Acanthaceae (Acanthus Family)
Forms and Subspecies
There is one variety that occurs chiefly in Venezuela and Ecuador and is of ethnopharmacological importance: Justicia pectoralis Jacq. var. stenophylla Leonard.
Dianthera pectoralis (Jacq.) Murr.
Eclobium pectorale (Jacq.) Kuntze
Psacadocalymma pectorale (Jacq.) Bremek
Rhytiglossa pectoralis (Jacq.) Nees
Stethoma pectoralis (Jacq.) Raf.
Boo-hanak, buhenak, carpenter bush, carpenter grass, curía,196 fresh cut, garden balsam, herbe à charpentier, justicia, justizia, kokoime, kumaruka’a (Ka’apor, “tonka bean plant”), mahfarahenak (Maitá), marica (Shipibo-Conibo), masci-hiri, masha-hara-hanak, mashahari, masha-hiri (Waika), mashi-hiri, mashihíri, paxararok (Ninam), pirapishî-ka’a (Ka’apor,“fish(?)-plant”), sua-ka-henako (Yanomamö, “leaves to use on women”), tilo (Cuba), tilo casero, tilo criollo, tilo de jardín, tilo natural, toyeau, trebo, yacu piri-piri, ya-ko-yoó (Puinave), zeb shêpantyê
The first report of the Venezuelan Indian use of justicia as a snuff was made in 1953 (Schultes 1990, 61). The ethnopharmacology and chemistry of the plant are still essentially unknown.
The plant grows along waterways in the tropical rain forests of Mexico and Central America, on the Caribbean islands (Cuba), and in northern South America. The variety stenophylla occurs only in South America.
Propagation occurs via the seeds or the planting of rootstocks that have been separated from another plant. The simplest method is to use cuttings that have begun to develop roots or scions (stems that have developed roots on the lower nodes). In South America, the plant is cultivated as an ornamental. The Yanomamö Indians cultivate it for the manufacture of psychoactive snuffs. They grow the plant in the semishaded areas between banana trees. The plant does not tolerate frost.
The plant, which can grow as tall as 70 to 80 cm, develops vertical stalks that lean at the tops and sometimes develop roots on their lower nodes. The numerous light green, somewhat rough leaves are narrow and lanceolate, 2 to 5 cm long and 2 to 3 cm wide. The flowers, which are typical of those of the family, develop at the tips of the stalks. The calyxes are only 5 mm long and are usually white or light violet in color. In the tropics, the flowering period is from November to April. The fruits, which contain the flat, reddish brown seeds, develop from December to March.
The variety stenophylla is chiefly distinguishable by a more stocky pattern of growth (up to 30 cm tall) and narrower leaves (1 to 2 cm wide).
The plant is very easily confused with other Justicia species, some eighty of which occur in Mexico alone. Worldwide, there are approximately four hundred species in the genus (cf. Daniel 1995).
—Leaves, fresh or dried
Preparation and Dosage
A sedative tea can be made by pouring hot water over a handful of fresh leaves. Allow to steep for five to ten minutes, and sweeten with honey as desired.
In Guadeloupe (Caribbean), the fresh herbage is steeped in wine, sweetened with honey, and used as a love drink (Müller-Ebeling and Rätsch 1986, 126*).
Only leaves that have been dried in the shade are used for psychoactive purposes. These are ground into a fine powder and used primarily as an additive to the snuff known as epená. Justicia powder often is mixed with the dried resin of Virola spp. (Prance 1972a, 17*).
Today, the dried leaves are often mixed with marijuana (Cannabis indica) for smoking (see smoking blends); the mixture has a pleasant aroma. Justicia pectoralis also appears to be used as an ingredient in the tobacco preparation known as chimó (see Nicotiana tabacum).
The leaves of the South American Justicia pectoralis var. stenophylla are used primarily as an aromatic additive to psychoactive snuffs.
The most important use of the leaves of the variety stenophylla is as an additive to psychedelic snuffs that are based on the dried resin of DMT-containing species of the genera Anadenanthera and Virola. The dried leaves acquire an aromatic scent. They are used in this way by various tribes in the Amazon region. The Waika or Yanomamö use Justicia leaves and Virola resin to manufacture a snuff they call machohara. They say that while each of the two ingredients can be snuffed by itself in order to induce mild visions, the combination of the two has better effects and is more potent (Schultes 1990, 68).
