The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants: Ethnopharmacology and Its Applications

Scopolia carniolica Jacques

 

Scopolia

 

“Skopolie, indigenous to Carinthia and Ukraine, cultivated in gardens by the Lithuanians in eastern Prussia as ‘crazy root.’ The root serves them as a medicine to treat paralysis agitans [= Parkinson’s disease]; also as an erotic inebriant, applied locally, as an abortifacient.”

 

HERMANN FÜHNER MEDIZINISCHE TOXIKOLOGIE [MEDICAL TOXICOLOGY]

 

(1943, 195*)

 

Family

 

Solanaceae (Nightshade Family); Subfamily Solanoideae, Hyoscyameae Tribe, Hyoscyaminae Subtribe

Forms and Subspecies

 

Three to five species are now accepted botanically in the genus (D’Arcy 1991, 79*; Lu 1986, 6*). A number of varieties of Scopolia carniolica have been described:

 

Scopolia carniolica Jacq. var. brevifolia Dun.

Scopolia carniolica Jacq. var. carniolica

Scopolia carniolica Jacq. var. concolor Dun.

Scopolia carniolica Jacq. var. hladnikiana (Fleischm.) Fiori

Scopolia carniolica Jacq. var. longifolia Dun.

 

A new form that has pure yellow flowers and is found only in Slovenia (Hladnikov) has recently been described (Dakshobler 1996):

 

Scopolia carniolica Jacq. forma hladnikiana

Synonyms

 

Hyoscyamus scopolia L.

Scopolia hladnikiana Fleischm.

Scopolia longifolia Dun.

Scopolina atropoides Schultes

Scopolina hladnikiana Freyer

Scopolina viridiflora Freyer

Folk Names

 

Altsitzerkraut, deewa sales, durna rope (Lithuanian, “crazy root”), glockenbilsenkraut, gotteskraut, krainer tollkraut, matragun (Romanian),291 mauda, maulda, pikt-rope (“evil root”),292 pometis ropes (“pometis root”), Russian belladonna, scopolia (Italian), scopolie, skopolia, skopolie, toll-kraut, tollrübe, volčič, walkenbaum

History

 

It is uncertain whether scopolia was known to the authors of antiquity. The “sleeping strychnos” (Strychnos hypnoticos) of Dioscorides (cf. Solanum spp.) has sometimes been interpreted as a Scopolia species (Fühner 1919, 223). The genus was named for the naturalist Antonio Scopoli (1723–1788), who was the first to study and describe the flora of Slovenia (Festi 1996, 35). In Slovenia, the plant may once have been used to prepare witches’ ointments. In eastern Prussia, the root of the plant was used as a folk inebriant and aphrodisiac. It is said that women would use it to persuade young men to become their willing lovers. Sometimes some of the root was added to a person’s coffee (Coffea arabica) as a practical joke so that others could amuse themselves on the seemingly nonsensical behavior of the inebriated victim (Fühner 1919).

In the history of pharmaceuticals, Scopolia has played only a minor role as a substitute or counterfeit for belladonna root (Atropa belladonna) and belladonna leaves (Schneider 1974, 3:240*). Today, the plant is used in the industrial manufacture of L-hyoscyamine and atropine (Wagner 1985, 172*).

Distribution

 

The plant occurs wild in the Alps, the Carpathian Mountains, and the Caucasus Mountains (Gelencir 1983, 217). It also grows in southeastern Europe (Slovenia), Lithuania, Latvia, and the Ukraine.

Cultivation

 

Cultivation is very simple. In spring, the seeds are sown into seedbeds to germinate. Later, the seedlings can be transplanted to the desired location. The plant does not tolerate a great deal of exposure to the sun (Festi 1996, 36), preferring dark, humid forests and calciferous humus soil. In Lithuania and Latvia, it has long been planted in gardens for use as a medicinal plant.

Appearance

 

This annual plant, which is typically 30 to 60 cm in height but can grow as tall as 80 cm, develops a fleshy, spindle-shaped root. The dull green leaves resemble those of the belladonna plant (Atropa belladonna)—hence the name Russian belladonna.

The small, pendulous, campanulate flowers are purple to pale yellow in color and are similar in shape to henbane flowers (Hyoscyamus albus)—hence the German name glockenbilsenkraut (“bell henbane”). The plant flowers from April to June. The fruit develops a capsule with a double partition and many small seeds.

Scopolia is easily confused with Chinese scopolia (Scopolia carniolicoides C.W. Wu et C. Chen) and Japanese scopolia (Scopolia japonica Maxim.). Scopolia anomala (Link et Otto) Airy Shaw [syn. Scopolia lurida Dun.], which is native to Nepal and Sikkim, is about twice as large as the European scopolia (Weinert 1972).

Psychoactive Material

 

—Root (rhizoma scopoliae, scopoliae radix, scopolia root, glockenbilsenkrautwurzel, europäische scopoliawurzel)

—Herbage (herba et radix scopoliae carniolicae)

Preparation and Dosage

 

The fresh root, when boiled and grated, can be eaten as a mush or taken in coffee (Coffea arabica). It also is added to beer or brewed with it in order to potentiate its effects (Fühner 1919, 224).

 

The root and the rootstock (scopoliae radix et rhizoma) are used. The root is dug up, dried, and used exactly as the belladonna root. Taste, color, and appearance are exactly like bella-donna. Many plant collectors confuse the bell henbane with belladonna [Atropa bella-donna], which is why one always finds scopolia mixed into belladonna, especially when the belladonna is from the Carpathians. (Gelencir 1983, 217)

 

The dried herbage, collected while the plant is in flower, can be smoked alone or in smoking blends.

