The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants: Ethnopharmacology and Its Applications

Fabiana imbricata Ruíz et Pavón


Fabiana Bush, Pichi-Pichi




Solanaceae (Nightshade Family); Subfamily Cestroideae, Nicotianeae Tribe

Forms and Subspecies


It is possible that one subspecies characterized by a treelike pattern of growth may exist in southern Chile.




Folk Names


Coa, fabiana bush, fabianastrauch, fabiane, fabiane imbriquée, k’oa,150 k’oa santiago, monte derecho (Spanish, “right mountain”), monte negro (Spanish, “black mountain”), Peru false heath, peta, piche, picheng, pichi,151 pichi-picheng, pichipichi, pichi-romero,152 pichirromero, romero,153 romero pichi, tola154



The plant was brought to Europe during the early colonial period and was propagated in the botanical garden of Madrid, which was constructed specifically for the cultivation and distribution of plants from the New World. Strangely, the literature from the colonial period makes no mention of Fabiana (Hoffmann et al. 1992, 184*). The plant, which has enjoyed great success in folk medical contexts, did not attract the attention of the medical community until the nineteenth century. Henry Hurd Rusby was one of the first researchers and druggists to investigate Fabiana in more detail (Rusby 1885; Rossi-Wilcox 1993, 5*). Because of his work, the plant was introduced into the United States as a medicine under the name pichi-pichi (Rusby 1890). Around the turn of the century, it was also accepted into European pharmacopoeias as a diuretic (Schneider 1974, 2:86*).

The genus is named for Francisco Fabiano y Fuero (1719–1801), the archbishop of Valencia, who was a supporter of the botanical sciences (Genaust 1996, 243*).



The fabiana bush is indigenous to Chile, where it occurs primarily in the south between Coquimbo and Magallanes. It also is found in Patagonia, including the Argentinean portion (Hoffmann et al. 1992, 184*), and in Bolivia, Peru, and several areas of Brazil.

There are some twenty-one species in the genus Fabiana (D’Arcy 1991, 78*), most of which are little known ethnobotanically. It is possible that the inhabitants of the Andes use the name pichipichi for many species. In Chile, several Fabiana species are known as tola155 (Mösbach 1992, 105*):

Fabiana barriosii Phil.

Fabiana denudata Miers.

Fabiana ericoides Dun.


Pichi-pichi is sometimes confused or counterfeited with the related species Fabiana bryoides Phil. and Fabiana friesii Dammer. These two species occur only in the high mountains (Atacama, northern Chile).



Propagation occurs via the tiny seeds, which like those of all nightshades should be pregerminated and potted when they are seedlings. The bush thrives best in rocky and poor soils. In southern Chile, it is grown in nurseries for use in gardens and as an ornamental (Hoffmann et al. 1992, 184*). In Europe, the plant can be grown in a cold house and in areas that are largely free of frost (Spain, Ireland).



This bushy shrub can grow as tall as 3 meters and usually has a large number of branches at the ends of its stems. Tiny, almost rod- or needle-shaped leaves arranged like scales sit on the straight stems. The small, white or violet (the color is variable), trumpet-shaped flowers grow from the tips of the branches. The fruits develop into oval capsules 5 to 6 mm in length. The flowering period is usually from November to January in South America and from May to June in Europe.

Psychoactive Material


—Herbage (herba fabianae imbricatae, summitates fabianae, pichi, pichi-pichi-kraut)

—Wood (lignum fabianae, lignum pichi-pichi)

Preparation and Dosage


For psychoactive use, the tips of the branches are dried and, if necessary, chopped into small pieces. The dried herbage can then be burned as incense or strewn over glowing charcoal. When burned, the aromatic twig ends give off a resinous smoke that is easy to inhale and has a sweet/acrid scent somewhat reminiscent of that of pine or fir. No information is available concerning the dosage of this type of preparation. Overdoses from breathing in such smoke do not appear to be known. Fabiana and Latua pubiflora are combined as components of a psychoactive incense.

The fresh or dried herbage as well as the bark may be used when the intended use is medicinal in nature. A decoction of the bark is a potent diuretic. A tea made by steeping a tablespoon of the fresh or dried herbage is drunk as a tonic (Hoffmann et al. 1992, 186*).

Ritual Use


Fabiana herbage is a sacred incense that is burned at all traditional, originally Indian ceremonies (Aldunate et al. 1983). The Aymara of northern Chile keep bundles of the dried herbage, which they light when needed. The glowing herbage gives off copious amounts of smoke. The Indians of this region use Fabiana as an incense at all religious ceremonies and festivals and especially at the traditional ceremonies in which they make offerings to Pachamama. Patients and rooms are fumigated with the plant to treat illness. The smoke is said to banish spirits and ward off demons. In the Atacama Desert, the burning of incense is regarded as a “payment” for the dead and for general purification. The spirits of the dead are tamed and dispelled by the smoke (Aldunate et al. 1981, 210*). Other Fabiana species are used in a similar manner (see the table on page 265).




Medicinal Use


In Chilean folk medicine, an infusion of the fresh herbage has been used since ancient times to treat kidney ailments and urinary tract problems and as a diuretic (Donoso Zegers and Ramírez García 1994, 55, 104*; Houghton and Manby 1985, 100*; San Martín A. 1983). The tea is also used to promote digestion (Razmilic et al. 1994). In Peru and Chile, it is believed that the plant has strong anthelmintic effects upon sheep and goats (Schultes 1980, 115 f.*).

