanskrit name dhatura (cf. Datura metel). The people of the region smoke a few crushed seeds or a dried leaf mixed with tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum) (Goodman and Gharfoor 1992, 40*). In India, Datura innoxia is used in the same manner as Datura metel.



Strangely, artifacts associated with toloache are relatively uncommon in Mexico. The Denver Museum has a postclassical Mayan ceramic that represents a three-dimensional head wearing ear ornaments that are clearly naturalistic representations of datura.

Numerous incense vessels have been found in western, central, and southern Mexico, the forms of which are reminiscent of the thorny fruits of Datura innoxia (Kan et al. 1989, 129, 201). In some Indian areas, e.g., among the Lacandon of Naha’, this tradition of incense vessels still exists (Ma’ax and Rätsch 1994, 58*). Litzinger (1981) regards these vessels as true representations of the inebriating fruit. Today, Datura seeds are still burned for medicinal and ritual purposes. Incenses that include Datura seeds (copal, pom; cf. Bursera bipinnata) are definitely capable of eliciting profound psychoactive effects (cf. incense).

Numerous ceramic vessels (“spiked vessels”) have been found in the American Southwest and in northern Mexico. These appear to be representations of thorn apple fruits and were presumably used as vessels for burning incense (Camilla 1995, 106f.*; Litzinger 1981, 58ff.).

In a kiva (cosmological ritual room) at Kuaua, near Bernalillo, New Mexico, a Pueblo IV wall painting (1300–1550 C.E.) depicts a figure holding a Datura flower in its hand (Wellmann 1981, 92*).

The Hopi women of Moki traditionally twisted their hair into two round buns that they wore on the sides of their heads. Although the two buns were thought to represent squash blossoms and were known by that name, they actually represented the sacred Datura innoxia (Furst and Furst 1982, 56). Several petroglyphs at Moki resemble thorn apple flowers as viewed from above. In the literature, these also have been wrongly interpreted as squash blossoms (Patterson 1992, 189).

The Zuni use a head ornament in various ritual dances that is intended to recall the headpiece of A’neglakya, the personification of Datura innoxia. They wrap a dried fruit of Martynia louisiana Mill. with colored woolen ribbons and tie it to a leather headband. Early anthropologists interpreted this headpiece as a symbol of the squash flower. The Zuni themselves approved of this error, as it helped keep their sacred Datura secret (Müller-Ebeling and Rätsch 1998).

Navajo jewelry features a type of chain that is known both publicly and in the popular literature as the squash blossom necklace. However, these ornaments are representations not of squash flowers but of the flowers of a plant that had much greater cultic significance: the sacred thorn apple (Datura innoxiaDatura discolor). The term squash blossom has come to be a widely used alias for Datura, which is used and venerated in secret (Müller-Ebeling and Rätsch 1998).

Some Shoshone petroglyphs depict visions that were obtained while under the influence of Datura innoxia (Camilla 1995, 109*).

The American artist Georgia O’Keeffe (1887– 1986) produced several paintings of luxuriously beautiful Datura innoxia flowers, e.g., the oil paintings White Trumpet Flower (1932) and Jimson Weed (ca. 1934). These paintings, which are regarded as typical of O’Keeffe’s style and expression (Castro 1985), have been reproduced on numerous calendars and postcards.

Medicinal Use


Datura innoxia plays a significant role in the ethnomedicine of the tribes of the Southwest (Datura discolor is used in precisely the same manner, albeit much less frequently). The Apaches use juice freshly pressed from the flowers and roots to disinfect wounds. The Coahuilla rub plants crushed in water onto their horses’ saddle sores. The Costanoan smear an ointment made from the leaves onto burns. They use dew drops that have collected in the flowers as an eyewash. Heated leaves are applied to the chest to relieve difficulties in breathing. The Mahuna use the plant to treat rattlesnake and tarantula bites. The Navajo use it to treat the castration wounds of their sheep. Fresh thorn apple leaves or aqueous extracts are applied to the skin to treat wounds. The root is chewed for severe pain. The Zuni used the root as an anesthetic when performing surgery (cf. soporific sponge). The Tubatulabal consume the plant to relieve constipation and use it to treat inflammations, wounds, and swelling (Brugge 1982, 92; Moerman 1986, 148f.*).

“How Datura came to be:


In olden times, there lived a boy and a girl (the name of the boy was A’neglakya and the name of the girl was A’neglakyatsi’tsa), brother and sister, in the inside of the earth. But they often came up to the earth and wandered about. They observed everything very closely and reported to their mother what they had seen and heard. This constant talking did not please the divinities (the twin sons of the sun father) at all. Once, when the divinities encountered the boy and the girl, they asked them: ‘How are you?’ The brother and the sister answered: ‘We are happy!’ (Sometimes A’neglakya and A’neglakyatsi’tsa appeared on the earth as people.) They told the divinities how they had caused a person to fall asleep and see spirits and could have someone wander around who could see where a theft had occurred. After this encounter, the divinities decided that A’neglakya and A’neglakyatsi’tsa knew too much and that they had to be banished from the world. And so the divinities caused the brother and the sister to vanish from the earth forever. But on the place where they disappeared, flowers grew—exactly those kinds of flowers that they had worn on their head when they had visited the earth. The divinities named the plants A’neglakya, after the boy. The first plant had many children who spread over the entire world. Some of the flowers are colored yellow, some blue, some red, some are entirely white—the colors of the four cardinal points.”









Although it is known as a “squash blossom” necklace, this Navajo design actually symbolizes the sacred Datura.


The Aztecs utilized thorn apple leaves in the treatment of broken bones (e.g., skull fractures), abscesses, and swollen knees. They usually placed leaves that they had warmed in a steam bath directly onto the affected area. The Maya use the leaves to treat rheumatism (Pulido S. and Serralta P. 1993, 61*). Smoking the dried leaves to treat asthma, bronchitis, and coughs is a very common practice.

Toloache is one of the most important aphrodisiacs117 and sedatives of Mexican folk medicine. In rural areas, toloache brews are administered during childbirth to induce a twilight sleep and to mitigate the pains of childbirth (Heffern 1974, 98*). Ointments made with lard and extracts of Datura innoxia are often used to treat skin diseases as well as muscle and joint pain. Along with the plant, this use was introduced into Europe at an early date. John Gerard, in his sixteenth-century work The Herball, wrote:


The juice of Thornapple, boiled with hog’s grease, cureth all inflammations whatsoever, all manner of burnings and scaldings, as well of fire, water, boiling lead, gunpowder, as that which comes by lightning and that in very short time, as myself have found in daily practice, to my great credit and profit. (In Grieve 1982, 2:806*)


The plant finds use in the ethnomedicine of every region of the Old World into which it has spread. In Israeli folk medicine, a decoction of the leaves is drunk to treat diarrhea and a paste of the leaves is applied externally to treat pain (Dafni and Yaniv 1994, 13*). In Asia, this introduced species is used in the same manner as Datura metel and Datura stramonium (Shah and Joshi 1971, 420*; Singh et al. 1979, 188*).



The entire plant is rich in tropane alkaloidsScopolamine (the primary alkaloid) and hyoscyamine predominate in the aboveground parts, while the flowers contain large amounts of tyra-mine and the stems large amounts of meteloidine.

The roots contain the following alkaloids: hyoscyamine, scopolamine, cuscohygrine, 3-tigloyl-oxytropane, 3-hydroxy-6-tigloyloxytropane, 6-hydroxyhyoscyamine, 6-tigloyloxyhyoscyamine, and tropine (Ionkova et al. 1989). A different analysis detected tigloidine, atropine, pseudotropine, 7-hydroxy-3,6-ditigloyloxytropane, 3α,6β-di-tigloyloxytropane [428], hyoscine, and meteloidine (Evans and Wellendorf 1959).

The seeds contain a total of 0.3% alkaloids (0.09% scopolamine, 0.21% hyoscyamine).

In addition to the alkaloids, the leaves also contain phenolic compounds (caffeic and hydroxycinnamic acid esters).

Some plants produce considerably more scopolamine than others (Hérouart et al. 1988). This fact helps explain some of the difficulties in determining dosages.



The effects of Datura innoxia—and in fact of all Datura species—are heavily dependent upon dosage and can vary greatly depending upon the method of application (Weil 1977). The Indian division into three stages has particular relevance here: A mild dosage produces medicinal and healing effects, a moderate dosage produces aphrodisiac effects, and high dosages are used for shamanic purposes.

The effects of four leaves smoked together by one couple appear to be typical for Datura innoxia:


The skin acquired an unimagined sensitivity. A simple, light caress became a tender, fulfilling experience. The blood collected in our lower abdomens so quickly that it demanded we join. The normal sexual functions were extremely heightened. Every form of erotic exchange and sexual activity had a special deliciousness. The time to orgasm was much longer, and the orgasm itself appeared to last for minutes. During the phase of sexual activity, we were both pleasantly free of thoughts, uninhibited, and very much focused on the moment. The effects lasted the entire night, so that there were many couplings. The next morning, after a short sleep with erotic dreams (!), we awoke with a clear consciousness, a very pleasurable warm sensation in the body, a still overly senstive skin, and a dry throat. (Rätsch and Probst 1985, 1139)


Shamanic dosages induce profound visions, strong hallucinations, and delirium. As with those produced by Brugmansia suaveolens, the hallucinations can have a metaphysical character or can be quite banal.

Overdoses can begin with initial excitation, the urge to dance, frenzy, and fits of laughter before leading to acute hallucinosis and finally to death through respiratory paralysis (Siegel 1981*). In Mexico, peyote (Lophophora williamsii) is used as an antidote for toloache overdose (Nadler 1991, 95*).

“This person is going to drink you. Give him a good life.


Show him what he wants to know.”






Commercial Forms and Regulations


In Mexico, various preparations allegedly made from toloache (such as magical juices and powders) are sold at the brujería markets. Chemical analysis of one legítimo polvo de toloache (“legitimate toloache powder”) revealed that the sample did not contain any alkaloids and therefore could not consist of Datura (Hasler 1996).

In Europe, potted plants and seeds are available at nurseries without restriction. Pharmaceutical preparations of Datura are made almost exclusively from Datura stramonium or Datura metel (see there.)


These Shoshone petroglyphs from Wyoming show the visions that are obtained under the influence of Datura innoxia. (From Camilla 1995)



These Indian incense vessels clearly resemble thorn apple fruits. (From Camilla 1995)




See also the entries for Datura discolorDatura stramoniumDatura wrightii, and tropane alkaloids.


Abel, Friedrich. 1983. Nur der Adler sprach zu mir. Bern: Scherz.


Anon. 1974. Navajo witchcraft. El Palacio 80 (2): 38–43.


Basey, Keith, and Jack G. Woolley. 1973. Biosynthesis of the tigloyl esters in Datura: The role of 2-methylbutyric acid. Phytochemistry 12:2197–2201.


Boitel-Conti, M., E. Gontier, J. C. Laberche, C. Ducrocq, and B. S. Sangwan-Norreel. 1995. Permeabilization of Datura innoxia hairy roots for release of stored tropane alkaloids. Planta Medica 61:287–90.


Brugge, David M. 1982. Western Navajo ethnobotanical notes. In Navajo Religion and Culture, ed. D. M. Brugge and Ch. J. Frisbie, 89–97. Santa Fe: Museum of New Mexico Press.


Castro, Jan Garden. 1985. The art and life of Georgia O’Keeffe. New York: Crown Publishers.


Devine, Mary Virginia. 1982. Brujería: A study of Mexican-American folk-magic. St. Paul, Minn.: Llewellyn Publications.


