The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants: Ethnopharmacology and Its Applications

Heimia salicifolia (H.B.K.) Link et Otto






Lythraceae (Loosestrife Family)

Forms and Subspecies


One variety has been described for Mexico: Heimia salicifolia var. mexicana Link



Heimia salicifolia (Kunth) Link

Heimia syphillitica DC.

Nesaea salicifolia H.B.K.

Nesaea syphilitica Steud.

Folk Names


Abre-o-sol (Portuguese, “sun opener”), anchinol, anchinoli, chapuzina, cuauxihuitl (Nahuatl, “meadow fire”),157 escoba colorada (Spanish, “colorful broom”), escoba de arroyo (Spanish, “broom of the creek”), escobilla del río, flor de San Francisco, garañona, granadilla,158 granadillo, grandadillo, hachinal, hanchinal, hanchinol, hanchinoli, hauchinal, hauchinol, hauchinoli, heimia, herva de la vida (Portuguese, “herb of life”), herva de vida, hierba de San Francisco (Spanish, “herb of St. Francis”), hierba jonequil, huachinal, huauchinolli (Nahuatl, “the burning of the wood”), jara, jara negra, jarilla, jarrila,159 ko’ßi la’wo, maajaji lop’om, maan witsiil (Huastec, “yellow are its flowers”), penaganaq’te, quiebra arado, quiebra yugo, rosilla de Puebla (Spanish, “little rose of Puebla”), sinicuiche, sinicuichi, sinicuil, sinicuilche, sinicuitl, to: la’-gaik, witlat lek’e, xonecuili, xonecuite, xoneculli, xoneguilchi, xonochilli, xonocuili (Nahuatl, “twisted foot”), yerba de las ánimas (Spanish, “herb of the spirits”)160



No information is available concerning the prehistoric use of Heimia salicifolia. It is possible that the plant was associated with the cult of Xochipilli, the Aztec god of spring and desire (Wasson 1974*). During the nineteenth century, the plant was a recommended treatment for syphilis (Argueta V. et al. 1994, 851*).

It often has been (incorrectly) assumed that the plant was named for the renowned Alsatian mycologist Roger Heim (cf. Psilocybe mexicana). However, the genus Heimia, which consists of just three species, was actually named for Ernst Ludwig Heim (1747–1834), a physician from Berlin who introduced Alexander von Humboldt to botany (Genaust 1996, 281*).

The name sinicuiche is used both for the plant and for the drink that is prepared from it. The Mexican names sinicuiche and the derivatives sinicuilche and sinicuil are also used for other inebriating, psychoactive, or poisonous plants: Abrus precatorius L., Rhynchosia spp., Piscidia spp. (cf. Lonchocarpus violaceus), and Erythrina spp. (D. McKenna 1995, 102*; Reko 1938, 145 f.*; Schultes 1970, 35*).

“I drank some 25 g of a Heimia salicifolia tincture from OTJ, and the effects were wonderful. It brought me to a state which at the time I could only describe as ‘perfection.’ Perhaps the people do not drink all of the little bottle and for that reason do not feel the euphoria, the wisdom. Or perhaps I became inebriated solely as a result of the alcohol it contained: but if this was the case, then that was some strong alcohol!”







The flower of Heimia salicifolia. (From Wasson)


Calderón (1896) was the first to describe Heimia salicifolia as the source of a psychoactive preparation. He noted the optical effects (yellow vision) and the acoustical phenomena that occur following ingestion of the leaves. However, he did not experience any of these effects in self-experiments using 5, 10, and 15 g of leaves (Malone and Rother 1994, 141). Calderón appears to have produced a morphogenetic field that still exerts itself and continues to develop today. Victor Reko contributed greatly to this reputation with his dramatic description of a “magical drink causing oblivion” (Reko 1938, 140–47*).



The bush occurs primarily in the highlands of Mexico but is also found in Baja California (Martínez 1994, 293*). It is found throughout South America as far south as Argentina.



