Cup of Gold
Solanaceae (Nightshade Family); Subfamily Solanoideae, Solandreae Tribe (formerly Datureae Tribe)
Ten to twelve species are currently botanically recognized as belonging to the genus Solandra (D’Arcy 1991, 79*; Bärtels 1993, 207*; Schultes and Farnsworth 1982, 166*). However, the taxonomy of the genus is rather confusing or, as Schultes (1979b, 150*) expressed it, “very poorly understood.”
The species of ethnopharmacological significance are:
Solandra brevicalyx Standl.—kieli, kieri, kiéri
Solandra guerrerensis Martinez—huipatli, hueypahtli, tecomaxochitl293
Solandra guttata D. Don ex Lindley (possibly identical to Solandra brevicalyx; Furst 1995, 55)
Solandra nitida Zucc. [syn. Solandra maxima P.S. Green, Solandra hartwegii N.E. Brown, Swartzia nitida Zucc.]—cutaquatzitziqui, copa de oro
To nonbotanists, these four species are difficult if not impossible to distinguish (Morton 1995, 20*). The Indians regard them as equivalent.
The following species, which occur in Mexico and are rich in alkaloids (Evans et al. 1972), have not been ethnobotanically described or investigated to date:
Solandra grandiflora Sw.
Solandra hirsuta Dun.
Solandra macrantha Dun.
Datura maxima Sessé et Mociña (= Solandra sp.)
Datura sarmentosa Lam. (= Solandra grandiflora Sw.)
Datura scandens Velloso (= Solandra sp.)
Solandra herbacea Mordant de Launay is a synonym for Datura ceratocaula (see Datura spp.).
In Mexico, these folk names are used for all of the species in the genus (cf. Martínez 1966): arbol del viento, bolsa de Judas (Spanish, “bag of Judas”), bolute, chalice vine, copa de oro (Spanish, “cup of gold”), cup of gold, cútacua (Tarascan), cutaquatzitziqui, floripondio del monte (Spanish, “angel’s trumpet of the forest”), goldkelch, hueipatl, hueypatli, hueytlaca, itzucuatziqui, k’äni bäk’el (Lacandon,“yellow bone/scent”), kieli, kiéli, kieri, kiéri (Huichol, “tree of the wind”), lipa-catu-hue (Chontal), ndari (Zapotec), perilla, tecomaxochitl (Aztec, “offering drink plant”), tetona, tima’ wits (Huastec, “jicara decorated gourd flower”), tree of the wind, windbaum, wind tree, xochitecómatl (Nahuatl).
It is not known how ancient the ritual use of the potently hallucinogenic cup of gold in Mexico is, but it may have originated in prehistoric times. The Aztec plant tecomaxochitl, which is very likely to be interpreted as a Solandraspecies, was first described by Hernandez in the early colonial period. Maximino Martínez was the first to discuss the psychoactive use of Solandra species (1966). It is possible that the Solandra shamanism (also known as kiélishamanism) of central Mexico may be older than the peyote cult, which arose in northern Mexico (cf. Lophophora williamsii) (Furst 1995).
The genus was named for the Swede D. C. Solander (1736–1786), a student of Linnaeus and a companion on the journeys of Captain Cook. To date, the ethnobotany of the genus has been only poorly studied, as the plants are often associated with witchcraft and harmful magic and their uses are consequently kept secret and suppressed. The plant (and its associated uses) was earlier often confused with Datura innoxia. The Huichol refer to Solandra brevicalyx as the “true” kiéli, and to Datura innoxia as kiélitsha, “bad kiéli” (Knab 1977, 81).
The flower of the cup of gold (Solandra brevicalyx) exudes a delicious perfume.
The large cup of gold (Solandra nitida), cultivated by numerous Mexican Indians, develops very large flowers. (Photographed in Naha’, Chiapas, Mexico)
The pendulous flower of Solandra guttata.