Evans, W. C., and M. Wellendorf. 1959. The alkaloids of the roots of DaturaJournal of the Chemical Society 59:1406–9.


Ewan, Joseph. 1944. Taxonomic history of the perennial southwestern Datura meteloidesRhodora 46 (549): 317–23.


Furst, Peter T., and Jill L. Furst. 1982. North American Indian art. New York: Rizzoli.


Gerlach, George H. 1948. Datura innoxia, a potential commercial source of scopolamine. Economic Botany 2:436–54.


Gontier, E., M. A. Fliniaux, J. N. Barbotin, and B. S. Sangwan-Norreel. 1993. Tropane alkaloid levels in the leaves of micropropagated Datura innoxia plants. Planta Medica 59:432–35.


Haile, Father Berard. 1940. A note on the Navaho visionary. American Anthropologist n.s. 42:359


———. 1978. Love-magic and butterfly people: The Slim Curly version of the ajilee and Mothway myths. Flagstaff: Museum of Northern Arizona Press.


Hasler, Felix. 1996. Analytisch-chemische Untersuchung von “Toloache-Pulver.” Unpublished laboratory report, Bern.


Hérouart, D., R. S. Sangwan, M. A. Fliniaux, and B. S. Sangwan-Norreel. 1988. Variations in the leaf alkaloid content of androgenic diploid plants of Datura innoxiaPlanta Medica 54:14–17.


Hill, W. W. 1938. Navajo use of jimson weed. New Mexico Anthropologist 3 (2): 19–21.


Hiraoka, N., M. Tabata, and M. Konoshima. 1973. Formation of acetyltropine in Datura callus cultures. Phytochemistry 12:795–99.


Ionkova, Iliana, L. Witte, and A. W. Alfermann. 1989. Production of alkaloids by transformed root cultures of Datura innoxiaPlanta Medica 55:229–30.


Kan, Michael, Clement Meighan, and H. B. Nicholson. 1989. Sculpture of ancient West Mexico. Los Angeles: County Museum of Art.


Kennedy, Alison Bailey, and Christian Rätsch. 1985. Datura: Aphrodisiac? High Frontiers 2:20, 25.


Kluckhohn, Clyde. 1967. Navaho witchcraft. Boston: Beacon Press.


Leete, Edward. 1973. Biosynthetic conversion of αmethylbutyric acid to tiglic acid in Datura meteloidesPhytochemistry 12:2203–5.


Litzinger, William. 1981. Ceramic evidence for prehistoric Datura use in North America. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 4:57–74.


———. 1994. Yucateco and Lacandon Maya knowledge of Datura (Solanaceae). Journal of Ethnopharmacology 42:133–34.


Luckert, Karl W. 1978. A Navajo bringing-home ceremony: The Claus Chee Sonny version of Deerway Ajilee. Flagstaff: Museum of Northern Arizona Press.


Mino, Yoshiki. 1994. Identical amino acid sequence of ferredoxin from Datura metel and D. innoxiaPhytochemistry 35 (2): 385–87.


Müller-Ebeling, Claudia, and Christian Rätsch. 2003. Kürbisblüten oder Stechäpfel: Die Entschlüsselung eines indianischen Symbols. In Stechapfel und Englestrompete, ed. Markus Berger, 99–107. Solothurn: Nachtschatten Verlag.


Patterson, Alex. 1992. Rock art symbols of the greater Southwest. Boulder, Colo.: Johnson Books.


Rätsch, Christian. 1988. Tarot und die Maya. Ethnologia Americana 24 (1), Nr. 112:1188–90.


Rätsch, Christian, and Heinz Jürgen Probst. 1985. Xtohk’uh: Zur Ethnobotanik der Datura-Arten bei den Maya in Yucatan. Ethnologia Americana 21 (2), Nr. 109:1137–40.


Simmons, Marc. 1980. Witchcraft in the Southwest: Spanish and Indian supernaturalism on the Rio Grande. Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press (Bison Book).


Stevenson, Matilda Coxe. 1915. Ethnobotany of the Zuñi Indians [of the Extreme Western Part of New Mexico]. Bureau of American Ethnology to the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, Thirtieth Annual Report, 1908–1909.


Tierney, Gail D. 1974. Botany and witchcraft. El Palacio 80 (2): 44–50.


Weil, Andrew. 1977. Some notes on DaturaJournal of Psychedelic Drugs 9 (2): 165–69.


Yarnell, R. A. 1959. Evidence for prehistoric use of DaturaEl Palacio 66:176–78.


Datura metel Linnaeus


Indian Thorn Apple



This early illustration of the Indian thorn apple (Datura metel) is botanically quite accurate. (Woodcut from Garcia da Orta)




Solanaceae (Nightshade Family); Subfamily Solanoideae, Datureae Tribe, Dutra Section

Forms and Subspecies


Because of the considerable variation within this Datura species, numerous forms, varieties, and subspecies have been described, and the taxonomy is confusing (Avery 1959). White-flowering varieties are now usually referred to as Datura metel var. alba, and violet-blooming varieties as Datura metel var. fastuosa. There also are a number of cultivars: Datura metel cv. Fastuosa (double violet flowers), cv. Chlorantha (yellow double trumpets), cv. Coerulea (blue flowers), cv. Atrocarmina, cv. Lilacina, cv. Violace (violet flowers), cv. Alboplena, cv. Flavaplena, et cetera. Datura metel L. f. pleniflora Degener has triple yellow flowers.



Brugmansia waymannii Paxton

Datura alba Eisenb.

Datura alba Nees

Datura bojeri Raffeneau-Delile

Datura cathaginensis Hort. ex Siebert et Voss

Datura chlorantha Hook.

Datura cornucopaea Hort. ex W.W.

Datura dubia Pers.

Datura fastuosa L.

Datura fastuosa L. var. δ alba Bernh.

Datura fastuosa L. var. flaviflora Schulz (yellow blooming)

Datura fastuosa L. var. α glabra Bernh.

Datura fastuosa L. var. β parviflora Nees

Datura fastuosa L. var. γ rubra Bernh.

Datura fastuosa L. var. β tuberculosa Bernh.

Datura huberiana Hort.

Datura humilis Desfontaines

Datura hummatu Bernh.

Datura indica nom. nud.

Datura muricata Bernh.

Datura nigra Rumph. in Hasskarl.

Datura nilhummatu Dunal

Datura pubescens Roques

Datura timoriensis Zipp. ex Spanoghe

Stramonium fastuosa (L.) Moench

Folk Names


Arhi-aba-misang, bunjdeshtee (Persian), chosen-asagau (Japanese, “Korean morning beauty”), da dhu ra (Tibetan), datula, datur-a (Mongolian), datura (Sanskrit), datura engletrompet (Danish), datura indica, datura kachubong, devil’s trumpet flower of Ceylon, dhatra (Santali), dhattûra (Sanskrit), dhatura (Sanskrit, “heterogeneous”), dhatûrâ, dhatur-ma, dhaturo, dhétoora (Hindi), dhustura, dhustûra, dhutro (Bengali), dhutura (Bengali), dootura, dornäpfel, dotter (Dutch), doutro, doutry, dutra, dutro, dutroa, dutro banguini, engelstrompete, engletrompet, ganga bang, gelber stechapfel, goozgiah (Persian), hearbe dutroa, Hindu datura, hummatoo, indischer stechapfel, insane herb, jous-mathel (Arabic), jowz massel, kachubong (Philippines), kala dahtoora, kala dhutura (Hindi, “black datura”), kalu antenna, kalu attana, karoo omatay (Tamil), kechu-bong, kechubong hitam (“black datura”), kechubong puteh (“white datura”), kechu-booh (Egyptian), kechubung (Malayan), kecubong (Bali), keppate jad, krishna dhattura, man-t’o-lo (Chinese),118 menj (Arabic/Yemen), metelapfel, metelnuß, mnanaha (Swahili), mondzo (Tsonga), nao-yang-hua (Chinese), neura, neurada, ñongué morado, nucem metellam arabum, nulla oomantie, nux metel, nux-methal, paracoculi, pig-ble, rauchapfel, rauchöpfel, rotecubung, shan-ch’iehêrh (Chinese), Shiva’s plant, stechöpfel, stramonia, talamponay, takbibug, tatorah (Arabic), thang-phrom dkar-po (Tibetan), thorn apple, umana, unmata (Sanskrit, “divine inebriation”), unmeta, violettblauer stechapfel, violettblaue engelstrompete



The Indian thorn apple was first mentioned in Sanskrit literature (Vamana Purana, Garuda Purana). The Arabic physician Avicenna (Ali al-Husayn Abd Allah Ibn Sina, 980–1037) discussed its medicinal use and the importance of dosage among the Arabs, who classified the plant as one of the so-called mokederrat, the narcotica (Avery 1959, 3). This thorn apple also appears in very ancient Tibetan and Mongolian texts, the existence of which demonstrates that Datura metel was indigenous to Asia prior to the fifteenth century (Siklós 1993, 1996). It is not known when this thorn apple spread into Africa. Today, Datura metel is still a psychoactive plant of great ethnopharmacological significance, especially in India, Southeast Asia, and Africa.



This species most likely originated in northern India but then spread quickly throughout Southeast Asia. It is now found in the Philippines, in Indonesia, and on the islands of the Indian Ocean (Seychelles, Mauritius, etc.). It presumably spread into Africa and the New World (Central and South America, the Caribbean) through human activity.



Propagation is performed with seeds (cf. Datura discolor). It is best to soak the seeds overnight before sowing. The next morning, they should be pressed 1 to 2 cm deep into sandy, humus-rich seedling soil and lightly covered. Do not allow the soil to dry out. The time to germination is fourteen to thirty-five days. In central Europe, the seeds should be sown (in the open) between April and July, preferably in June. The plant is sensitive to frost but can be trimmed back in late fall and allowed to overwinter in the cellar. With a little luck, the plant will develop shoots again the following spring.

Datura metel is cultivated commercially as a source of alkaloids (scopolamine) chiefly in subtropical and tropical regions throughout the world (especially in India and Africa).



Datura metel is an annual or biennial plant that has an herbaceous, bushy appearance. It can grow to more than 2 meters in height and develops numerous branches. The soft leaves are light to dull green in color and have a slightly serrated margin. The plant has smooth, violet or dark purple stalks. The funnel-shaped flowers, which can be white, violet, or yellow (depending on the variety, subspecies, or cultivar), point upward at an angle. They open in the evening, exude a pleasant scent during the night, and then wither over the course of the next day or two. Datura metel often produces filled double or triple flowers. The variety fastuosa frequently develops violet double flowers. In the tropics, the plant will blossom throughout the year. In central Europe, the flowering period is from June to October.

The fruit, which hangs upward at an angle, has a few short thorns that are often only roundish bumps. The kidney-shaped seeds are yellow ocher and almost identical to those of Datura innoxia and Datura wrightii.

Datura metel, especially the variety alba, is very easily confused with Datura innoxia. It is sometimes even mistaken for certain forms of Datura stramonium.

Psychoactive Material





—Flowers (these are used in Chinese medicine, where they are known as yang jin hua; Lu 1986, 82*)


Because the alkaloid content of the entire plant increases until the plant reaches the end of its reproductive phase, the raw drug is best collected during or after the end of fruit development (Afsharypuor et al. 1995).

Preparation and Dosage


A narcotic or inebriating drink is prepared by adding equal parts of Datura metel seeds and/or leaves and hemp (Cannabis sativa) flowers to wine (Perry and Metzger 1980, 392*). In Asia, the leaves are often taken together with wine or sake (Penzer 1924, 160). Thorn apple seeds are used to fortify rokshi (barley spirits; see alcohol) in Darjeeling and Sikkim. The seeds are also used in betel quids.