Propagation occurs through cuttings as well as the tiny seeds. The seeds are sown in seedbeds or pots. The soil must be of a fine consistency and should be pressed down with a tile and smoothed. The seeds are broadcast onto the soil and pressed in gently with a flat object. The seeds should then be only moistened with a water sprayer, and not watered by pouring. The soil should be kept slightly moist until the seeds have germinated. The seedlings do not tolerate any direct sunlight. Only when they have developed their first true leaves can they be placed in the sun and watered thoroughly. The soil should be allowed to dry out between waterings. When transplanting, be aware that even very young plants develop a large root system (Grubber 1991, 61 f.*).

The plant prefers loose soils that dry quickly after watering. It thrives best in warm, dry zones and does not tolerate frost. In central Europe, it can be kept only as a houseplant.



The perennial, herbaceous shrub can grow to a height of over 3 meters. It has many wooden branches and narrow, willowlike leaves 2 to 9 cm in length. The yellow flowers (2 cm in diameter) have six petals and are usually arranged in pairs on the leaf axils. The tiny seeds are contained in ribbed fruits that are chalicelike capsules (5 mm in length).

The two other Heimia species are almost identical in appearance and are difficult even for experts to distinguish: Heimia myrtifolia Cham. et Schl. (indigenous to southwest Brazil)161 and Heimia montana(Griseb.) Lillo (found throughout Bolivia and Argentina) (Malone and Rother 1994, 136; Rother 1990). Heimia myrtifolia grows to a height of only about 1 meter and looks like a dwarf form of Heimia salicifolia.

Psychoactive Material



—Herbage/branch tips

Preparation and Dosage


Sinicuiche, the Mexican “magical drink causing oblivion,” is made from the leaves:


The preparation of the drink involves laying the slightly wilted leaves in water for a day and then pressing these thoroughly the following day. The juice obtained in this manner is allowed to ferment. In this way, one obtains a peculiar, not unpleasant-tasting drink whose effects, however, are certainly not due to the only low quantities of alcohol that are present but are derived from other substances that are produced during fermentation. (Reko 1938, 142*)


A more modern recipe calls for adding one handful of freshly crushed wilted leaves per person to water and allowing this to sit in the sun for a couple of days, whereupon the liquid will begin to ferment slightly. One cup of this is said to induce yellowish vision and mild euphoria (D. McKenna 1995, 102*). The cold-water extract of the leaves is sticky. Even with dosages as high as 15 g of dried leaves, no psychoactive effects could be observed (Martínez 1994, 295*).

The fresh or dried leaves can be brewed into a tea, both alone and in combination with other herbs.

The fresh herbage can be added to 60 to 80% ethanol to produce an alcoholic extract (tincture). Twenty to 25 g of this tincture is said to be an effective psychoactive dosage.

Ritual Use


To date, no traditional ritual use of Heimia salicifolia is known.



A floral element on the famous Aztec statue of Xochipilli appears to be a naturalistic representation of the sinicuiche flower (Wasson 1974).

The occult writer Hanns Heinz Ewers (1871–1943) immortalized the “magical drink causing oblivion” in his novel Die blauen Indianer [The Blue Indians] (Reko 1938, 141*).

Medicinal Use


In Mexican folk medicine, sinicuiche is regarded as a narcotic, inebriant, diuretic, and febrifuge (Díaz 1979, 77*; Jiu 1966, 254*). The Huastec use the bush as a medicinal bath additive (Alcorn 1984, 665*). In Mexican folk medicine, a tea made from the leaves is thought to promote digestion (Martínez 1994, 294*). The herbage is also used in the treatment of rabies and to counteract the “evil eye” (Argueta V. et al. 1994, 851*). The plant is widely used to treat syphilis (Malone and Rother 1994, 136).

