Numerous acacias have played a role in ethnopharmacology and medical history. Some species (such as gum arabic) are used as sources for an excipient and incense, some are used as beer additives, and others provide DMT and other tryptamines. (Woodcut from Tabernaemontanus, Neu Vollkommen Kräuter-Buch, 1731)
Many Australian acacias contain high concentrations of N,N-DMT and are thus suitable for the production of psychedelic ayahuasca analogs. Although our studies of Australia’s psychoactive flora have only just begun, they already have demonstrated great promise. (Acacia spp., photographed in southeastern Australia)
Catechu, the resin of the catechu tree (Acacia catechu), is one of the main ingredients in betel quids. (Photograph: Karl-Christian Lyncker)
Leguminosae: Mimosaceae (Fabaceae) (Legume Family)
Many species of the genus Acacia were formerly assigned to the genera Mimosa, Pithecolobium, Senegalia, and Racosperma. In addition, some species previously described under the genus name Acacia have now been reclassified as Anadenanthera (see Anadenanthera colubrina) and Mimosa (see Mimosa tenuiflora, Mimosa spp.).
The genus Acacia encompasses 750 to 800 species (other sources list only approximately 130) found in tropical and subtropical regions throughout the world (Harnischfeger 1992). Most are mediumsized trees, the leaves of which are usually pinnate but sometimes edentate. The flowers appear in clusters and produce podlike fruits.
Some species are sold as cut flowers under the name “mimosa.” Acacia farnesiana (L.) Willd. yields an essential oil that is used as an aromatic substance in aromatherapy and in the manufacture of perfumes (Bärtels 1993, 891). Some acacias (such as gum arabic) have been used since ancient times as excipients for compound medicines and incense. Some species find use as additives in psychoactive products (betel quid, beer, balche’, pituri; for pulque, cf. Agave spp.). Many species are suitable for producing ayahuasca analogs. The bark and/or leaves of numerous Australian acacia species (A. maidenii, A. phlebophylla, A. simplicifolia) contain high concentrations of N,N-DMT(Fitzgerald and Sioumis 1965; Ott 1994, 85f.*; Rovelli and Vaughan 1967).
Acacia angustifolia (Mill.) Kuntze [syn. Acacia angustissima (Mill.) Kuntze, Acacia filiciana Willd.]—pulque tree, timbre
The root of this Mexican acacia provides an additive to pulque (a fermented beverage made from Agave spp.) that may have psychoactive effects. The Aztecs called this small tree ocpatl, “pulque drug”; in contemporary Mexican Spanish, it is known as palo de pulque, “tree of pulque.” Acacia albicans Kunth [syn. Pithecolobium albicans (Kunth) Benth.] was also used as a pulque additive.
Acacia baileyana F. von Muell.
This Australian acacia is found in New South Wales. It contains psychoactive β-phenethylamines, including tetrahydroharman, and may be suitable as an MAO-inhibiting additive in the preparation of ayahuasca analogs.
Acacia campylacantha Hochst. ex A. Rich [syn. Acacia polyacantha Willd. ssp. campylacantha] The leaves of this Old World species contain N,NDMT and other tryptamines (Wahba Khalil and Elkeir 1975). In West Africa, the bark is traditionally used as a psychoactive additive to a type of beer known as dolo15 that is brewed from certain cereal grains (Sorghum spp., Pennisetum spp.), sometimes with the addition of honey. The alcohol content normally ranges between 2 and 4%, and from 8 to 10% when honey has been added (Voltz 1981, 176). Dolo is consumed as a libation during offering ceremonies and other rites as well as in daily life. Its properties are held in high regard: “Dolo imparts strength and courage and brings a joy of living. It is customary to drink dolo when performing strenuous work. The farmer who is making a piece of wilderness cultivable, the smith who is working hard at the anvil, the warrior who is preparing himself for battle, the woman who is in labor, the dancer who will be wearing the heavy, sacred mask . . . , all of them receive strength and courage from dolo, which is offered to them by their mother, wife, or sister” (Voltz 1981, 178).