A unique method for preparing the plant was discovered in East India. Here, women feed datura leaves to a certain type of beetle (the exact species is unfortunately unknown) for a period of time and collect the beetle’s excrement. They then mix this into an unfaithful husband’s food for revenge. Overall, there are a number of traditional preparations in India:


India has zones of datura use. For example, Bengal. The particularly passionate smoke Cannabis indica, ganjah, with two or three thorn apple seeds or a quantity of leaves as additives. In order to potentiate and alter the effects of alcoholic drinks upon the brain, they soften seeds in the drink, filter this, and mix it with palm wine. This is done, e.g., in Madras province. Or, as in Bombay, they allow the smoke of roasted seeds to come into contact with an alcoholic beverage for a night. It is certain that active components of the plant volatize in this way, and they can then be absorbed by the alcohol. (Lewin 1980 [orig. pub. 1929], 181*)



The flowers of the Asian Datura metel (= Datura alba) point upward.



Datura metel is recognized primarily by its fruits, which have few thorns and hang at an angle, and by its smooth, violet stems. (Photographed in Uttar Pradesh, India)



Datura metel var. fastuosa, common in northern India, has violet-tinged flower margins and smooth stems. (Photographed in Uttar Pradesh, India)



This cultivated form of Datura metel var. fastuosa produces double flowers.



Datura metel f. pleniflora develops filled yellow flowers (triple trumpet).


The dried leaves (or less often the flowers and seeds) are an important ingredient of tantric smoking blends (cf. Aconitum ferox). A mixture of equal parts of Datura metel leaves and hemp (Cannabis indica) flowers is particularly esteemed for its inebriating and aphrodisiac effects. The seeds are also added to magical or psychoactive incenses. In Malaysia, the seeds are mixed with aloe wood (Aquilaria agallocha), cat’s eye resin (from Balanocarpus maximus King; Dipterocarpaceae), or leban resin (from Vitex pubescens Vahl.; Verbenaceae) and burned as an inebriating incense (Gimlette 1981, 216*).

In Malaysia, a hallucinogenic paste is mixed from opium (cf. Papaver somniferum), Datura seeds, the green shoots of a wild yam species known as gadong (Dioscorea triphylla Lam.; cf. Dioscorea composita), and the green inner bark of Glycosmis citrifolia (Rutaceae) (Gimlette 1981, 220*).

The seeds are a main ingredient of Oriental joy pills and other similar aphrodisiacs. In Burma (Myanmar), the seeds are added to curries to increase their aphrodisiac effects (Perry and Metzger 1980, 391*). In Oceania, they are added to kava drinks to potentiate their inebriating effects (see Piper methysticum). On Java, the thorn apple is prepared as an inebriant in the following manner: Fully grown, ripe, but still unopened fruits are collected and opened. The seeds are dried in the sun and then ground. They then may be mixed with tobacco (Indonesian tobacco [Nicotiana tabacum] perfumed with clove oil) or rolled into a tobacco leaf and smoked. In Japan as well, dried leaves were once smoked together with tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum) (Lewin 1980 [orig. pub. 1929], 181*).


Datura metel var. alba, depicted in an early Japanese woodcut from Siinuma Yokusai


On Mactan Island (off the coast of Cebu, in the Philippines), young flowers that have not yet unfurled are plucked and dipped briefly in boiling water. They are then laid out in the sun to dry. The dried flowers are crumbled, rolled in a cigarette paper, and smoked. The effects are said to be similar to those of marijuana, but stronger.

The homeopathic mother tincture is produced from ripe seeds with 90% ethyl alcohol (medicinal content of the tincture 1/10).

In Malaysia, fifty seeds taken internally is regarded as a hallucinogenic or (when used for criminal purposes) deliriant dosage (Gimlette 1981, 214*). One hundred seeds (= 1 g) can produce dangerous states and toxic effects. In India, 125 seeds have been reported to be lethal (Gimlette 1981, 217*).

Ritual Use


According to the Vamana Purana, the thorn apple grew from the chest of the Hindu god Shiva, the lord of inebriants (cf. Cannabis indica). In the Garuda Purana, it is said that Datura flowers should be offered to the god Yogashwara (= Shiva) on the thirteenth day of the waxing moon in January (Mehra 1979, 63f.). In Nepal, where Datura is usually known as dha-tur-ma, the plant is considered to be sacred to Shiva. Dhatur is interpreted as another name for Shiva; ma means “plant.” Thorn apple flowers and fruits are among the most important offering gifts of the Newari of Nepal. At every family puja(devotional service or offering ceremony), Shiva is first offered Datura fruits in order to please him. In Varanasi, Shiva’s sacred city, metel fruits and rose flowers are made into sacrifical garlands (malas) for the god of inebriation and sold to pilgrims and devotees at the entryways to his temples. These Daturachains are then devoutly placed around the lingam, the deity’s phallic-shaped image, as fresh flowers are tossed over it (cf. “Artifacts”). The lingam is normally placed in a yoni, the cosmic vulva. Fresh metel fruits are placed into it as offerings.

In Uttar Pradesh (northern India), it is common knowledge that Datura metel can be used for inebriating purposes. Smoking the plant is regarded as pleasurable and not dangerous, whereas eating or drinking it is considered dangerous and is generally avoided. Yogis and sadhus in particular smoke thorn apple leaves or seeds together with hemp (Cannabis indica) and other herbs (Aconitum feroxNicotiana tabacum).

In Tibet and Mongolia, this thorn apple is used as an incense in secret Vajramabhairava Tantra rituals intended to transform wealth into poverty and to dispel certain spirits or energies. The fruits or seeds are used to induce insanity (Siklós 1995, 252).

In China, the white-blossomed Datura metel var. alba was considered to be sacred because it was believed that shimmering dew drops had rained from the heavens onto its flowers while the Buddha was giving a sermon. The Chinese Buddhists called it man-t’o-lo, after a non-translatable passage from a sutra named man t’o lo hua. In ancient China, it apparently was popular to steep the aromatic flowers in wine or sake before consumption. In the sixteenth-century Pen tsao kang mu, Li Shih-chên wrote of the plant’s properties:


Tradition has it that if someone laughs while the flowers are being plucked for use with wine, the wine will evoke laughter in all who drink it. If the flowers are picked while someone is dancing, the wine will induce dancing.


It is possible that this information may be referring to an ancient shamanic ritual.

The Igorot, a Malayan tribal people of Luzon (Philippines), boil the leaves to make an inebriating soup that is eaten communally in a ritual circle.

In Africa, Datura metel is used for criminal telepathy and in initiations. The seeds are also used to poison victims so they can be robbed. The toxic and hallucinogenic properties of the plant are well known in East Africa. Seeds are added to the locally brewed beer to potentiate its effects (Weiss 1979, 49).

In Tsongaland, which stretches from Mozambique to the Transvaal, Datura metel var. fastuosa is utilized as a hallucinogenic ritual drug (mondzo) in the initiation of girls into women (similar to the use of Datura wrightii in the initiation of boys). At their initiation, the girls are painted with red ocher (a symbol of menstrual blood). One after another, they are made to lie down in a fetal position on a mat made from palm fronds while the others dance around them holding on to their hips. Special songs are sung. Afterward, the initiates are tied to a tree (Euphorbia cooperi N.E. Br.). Others beat the tree with a stick until white latex (a symbol of spermatozoa) issues from its bark.

The next stage is a water ritual, through which the initiates are cleansed and are supposed to cast aside their childish past. Before they ingest the thorn apple, the girls are required to stretch an animal skin over a vessel of water. Older women perforate the skin with sticks and stir the water. Following this symbolic defloration, a “school-mother” covered entirely in Datura leaves, toad skins, and dog teeth bursts out from the bushes. The initiates are covered in blankets and laid onto palm mats as rhythmic drumming prepares them to receive the Datura drink. The schoolmother approaches the initiates, spits upon them, and tells them repeatedly that they will soon hear the voice of the fertility god. She then places cubes of clay, from which pieces of straw protrude, between the girls’ legs (the girls’ pubic hair is shaved off prior to the ceremony). The clay cubes symbolize the fact that when the pubic hair regrows, it will belong to a woman, not a girl. Then the thorn apple drink is carried around in a ceremonial seashell. It is made by boiling the herbage in water and is said to contain human fat or powdered human bones as well. The schoolmother holds the drink in her hands and sings, “We dig up the medicinal plants that are known to all. Take the medicine, about which you have already heard so much!” Now the initiates drink and listen for the voice of the fertility god. They experience certain visions that are shaped and channeled by means of music and song. At the end of the initiation, the girls are freed from their coverings, dressed in new clothes, and adorned with ornaments. Finally, they dance and sing. The young women are now able to marry (Johnston 1972).



Datura metel flowers are sometimes depicted in Hindu/tantric art, usually in connection with images of Shiva in his various forms. One famous eighteenth-century painting shows a lingam-yoni statue (= the cosmic union of phallus and vulva) upon which a thorn apple flower has been placed in offering (Mookerjee 1971, 49). The plant is also represented on Tibetan medicine thangkas (Aris 1992, 67*). In the Kathmandu Valley, thangkas and statues show Unmata Bhairab, the “divinely inebriated thorn apple Bhairab” (a special tantric form of Shiva), standing straight up.

Hans Simon Holtzbecker, a flower painter from Hamburg, painted a masterful portrait of the plant for the Gottorfer Codex (ca. 1650) (de Cuveland 1989, table 50*).

Numerous Oriental fairy tales mention the inebriating and aphrodisiac properties of the plant (Penzer 1924, 158–62). E. T. A. Hoffmann (1776– 1822) wrote a story, “Datura fastuosa (Der schöne Stechapfel)” [The Beautiful Thorn Apple], in which he romantically describes the psychoactive effects of the plant’s scent (Hoffmann 1967, 329–80).

In Tsongaland, special music as well as Datura fastuosa songs are used during initiations to control the visionary state (Johnston 1975). One techno-pop band, Datura, has even taken its name from the thorn apple.

“The [metel] seeds are a forbidden article among the Dutch, both in India and in Holland, inasmuch as the beer brewers use it to fortify their weak beer, and the brandy distillers do the same; but when they use a bit too much of it, it makes the people who drink of it senseless for a time, or it weakens their reason, so that they imagine some wondrous and almost laughable things, depending upon how their humors are inclined, as for example that one would be a great lord, king, or prince, or another that he wants to swim in the water, even though he is lying in a bed or is in the room, while another has foolish fantasies. Some misuse this datura to force the favors of the fairer sex, although with some this grave thing would not require such force, but when you drink a little warm milk, it is soon over, otherwise it is in 4 degrees of cold nature, it robs a person of sense and reason, and before this of the sense of feeling, because it induces a heavy sleep, blinds the vision, makes the head silly, as if drunken, so that he would pluck at his own clothes and limbs like a born idiot, and would make comical gestures like an Indian monkey when you spread Urtica Indiaca over his claws.”






(1677, CH. 9, 31*)


“The smoke apples are also an exotic growth / recently come to us from the Oriental lands / it is now grown in many gardens / more for fun / than for usefulness or use / for it is beautiful and amusing to look upon / especially when it is flowering and bearing fruits.”





Traditional representation of Datura metel on a Tibetan medicine thangka (close-up)


“Not very far from the gate there bloomed a Datura fastuosa (beautiful thorn apple), with its wonderfully scented, large, funnel-shaped flowers in such splendid magnificence, that Eugenius thought with shame about the wretched appearance that the same plant displayed in his own garden. . . . There floated, as if borne by the evening airs, the sweet accords of an unknown instrument from the remote magical bushes, and the wondrous heavenly tones of a woman’s voice ascended luminously.—It was one of those melodies that can spring only from the deepest breast of the fires of love of the south; it was a Spanish romance that the hidden one sang.”






