Disclaimer: For entertainment and educational purposes only. Not meant as a guide to diagnose and/or treat any condition and/or illness. Always discuss medical treatments with your doctor, and before taking any herbs, consult with your primary care physician for any conflicting drug or health complications that might occur. Mugwort is an abortifacient and therefore should never be used by pregnant women. Herbs are drugs, and although all natural, they are not necessarily safe.
I. Marvelous Mugwort
Mugwort is one of the primary herbs of the wise. One sign of a witch is that you will see this herb in his or her garden, especially near the doors, as it provides powerful protection. The lovely mugwort herb is generally safe for most people, except for use in pregnant or breast-feeding women, or when overused (unusual or allergic reactions can also occur).
I am currently growing common mugwort, Artemisia vulgaris. There are many varieties of mugwort used across the world, all in the Artemisia family. The use between them is often interchangeable, and you should feel free to substitute if you have another Artemisia. Some examples would be Chinese mugwort (Artemisia argyi), Douglas mugwort (Artemisia douglasiana), Alpine mugwort (Artemisia glacialis), Japanese mugwort (Artemisia princeps), Norwegian mugwort (Artemisia norvegica), and there are many others.
Mugwort is known by a variety of names, such as cronewort, St. John's herb, Artemis herb, old man, sagebrush, black sage, felon herb, sailor's tobacco, chrysanthemum weed, muggins, naughty man, motherwort, cabbage fly, fat hen, old Uncle Henry, gallwood, broom herb, and moxa. No matter the name, this plant and its close relatives have an ancient history of culinary, medicinal, and magical use, dating well before the time of the Roman empire, and were known throughout the British Isles during the time of the Druids.
All parts of the remarkable mugwort are used in different preparations, including leaves, roots, and flowering tops. The leaves are usually collected before the plant flowers, and the root can be dug in the autumn. Younger, rounder, brighter leaves tend to have a milder flavor and are also better for juicing. Mature plants take on the standard appearance of darker green on top of very pointed leaves, with a pale silver on the underside and a slightly more bitter flavor.
This is an easy-to-grow perennial herb that once established will last you many years. If you plant it in a sunny spot, don't be surprised if it takes over. It makes a lovely hedge, or background and border plant. It will fill in empty spaces nicely and requires little care. Mugwort likes to spread when it's happy, and it can get large and robust in the right conditions, up to about 2 meters tall. It spreads through the roots, and can become invasive.
The good news is you can harvest most of it (it has so many uses), and it'll regrow again before you know it. It's so adaptable you can even grow some in a small pot if you are concerned about it dominating the garden. It'll remain small, but still grow and produce for you. Even my mugworts in less than ideal conditions are surviving, making it a great starter plant for anyone trying to learn to use herbs.
To dry your mugwort, gather medium bundles in the morning, after the dew has dried but before the heat of the midday. Tie the ends together with string, and hang them in a cool, dry location. A place sheltered from the sun will preserve the plants better, maintaining more color and fragrance. Let them stay there until they are totally dry, and snap easily; this will take a few weeks. Then store them in an air tight jar in a cool, dark location, and they will last about a year before they begin to lose potency.
Mugwort will be a lifelong friend (and lifelong crop that needs pruning). I don't mind that some of my mugwort has taken over because when I trim it, it provides a large quantity of great material for me. I use the bulk of the leaves, flowers, and roots for essential oil making, hydrosols, infusions, tinctures and salves, while the hardy stems can be crafted into almost anything one can imagine. It's also a lovely pot and stewing herb for people and animals.
Mugwort is so versatile, it can be crafted into a variety of tools. The stems are sturdy yet flexible. They produce in various hues of green, brown, red, and even some dark purple. Mugwort can be used to make brooms, baskets, wreaths, wands, garlands, smudge sticks, garden markers, dream pillows, etc. Mugwort is a mild insect deterrent, especially of moths, and dried mugwort can be put in with clothes and linens to protect them. Mugwort essential oil or vinegar infused with mugwort both make good all purpose cleaners for your home that are natural and effective.
Mugwort has many culinary uses, including using the flowers to flavor and preserve beer before the cultivation of hops, and instead of hops for some homemade beers. Mugwort is a delightful seasoning for fatty meats and game, as well as fish. It is a traditional seasoning for Christmas goose in many countries. It is also used to flavor rice cakes in Asia and is in a number of Japanese dishes, including yōkan, and kusa mocha, which are tasty seasonal desserts, usually made from mugwort and sweet red bean paste.