Acacia catechu (L. f.) Willd.—catechu tree
This acacia species, found in India, Indonesia, and Malaysia, can grow as tall as 20 meters. It is also known as cutch tree, khair, kath, katha, khadira, and ercha. Its heartwood is boiled in water for twelve hours to concentrate the extract, which is known as catechu, katechu, catechu nigrum, extractum catechu, succus catechu, terra catechu, terra japonica, pegu, black catechu, cutch, cachou, katha, khair, terra giapponica, khadira, and cato de pegú. Essentially four types are found in trade: Pegu catechu (= Bombay catechu), the most common type; Bengali catechu; Malaccan catechu; and Camou catechu (Harnischfeger 1992, 31). Catechu is an ancient Indian drug and is still officinal in Germany as well (DAB6).* In Vedic times, the bark of Acacia catechu was known as somatvak and was associated with soma.
The Acacia catechu tree, indigenous to South Asia, produces a substance known as catechu, which is an important ingredient in betel quids. (Engraving from Pereira, De Beginselen der Materia Medica en der Therapie, 1849)
Catechu is odorless and has a bitter, astringent taste that slowly turns sweet. It is largely water soluble and can be crystallized back out again. It is composed of flavonols and glycosides (fisetin, quercetin [cf. Psidium guajava, Vaccinium uliginosum], quercitrin), as well as flavonoids (catechine, catechin tanning agents) and red pigments (Harnischfeger 1992, 31). Catechu is thus responsible for the reddish coloration of the saliva that occurs when betel quids are chewed (Atkinson 1989, 775*). In India and Nepal, catechu is used in dyeing and tanning. In the local ethnomedicine, it is employed as a tonic and for digestive ailments and skin diseases. However, the greatest economic significance of catechu is as a (coloring) additive to betel quids (Storrs 1990, 5*). In Indian medicine, catechu is an ingredient in recipes for treating ulcers on the mucous membranes of the mouth, inflamed throats, and toothaches (Harnischfeger 1992, 32). Catechu is a definite tannin drug that is suitable for treating inflammations of the mucous membranes and diarrhea (Pahlow 1993, 453*). Catechu has no psychoactive effects of its own but is simply an important component of a psychoactive product; however, it may have synergistic effects in this.
Acacia confusa Merr.
This acacia species contains N,N-DMT and is usable as an additive in ayahuasca analogs.
Acacia cornigera (L.) Willd. [syn. Acacia spadicigera Cham. et Schlechtend.]—horned acacia
The large binate thorns of this striking acacia are hollow and provide a home for ants. In Mayan, the small tree (also known as akunte’) is called subin, “dragon.” It plays an important role in the magical preparation of the ritual drink known as balche’. It is possible that parts of the tree were formerly added to the drink. The bark may contain N,NDMT. The Maya of San Antonio (Belize) use its roots and bark to treat snakebites. The root is made into a tea that is also consumed as an aphrodisiac and as a remedy for impotence. Other preparations are used to treat asthma and headaches (Arvigo and Balick 1994, 81*).
Acacia maidenii F. von Muell.—maiden’s wattle
All parts of this beautiful, upright, silvery tree contain tryptamines. The bark contains 0.36% N,N-DMT (Fitzgerald and Sioumis 1967). The leaves are usable in ayahuasca analogs as a source of DMT (Ott 1993, 246*). This acacia is easily cultivated in temperate zones (e.g., in California and southern Europe).
The horned acacia (Acacia cornigera) is an important magical plant for the Lacandon Maya. (Photographed in the Selva Lacandona, Chiapas, Mexico, 1996)
The bark of Acacia maidenii, collected in New South Wales, contains high concentrations of N,N-DMT.
Flowers and leaves of the Australian Acacia maidenii.
“In Canaan the prime oracular tree was the acacia—the ‘burning bush.’ . . . The acacia is still a sacred tree in Arabia Deserta and anyone who even breaks off a twig is expected to die within the year.”
THE WHITE GODDESS (1948, 440, 441*)
Acacia nubica Bentham—Nubian acacia
The leaves of this African acacia contain N,NDMT and other constituents (Wahba Khalil and Elkeir 1975). However, the concentrations do not appear to be sufficient for producing ayahuasca analogs.