(1967, 358)


Medicinal Use


There is evidence that Datura metel seeds have been used in Indian folk medicine as well as Ayurveda since a very early date. In the Ayurvedic system, preparations of Datura are used to treat numerous illnesses and ailments: headaches, mumps, chicken pox, furuncles, wounds that will not heal, pains of all types, rheumatism, muscle tension, nervous disorders, spasms, convulsions, epilepsy, insanity, syphilis and other venereal diseases, asthma, bronchitis, and overdoses of opium (see Papaver somniferum). The seeds were even once used as a substitute for opium (see morphine).

In the Indian medical system known as Unani, which was shaped substantially by Avicenna and is still practiced today (Chishti 1988), Datura metel was and is used in similar or identical manners to its use in the Ayurvedic system.

In the Indian folk medicine of the Santal, thorn apple is administered as a remedy for a large number of illnesses: headaches, otitis, wounds, mumps, pain, dropsy, insanity, rheumatism, muscle tension, epilepsy, spasms, delirium febris, pimples, smallpox, syphilis, venereal diseases, and orchitis (Jain and Tarafder 1970, 251). In Karnataka, crushed fresh leaves are applied externally to treat mumps. An infusion is applied externally to treat scorpion stings. Thorn apple is mixed with the leaves of Solanum nigrum (see Solanum spp.) and Erythrina variegata L. (see Erythrina spp.) to make a tonic (Bhardary et al. 1995, 155f.*). In Uttar Pradesh (northern India), a paste obtained from the seeds is used to treat parasitic skin diseases (Siddiqui et al. 1989, 484*). Powdered seeds are ingested together with dried seedlings of Cannabis sativa, roots of Laportea crenulata, and roots of ginger (Zingiber officinale) and used as a remedy for pain and cramping (Jain and Borthakur 1986, 579*).


A woodcut depicting the thorn or metel apple. (From the herbal of Hieronymus Bock, 1577)


In Java, the seeds are placed onto teeth, inserted into cavities, or chewed lightly to relieve dental pain. Datura metel var. alba is also used for numerous purposes in traditional Chinese medicine. Mixed with wine (see Vitis vinifera) and hemp (see Cannabis indica), it is used as a narcotic. The flowers and seeds are used to treat skin eruptions and other skin diseases, colds, and nervous disorders.

Datura metel is used to treat asthma in all the regions of the world in which it occurs (Perry and Metzger 1980, 391*; Baker 1995*). In East Africa, dried leaves are either smoked in the form of cigars or burned in incense vessels and inhaled for this purpose (Weiss 1979, 49). In the Philippines, the fresh herbage is placed in an open fire so that asthmatics can inhale the resulting smoke (cf. incense). In Europe, this species of Datura quickly became known as a medicinal plant under the name rauchapfel (“smoking apple”) because its leaves can be smoked to treat asthma.



All forms and varieties of Datura metel contain potently hallucinogenic tropane alkaloids (Afsharypuor et al. 1995). Of all the thorn apple species, Datura metel contains the highest concentrations of scopolamine. Also present are hyoscyamine, atropine, meteloidine, norscopolamine, norhyoscyamine, hydroxy-6-hyoscyamine, and datumetine. The entire plant also contains with-anolides: daturiline, withameteline, daturilinole, secowithameteline, and various daturametelines (Lindequist 1992, 1142*).

The leaves have been found to contain 0.5% alkaloids, the flowers 0.1 to 0.8%, the fruits 0.12%, the roots 0.1 to 0.2 %, and the seeds 0.2 to 0.5% (Lindequist 1992, 1142*).



The effects of Datura metel are essentially the same as those of Datura innoxia (see there). However, some of what is known indicates that the former can produce effects specific to the species. For example, smoking blends made with Datura metel seeds and tobacco (with clove oil) have cheering effects and produce a sleep with lively dreams.

In Tsongaland, the hallucinogenic effects are controlled by music, resulting in auditory hallucinations and synesthetic perceptions in which the music is perceived as colors and stereotypical patterns. The contents of these visions include blue-green patterns, green snakes or worms, whirlpools, and sandbanks. The snakes are interpreted as ancestral gods and the auditory hallucinations as the spoken messages of the fertility god (Johnston 1977).

Overdoses will usually result in a delirious state that sometimes can last for days, after which little or nothing can be recalled. Thieves, criminals, and bands of robbers (e.g., the Thuggs) make use of this property when they wish to sedate their victims and rob or rape them without disturbance (Gimlette 1981, 204 ff.*).

In Southeast Asia, licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra L.) is a recommended antidote for overly strong doses of Datura metel (Perry and Metzger 1980, 392*).

Commercial Forms and Regulations


The seeds and potted plants of all cultivars, forms, varieties, and subspecies are freely available. In Germany, preparations of the homeopathic mother tincture (Datura metel hom. HAB34) and various dilutions are available from pharmacies (Lindequist 1992, 1142*). The mother tincture as well as dilutions to D3 require a prescription (cf. Datura stramonium).


The South American thorn apple (Datura stramonium ssp. ferox) is usually called chamico or miyaya. (Photographed in Ecuador)




See also the entries for the other Datura species.


Afsharypuor, Suleiman, Akbar Mostajeran, and Rasool Mokhtary. 1995. Variation of scopolamine and atropine in different parts of Datura metel during development. Planta Medica 61:383–86.


Avery, A. G. 1959. Historical review. In Blakeslee—the genus Datura, ed. A. G. Avery, 3–15. New York: Ronald Press.


Chishti, Hakim G. M. 1988. The traditional healer: A comprehensive guide to the principles and practice of Unani herbal medicine. Rochester, Vt.: Healing Arts Press.


Hoffmann, E. T. A. 1967. Meister Floh und letzte Erzählungen. Vol. 4 of the collected works. Frankfurt/M.: Insel.


Jain, S. K., and C. R. Tarafder. 1970. Medicinal plant lore of the Santals. Economic Botany 24 (3): 241–78.


Johnston, Thomas F. 1972. Datura fastuosa: Its use in Tsonga girls’ initiation. Economic Botany 26:340–51.


———. 1975. Power and prestige through music in Tsongaland. Human Relations 27 (3): 235–46.


———. 1977. Auditory driving, hallucinogens and music-color synesthesia in Tsonga ritual. In Drugs, rituals and altered states of consciousness, ed. B. M. du Toit, 217–36. Amsterdam: Balkema Press.


Mookerjee, Ajit. 1971. Tantra Asana—Ein Weg zur Selbstverwirklichung. Basel: Basilius Press.


Penzer, N. M. 1924. The ocean of story. London: Sawyer.


Siklós, Bulcsu. 1993. Datura rituals in the Vajramahabhairava-Tantra. Curare 16:1–76, 190 (addendum).


———. 1995. Flora and fauna in the Vajramahabhairava-Tantra. Yearbook for ethnomedicine and the study of consciousness, 1994 (3): 243–66. Berlin: VWB.


———. 1996. The Vajrabhairava Tantras: Tibetan and Mongolian versions, English translation and annotations. Vol. 6 of Buddhica Britannica. Trink, U.K.: The Institute of Buddhist Studies.


Weiss, E. A. 1979. Some indigenous plants used domestically by East African coastal fishermen. Economic Botany 33 (1): 35–51.



These seeds, although of different colors, all came from the same Datura stramonium ssp. ferox fruit. (Photograph: Karl-Christian Lyncker)



The black seeds of Datura quercifolia are comparatively large in size. (Photograph: Karl-Christian Lyncker)



The light-colored seeds of Datura metel. (Photograph: Karl-Christian Lyncker)



The seeds of Datura metel var. fastuosa are very difficult to distinguish from those of the variety metel. (Photograph: Karl-Christian Lyncker)


Datura stramonium Linnaeus


Common Thorn Apple




Solanaceae (Nightshade Family); Subfamily Solanoideae, Datureae Tribe, Stramonium Section

Forms and Subspecies


This diverse species is now divided into four varieties:



The stigma of the common thorn apple (Datura stramonium), shown here enlarged and covered with pollen, resembles a phallus. Is this an indication of the aphrodisiac effects of the plant? (From Louis Figuier, The Vegetable World, London 1869)


Datura stramonium L. var. godronii Danert [syn. Datura inermis] has thornless fruits and light violet flowers.

Datura stramonium L. var. inermis (Juss. ex Jacq.) Timm. has smooth fruits, white flowers, and green stalks.

Datura stramonium L. var. tatula Torr. has thorny fruits, violet flowers, and violet-tinged shoots, leaf stalks, and leaf veins. The karyotype of Datura stramonium L. var. tatula Torr. is almost identical to that of Datura wrightii(Spurná et al. 1981).

Datura stramonium L. var. stramonium Off. has thorny fruits, white flowers, and green shoots.


The following varieties were described at an earlier date:


Datura stramonium L. var. β canescens Wallich in Roxburgh

Datura stramonium L. var. β chalybea Koch


The following subspecies are also accepted today:


Datura stramonium L. ssp. ferox (L.) Barclay (Franquemont et al. 1990, 99*), which is probably from South America and not from China

Datura stramonium L. ssp. quercifolia (H.B.K.) Bye

Datura stramonium L. ssp.[or var.] villosa (Fern.) Saff.



Datura bernhardii Lundström

Datura bertolonii Parl. ex Guss.

Datura capensis Hort. ex Bernhardi

Datura ferox L. (Estramonia de la Chino)

Datura inermis Jacq.

Datura laevis L. f.

Datura loricata Sieber

Datura lurida Salisb.

Datura parviflora Salisb.

Datura peregrinum

Datura pseudo-stramonium Sieber

Datura quercifolia H.B.K.

Datura spinosum Lam.

Datura tatula L.

Datura villosa Fernarld

Datura wallichii Dunal

Stramonium ferox Boccone

Stramonium foetidum Scopoli

Stramonium spinosum Lam.