Other culinary uses are as varied as one can imagine! Try mugwort leaves lightly steamed with butter and garlic. Put a few fresh, young leaves in a salad for a mildly bitter kick. Add them to meaty stews and soups. Rabbits, chickens, goats, and wild birds enjoy snacking on mugwort too, so don't forget to share!
II. Medicinal Mugwort
One of the main active chemical constitute of mugwort is thujone oil. Thujone is a powerful chemical. Wormwood, a close relative of Mugwort that also contains thujone, is historically used in Absinthe as a mind-altering alcoholic beverage. In isolation, thujone oil can be toxic, even fatal if enough is ingested. Thujone is known to act on the GABA receptors, creating an effect on the nervous system and muscle response. There is evidence to suggest some effect on the intestines, stomach, pancreas, Fallopian tubes, uterus, ovaries, testes, kidneys, urinary system, lungs, and liver. 1
Plants containing thujone are generally safe in their natural form; however, when concentrated they could pose a health risk. I would not recommend eating large quantities of even the fresh herb every day for a long period of time. A few cups of tea per week or some fresh leaves added to food should be safe for most healthy, non-pregnant adults.
Mugwort is known as a cause of hay fever, and other allergic reactions can occur in some individuals. Always exercise caution when experimenting with a new herb. Start with a small dose and only add a tiny amount each time you wish to boost the dose. Plants are profoundly powerful medicines. They should not be underestimated, for they can be deadly.
Mugwort contains several other important components, such as camphor, sabinene, pinene, cineole, artemisia oil, chrysanthenyl acetate, germacrene D, caryophyllene, borneol, quercetin, silica, antibiotic polyacetylenes, inulin, hydroxycoumarins, fiber, calcium, zinc, vitamin C, and more than 100 other constitutes.2
Cineole and camphor are useful expectorants, easing coughs and acting as cleaning agents, while borneol is anesthetic, sedative, and antispasmodic. Sabinene and pinene show great ability to eliminate bacteria, yeast, and fungi. Mugwort has been used as an anthelmintic for years (to rid the body of parasites, particularly worms), as well as treatment for general feelings of unease, tiredness, or stomach distress. The powerful essential oils it contains make it a mild topical anesthetic with good anti-bacterial, anti-microbial, and anti-fungal properties.
The plant is used in the ancient Ayurvedic medicine of India for heart problems, stress, and other ailments. In traditional Chinese medicine, mugwort is used in a form called moxa, in which the soft downy hairs are gathered from the mugwort and compressed to be burned on or near the skin. It is believed that moxibustion of mugwort is effective for many ailments, including colds, digestive problems, arthritis, and possibly even breech births. Mugwort is so ancient and widespread that you can find it in most herbal apothecaries (in some form) around the world.
Mugwort has many medicinal properties that include easing the symptoms of or helping to heal stomach and intestinal conditions such as colic, diarrhea, malaria, epilepsy, hysteria, motion sickness, constipation, kidney stones, headaches, infertility and other female problems, cramps, digestion distress, worm infestations, fungal infections, bacterial infections, arthritis, coughs, colds, flu, vomiting and more. Mugwort, along with other bitter herbs, are used to stimulate gastric juice flow and aid digestion to reduce acid reflux and other conditions. It is said to have cleansing abilities, as an antidote to opium toxicity, to help circulation, as a mild sedative, mild anti-inflammatory, nasal decongestant, and a gentle insect repellent.
Leaves and flowers can be used in a tea, tincture, or even smoked to achieve relief from nervous conditions, and for stronger relief the root can be used in the same manner. The root is often taken as a tincture in small doses for stress, depression, irritability, insomnia, and even as an energy tonic. When used in a tea it is probably best combined with sweet herbs, such as lemon balm, which is also calming, and adds a nice flavor. Hyssop, mint, holy basil, and lavender would all be good additions.
Mugwort has a duel effect, at times it can calm, at other times it can energize. Added to the bath it can help muscle pain and calm the body, as well as cleanse the skin. You can make mugwort vinegar that can be added to the bath to treat yeast infections, and dabbed on acne or other skin inflammations. The fresh leaves can be made into a soothing poultice for bug bites and other minor irritations and injuries. Mixed with honey or vinegar and applied to bruises and minor wounds it will help them heal faster and keep the area clean.
Mugwort infused oil makes a wonderful anointing and healing oil that has many cleansing uses and is simple to make. For a simple infusion method, fill a jar with either fresh or dried chopped mugwort, and cover with your favorite oil (olive oil can be used but goes rancid quicker than other oils such as canola). Let the jar sit in a cool, dark location for a few weeks. Shake the jar a few times a day for the best infusion. Once the oil has the color and smell of the mugwort, simply pour into a cheese cloth to strain the herbs. Store the oil in a tightly closed bottle in a dark, cool location. It will last about 3-6 months.