 

Scopolia (Scopolia carniolica) was used in eastern Europe much like the mandrake.

 

 

The Asian scopolia Scopolia anomala also has psychoactive properties.

 

“White thorn apple [Datura metel var. alba] and black scopolia [Scopolia anomala] heighten the sex drive, and together with henbane [Hyoscyamus niger var. chinensis], they alleviate illnesses caused by tiny little animals.”

 

“DER BLAUE BERYLL (ARIS 1992, 67*)

 

“The incident occurred at the end of March 1901 in the church village of Lappienen, in the district of Niederung [eastern Prussia]. . . . Here, some women added a decoction of scopolia to a man’s afternoon coffee, supposedly as a joke. According to his own testimony, he developed a severe headache and a terrible burning soon after drinking the coffee. His tongue became completely rigid, and for a time he did not know where he was. Taken home, he lay in bed for a while and then vomited, whereupon the pains let up. But he remained lying in bed for three weeks, and during this time he suffered from severe headaches. A witness who took him home described his behavior in the following terms: ‘Immediately after consuming the coffee, he complained of internal pains and talked all kinds of nonsense. On the way home, he acted like a madman: he ran, fell, claimed to see people, wood, a saw, and all manner of things. After arriving home, he did not recognize his wife, thought she was a young girl, lay down in bed, jumped back up, and was ill for quite a while.”

 

HERMANN FÜHNER “SCOPOLIAWURZEL ALS GIFT UND HEILMITTEL BEI LITAUEN UND LETTEN” [SCOPOLIA ROOT AS POISON AND MEDICINE AMONG THE LITHUANIANS AND LATVIANS]

 

(1919, 225)

 

Ritual Use

 

In eastern Prussia, Lithuania, and the Balkans, scopolia formerly was collected and used in magic in the same manner as mandrake (Mandragora officinarum). In the early twentieth century, only rudiments of this ritual use were still being practiced (Fühner 1919).

Artifacts

 

See Mandragora officinarum.

Scopolia anomala is depicted on Tibetan medical thangkas (Aris 1992, 67*).

Medicinal Use

 

Scopolia carniolica was used in eastern European folk medicine in the same manner as Mandragora officinarum (Schneider 1974, 3:240*). In Lithuania, the plant was used to treat rheumatism, gout, toothaches, colic, and Parkinson’s disease; as a sedative for children and an aphrodisiac; and to induce abortions (Fühner 1919, 224).

In homeopathy, the essence obtained from the fresh-blooming herbage is known as Hyoscyamus scopolia and is used in accordance with the medical description (Schneider 1974, 3:240*).

Constituents

 

The entire plant contains hallucinogenic tropane alkaloids (Evans 1979, 249*). The total alkaloid content averages around 0.5% but can range from 0.3 to 0.8% (Fühner 1919, 223; Roth et al. 1994, 648*). The dried leaves contain 0.19% hyoscyamine and 0.13% scopolamine (Scholten et al. 1989). The root contains approximately 0.5% scopolamine (Gelencir 1983, 218). Also present are the alkaloids cuscohygrine, tropine, and 3αtigloyloxytropane. Chemotaxonomically, Scopolia is thus closely related to henbane (Hyoscyamus spp.) (Evans 1979, 249*; Zito and Leary 1966). The alkaloid content of the dried roots can be as high as 1% (Wagner 1985, 172*).

In addition to the alkaloids, the entire plant also contains the coumarins scopoline and scopoletin as well as chlorogenic acid (Roth et al. 1994, 648*).

Effects

 

Few documents describing the actual effects of scopolia are available (Festi 1996). Depending upon dosages, all preparations are capable of producing psychoactive effects that are very similar to those produced by henbane. Low doses induce aphrodisiac sensations, whereas “larger quantities of the root are inebriating and produce a condition associated with unpredictable, comic actions” (Fühner 1919, 224). High doses have been observed to produce delirium, loss of awareness of reality, coma, severe pupillary dilation, headache, disturbances of coordination, and other symptoms typical of an overdose of Atropa belladonna.

Smoking the leaves produces only very mild psychoactive effects that are comparable with those resulting from smoking Hyoscyamus niger or Datura stramonium.

Commercial Forms and Regulations

 

The herbage and roots can sometimes be found in eastern European herb shops. The seeds are occasionally available from ethnobotanical specialty sources.

Literature

 

See also the entries for coumarinsscopolaminescopoletin, and tropane alkaloids.

 

Dakskobler, Igor. 1996. Hladnikov volčič (Scopolia carniolica f. hladnikiana) tudi v Zelenem potoku. Proteus 58:102–3.

 

Festi, Francesco. 1996. Scopolia carniolica Jacq. Eleusis 5:34–45.

 

Fühner, Hermann. 1919. Scopoliawurzel als Gift und Heilmittel bei Litauen und Letten. Therapeutische Monatshefte 33:221–27.

 

Gelencir, Nikola. 1983. Naturheilkunde des Balkans. Steyr, Austria: Verlag Wilhem Ennsthaler.

 

Scholten, H. J., S. Batterman, and J. F. Visser. 1989. Formation of hyoscyamine in cell cultures of Scopolia carniolicaPlanta Medica 55:230.

 

Weinert, E. 1972. Zur Taxonomie und Chorologie der Gattung Scopolia Jacq. Feddes Repertorium 82 (10): 617–28.

 

Zito, S. W., and J. D. Leary. 1966. Alkaloids of Scopolia carniolicaJournal of Pharmaceutical Sciences 55:1150–51.