Stramonium vulgare Moench

Stramonium vulgatum Gaertner

Folk Names


Ama:ymustak, ama:y’uhc (Mixe, “dangerous plant”), aña panku (Quechua), apple of Peru, arhiaba, asthmakraut, atafaris, attana, azacapanyxhuatlazol-patli (Nahuatl), chamaka, chamico (Quechua), chasse-taupe, chililiceño tapat (corruption of tlapatl), cojón del diablo, common thorn apple, concombre à chien, concombre zombi (Caribic, “zombie cucumber”), devil’s apple, devil’s trumpet, dhatura, donnerkugel, doornappel (Dutch), dornapfel, dornkraut, dutry, el-rita (Morocco), endormeuse, estramonio, fêngch’ieh-êrh (Chinese), gemeiner stechapfel, héhe caroocot (Seri, “plant that makes crazy”), herbe aux sorciers (French, “sorcery plant”), herbe de taupes, hierba del diablo (“plant of the devil”), hierba hedionda (“stinking plant”),119 hierba inca (“Inca plant”), higuera loca (“crazy fig”), igelkolben, ix telez ku, Jamestown weed, jimsonweed, jimson weed, jouj macel (Arabic), khishqa khishqa (Quechua, “very thorny”), kieli-sa (Huichol, “bad kieli”), kratzkraut, manzana del diablo (“apple of the devil”), manzana espinosa (“thorny apple”), matul (Tzeltal), mehen xtohk’u’u (Mayan, “little plant in the direction of the gods”), menj (Arabic/Yemen), mezerbae, mezzettoni, miaia, miaya (Mapuche), mixitl, miyaya, moshobaton tahui (Shipibo), muranha (Swahili), niungué, noce puzza, noce spinosa, ñongué, ñongué morada, papa espinosa (Spanish, “thorny potato”), parbutteeya, patula (Turkish), patura, pomme de diable, pomme épineuse, rurutillo (from the Quechua ruru, “fruit”), santos noches, schlafkraut, schwarzkümmel, semilla de la virgen (“seeds of the virgin”), shinah azqhi, simpson weed, stachelnuß, stachelnüß, stink weed, stramoine, stramoine commune, stramonio, stramonio comune, stramonium, taac-amai’ujts (Mixe), ta:g’amih (Mixe, “grandmother”), tatula (Persian, “to prick”), tc’óxwotjilyáih (Navajo), teufelsapfel, thanab (Huastec), thanab thakni’ (“white thanab”), thangphrom dkar-po (Tibetan), thorn apple, tohk’u (Mayan, “the direction of the gods”), tollkraut,120 toloache, tonco-onco, torescua (Tarascan), tukhmtâtûrâ (Persian), tzitzintlapatl (Aztec, “thorny tlapatl”), weißer stechapfel, wysoccan, xholo (Zapotec), yacu toé, yoshu chosen asago (Japanese, “exotic morning flower”), zigeunerapfel



The origins of this potently hallucinogenic thorn apple species are unknown and have been the subject of considerable botanical debate (Symon 1991, 142*). Some authors have suggested that Datura stramonium is an Old World species from the region of the Caspian Sea, while others maintain that it originated in Mexico. It is less frequently assumed that the species is from the eastern coast of North America (Schultes and Hofmann 1995*). Still other authors believe that the plant is from Eurasia and did not arrive in Mexico until the colonial period (Berlin et al. 1974, 489*).

In the seventeenth century, the plant’s use as an inebriant (“drunk in wine”) was documented in Chile (Hoffmann et al. 1992, 145*). Datura tatula (= Datura stramonium L. var. tatula) has been interpreted as the “lost inebriant” of the Shawnee (Tyler 1992). In 1676, a troop of soldiers in Jamestown, Virginia, was served a salad made from thorn apple leaves by their cook. The soldiers fell into a state of delirium that got out of hand and acted like idiots (see “Effects”). As a result, the plant also became known by the name Jamestown weed, which eventually became jimsonweed. In Mexico, Datura stramonium is generally regarded as a “younger sister” of Datura innoxia, and it is used in the same ways.

The interpretation that Datura stramonium is the plant that Theophrastus and Dioscorides referred to as strychnós manikós is quite uncertain (cf. Dieckhöfer et al. 1971, 432; Marzell 1922, 170*). It is more likely that these ancient descriptions refer to the poison nut (Strychnos nuxvomica). The trance-inducing smoke of Delphi (cf. Hyoscyamus albus) has been attributed to an incense made with Datura stramonium (Lewin 1980 [orig. pub. 1929], 183*).

In the European literature, this and other species of thorn apple (Datura innoxiaDatura metel) were described in all the herbals compiled by the fathers of botany. The first botanically precise illustrations of Datura stramoniumare contained in the herbals of Hieronymus Bock and Pierandrea Matthiolus. It is widely believed that Gypsies brought this thorn apple to Europe (Perger 1864, 183*). Matthiolus wrote that Tatula Strominio altera was an Oriental plant.


The common thorn apple (Datura stramonium) produces small white flowers.




Today, Datura stramonium is commonly found throughout North, Central, and South America; North Africa; central and southern Europe; the Near East; and the Himalayas. The plant is very common on the islands of the Caribbean (Concepción 1993, 554). In the Himalayas (Nepal), the violet-blooming Datura stramonium var. tatula is the most common form. The subspecies ferox grows primarily in Central and South America. In Germany and Switzerland, the common thorn apple has been growing wild (usually in rubbish dumps and on roadsides) since at least the sixteenth century (Lauber and Wagner 1996, 802*). It has also spread into Israel and Greece (Dafni and Yaniv 1994*).



Cultivation occurs in the same manner as with Datura discolor (see there).

The common thorn apple is cultivated commercially for pharmaceutical purposes (as a source of raw drugs and of scopolamine). It has been determined that cultivated thorn apples produce considerably more scopolamine when exposed to intense light (Cosson et al. 1966). In contrast, nitrogenous fertilizers have no effect (Demeyer and Dejaegere 1991). It is likely that alkaloid production in the plant can be stimulated by the addition of sugar (saccharose) (Dupraz et al. 1993).



This annual plant can grow to a height of about 1.2 meters. It produces many forked, bald branches. The margins of the rich green leaves are coarsely serrated. The funnel-shaped, five-pointed flowers grow from the axils and point straight up; in the common form, they are white. This species produces the smallest flowers (6 to 9 cm long) of the Datura species. The egg-shaped green fruits, which are densely covered with short, pointed thorns, are quadripartite and always grow straight up from the axils, a feature which makes it easy to distinguish this species (including all of its varieties and/or subspecies) from the other Datura species. The kidney-shaped, applanate seeds (up to 3.5 mm long) are usually black.

The subspecies ferox, which was previously thought to be a distinct species, bears leaves that are more clearly and more deeply serrated than those of the common form, while its fruits have longer and slightly curved thorns. The seeds are somewhat lighter in color; they can be brown or black (and may occur in different colors in the same fruit). The flowers are pure white.

The variety tatula produces smaller violet flowers. The variety stramonium has many short thorns; the subspecies ferox has only a few long, sometimes slightly curved thorns; the variety quercifolia has even fewer thorns that are somewhat shorter but thicker at the basis. The subspecies villosa (cf. Datura spp.) has very pileous (hairy) branches, stalks, and calyxes.


One of the first European illustrations of the common thorn apple (Datura stramonium), clearly showing the typically upright fruits. (Woodcut from Tabernaemontanus, Neu Vollkommen Kräuter-Buch, 1731)



The upright fruit of Datura stramonium



The fruits of the South American thorn apple (Datura stramonium ssp. ferox) are characterized by their especially long thorns. (Photographed in San Pedro de Atacama, northern Chile)



The fruits of Datura stramonium var. godronii are completely smooth.



Datura stramonium var. tatula is distinguished on the basis of its violet flowers. (Wild plant, photographed in northern California)


Datura stramonium can be confused with small forms of Datura discolorDatura innoxia, and Datura metel.

Pyschoactive Parts


—Leaves (stramonii folium, folia stramonii, stramonium leaves, thorn apple leaves)

—Seeds (stramonii semen, semen stramonii, thorn apple seeds, tollkörner,121 kachola122)


—Roots (radix stramonii, tollwurzel)

Preparation and Dosage


The herbage is harvested shortly after the flowering phase and hung in the shade to dry. It may be smoked alone or in smoking blends with other herbs:


The leaves of Datura stramonium are said to be smoked by the Utahs, the Indians of the Great Salt Lake, as well as the Pima and Maricopa, together with the leaves of Arctostaphylos glauca or alone. (Lewin 1980 [orig. pub. 1929], 183*)


Even into the twentieth century, the herbage was one of the primary ingredients in asthma cigarettes (cf. Cannabis indica). One gram of leaves (alkaloid content = app. 0.25%) is regarded as a therapeutically efficacious dosage for smoking (Lindequist 1992, 1148*). As with all information concerning thorn apple dosages, however, this information should be used with care: “When the drug is administered through inhalation of smoking powders and ‘asthma cigarettes,’ the amount of applied alkaloids is incalculable” (Roth et al. 1994, 291*).

The Huastec, who live on the Gulf Coast of Mexico, make a magical medicine from thorn apple leaves, slaked lime, and chili pods (Capsicum annuum var. annuum; cf. Capsicum spp.) (Alcorn 1984, 93*). In South America, a paste of freshly ground leaves (of the subspecies ferox) and vinegar is prepared for external use (Schultes 1980, 115*). In the Andes region, Datura stramonium (usually the subspecies ferox) is used as an additive to San Pedro drinks (see Trichocereus pachanoi). The thorn apple, which is also known as the zombie cucumber, is an active ingredient in zombie poison.

Four to 5 g of dried leaves contains enough alkaloids to produce fatal results (Lindequist 1992, 1149*), and as little as 0.3 g can be toxic (Roth et al. 1994, 291*). In Morocco, inhaling the smoke of forty seeds that have been strewn over glowing coals is regarded as a hallucinogenic dosage (Vries 1984*). For use in psychoactive incense, see Datura metel.

In homeopathic medicine, thorn apple is also used in composite medicines, e.g., Stramonium Pentarkan, which consists of Datura stramonium, Ignatius beans (cf. Strychnos spp.), calcium phosphate, zinc, and passionflower (Passiflora spp.).

Ritual Use


In Mexico and neighboring regions, the psycho-active use of Datura stramonium is similar to that of Datura innoxia (see there). Among the Huastec, it is said that Datura stramonium leaves can kill witches and sorcerers (brujasand brujos) (Alcorn 1984, 624*). The Yucatec Maya call this plant mehen xtoh-k’uh (“little plant in the direction of the gods”).

The Mixe of Oaxaca (Mexico) believe that Datura stramonium contains a plant spirit in the form of a very old woman. For this reason, one Mixe name for the plant is ta:g’amih, “grandmother” (cf. Datura wrightii). When a portion of the plant is to be harvested, the people make a small offering of three pebbles or a couple of branches. They also speak a prayer:


Grandmother, do us a favor and cure the illness [name of person] is suffering from. Here we pay you, we carry [the plant] to see what illness [she or he] has. We are sure that you will remedy [the illness]. (Lipp 1991, 37*)


The seeds are then swallowed in a ritual context for divination (cf. Datura innoxia)—following the same pattern as the mushroom ritual (see Psilocybe mexicana—in the following dosages: Men take three times nine seeds (= twenty-seven), while women three times seven seeds (= twenty-one). In contrast to mushrooms and ololiuqui (Turbina corymbosa), however, Datura seeds can be ingested during the day (Lipp 1991, 190*).

Although preparations of Datura stramonium (cf. Datura innoxia), e.g., jugo de toloache and polvo de toloache, are sold in Mexican herb stores, such transactions usually occur under the table, as the (Catholic) population believes that this plant was created by the devil (Bye and Linares 1983, 4*).

Chamico, the common South American name for the thorn apple (ssp. ferox), is derived from the Aymara word chamakani, “soothsayer” (Guevara 1972, 160). The plant apparently has had a long tradition as a prophetic and oracular plant (similar to Brugmansia sanguinea). The Mapuche use a psychoactively effective brew made with seeds of Datura stramonium ssp. ferox (miyaya) to treat (mental) illnesses that are produced by the wefukes spirits and to educate their children123 (Munizaga 1960).

In North America, the most significant use of Datura stramonium in ritual contexts is as an ingredient in smoking blends and kinnikinnick, which are used to aid in vision quests. If the interpretation of the term wysoccan as a common name for Datura stramonium is in fact correct, then the Algonquian used the plant as a ritual narcotic.