The same process can be used to infuse an 80 proof or above liquor, such as vodka, to make a mugwort tincture. When making an alcohol tincture the herbs can be left to infuse for a longer period of time, even months, before you strain them. A tincture will last longer, at least 6 months to one year, and the higher the proof the longer it will last, up to a couple of years. Always make sure the herbs are completely covered by liquid in both methods during the infusion. Extra caution should be used with all concentrated herbal solutions, as they will be stronger than fresh or dried herbs, and should be used in smaller amounts.
Mugwort has a powerful effect on the female reproductive system. Because of this, it is dangerous for pregnant women, but it also has historical use in assisting labor. A knowledgeable midwife would have used it in ancient times to strengthen contractions and quicken a difficult, long labor. It was also used to regulate menstrual cycles, increase blood flow, and reduce the pain associated with them. For women entering menopause it can make the transition easier, and help cool hot flashes and balance temperature.
Mugwort can cause uterine contractions and it has been used in ancient times to cause abortion. Due to this no one who thinks they may be pregnant should use mugwort, as it may cause a miscarriage. Even for those who are not pregnant mugwort should not be taken steadily for more than a week at a time, taking at least a week break in between uses, in order to reduce the chance of unpleasant or dangerous side effects.
III. Magical Mugwort
One of the most interesting traditional uses of mugwort is that of a dream enhancing herb. It is often used as one of the main ingredients in sleep pillows, and it said to bring the dreamer more vivid and lucid dreams. Mugwort will help you remember your dreams as well. Dried leaves and flowers should be used to stuff dream pillows. In addition to mugwort try adding some lavender, chamomile, and valerian, both to the dream sachets and tea. Drink mugwort tea before bed, and put a few fresh leaves under and around your pillow for more intense, memorable dreams. You could also bathe with an infusion of mugwort before bedtime or to cleanse yourself for a ceremony.
All varieties of Artemesia are sacred to the Goddess Artemis, lady of the moon, who gives comfort (or death) to women in labor, as well as blessings on the hunt, and fertility. Mugwort is also tied to Diana and Hecate, patron of herbalists and midwives. There is evidence of mugwort in ancient Egypt, where the smoke was an offering to Isis. Mugwort has roots that pre-date modern written history so not all of its ancient past is well known. Mugwort makes a beautiful offering placed on your altar for any of these goddesses, and others as well. Mugwort is primarily feminine in nature, connected with the elements of earth and water, along with Venus and the Moon.
Some Native American tribes believed wearing an amulet of mugwort around the neck as you slept would provide security from nightmares and angry spirits. Drink a strong infusion of tea before bed if you are seeking prophetic or vivid dreams. To make a tea infuse one cup of hot (not boiling) water with at least two teaspoons of dried herbs or three to five teaspoons of fresh herbs, with honey, for five to ten minutes.
Burned as an incense for astral projection mugwort will protect your spirit as it explores, and it will amplify the ability to relax and enter trance states. Mugwort can be used as a sacred smoking or smudging herb for protection, purification, conjuration, and divination. To make a simple mugwort smudge stick, tightly bind a small bundle of leaves and flowers with string and hang in a cool, sheltered location to dry for a couple of days or weeks. Use a wetter bundle for darker, more intensely smoldering smoke.
Roman soldiers are said to have put mugwort in their sandals to stop their feet from getting tired, and mugwort is well known as a herb for any wandering soul. The great Roman herbalist, Pliny the Elder said of mugwort, “The wayfaring man that hath the herb tied about him feeleth no weariness at all and he can never be hurt by any poisonous medicine, by any wild beast, neither yet by the sun itself”. A very impressive testament to this hardy herb. Mugwort is said not only to protect, but to reverse hexes, and if hidden near door ways, it will stop unwelcome visitors.
It acquired the name of St. John's herb because as legend has it when Saint John the Baptist took off into the wilderness, he did so wearing a girdle of mugwort. After that it was said that a crown made from mugwort leaves and stems was worn on St. John's Eve to provide safety from malicious spirits. Even now if gathered on St. John's eve mugwort will be imbued with even greater powers of protection.
This is a nice herb to decorate your home with for Beltane, as it makes attractive wreaths, dolls, and pentacles. You can also add it to a Beltane bonfire to keep it burning longer, and you'll get to enjoy the sage-like scent. Try making summer crowns with young, long sprigs of mugwort, they can be rather vine like, making it easy to twist and shape as desired.