“Among the Huichol, Solandra is closely associated with sorcery. An individual is initiated into the secrets of the plant and of sorcery by an older shaman, but only after he himself has become a shaman. Kiéri is also associated with the wind. The Huichol fear strong winds and whirlwinds as bringer of illness and other misfortunes. The one most feared is called Taweakáme, the term also used for drunkard. This type of wind, which is said to make one drunk, is directly associated not only with Kiéri as plant but with his personification as Kiéri. Kiéri in general is feared, it being believed that just the pollen from Kiéri flowers can make birds and insects faint and bees loose their sense of direction. Even the fragrance alone can intoxicate people. . . . Indeed, as mentioned above, the psychotropic properties of Kiéri are feared, so much so that if any use is made of them today, it is sub-rosa, lest the user reveal himself to be a sorcerer.”
PETER T. FURST “THE DRUNKARD KIÉRI” (1995, 52, 58)
The genus Solandra is indigenous to Mexico (Schultes and Farnsworth 1982, 166*). Most of the species occur in central Mexico. The genus is represented to the south as far as the rain forests of Chiapas (Martínez 1966). Several species have spread into the Caribbean and to South America (Peru) (Furst 1995, 51).
Propagation is easily performed with cuttings. A piece of the stem (if possible from the end of the branch) approximately 20 cm long is placed in water. The plant can be placed in the ground as soon as its roots have started to develop. Solandra must be well watered and does not tolerate frost. In the rain forest, often all that is needed is to place a piece of the stem in the ground. Shoots will then quickly appear.
Solanda grandiflora and Solandra nitida are the most commonly cultivated species for garden and ornamental use (Bärtels 1993, 207*).
The perennial, heavily branching, fast-growing climber develops oblong-elliptic leaves that are up to 15 cm in length and tapered at the end. The solitary, terminal, chalice-shaped yellow flowers exude a sweet scent, usually in the evening, that is intoxicating, delicious, and very fine. This scent is comparable to the perfume of Brugmansia suaveolens or Brugmansia x insignis. Because almost all of the plants are the product of cultivation, they only very rarely form fruits (spherical berries enclosed by the calyx). The flower of Solandra nitida can attain a length of 20 cm. Its fruits, known as papaturra, can weigh as much as 1 kg (Bärtels 1993, 207*).
Solandra species can be confused with the tropical dogbane Allamandra cathartica L., a potent laxative (Blohm 1962, 79 f.*).
Preparation and Dosage
A tea can be made from the stalks (Schultes and Farnsworth 1982, 166*). The fresh stalks can be pressed to obtain a juice; “the shoot juice of Solandra maxima [= S. nitida] is an inebriant of the Mexican Indians” (Bremness 1995, 29*). Unfortunately, no information is available concerning dosages.
The fresh leaves (of Solandra brevicalyx) can be crushed and administered as an anal suppository or given as a decoction in the form of an enema (Knab 1977, 85). The dried flowers and leaves can be smoked alone or as a part of smoking blends.
A medicinal dosage is regarded as the tea prepared from one fresh flower (Yasumoto 1996, 247).
In colonial Mexico, Indians used the cup of gold to add zest to their cacao drinks (cf. Theobroma cacao) (Heffern 1974, 101*).
The cup of gold is only rarely used as a shamanic trance drug, and the ethnographic reports are correspondingly few. The Huastec are said to still ingest the flowers of Solandra nitida ritually and to place the scented flowers on altars as an offering (Alcorn 1984, 320, 793*). The Mixtec also are reported to traditionally ingest Solandra as a hallucinogen for divination (Avila B. 1992*).
The most well-known use of the “plant of the gods” known as kiéli or kiéri occurs among the Huichol Indians who now live in the Mexican state of Jalisco. One of the plants they use has been botanically identified as Solandra brevicalyx (Knab 1977, 86). In the mythology of the Huichol, the plant was originally a god: Kiéli Tewiali, the god of wind and of magic. At the beginning of the world, he was born of the union of the cosmic serpent and the rain. Later, for the use and the blessing of humankind, he transformed himself into the enchantingly scented plant the “tree of the wind.” An entire cycle of myths relates to this theme (Furst and Myerhoff 1966).294 The Solandra is often identified with Kiéritáwe, the “drunken Kiéri” (Furst 1989; Yasumoto 1996).