It is possible that Justicia pectoralis may have been used as a snuff in prehistoric Mexico.
The Shipibo say that the plant awakens the spirit of work in humans and brings good fortune in fishing. To achieve these benefits, a person should drink a decoction of the leaves (Arévalo V. 1994, 185*).
Yanomamö women place bundles of the leaves into holes in their earlobes for decorative purposes.
The Yanomamö use Justicia pectoralis var. stenophylla as an aphrodisiac for women (Schultes 1990, 64f.) The Kofán Indians of Colombia make a decoction of a related species, Justicia ideogenes Leonard, which they use to treat the symptoms of old age (Schultes 1993, 131*).
In Cuba, Justicia pectoralis is known as tilo,197 more rarely as tila, and is drunk as a mild nerve tea (sedative) that has an aromatic/sweet taste. Moreover, the plant is used in Cuban folk medicine as a remedy for heartburn, epilepsy, arteriosclerosis, baldness, runny nose, blindness, colic, lack of appetite, weakness, sleeplessness, headache, scurf, coughing, and depression (Seoane Gallo 1984, 876*). In the Caribbean, teas made from the plant are used chiefly for coughs and colds. The freshly pressed juice of the leaves is dripped onto bleeding wounds (Seaworth 1991, 70*). In Trinidad, a decoction is drunk to treat flu, fever, cold chest, coughing, pneumonia, and vomiting (Wong 1976, 139*). The plant is used as an aphrodisiac in Guadeloupe (Müller-Ebeling and Rätsch 1986, 126*).
In Mexican folk medicine, the plant known locally as trebo is administered to treat elevated body temperatures (Argueta V. et al 1994, 1519*).
The leaves were at one time determined to contain N,N-DMT, a finding that later was discovered to be incorrect (Ott 1993, 410*). However, this possibility has again been raised (Schultes 1990).
Known to be present are betaine, umbelliferone, an essential oil, various coumarins (scopoletin and others), benzopyrane, and justicidine B (Macrae and Towers 1984; Seaworth 1991, 70*). Small amounts of vasicine and traces of tryptamines also have been detected (Schultes 1990, 66).
Large quantities of coumarins are produced as the leaves dry, and these give the raw plant material its characteristic scent (Schultes 1990, 68). The genus Justicia is also known to contain lignans (Ghosal et al. 1979).
The plant is sometimes described as hallucinogenic (Daniel 1995, 75). Apart from its mild sedative effects, however, little is known about the psychoactive properties of the plant. There are some reports of hypnotic and sedative effects, which can be attributed to the coumarin the plant contains (Macrae and Towers 1984).
Commercial Forms and Regulations
The seeds are occasionally available through sources specializing in ethnobotanical plants.
“Chonó-Rau, Chonó Ininti, or Rimon Ininti (Justicia sp.) [is one] master plant that smells like lemons; it is ingested especially by the students of the shamans [of the Shipibo-Conibo Indians]. During a two-week long dietary period (abstinence), the student drinks the initiatory water of the leaves. Afterward, he takes ayahuasca and encounters the lord of the plants either in the resulting visions or in his nocturnal dreams.”
DIE SPITZE DES BEWUßTSEINS [THE PINNACLE OF CONSCIOUSNESS] (1987, 337)
See also the entry for snuffs.
Daniel, Thomas F. 1995. Flora of Chiapas. Part 4: Acanthaceae. San Francisco: Dept. of Botany, California Academy of Sciences (pages 75f.).
Ghosal, Shibnath, Shanta Banerjee, and Radhey S. Srivastava. 1979. Simplexion, a new lignan from Justicia simplex. Phytochemistry 18:503–5.
Macrae, W. Donald, and G. H. Neil Towers. 1984. Justicia pectoralis: A study of the basis for its use as a hallucinogenic snuff ingredient. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 12:93–111.
Schultes, Richard Evans. 1990. De Plantis Toxicariis e Mundo Novo Tropicale Commentationes XXXVI: Justicia (Acanthaceae) as a source of an hallucinogenic snuff. Economic Botany 44 (1): 61–70.