In Mexico, Heimia salicifolia is used primarily for ethnogynecological purposes. Infertile women are said to be helped by a bath prepared from sinicuiche, pericón (Tagetes lucida; cf. Tagetes spp.), rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis L.162; cf. incense, essential oils), and lavender (Lavandula angusti folia Mill. [syn. Lavandula officinalis Chaix]).163 To promote conception, women are advised to drink a tea made from sinicuiche twigs, dormilona(Mimosa pudica; cf. Mimosa spp.), gobernadora (Larrea tridentata [DC.] Cav.), and raíz de la fuerza (“root of power”; unidentified) or raíz hijera (?) daily. If a woman remains childless, she should consume a tea brewed from sinicuiche twigs together with cuatecomate (Crescentia alata H.B.K.), pericón (Tagetes lucida), and maize cobs (Zea mays). To increase fertility or treat sexual weakness and frigidity, ovarian inflammations, and uterine ailments, the vagina should be exposed to the steam from a tea of rosemary and sinicuiche. After giving birth, and to treat the symptoms of a potential miscarriage, a drink made of sinicuiche, cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum), pulque (cf. Agavespp.), and piloncillo (?) should be drunk (Argueta V. et al. 1994, 851*).

The Maká Indians of Chaco, in Paraguay, use fresh Heimia leaves as an extracting plant paste for treating wounds caused by thorns that have remained in the body. The leaves are said to simplify the removal of the thorn and also appear to promote the healing of the wound (Arenas 1987, 290*). The Pilagá of the Argentinean Chaco place fresh leaves onto sores, drink a decoction of the root for stomachaches, and bathe in the decoction for scabies (Filipov 1994, 188*).



The bush contains the quinolizidine alkaloids lythrine, cryogenine (= vertine), heimine, sinicuichine, anelisine, heimidine, lyfoline, dehydrodecodine, abresoline, demethyllasubine-I and -II, epidemethoxyabresoline, sinine, lythridine, vesolidine, and cryofoline. Cryogenine, the main alkaloid, has anticholinergic and antispasmodic effects (Malone and Rother 1994, 137; Scholz and Eigner 1983, 75*). The four Lythraceae alkaloids that have been best studied are vertine (= cryogenine), lyfoline, lythrine, and nesodine (Malone and Rother 1994). The biological precursor of vertine is phenylalanine (Rother and Schwarting 1972).


The sinicuiche bush (Heimia salicifolia), with ripe fruits.



Heimia salicifolia in bloom.



The raw drug that can be obtained in Mexico from Heimia salicifolia consists primarily of the thin branches.


“The farmers in certain parts of Mexico use the word sinicuichi for a drink that is produced from a plant that bears the same name. When taken over an extended period of time, gross forgetfulness occurs. The sinicuichi drinkers usually have no clear and correct orientation concerning space and time. They forget things that took place only a few hours ago, and they tell you things as great news that they told you just minutes earlier without being aware that they are repeating themselves. In contrast, ideas and memories from years ago, which have more or less engraved themselves into their memories, are correctly reproduced. Some babble that they are able to precisely recall occurrences that took place during the first days of their lives, and others that they can even recall events that took place before they came into the world, things that their grandfathers may have experienced and that they describe as if they were their own memories from a time before they were born.”






(1938, 140 f.*)


The leaves contain 15% tannins, 9% bitter agents, and 14% resins (Martínez 1994, 294*). The roots and seeds are devoid of alkaloids (Dobberstein et al. 1975; Malone and Rother 1994, 139).



The drink brewed from Heimia salicifolia produces only mild psychoactive effects:


Sinicuiche has a weak intoxicating effect. It induces a pleasant, slightly euphoric dizziness and numbness, and the surroundings are perceived as being darker. Auditory hallucinations occur as the inebriated person hears indistinct sounds from a great distance. The world around one shrinks. No unpleasant aftereffects are known. (Scholz and Eigner 1983, 75*)


There have been repeated reports of yellowish vision and mild auditory hallucinations, tunnel effects, and tunnel vision (D. McKenna 1995, 102*; Rob Montgomery, pers. comm.). Chills and shivering have also been reported (Bob Wallace, pers. comm.).