This divine plant is regarded as very powerful and mighty and thus can be used for all types of magic (“kiéli shamanism”), including for dark purposes (harmful magic, death magic). Shamans-to-be must complete a five-year training period before they are allowed to use this potent magical plant. The leaves, which only experienced shamans (mara’akame) may remove from the tree, are later used as magical weapons for healing illnesses caused by magic or foreign, perfidious shamans (Knab 1977).
The divine plant must not be disturbed or offended lest one be punished with madness or death. The gifts offered to the plant are similar to those offered to the peyote (Lophophora williamsii): ceremonial pipes, tortillas, a homemade tequila known as túche (cf. Agave spp.), tobacco gourds (cf. Nicotiana rustica), coins, yarn paintings, jewelry, bead necklaces, et cetera. The Huichol sometimes approach the plant and offer it prayers, e.g., before they undertake a journey or make a pilgrimage to Wirikuta, the land of the peyote. They also ask it for fertility, improvements in singing ability, and artistic creativity (Knab 1977, 83).
Shamans are able to receive sacred knowledge from the “tree of the wind.” The Huichol artist José Bautista Corrillo provided the following explanation of such a ritual of knowledge portrayed in one of his yarn paintings:
Kauyumari, the leader of the shamans in the shape of a deer, eats Kiéri, the tree of the wind, to learn about the legends of the past and the art of healing. He passes this knowledge on to the shaman who asks Kiéri to teach him everything while he sings throughout the entire night. The puma, who was once the fire, and the wolf, who was once a shaman, help the shaman to understand the teachings. (1996)
The plant is apparently used only extremely rarely as a hallucinogen. The leaves seem to be preferred for this purpose, although the fruits (which develop only infrequently) and the roots are thought to be more potent (Knab 1977, 85). It is said that the plant is able to help a person fly (Furst 1995, 53). Sometimes the hallucinogenic use of Solandra is regarded as a sure sign of sorcery, witchcraft, and black magic (Knab 1977, 85; Furst 1995). On the other hand, some Huichol say that this plant opens their mind for the “highest levels of enlightenment.”
Some Huichol say that people are not allowed to ingest the plant but may only be exposed to its scent. Even the scent is capable of inducing trance, and the Huichol use it as a spiritual guide into mystical domains (Valadez 1992, 103 f.). They climb a steep mountain, upon which a kiéli plant is growing, for this purpose. They must fast (no food or beverages, including water) both before and while they are climbing, and they spend the night near the scented plant, inhaling its perfume and showing the bush their respect and attention (Meier 1996). While they sleep, they hope to receive meaningful visionary dreams in which they will be able to find messages.
Kiéri is sometimes depicted in the visionary yarn paintings of many Huichol artists (Valadez 1992). Although the plant can appear in varying degrees of abstraction, it usually is shown in a quite realistic and botanically correct manner (yellow flowers, leaf arrangement).
Many floral elements in the pre-Columbian wall paintings at Teotihuacán may symbolize Solandra vines (cf. Turbina corymbosa). Some of the illustrations resemble the typical iconography of the plant in modern Huichol yarn paintings (cf. Lophophora williamsii).
In Mexico, the cup of gold is used in folk medicine primarily as a love drink and aphrodisiac. Warnings against overdoses are common: one can dry out and die from an excessive sex drive. The Huastec use the rainwater or dew that has collected in the buds of Solandra nitida as eye-drops to improve sight (Alcorn 1984, 793*). A tea made from the flowers is drunk to treat coughing (Yasumoto 1996, 247).