The use of the plant as a diuretic and a treatment for venereal diseases has become generally accepted in the folk medicine of South America. The herbage also was listed as a diuretic in international pharmacopeias. A mother tincture (fabiana imbricata) occasionally finds use in homeopathic medicine (Boericke 1992, 329*).



The aboveground parts of Fabiana imbricata contain an essential oil, resin (fabiana resin), a bitter principle, an alkaloid of rather simple structure known as fabianine, various sugars (D-manoheptulose, D-arabitinole, D-mannitol, D-galactose, D-xylose, primaverose), a glycoside (fabiana-glycotannoid), various alkanes, fatty acids, erythroglaucin, physcion, and acetovanillone (Hoffmann et al. 1992, 186*; Knapp et al. 1972; Roth et al. 1994, 347*). Various murolanes and amorphane sesquiterpenes156 (3,11-amorphadiene) have been found in the leaves and herbage (Brown 1994; Brown and Shill 1994). The herbage also contains the flavonoids and glycosides quercetin (cf. Artemisia absinthiumPsidium guajavaVaccinium uliginosum, kinnikinnick), camphor oil, and quercetin-3-O-rhamnoglucoside (= rutin) (Hörhammer et al. 1973). The herbage (especially the twigs) also contains the coumarin scopoletin, although the concentrations can vary considerably (Knapp et al. 1972, 3092; Razmilic et al. 1994; Roth et al. 1994; 347*), as well as a substance known as fabiatrina (Montes and Wilkomirsky 1987, 166*).

To the extent that they have been chemically investigated, other species of Fabiana (e.g., Fabiana denudata and Fabiana squamata) appear to have similar constituents (Knapp et al. 1972).



An extract of the herbage has potent diuretic effects and is thus very successful in the treatment of kidney and urinary tract ailments (Montes and Wilkomirsky 1987, 166*). An aqueous-alcohol extract of the herbage inhibits the enzyme βglucuronidase (Razmilic et al. 1994) and has antiseptic effects (Hoffmann et al. 1992, 184*). Teas made from the herbage have general tonic effects (Hoffmann et al. 1992, 186*). The smoke, when inhaled deeply, has euphoric and inebriating effects that are sometimes rather subtle but also can be quite pronounced in some individuals. Quercetin may be responsible for the narcotic effects (cf. Psidium guajava).


The pichi-pichi plant (Fabiana imbricata) is from southern Chile.


“The South American inebriant ‘pichi-pichi’ is dried shoot apexes.”




(1994, 347*)





The aromatic and resinous smoke of Fabiana denudata is easily inhaled and has mild stimulating effects. The yellowish, intense smoke of Fabiana bryoides has a lemony, fragrant, and yet strange aroma, is not so easily inhaled, and does not produce the same stimulating effects.

Commercial Forms and Regulations


In Europe, the tips of fabiana herbage (fabiana herba, herba pichi-pichi, or summitates fabianae) are difficult to obtain. In pharmacies, fabiana usually is available only as a homeopathic mother tincture (under the name Fabiana imbricata or pichi-pichi). The living plant occasionally is sold in nurseries (as a cold-house plant; Roth et al. 1994, 347*).



Fabiana bryoides, found in the Atacama Desert, is the most important ritual fumigant of the oasis inhabitants.



The naked fabiana (Fabiana denudata), which is adapted to the extreme desert climate, is used as incense during shamanic healing ceremonies. (Wild plant—still living!—photographed in San Pedro de Atacama, northern Chile)




See also the entries for coumarins and scopoletin.


Aldunate, Carlos, Juan J. Armesto, Victoria Castro, and Carolina Villagrán. 1983. Ethnobotany of pre-Altiplanic community in the Andes of northern Chile. Economic Botany 37 (1): 120–35.


Brown, Geoffrey D. 1994. The sesquiterpenes of Fabiana imbricataPhytochemistry 35 (2): 425–33.


Brown, G. D., and Joanne Shill. 1994. Isolation of 3,11-amorphadiene from Fabiana imbricataPlanta Medica 60:495–96.


Hörhammer, L., Hildebert Wagner, M. T. Wilkomirsky, and M. Aprameya Iyengar. 1973. Flavonoide in einigen chilenischen Heilpflanzen. Phytochemistry 12:2068–69.


Knapp, J. E., N. R. Farnsworth, M. Theiner, and P. L. Schiff, Jr. 1972. Anthraquinones and other constituents of Fabiana imbricataPhytochemistry 11:3091–92.


Munizaga A., Carlos, and Hugo Gunckel. 1958. Notas etnobotanicas del pueblo atacameño de Socaire. Universidad de Chile, Centro de Estudios AntropologicosPublicación 5:7–35.


Razmilic, I., G. Schmneda-Hirschmann, M. Dutra-Behrens, S. Reyes, I. López, and C. Theoduloz. 1994. Rutin and scopoletin content and micropropagation of Fabiana imbricataPlanta Medica 60:140–42.


Rusby, Henry Hurd. 1885. The new Chilean drug “pichi.” Therapeutic Gazette 9:810–13.


———. 1890. The status of pichi as a remedy in genito-urinary disease. Medical Record, July 5: 5–7.


San Martín A., José. 1983. Medicinal plants in central Chile. Economic Botany 37 (2): 216–27.