Acacia phlebophylla F. von Muell.—buffalo sallow wattle
This Australian species is rich in N,N-DMT. The leaves contain 0.3% N,N-DMT (Rovelli and Vaughan 1967), and are usable as a source of DMT for ayahuasca analogs (Ott 1993, 246*). This acacia may be the rarest species of the genus and is found only on Mount Buffalo.
The Australian Acacia phlebophylla is apparently the rarest species of acacia in the world. Its leaves contain large quantities of N,N-DMT.
Seedpods of Acacia phlebophylla.
Acacia polyantha Willd. [syn. Acacia suma (Roxb.) Buch.-Ham.]—white catechu tree
The resin of this Indian acacia is sometimes used as catechu or as a catechu substitute in betel quids (see above). The leaves apparently contain N,NDMT. Interestingly, the Sanskrit name of this plant is somavalkah, which associates it with the divine drink soma. This is also suggested by the Malayalam name somarayattoli (Warrier et al. 1993, 26*).
Acacia retinodes Schlechtend.—swamp wattle
This Australian acacia is found primarily in swampy and humid areas. It contains nicotine (Bock 1994, 93*). No traditional use of this plant is known.
Acacia senegal (L.) Willd. [syn. Acacia verek Guill. et Perrott, Senegalia senegal (L.) Britt.]—gum arabic tree
This African acacia is chiefly significant as the source of gum arabic, which is used as a binding agent in incense and for other purposes. The leaves contain N,N-DMT (Wahba Khalil and Elkeir 1975), although the concentration is very low. It is apparently not particularly suitable for producing ayahuasca analogs.
Acacia simplicifolia Druce
The bark of the trunk of this acacia, which is found in Australia and New Caledonia, is said to contain up to 3.6% alkaloids; 40% of these are MMT, 22.5% N,N-DMT (= 0.81% DMT total concentration), and 12.7% 2-methyl-1,2,3,4-
tetrahydro-ß-carboline. The leaves contain up to 1% N,N-DMT, along with MMT, N-formyl-MMT, and 2-methyl-1,2,3,4-tetrahydro-ß-carbo-line (Poupat et al. 1976). Both the bark and the leaves are suitable for the production of ayahuasca analogs.
According to the reports of some closet shamans, the bark and leaves of many species of wattles (as acacias are known in Australia) clearly contain N,N-DMT. It is said that these can be used to make smokable extracts that produce definite tryptamine hallucinations. The Aborigines burned some species of Acacia to ashes, which they then added to pituri.
Commercial Forms and Regulations
Acacia seeds are occasionally sold in ethno-botanical specialty shops. Gum arabic is available without restriction and may be purchased in pharmacies in Germany. It is readily available in the United States as well.
See also the entry for ayahuasca analogs.
Clarce-Lewis, J. W., and L. J. Porter. 1972. Phytochemical survey of the heartwood flavonoids of Acacia species from arid zones of Australia. Australia Journal of Chemistry 25:1943–55.
Fitzgerald, J. S., and A. A. Sioumis. 1965. Alkaloids of the Australian Leguminosae, V: the occurrence of methylated tryptamines in Acacia maidenii F. von Muell. Australian Journal of Chemistry 18:433–34.
Harnischfeger, Götz. 1992. Acacia. In Hagers handbuch der pharmazeutischen praxis. 5th ed. Vol. 4:26–43. Berlin: Springer.
Poupat, Christiane, Alain Ahond, and Thierry Sévenet. 1976. Alcaloïdes de Acacia simplicifolia. Phytochemistry 15:2019–20.
Rovelli, B., and G. N. Vaughan. 1967. Alkaloids of Acacia, I: N,N-dimethyltryptamine in Acacia phlebophylla F. von Muell. Australian Journal of Chemistry 20:1299–1300.
Voltz, Michel. 1981. Hirsebier in Westafrika. In Rausch und Realität, edited by G. Völger. Vol. 1:174–81. Cologne: Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum.
Wahba Khalil, S. K., and Y. M. Elkheir. 1975. Dimethyltryptamine from the leaves of certain Acacia species of northern Sudan. Lloydia 38(2): 176–77.