The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants: Ethnopharmacology and Its Applications

Psychoactive Plants

“My heart wears flowers and fruits in the midst of the night . . .

I, Cinteotl [=Xochipilli], was born in paradise. I come from the land of flowers.

I am the new, the glorious, the unequaled flower.

Cinteotl was born of the water; as a mortal, as a young man he was born

from the heavenly blue House of the Fishes. A new, victorious god. He shines like the sun. His mother lived in the House of the Twilight, as colorful as a Quetzal, a new, delightful flower.”






Which plants have been included in this encyclopedia? I considered all of those plants that my own research and experience have indicated to be psychoactive as well as those plants that other researchers or the literature have reported to be psychoactive. Here, we must keep in mind that there are plants for which a majority of subjects have reported no psychoactive effects. There also are plants that have a reputation of being hallucinogenic, but which no one has yet tried. To date, many of these plants have been the object of only cursory investigation. There also are a number of plants that have not yet been botanically determined or identified. The situation is complicated by the fact that the botanical data contained in the ethnographic literature are often incorrect, or at least very imprecise. Sometimes, it was difficult to decide whether a particular plant should be included in this work or not. One such case is St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum L.), which the ancient Germans used as a sedative and in modern phytotherapy is generally regarded as a natural tranquilizer (Becker 1994). St. John’s wort and the oil it yields do indeed exert a psychoactive effect, but only upon patients suffering from mental or emotional afflictions. As a rule, healthy individuals do not notice any psychotropic effects, even after ingesting large amounts.14 Such uncertain cases—to the extent that they are known—have not been included in these monographs.

Reflecting our current state of knowledge, I have treated the various psychoactive plants discussed in this book in several different ways. Well-known plants that have been investigated in some detail are examined in a very systematic fashion in the major monographs. Plants that have been little studied or about which very little is known are discussed in informal minor monographs. A number of very well-known and well-researched plants that are purported to produce psychoactive effects and are sometimes referred to as “legal highs” are considered in their own small section of informal monographs. This is followed by another section that focuses on a number of psychoactive plants whose botanical identity is unknown.

Because they are not plants in the strict sense, psychoactive fungi are presented in a section of their own. The section on psychoactive fungi is followed by another that focuses on psychoactive products that are obtained through often intricate procedures and/or from combinations of plants. Finally, there is a short section that examines the psychoactive constituents of plants. This section also serves as an aid in locating the plants discussed in the monographs.


Depicted here in a state of ecstasy, Xochipilli, the flower prince, was the Aztec god of psychoactive plants, eroticism, spring, inspiration, and music. This pre-Columbian statue clearly illustrates the great importance that people have placed upon visions as well as the manners in which such experiences have found expression in art.


On the Structure of the Major Monographs


The monographs are arranged alphabetically according to botanical names. Below the scientific name may been found the most common English name(s) or, when none is known, a common international name.

Some of the monographs treat not just one species but, rather, a number of species of the same genus. This is done either because the traditional users make no distinction between the different species or because the species all contain the same active constituents and/or are sources of the same products.



Here, information is provided about the botanical family to which the plant belongs, along with additional details about taxonomy.

Forms and Subspecies


Any known forms, varieties, cultivars, or subspecies of the plant are listed here.



Most plants have been described in the botanical literature under more than one name. Under this heading may be found these nonvalid botanical names (including misspellings in the literature).

Folk Names


Folk and popular names are given here. Often, information is also furnished about the particular language a name is taken from, and translations of many of the terms are provided. Please note that the names of indigenous tribes and tribal languages referenced in these sections will be spelled in a variety of ways, rather than uniformly. The variant spellings reflect the spellings found in the literature referenced for each plant.



Here may be found the most important information about the history of the plant, including its discovery, botanical description, and historical uses.



Under this heading is provided information concerning the range as well as the natural occurrence of the plant in question.



Information about the more simple and successful methods of growing and cultivating a plant is provided under this heading. It should be noted, however, that more is required to successfully grow these plants than simply reading this information; it is also helpful to have a “green thumb,” experience, skill, and a deep love of the plant world.



Here is provided a brief description of the plant. Other plants that might possibly be mistaken for it are mentioned, and the plant’s distinguishing features are emphasized. It should be noted that the information contained under this heading does not always conform to the standardized botanical descriptions (which may be found in the botanical literature).

Psychoactive Material


Under this heading, information is provided about the parts of the plant that are utilized, as well as products obtained from them (where appropriate, the pharmaceutical names of the raw drugs are also given).

Preparation and Dosage


Here may be found information for preparing and dosing the various raw drugs. While every attempt has been made to ensure that this information is as accurate as possible, it must be explicitly stated that this information should not be regarded as definitive. Identical dosages can produce very different responses in different individuals.

Ritual Use


Information concerning the traditional uses of the plant in shamanic rituals, priestly ceremonies, domestic festivals, and other experiences may be found here. As in the Folk Names sections, the spelling of indigenous tribal names will reflect the variant spellings found in the literature referenced.



Where possible, reference is made to three types of artifacts associated with the plant:


—Artifacts composed of the plant or manufactured from it

—Artistic representations of the plant (in paintings, architecture, etc.)

—Art works (paintings, poetry, music, theater pieces, etc.) whose inspiration has come from the use of the plant.

Medicinal Use


Many psychoactive plants are also of medicinal and therapeutic significance. Sometimes a plant’s medicinal applications are much more important than its psychoactive uses. For these reasons, as much information as possible is provided about the medicinal uses of the plant under discussion. This includes ethnomedical, folk medical, biomedical, and homeopathic uses.



Under this heading may be found a comprehensive listing of the known constituents of the plant.



Here, the effect or the pattern of effects of the plant is described. Once again, it should be kept in mind that different individuals can have very different experiences with the same plant.

Commercial Forms and Regulations


Many plants and/or the raw drugs obtained from them are available through commercial sources. Some plants are subject to particular regulations or laws. Pertinent information is included under this heading.



Here, references are provided to specialized literature on the plant under discussion.

Symbol Key


Those sources marked in the monographs with a* are listed in the general bibliography located at the end of this book (pages 878–907). Those marked with a ** may be found in the general literature on psychoactive fungi (pages 689–693), which follows the section devoted to them.

Terms in bold print within the running text refer to other entries in this book.

Where a question mark has been inserted in a table column, it indicates that the missing information poses an important question for further research.


Latua pubiflora, known as the tree of the magicians, is one of the world’s rarest shamanic plants. The flower of this nightshade is 3 to 4 cm in length. (Photographed near Osorno, in southern Chile)