Mugwort is one of the sacred herbs of Woden (furious God of the wild hunt) invoked in the Anglo-Saxon Nine Herbs Charm, recorded in the 10th century in the Lacnunga, "Remember, Mugwort, what you made known? What you arranged at the Great proclamation? You were called Una, the oldest of herbs, you have power against three and against thirty, you have power against poison and against infection, you have power against the loathsome foe roving through the land."
Mugwort is called Una (One) and the "oldest of herbs". There is mythology that suggests it is the mother of all herbs, and perhaps even the first cultivated medicinal and magical herb carried with man as he traveled and filled the earth (Armstrong source: Folklore, Vol. 55, No. 1, Mar., 1944). Certainly this is a herb that was even used by stone aged humans.
In Chamber's Popular Rhymes of Scotland (1870) is an old Scottish legend that says a mermaid surfaced near Port Glasgow and saw the funereal of a young girl who died of Tuberculosis and exclaimed, "If they wad (would) eat Nettles in March and Muggins (Mugwort) in May, sae mony braw (so many fine) maidens would not go to clay." Another similar legend claims a mermaid of Galloway came across a young man mourning over a very ill sweetheart, and the mermaid told the lad that mugwort flowers would be the cure, and indeed he juiced them and the maiden drank the juice, and the flowers did restore her to health (Transactions and Journal of Proceedings, Volume 19 1908). According to these tales mermaids actually relayed the virtues of mugwort to humanity. This connects to the fact that this herb is ruled by moon goddesses, who control the tides, and by extension the waterways.
Mugwort is effective at cleansing divination instruments, crystals, altars, and other sacred artifacts. Place mugwort leaves in a ceremonial bowl and allow the light of the full moon to charge this water over night. In the morning, strain the water, and this can be used to clean sacred spaces and tools. Add mugwort leaves near your tarot cards and scrying mirrors. Place mugwort around your crystal ball as you gaze, and on your third eye during mediation. You can even use long sprigs and slender branches to make a scared circle to preform spell work in.
Mugwort placed in mojo bags and carried on you will provide protection and fortify you with strength. It is said to ward off possession and the evil eye, so hang a sprig of mugwort near the doors in your home. Mugwort makes a nice strewing herb as well, especially on the summer Solstice, throw mugwort around the home for a blessed year.
Drinking a strong cup of tea, smoking, or burning mugwort is helpful before practicing any form of prophecy. This herb has a powerful magical presence and is an aid to anyone who knows of its gifts. Mugwort can be used in all protection spells, but especially for travelers (both physical and psychic), clearing energies, banishing evils, and enhancing all forms of dreaming, divination, and prophecy. Try growing Mugwort to learn from and enjoy the sacred, ancient energy.
1. Höld, K. M., Sirisoma, N. S., Ikeda, T., Narahashi, T., & Casida, J. E. (2000). Alpha-thujone (the active component of absinthe): gamma-aminobutyric acid type A receptor modulation and metabolic detoxification. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 97(8), 3826–3831.
2. Judžentienė, A., & Buzelytė, J. (2006). Chemical composition of essential oils of Artemisia vulgaris L. (mugwort) from North Lithuania. Chemija, 17(1), 12–15.
Fragrant blooms follow the rising moon
intoxicating dancing dream,
leaving behind the whispered secrets
deep within her roots.
Warning: Educational purposes only. Never consume, or any in other way become intoxicated by, Datura (or any other toxic plant).
If I tried to describe every way in which this sacred plant has interacted with humanity I would be writing a book! Even with the relatively small fraction of use I do cover, many are only mentioned in passing, mainly for the sake of brevity.
I. Welcome to the family (Solanaceae family).
Moonflowers are within the genus Datura, family Solanaceae. Many members of the Nightshade (Solanaceae) family have toxic, medicinal, magical, and psychoactive properties. In this family are potato, tomato, eggplant, peppers, tobacco, petunias, belladonna, mandrake, henbane, solandra, and many others. All are beautiful, yet Datura has its own enchantment. Tree Datura, known as Angel’s Trumpets, are specifically classified as Brugmansia. They are similar in nature and appearance to Datura, but are tropical day blooming trees. The two tend to overlap in historical use, as they share the same active chemical components. There are nine official Datura shrubs and seven accepted types of tree Datura (Brugmansia), the most well known being D. stramonium, D. metel, D. wrightii, D. inoxia, B. arborea, B. aurea, and B. sanguinea.