In Europe, the thorn apple was associated with witches’ rituals and witches’ ointments in the early modern period. In Germany, Russia, and China, the seeds were added to beer to lend it potent narcotic properties (Marzell 1922, 172*). In Europe, the seeds served as an incense, a custom allegedly derived from the Gypsies:


The seeds are used in fumigations to chase away ghosts or to invoke spirits. All of the gypsies’ arts are said to come primarily from a precise knowledge of the juices of the thorn apple. (Perger 1864, 183*)


The Gypsies used the thorn apple as an oracular plant in a ritual reminiscent of shamanism:


On Andrea’s night (November 30), thorn apple seeds are placed outside in the open. The next morning, they are then thrown into the fire. If the seeds burn with a loud crackle, then the winter will be dry but very cold. . . . When the tent gypsies wish to find out if a sick person is going to become healthy or not, they ask the “magic drum.” An animal skin is marked with lines, each one of which has a special meaning. Nine to twenty-one thorn apple seeds are strewn across the skin, and these are set in motion by hitting the skin with a small hammer a certain number of times (9 to 21). The position of the seeds on or between the lines then tells whether the sick person will recover or die. This same procedure is also performed for sick animals or to recover stolen objects. (Marzell 1922, 173, 174*)




Among the edifices fashioned from the bizarre, alchemically suggestive constructions of floral and artistic elements contained in his painting The Garden of Desires, the late Middle Ages painter Hieronymus Bosch (ca. 1450–1516) included several depictions of fruits that appear to be naturalistic depictions of thorn apples. The entire painting is filled with allusions to the abilities of strange fruits to alter consciousness (Beagle 1983). Perhaps some of the visions of Hieronymus Bosch were produced by Datura stramonium (cf. Claviceps purpurea). If this interpretation is correct, then the thorn apple would have been indigenous to Europe prior to its first contact with the Americas (see “Distribution”).

In her novel The Clan of the Cave Bear, bestselling American author Jean Auel describes how sorcerers of the prehistoric Neanderthal prepared an inebriating beverage from the thorn apple and ingested it during their tribal ceremonies and dances and to induce visions (Auel 1980).

The Scandinavian death-metal band Tiamat sang of Datura stramonium and its effects in their song “Whatever That Hurts” (Wildhoney, Magic Arts 1994; Gaia Century Media, 1994).

Medicinal Use


Aztec medical texts provide the following description of Datura stramonium:


Mixitl. It is of average size, round, green-leaved. It has seeds. The ground seeds are applied where there is gout. It is not edible, not drinkable. It paralyzes one, closes one’s eyes, constricts one’s throat, holds back the voice, makes one thirsty, deadens the testicles, splits the tongue.

It cannot be noticed when it has been drunk. Those whom it paralyzes—when that person’s eyes are closed, he remains behind with closed eyes for all time. That which he looks at, he looks at forever. One becomes stiff, dumb. This can be relieved a little with wine [= pulque; cf. Agave spp.]. I take Mixitl. I give someone Mixitl. (Sahagun, Florentine Codex 11:7*)


The Yucatec Maya roast the leaves on a clay or metal disk (comal) and then place them on areas affected by muscle pains and rheumatism (Pulido S. and Serralta P. 1993, 61*). Apart from this, the folk medical uses are the same as with Datura innoxia.

“More serious however are the effects that religious fanatics, clairvoyants, miracle workers, magicians, priests, and deceivers induce in men by using datura, who inhale the smoke of the burning plant during cultic ceremonies or who are given it internally. The sorcerer’s or devil’s weed—herbe aux sorciersherbe au diable—was used to produce fantastic hallucinations or illusions and the deceits which result. In demonology, this plant in particular has a role whose significance outsiders of course can scarcely imagine.”






(1980[ORIG. PUB. 1929], 180f.*)


“In magical beliefs, the thorn apple is used as an agent for producing ecstasy. For example, the priests of the sun temple in the Peruvian city of Sagomozzo would chew the seeds of this plant in order to achieve the inspiration that was the prerequisite for divination. Thorn apple extracts play an enormous role both in witches’ ointments and in narcotic magical incenses. It is generally known that the so-called asthma cigarettes have stramonium as an additive even today. Various people have told us that those in the know smoke these asthma cigarettes because they allegedly stimulate the sex drive.”






(1930, 175*)


“Decoction of Jimsonweed


Slimy trailing plants distil Claustrophobia and blood mixed seed

Cursed downstairs against my will.”







“Among the Transylvanian Gypsies, when a newlywed couple returns to the camp, water is poured over them, after which a weasel skin filled with thorn apple seeds [from Datura stramonium] is rubbed over them. The weasel skin protects them from misfortune and the thorn apple seeds from the evil eye. . . .


“Before the nomadic Gypsies of Hungary move into their winter caves, they never forget to light a fire of dried thorn apple bushes in front of each dwelling and shake some alum into the embers. They also carry some of this fire into the caves, for it is an excellent agent against the evil eye.”





(1996, 257*)


In Peru and Chile, a tea made from the leaves is drunk to alleviate pain (Schultes 1980, 115*). In Peru, a tea made with Datura stramonium ssp. ferox is drunk for stomachaches (Franquemont et al. 1990, 40*). The Mapuche use a tea of the fresh herbage of Datura stramonium ssp. ferox as a narcotic and a Datura ointment for toothaches. The entire plant is administered in various preparations to treat pains, inflammations, cancer, and neuritis (Houghton and Manby 1985, 100*).

In Uttar Pradesh (India), juice pressed from the fruits is massaged into the scalp to treat dandruff (Siddiqui et al. 1989, 484*). In Southeast Asia, the roots are used to treat the bites of rabid dogs and insanity, while the leaves are smoked for asthma (Macmillan 1991, 423*).

Throughout the world, Datura stramonium is regarded as an aphrodisiac (Guevara 1972, 160) and as an agent for treating asthma (Baker 1995*; Dafni and Yaniv 1994, 13*; Mösbach 1992, 105*; vries 1984*; Wilson and Mariam 1979, 30*). When used for asthma, either the leaves are smoked or the seeds, burned as incense, are inhaled. In the Canary Islands, where this species is known as santos noches(“holy nights”), the dried leaves are also smoked for asthma (Concepción 1993, 54).

During the early modern period, Datura stramonium was used to make love drinks, but it was also recommended for mental disorders and other diseases:


In some parts of France and Germany, both the herbage and the seeds of this narcotic poisonous plant are used as a home remedy for toothaches, wheezing, and other nervous afflictions of a chronic nature. The seeds are placed in the hollow, painful tooth, and a small pipe full of one part of the leaves and eight parts of tobacco [see Nicotiana tabacum] are smoked once daily or as often as the asthma attacks occur. Dried, it is also made into cigars that are smoked for the same purpose. In the hands of the physician, the Tinctura Seminum Stramonii, five to fifteen drops two to three times daily, is a very effective agent against a pathologically increased sexual desire, nymphomania, and satyriasis, but should never be allowed to become a folk medicine. (Most 1843, 141*)


In Peru, chamico leaves (Datura stramonium ssp. ferox) are applied externally as a facial wash to treat headaches and migraines. An industrially manufactured perfume called Chamico is dabbed onto the face for the same purpose. This scent is also used to promote one’s own attractiveness, for love magic, and to increase male potency. It is unknown whether this perfume is made using Datura, but it is very unlikely. However, the enclosed instructions include a “prayer to the chamico perfume” that makes reference to its hypnotic effects.

In Europe, the plant has been widely used for medicinal purposes since the eighteenth century. In 1747, Elisabeth Blackwell wrote the following in her Herbal: “Some use the leaves as a cooling agent when a person has received a burn, and to fight inflammations. The seeds have a power to make one slack and sedated” (Heilmann 1984, 82*).

Cigarettes made from Datura stramonium were being smoked as a treatment for asthma and mental illnesses as late as the twentieth century (Hirschfeld and Linsert 1930, 174*).

In homeopathy, Datura stramonium hom. (usually in dilutions of D3 and greater) is used in accordance with the medical description to treat such ailments as whooping cough, asthma, neuralgia, and nervous excitement (Pahlow 1993, 304*). It is used especially for disturbances of the mind, for “the entire power of this agent appears to expend itself in the brain” (Boericke 1992, 720*).



The entire plant contains tropane alkaloids. The alkaloid content can vary greatly and lies between 0.25 and 0.36% (with one recorded instance of 0.5%) in the leaves and between 0.18 and 0.22% in the roots. The flowers can contain as much as 0.61% alkaloids and the seeds up to 0.66%. The main alkaloids in all parts of the plants are L-hyoscyamine and L-scopolamine; also present are apoatropine, tropine, belladonnine, and hyoscyamine-N-oxide. Dried leaves and seeds contain 0.1 to 0.6% alkaloids. Apoatropine and tropanole arise only when the raw drug is stored in an inappropriate manner or for too long a time (Roth et al. 1994, 291*). Young plants contain chiefly scopolamine and older ones primarily hyoscyamine.

Datura stramonium L. var. tatula Torr. contains primarily hyoscyamine (Spurná et al. 1981). In addition to the alkaloids that are regarded as the primary active constituents, withanolides, lectines, peptides, and coumarins are also present.

The seeds of the Argentinean Datura stramonium ssp. ferox have been found to contain 3α-tigloyloxytropane (= tigloyltropeine), 3-phenylacetoxy-6β, 7β-epoxytropane (= 3-phenylacetoxyscopine), aposcopolamine (= apohyoscine), 7β-hydroxy-6β-propenyloxy-3α-tropoyloxytro-pane, traces of 7β-hydroxy-6β-isovaleroyloxy-3αtigloyoxytropane, the pyrrolidine alkaloid hygrine, and the previously unknown 3-phenylacetoxy-6β,7β-epoxytropane (= 3-phenylacetoxyscopine) and 7β-hydroxy-6β-propenyloxy-3α-tropoyloxytropane (Vitale et al. 1995).



The profile of effects of Datura stramonium is essentially the same as that of Datura innoxia and Datura metel. Among the characteristic effects are dryness of the mouth, difficulty in swallowing, dilation of the pupils, restlessness, confusion, and hallucinations. The effects sometimes begin after only a half an hour but may occasionally appear after four hours, and they can persist for days (Gowdy 1972; Lindequist 1992, 1148*; Roth et al. 1994, 292*).

In his History and Present State of Virginia, Robert Beverly described the oft-quoted effects that occurred when English soldiers at Jamestown unknowingly or accidentally ate thorn apple leaves as a salad:


The James-Town Weed (which resembles the Thorny Apple of Peru, and I take it to be the Plant so call’d) is supposed to be one of the greatest Coolers in the World. This being an early Plant, was gather’d very young for a boil’d salad, by some of the Soldiers sent thither, to pacifie the troubles of Bacon; and some of them eat plentifully of it, the Effect of which was a very pleasant Comedy; for they turn’d natural Fools upon it for several Days: One would blow up a Feather in the Air; another wou’d dart Straws at himself, and another stark naked and grinning like a monkey, sitting in the corner, tried to mow the grass; a Fourth would fondly kiss, and paw his Companions, and snear in the Faces, with a Countenance more antick, than any in a Dutch Droll. In this frantick condition they were confined, lest they should in their Folly destroy themselves; though it was observed, that all their Actions were full of Innocence and good nature. Indeed, they were not very cleanly; for they would have wallow’d in their own Excrements, if they had not been prevented. A Thousand such simple Tricks they play’d, and after Eleven Days, return’d themselves again, not remembering anything that had pass’d. (In Safford 1920, 557–58)


In the Canary Islands, thorn apple grows like a weed. Many young tourists have consumed teas made from the flowers, swallowed or smoked the seeds, or eaten the fresh leaves. The majority of the experiences they have reported have been unpleasant. One man smoked thorn apple seeds and became feverish for three days. Another man who drank a tea made with the flowers collected and ate his feces for three days. Others who had eaten the seeds went swimming and decided to swim to one of the neighboring islands. Some have felt themselves transported back in time, where they conversed with the Guancha, the indigenous inhabitants of the islands, who have been “extinct for 600 years” (cf. Cytisus canariensis). Many simply felt ill. Reports mention nausea, headache, and confusion. Positive experiences, which do also occur, are only rarely mentioned.