Animal experiments have demonstrated that the alkaloids have anticholinergic and anti-spasmodic effects (D. McKenna 1995, 102*). The pharmacology of vertine (= cryogenine) is said to be identical to that of the whole extract (Kaplan and Malone 1966). Self-experiments with the alkaloids vertine, lythrine (310 mg, corresponding to 36 to 156 g of dried branch tips), and acetylsalicylic acid did not result in any detectable psychoactivity (Malone and Rother 1994, 142).

Commercial Forms and Regulations


The seeds are occasionally available from ethnobotanical specialty sources. The plant is not subject to any restrictions.






Appel, H.-G., Ana Rother, and A. E. Schwarting. 1965. Alkaloids of Heimia salicifolia, 2: Isolation of nesodine and lyfoline and their correlation with other Lythraceae alkaloids. Lloydia 28:84–89.


Blomster, R. N., A. E. Schwarting, and J. M. Bobbitt. 1964. Alkaloids of Heimia salicifolia, 1: A preliminary report. Lloydia 27:15–24.


Calderón, J. B. 1896. Estudio sobre el arbusto llamado sinicuichi. Anales del Instituto Médico Nacionál 2:36–42.


Dobberstein, R. H., J. M. Edwards, and A. E. Schwarting. 1975. The sequential appearance and metabolism of alkaloids in Heimia salicifoliaPhytochemistry 14:1769–75.


Douglas, B., J. L. Kirkpatrick, R. F. Raffauf, O. Ribeiro, and J. A. Weisbach. 1964. Problems in chemotaxonomy II. The major alkaloids of the genus HeimiaLloydia 27:25–31.


Hörhammer, R. B., A. E. Schwarting, and J. M. Edwards. 1970. The structure of sinicuichine. Lloydia 33 (4): 483.


Kaplan, Harvey R., and Marvin H. Malone. 1966. A pharmacologic study of nesodine, cryogenin and other alkaloids of Heimia salicifoliaLloydia 29:348–59.


Kaplan, H. R., R. V. Robichaud, and M. H. Malone. 1965. Further pharmacologic studies of cryogenine, an alkaloid isolated from Heimia salicifolia Link et Otto. The Pharmacologist 7:154 (abstract 103).


Lema, William J., James W. Blankenship, and Marvin H. Malone. 1986. Prostaglandin synthetase inhibition by alkaloids of Heimia salicifoliaJournal of Ethnopharmacology 15:161–67.


Malone, Marvin H., and Ana Rother. 1994. Heimia salicifolia: A phytochemical and phytopharmacologic review. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 42:135–59.


Reko, Victor A. 1926. SinicuichiLa Revista Médica de Yucatán 14:22–27.


———. 1935. Sinicuichi: Der vergeglich machende Zaubertrank. Pharmaceutische Monatshefte 16:155–57.


Rother, Ana. 1985. The phenyl- and biphenylquinolizidines of in vitro–grown Heimia salicifoliaJournal of Natural Products 48:33–41.


———. 1989. Heimia salicifolia: In vitro culture and the production of phenyl- and biphenylquinolizidines. In Medicinal and aromatic plants II, vol. 7 of Biotechnology in agriculture and forestry, ed. Y. P. S. Bajaj, 246–63. Heidelberg: Springer.


———. 1990. Alkaloids of Heimia montanaPhytochemistry 29:1683–86.


Rother, Ana, H.-G. Appel, J. M. Kiely, A. E. Schwarting, and J. M. Bobbitt. 1965. Alkaloids of Heimia salicifolia. III: Contribution to the structure of cryogenine. Lloydia 28:90–94.


Rother, Ana, and A. E. Schwarting. 1972. Phenylalanine as a precursor for cryogenin biosynthesis in Heimia salicifoliaPhytochemistry 11:2475–80.