All of the Mexican species of Solandra contain potently hallucinogenic tropane alkaloids. The primary alkaloids are atropine, noratropine, and (–)-hyoscyamine (originally described as “solandrine”); the secondary alkaloids are littorine, hyoscine, norhyoscine, tigloidine, 3α-tigloyloxytro-pane, 3α-acetoxytropane, valtropine, norhyoscyamine, tropine, nortropine, χ-tropine, and cuscohygrine (Evans et al. 1972; Schultes and Farnsworth 1982, 166*). According to another source, scopolamine is the primary alkaloid, present at a concentration of 0.1 to 0.2% (Díaz 1979, 84*). The stalks of Solandra guttata have been found to contain norhyoscine. Solandra is chemotaxonomically closely related to the genera Datura and Duboisia (Evans 1979, 245*).
Most Solandra species contain approximately 0.15% alkaloids (Schultes 1979b, 150*). The highest concentration of alkaloids (calculated as atropine) was found in the roots of Solandra grandiflora(0.64%). The roots generally exhibit the highest alkaloid concentrations (Evans et al. 1972). However, in Solandra nitida, the alkaloid concentration is clearly highest in the fruits (Morton 1995, 20*).
The Huichol compare the visions produced by Solandra brevicalyx with the effects of Lophophora williamsii but warn against the former because they may frighten a person “to death” (Knab 1977).
In Mexico, Solandra nitida Zucc. (Perilla) is regarded as poisonous (Jiu 1966, 256*). A tea made from one flower induced a “toxic psychosis” in an adult, who required thirty-six hours to make a complete recovery (Morton 1995, 20*). Internal administration of Solandra preparations can lead to severe hallucinations, delirium, delusions, et cetera. The spectrum of effects is very similar to that of Brugmansia sanguinea.
An illustration of the shamanic kiéle ritual, together with the corresponding Solandra plants, on a yarn painting by the Huichol artist José Bautista Corillo (1996).
The illustration to the left shows the kiéle plant (Solandra sp.) on a Huichol yarn painting; the blooming shrubs to the right are from wall paintings at Teotihuacán and may represent Solandra bushes. (From Rätsch 1994)
Smoking the flowers and/or leaves produces effects that are more subtle but still clearly psycho-active and aphrodisiac and generally very similar to the effects produced by smoking other night-shades (Brugmansia, Datura, Latua pubiflora).
It has been said that merely inhaling the scent can produce entheogenic states (Meier 1996). The Lacandon say that the scent has erotic effects and awakens sexual desire.
Commercial Forms and Regulations
Solandra species are not subject to any legal restrictions. In North America, young plants are occasionally available in nurseries.
See also the entries for scopolamine and tropane alkaloids.
Evans, W. C., A. Ghani, and Valerie A. Woolley. 1972. Alkaloids of Solandra species. Phytochemistry 11:470–72.
Furst, Peter T. 1989. The life and death of the crazy kiéri: Natural and cultural history of a Huichol myth. Journal of Latin American Lore 15 (2): 155–77.
———. 1995. The drunkard kiéri: New observations of an old problem in Huichol psychotropic ethnobotany. Integration 5:51–62.
———. 1996. Introduction to chapter 8. In People of the peyote, ed. Stacy Schaefer and Peter T. Furst, 232–34. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.
Furst, Peter T., and Barbara G. Myerhoff. 1966. Myth as history: The jimson weed cycle of the Huichols of Mexico. Antropológia 17:3–39.
Huysmans, Joris-Karl. 1994. Tief unten. Stuttgart: Reclam. (Orig. pub. 1972.)
Knab, Tim. 1977. Notes concerning use of Solandra among the Huichol. Economic Botany 31:80–86.
Martínez, Maximino. 1966. Las solandras de México con una specie nueva. Anales del Instituto de Biología 37 (1/2): 97–106. Mexico City: UNAM.
Valadez, Mariano, and Susana Valadez. 1992. Huichol Indian sacred rituals. Oakland, Calif.: Dharma Enterprises.
Yasumoto, Masaya. 1996. The psychotropic kiéri in Huichol culture. In People of the peyote, ed. Stacy Schaefer and Peter T. Furst, 235–63. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.
“Rue, leaves of henbane and thorn apple, dried Solandras and myrrh; these are the odors that are pleasing to Satan, our lord.”
JORIS-KARL HUYSMANS TIEF UNTEN [DEEP BELOW] (1972, 186)