Occasionally, Datura stramonium intoxications can also prove fatal (MMWR 44 [3] 1995; Roth et al. 1996, 291f.*).

People who smoked asthma cigarettes often reported “undesired” side effects, namely, “dreams with sexual overtones” (Schenk 1954, 78*; Hirschfeld and Linsert 1930, 174f.*). The medical literature also contains accounts of such erotic effects (Dieckhöfer et al. 1971, 432).

Commercial Forms and Regulations


All commercially available pharmaceutical forms (herbage, extracts, tinctures, homeopathic preparations [Datura stramonium hom. HAB1]) can be obtained only in a pharmacy with a prescription from a physician. Datura stramonium is a proscribed substance under the Cosmetic Regulations (from 19 June 1985, appendix 1, 301). In contrast, both the seeds and potted plants are freely available.

“In Kenya, I was able to learn from the British Secret Service—when I was reporting on the Mau Mau uprising for Life magazine—that the Mau Mau secret society had collected large amounts of thorn apple seeds and leaves (Datura stramonium and Datura fastuosa L. or Datura alba Nees). An informant told the English that it was planned to use the black cooks and servants to add a powder of this drug to the food on a certain evening, so that they would be helpless during the massacre that was planned for the night. A person who is under the influence of this drug will allow anything to happen. . . . Shortly after this incident, I heard that the English had been given the order to exterminate and burn all of the thorn apple plants. . . . During an extended drive, I was then able to determine that the blacks had simply disregarded the order.”








See also the entries for Datura discolorDatura innoxiaDatura metel, and tropane alkaloids.


Auel, Jean. 1980. The clan of the cave bear. New York: Crown Publishers.


Beagle, Peter S. 1983. Der Garten der Lüste: Unsere Welt in den modernen Malereien des Hieronymus Bosch. Cologne: DuMont.


Concepción, José Luis. 1993. Costumbrestradiciones y remedios medicinales canarios: Plantas curativas. La Laguna, Tenerife: ACIC.


Cosson, L., P. Chouard, and R. Paris. 1966. Influence de l’éclairement sur les variations ontogéniques des alcaloides de Datura tatulaLloydia 29 (1): 19–25.


Demeyer, K., and R. Dejaegere. 1991. Influence of the N-form used in the mineral nutrition of Datura stramonium on alkaloid production. Planta Medica 57 suppl. (2): A27.


Dieckhöfer, K., Th. Vogel, and J. Meyer-Lindenberg. 1971. Datura stramonium als Rauschmittel. Der Nervenarzt 42 (8): 431–37.


Dupraz, Jean-Marc, Philippe Christen, and Ilias Kapetanidis. 1993. Tropane alkaloid production in Datura quercifolia hairy roots. Planta Medica 59 suppl.: A659.


———. 1994. Tropane alkaloids in transformed roots of Datura quercifoliaPlanta Medica 60:158–62.


Gowdy, J. M. 1972. Stramonium intoxication: Review of symptomatology in 212 cases. Journal of the American Medical Association 221:585–87.


Guevara, Dario. 1972. Un mundo mágico-mitico en la mitad del mundo: Folklore ecuatoriano. Quito: Impr. Municipal.


Hilton, M. G., and M. J. C. Rhodes. 1993. Factors affecting the growth and hyoscyamine production during batch culture of transformed roots of Datura stramoniumPlanta Medica 59:340–44.


Munizaga A., Carlos. 1960. Uso actual de miyaya (Datura stramonium) por los araucanos de Chile. Journal de la Société des Américanistes 52:4–43.


Portsteffen, A., B. Dräger, and A. Nahrstedt. 1991. Isolation of two tropinone reductases from Datura stramonium root cultures. Planta Medica 57 suppl. (2): A107.


Spurná, Vera, Marie Sovová, Eva Jirmanová, and Alena Sustácková. 1981. Chromosomal characteristics and occurrence of main alkaloids in Datura stramonium and Datura wrightiiPlanta Medica 41:366–73.


Tyler, Varro E. 1992. John Uri Lloyd and the lost narcotic plants of the Shawnees. Herbalgram 27:40–42.


Vitale, Arturo A., Andrés Acher, and Alicia B. Pomilio. 1995. Alkaloids of Datura ferox from Argentina. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 49:81–89.


Wein, Kurt. 1954. Die Geschichte von Datura stramoniumKulturpflanze 2:18–71.



Datura stramoniumD. metelD. innoxia


D. stramonium ssp. feroxD. wrightiiD. leichhardtii. (From Festi 1995, 122 f.)


Datura wrightii Regel


Wright’s Datura




Solanaceae (Nightshade Family); Subfamily Solanoideae, Datureae Tribe, Dutra Section

Forms and Subspecies


The karyotype of this plant is almost identical to that of Datura stramonium L. var. tatula Torr. (see Datura stramonium). It is possible that Datura wrightii is only a local (California) variant of Datura innoxia (Hickman 1993, 1070).



Datura metel var.[?] quinquecuspida Torr.

Datura meteloides Dunal in DC.

Datura wrightii Bye

Datura wrightii Hort.

Folk Names


Kalifornischer stechapfel, kiksawel (Cahuilla), kusi (Diegueno), malkapit, manai (Yokut), manet, manit (Gabrieliño), manitc (Serrano), mánoyu (Miwok), momoy (Chumash), mo’moy, monayu (Miwok), nakta mush (Luiseño), naktanuuc (Cupeño), smalikapita (Yuma), tanabi, tanábi (Mono), tanai, tañai, táñai, taña’nib (Mono), thornapple, toloache, Wright’s datura, Wright’s stechapfel



This Southern California species of thorn apple has apparently been used for ritual and medicinal purposes for more than five thousand years (Grant 1993; cf. Boyd and Dering 1996, 266 f.*). During the colonial period, shamanic use of the plant was extremely common among many tribes, much to the distress of Catholic missionaries. Although it is occasionally rumored that some contemporary Chumash youth have been using the plant in an attempt to explore their cultural roots, there is as yet no evidence to support this (cf. Baker 1994).



This Datura is found only in Southern California and is especially common in the territories once occupied by the Chumash (Los Angeles and Ventura Counties).



See Datura discolor.



Datura wrightii is almost indistinguishable from Datura innoxia, but it grows in a prostrate and creeping manner and produces pendulous fruits with many thin thorns. Datura wrightii is also easily confused with Datura discolorand less frequently with Datura metel.

Psychoactive Material


—Roots, fresh or dried and powdered


Preparation and Dosage


The fresh root is crushed and extracted in water (Timbrook 1990, 252*). Unfortunately, the ethnographic sources provide little information about dosages (cf. Datura innoxia).


Datura wrightii, the predominant Southern California species, has a creeping pattern of growth. (Wild plant, photographed near Moorpark, in the former territory of the Chumash Indians)


Several Southern California tribes used the seeds or entire fruits to produce a beerlike drink (cf. beer). The fresh seeds (or fruits) were ground and then added to water. It is possible that the tribes added other fermentation agents, such as manzanita fruits (Arctostaphylos manzanita Parry). The vessel containing the liquid was set in the sun so that fermentation (by means of wild yeasts) would begin quickly. Fermentation was complete after one to two days. The drink, which was only mildly alcoholic, must have been extremely potent (Balls 1962, 67).

As with all other species of Datura, the seeds and dried leaves of this species are suitable as additives to smoking blends and incense.

Ritual Use


This Datura species played an especially important role in the initiation rites (chungichnich cult, manetkiksawel) of the Indians who once lived in Southern California (Gayton 1928; Jacobs 1996).


The fruit of Datura wrightii hangs downward at an angle.


The Chumash regarded this Datura as a female spirit being, “the old woman Momoy” (momoy is the Chumash name for Datura wrightii; Baker 1994). They had shamans specializing in the use of Datura; such a shaman would be known as alshukayayich (“one who causes intoxication) or, in Spanish, toloachero (“datura giver”) (Applegate 1975, 10; Walker and Hudson 1993, 43). The thorn apple was regarded as a “dream helper”that shamans used frequently to induce prophetic dreams.

The most significant use of thorn apple occurred in conjunction with the initiation of boys into men. Before ingesting the drink, which would be prepared by the initiate’s grandmother, the initiate was required to fast and to avoid all consumption of meat. During the fast, he would smoke a great deal of tobacco (Nicotiana attenuataNicotiana bigelovii; cf. Nicotiana spp.) (Applegate 1975). Normally, the initiate was left alone, in a cave or a dwelling, after he received the drink and surrendered himself to the visions it induced. Any questions he had could be answered only by the Datura spirit, for it was said that “the Datura will teach you everything.” During the visionary state, finding a spirit ally in the form of an animal (coyote, hawk, etc.) was considered an especially fortunate occurrence. The initiate usually fell into a delirious state for some twenty-four hours, from which he only gradually awoke. Afterward, a Datura shaman would help him interpret the visions and develop them into a plan for the rest of his adult life (Applegate 1975).

The Chumash also used Datura in conjunction with sweat lodge rituals. Unfortunately, the precise manners of such use have not come down to us (Timbrook 1987, 174). It is possible that the seeds may have been used as a psychoactive incense that was strewn over the glowing rocks (cf. Artemisia spp.).

Many other California tribes (Coahuilla, Yokut, Gabrieliño, Luiseño, Diegueno, Dumna) also used a potent Datura tea to initiate their youths into the mysteries of life (Beau and Siva Saubel 1972, 61ff.). The visions and dreams they experienced were intended to be signposts for their future lives (Jacobs 1996).

Similar to the use of Datura, several California tribes used red ants for psychoactive purposes during their initiatory rites (Blackburn 1976*; Groark 1996; cf. Nepeta cataria).

The shamans of the Miwok ate the roots or drank a decoction of the fresh herbage in order to acquire supernatural powers and peer into the future (Barrett and Gifford 1933, 169). Shamans also used Daturafor harmful purposes (Applegate 1975).

The Kawaiisu use Datura wrightii as a ritual medicine in the initiation of boys and to produce visions and prophetic dreams (Moerman 1986, 149*).



The initiatory use of Datura is well known from the American Southwest, e.g., among the Chumash (Timbrook 1987, 174 f.) The Chumash have a long tradition of creating ritual paintings on rocks and in caves. Some of these five-thousand-year-old paintings have been interpreted as evidence of a Datura cult (Grant 1993). They also incorporate what are clearly shamanic elements (Hedges 1992). Daturavisions have apparently shaped all of the Chumash rock art. Many paintings provide symbolic representations of elements that were significant in the visions. In some ways, the painters translated their visions into the symbolic code of the Chumash culture (Hudson 1979; Wellmann 1981*).

“With this [Datura] they [the Chumash] intoxicate themselves. They take it in order to become strong, in order not to fear anyone, to prevent snakes from biting them and that darts and arrows may not pierce their bodies, etc.”




“In California, the leaves of the stalk and sometimes also the root of the [Datura wrightii] plant were squeezed, softened in water, and drunk after being decocted. This drink called forth hallucinations—an Indian would speak of visions—as well as dreams which make it possible to look into the future and make supernatural beings visible. The drink also produced clairvoyance and revealed things that would not be revealed in the context of normal visions: events which had taken place hundreds of kilometers away or only in the future.”






(1977, 82 f.*)


Medicinal Use


The Chumash drank infusions or decoctions of the root to treat pain, especially in cases of broken bones and injuries. They also drank Datura for snakebites, apparently as a kind of sympathetic magic. It was said that snakes would bite into a thorn apple with their fangs in order to make their teeth poisonous before they would bite an animal or a person. In other words, the Chumash used the same toxin to combat the venom, in the manner of the basic principles of homeopathy. To treat asthma, they inhaled the smoke of the dried leaves as a medicinal incense (Timbrook 1987, 174).

The Kawaiisu administer the pressed root internally to alleviate strong pain and apply a paste of it externally to treat broken bones and swelling. A tea made with the roots is used as a medicinal bath for rheumatism and arthritis (Moerman 1986, 149*).



See Datura innoxia.



See Datura innoxia.

Commercial Forms and Regulations


Datura wrightii is occasionally found in specialty nurseries in California. The plant is not subject to any regulations.


This Chumash Indian rock art image was allegedly inspired by the ritual use of Datura wrightii.




See also the entry for Datura innoxia.


Applegate, Richard B. 1975. The datura cult among the Chumash. The Journal of California Anthropology 2 (1): 7–17.


Baker, John R. 1994. The old woman and her gifts: Pharmacological bases of the Chumash use of DaturaCurare 17 (2): 253–76. (Very good bibliography.)


Balls, Edward K. 1962. Early uses of California plants. Berkeley: University of California Press.


Barrett, S. A., and E. W. Gifford. 1933. Miwok material culture. Bulletin of Milwaukee Public Museum 2 (4).


Bean, Lowell John, and Katherine Siva Saubel. 1972. Temalpakh: Cahuilla Indian knowledge and usage of plants. Morongo Indian Reservation, Calif.: Malki Museum Press.


Blackburn, Thomas. 1977. Biopsychological aspects of Chumash rock art. Journal of California Anthropology 4:88–94.


Gayton, Anna Hadwick. 1928. The narcotic plant Datura in aboriginal American culture. PhD thesis, University of California.


Grant, Campbell. 1993. The rock paintings of the Chumash. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History.


Groark, Kevin P. 1996. Ritual and therapeutic use of “hallucinogenic” harvester ants (Pogonomyrmex) in native south-central California. Journal of Ethnobiology 16 (1): 1–29.


Hedges, Ken. 1976. Southern California rock art as shamanic art. In American Indian rock art, ed. Kay Sutherland, 2:126–38. El Paso, Texas: Archaeological Society.


———. 1992. Shamanistic aspects of California rock art. In California Indian shamanism, ed. Lowell John Bean, 67–88. Menlo Park, Calif.: Ballena Press.


Hickman, James C., ed. 1993. The Jepson manual: Higher plants of California. Berkeley: University of California Press.


Hudson, Travis. 1979. Chumash Indian astronomy in south coastal California. The Masterkey 53 (3): 84–93.


Jacobs, David. 1996. The use of Datura in rites of transition. Jahrbuch für Transkulturelle Medizin und Psychotherapie 6 (1995): 341–51.


Timbrook, Jan. 1987. Virtuous herbs: Plants in Chumash medicine. Journal of Ethnobiology 7 (2): 171–80.


Walker, Phillip L. and Travis Hudson. 1993. Chumash healing. Banning, Calif.: Malki Museum Press.


Datura spp.


Thorn Apple Species




Solanaceae (Nightshade Family); Subfamily Solanoideae, Datureae Tribe

Eleven species of Datura are usually accepted today (D’Arcy 1991, 78*). Some botanists have recently suggested that the genus Datura is indigenous only to the New World and did not spread into Asia (D. metel) and Australia (D. leichhardtii) until the past four hundred years. I cannot accept this purist view in any way (cf. Datura metel). These botanists do not appear to possess any detailed ethnohistorical knowledge and appear to have overlooked the fact that the very name of the genus is Sanskrit in origin (Symon and Haegi 1991).

Datura kymatocarpa A.S. Barclay


This species (if in fact it is a distinct species and not simply one of the many varieties of Datura innoxia) is found only in the tropical valley of the Río Balsa (Mexico). It is recognizable by its hairy fruits (Barclay 1959, 257). To date, no ethno-botanical use has been reported.

Datura lanosa Barclay ex Bye [syn. Datura innoxia ssp. lanosa]—rikuri, rikúi


Only recently described (Bye 1986), this thorn apple species occurs exclusively in northern Mexico and may simply be a local variety of Datura innoxia. The name the Tarahumara use to refer to the plant (rikuri) is derived from rikú, “drunken” (Bye et al. 1991, 34). The name is linguistically related to kiéri/kíeri, a word the Huichol use chiefly for Solandra spp.

Datura leichhardtii F. Muell. ex Benth. [syn. Datura pruinosa Greenman]—Leichhardt’s datura, Australian thorn apple


This Australian species, which is very common on the continent and is almost the only species there, is also said to occur in very remote areas of Mexico and Guatemala (Symon and Haegi 1991). It has small, round, drooping fruits with numerous short thorns. Apart from this, the plant is very similar to Datura stramonium. In Australia, where it is used as a pituri substitute, the plant is also known as “killer of sheep” (Low 1990, 187*).

Datura pruinosa Greenman—pruinose thorn apple


This Mexican species is found only in Oaxaca at altitudes between 550 and 1,550 meters. It has very small flowers and finely haired leaves that look as though they have been affected by frost. The dried herbage contains 0.16% alkaloids (the primary alkaloid is atropine; also present are apoatropine, noratropine, hyoscine [= scopolamine], norhyoscine, apohyoscine, littorine, tigloidine, 3α-tigloyloxytropane, meteloidine, tropine, and X-tropine) (Evans and Treagust 1973). The chemical composition is practically identical to that of Datura leichhardtii. The name Datura pruinosa is now usually regarded as a synonym for Datura leichhardtii (Symon and Haegi 1991, 198).

Datura quercifolia H.B.K. [syn. Datura stramonium ssp. quercifolia (H.B.K.) Bye]—oak-leaf datura


This Datura is limited to Texas, Arizona, and northern Mexico. Its fruits have long thorns and its leaves resemble those of an oak (hence the name). It is probably identical to Datura stramonium (Safford 1921, 177) and is now best regarded as a subspecies of Datura stramonium (Bye 1979b, 37*).

The Pima Indians of northern Mexico roast the fruits, which they call toloache, and then grind them and mix them with fat to produce an ointment they apply to open wounds. Together with the leaves of a Physalis species known as coronilla or kokovuri, the fruits are boiled to produce a decoction for treating coughs (Pennington 1973, 228*).

Datura reburra A.S. Barclay


This species has been described for the Mexican state of Sinaloa. The plant is similar to Datura discolor, however, the thorns are longer and thinner (Barclay 1959, 259). It is likely only a variety of Datura discolor.

Datura villosa Fernald [syn. Datura stramonium ssp./var. villosa (Fern.) Saff.]—shaggy thorn apple


This species occurs in Jalisco and San Luis Potosí (Mexico); it may be identical to Datura stramonium (Safford 1921, 177).

Datura (Ceratocaulisceratocaula Ortega [syn. Datura macrocaulis Roth, Apemon crassicaule Raf., Datura sinuata Sessé et Moc., Ceratocaulus daturoides Spach.]—tlapatl


This species is found only in central Mexico (México, Querétaro, Oaxaca). It is a water plant that has the appearance of a vine instead of an herbaceous plant or bush. It has thick, forked stalks and thornless fruits that hang to the side. In Mexico, it is known as tornaloco (“maddening plant”), and it is apparently identical to the magical plant the Aztecs called atlinan, “his mother is water,”124 or tlapatl. The Aztecs regarded it as the “Sister of Ololiuqui” (see Turbina corymbosa) (Schultes and Hofmann 1992, 41, 111*). An Aztec-language source provided the following description of the plant:

“The effects of all species are similar, since their constituents are so much alike. Physiological activity begins with a feeling of lassitude and progresses into a period of hallucinations followed by deep sleep and loss of consciousness. In excessive doses, death or permanent insanity may occur. So potent is the psychoactivity of all species of Datura that it is patently clear why peoples in primitive cultures around the world have classed them as plants of the gods.”






(1992, 111*)



This ancient Mexican representation of a flower in the process of opening can be interpreted as Datura.



The fruit of the rare Mexican Datura quercifolia resembles a weapon and protrudes horizontally.


It is small and round, blue, green-skinned, broad-leaved. And it blossoms white. Its fruit is smooth, its seeds black, foul-smelling. It causes one harm, takes away the appetite, makes one mad, inebriates one.

He who eats of it will not want any other food until he dies. And if he eats it regularly, he will always be confused, mad; he will always be possessed, never again calm. And where gout is present, it is applied thinly as an ointment in order to heal this. It is also said to be sniffed, for it will cause harm, it takes away a person’s appetite. It causes harm, makes one mad, takes away the appetite. I take Tlapatl; I eat, I go around and eat Tlapatl.

This is what is said of him who goes around and is contemptuous, who goes around with arrogance, presumptuousness, who goes around and eats the Mixitl and Tlapatl herbs; he goes around and takes Mixitl and Tlapatl. (In Sahagun, Florentine Codex 11:7*)


An Aztec magical formula from the colonial period invoked the plant spirit of this Datura in the following manner:


I call to you, my mother, she who is of the beautiful water!

Who is the god, or who has the power to break and consume my magic?

Come here, sister of the green woman Ololiuqui, of she by means of which I go and leave the green pain, the brown pain, so that it hides itself.

Go and destroy with your hands the entrails of the possessed, so that you test his power and he falls in shame.

(Jacinto de la Serna, in Documentos Ineditos para la Historia de Espawe 104:159–60; cf. Safford 1921, 182; also Rätsch 1988a, 142*)


This Datura is said to have very potent narcotic effects. Little is known about any modern use (Schultes and Hofmann 1992, 111*). In Mexico City, preparations of Datura ceratocaula are supposedly used as a drug of fashion in some circles. I have also heard that some Mexican psychiatrists administer combinations of ketamine and Datura ceratocaula to their patients for psychotherapeutic purposes.

Datura velutinosa Fuentes—silky thorn apple


This species has recently been described for Cuba. However, the name is apparently a synonym for Datura innoxia.


As the species name suggests, the deeply emarginated leaf of Datura quercifolia resembles that of an oak.




See also the entries for the other Datura species as well as Brugmansia spp.


Barclay, Arthur S. 1959. New considerations in an old genus: DaturaBotanical Museum Leaflets Harvard University 18 (6): 245–72.


Bye, Robert A. 1986. Datura lanosa, a new species of datura from Mexico. Phytologia 61:204–6.


Bye, Robert A., Rachel Mata, and José Pimentel. 1991. Botany, ethnobotany and chemistry of Datura lanosa (Solanaceae) in Mexico. Anales del Instituto Biológico de la Universidad Autónoma Nacional de Mexico, ser. bot. 61:21–42.


Evans, William C., and Peter G. Treagust. 1973. Alkaloids of Datura pruinosaPhytochemistry 12:2077–78.


Festi, Francesco. 1995. Le herbe del diavolo. 2. Botanica, chimica e farmacologia. Altrove 2:117–41.


Safford, William E. 1921. Synopsis of the genus DaturaJournal of the Washington Academy of Sciences 11 (8): 173–89.


Satina, Sophie, and A. G. Avery. 1959. A review of the taxonomic history of Datura. In Blakeslee: The genus Datura, ed. Amos G. Avery, Sophie Satina, and Jacob Rietsema, 16–47. New York: The Ronald Press Co.


Symon, David E., and Laurence A. R. Haegi. 1991. Datura (Solanaceae) is a New World genus. In Solanaceae III: Taxonomy, chemistry, evolution, ed. Hawkes, Lester, Nee, and Estrada, 197–210. London: Royal Botanic Gardens Kew and Linnaean Society.