These plant spirits have been communicating with humanity for thousands of years. Datura grows nearly everywhere in the world, except for the coldest, most barren regions. Where it grows in abundance there is sure to be folklore surrounding it, and people who have utilized it. It grows readily in abandoned or disturbed areas, and in warm climates it is extremely hardy and tenacious, yet downy and inviting at the same time.
Datura, and many of its relatives have some combination of atropine, hyoscyamine, and scopolamine. In Datura the primary alkaloid is scopolamine. These chemicals induce an intoxication followed by delirious hallucinations which occur during the transition state between consciousness and sleep. This plant has many lessons, most of which can be taught without ever consuming even a tiny amount. Some believe just carrying a small branch on your person is enough to gain its abilities. Growing and interacting with Datura is always a little magical, especially the first bloom on a summer night. The scent is unlike anything else, and a personal favorite. A sweet, warm, intoxicating, and mythic fragrance.
II. Psychic Flight & Transformation.
Magical uses almost always include divinatory properties. However, Datura tends to be associated with darker or baneful magic, probably because of how dangerous and unpredictable it is. It has long been thought that one could acquire enhanced gifts, wisdom, and strength from the plant. It is known to grant the feeling of flight, or the ability to transform the curandero (shaman), or at least his or her spirit, into a bird or other animal, sometimes a wolf or a coyote.
A famous account of this is given by Carlos Castaneda, in which he describes how a Yaqui Shaman, Don Juan Matus, teaches him to make a flying ointment from Datura root and boar fat. After applying the ointment he has a vision of himself as a bird, soaring over the land. Datura has a strong association in many cultures with wind and in general the air element, but also the water element as well. As part of a rain ceremony Zuni priests go into the desert at night and sprinkle a small amount of dried Datura root powder into their eyes and mouth. Doing this they are able to communicate with the Avian world, thus allowing the birds to listen to their songs and prayers and bring rain.
Among European traditions one might find either a Datura species, or another of the Solanaceae family as a primary ingredient in the traditional witch's flying ointment. Datura and their relatives (Nightshade, Mandrake, Henbane, Tobacco, etc.) have long been associated with sensations of flight. Similar to the Shaman turning into a bird after taking Datura. A typical flying ointment might contain some mixture of the following ingredients: Aconite, fat/oil, soot, Belladonna, Cinquefoil, Hemp, Hellebore, Hemlock, Mandrake, Opium Poppy, Datura, Tobacco, Parsley, Mugwort, Foxglove, and possibly many other things. The idea is that witches then used their besom (broom) to anoint their genitals (mucus membranes) with the delirium inducing ointment.
No definitive recipe seems to exist, bits and pieces of old accounts are all that survived. Reginald Scat's ‘The Discoverie Of Witchcraft’ from 1584 describes some recipes including one that calls for Deadly Nightshade, among other more unusual ingredients, such as the blood of a flitter mouse. Most of the oldest recipes I have read tend to be second hand (someone documenting what a supposed witch had told them). However, any flying ointment that would be effective should be used with extreme caution, and in tiny amounts. Applying too much and then falling unconscious has proven deadly in the past.
III. Mythology & Preparation.
Many myths surround Datura, including some that say Lord Shiva favors the thorn-apple. According to the Vamana Purana, the thorn apple grew from the chest of the Hindu god Shiva, the lord of inebriants. Datura was first mentioned in the ancient Vedic scriptures as ‘Shivashekhera,’ showing the connection to Shiva was made very early. Shiva accepts offerings of Datura flowers even today. Datura flowers are depicted in Hindu Tantric art, and in many cultures a small dose or smoked Datura is considered an aphrodisiac. Datura is also used in Navajo frenzy witchcraft, where one transforms into a Datura animal spirit for either love, power, or both. Datura is associated most with four magical properties: passion, power, prophecy, and protection. It has also been called 'love will', as it is favored in persuasive love magic.
The medicinal and magical properties of Datura were well known by the Chumash people. In their tradition, Datura was known as Momoy, a wise old Grandmother. Drinking the water she washed her hands in would bring visions of ones future and a spiritual guide. However, she warned her children not to drink too much, or they would meet a terrible fate. Also, strict fasting and other preparations were needed to ensure the journey would be a good one. If someone were to consume Datura without following the guidelines and without proper respect, the spirit was thought to be very hostile. Perhaps you would feel great courage, but also be made so foolish as to run off a cliff or drown in a small pool of water. Of the specifications, sex was strictly prohibited, as was meat and grease. One should be using great self-control, and not indulging during the time of preparation.
Generally, tobacco was allowed to be smoked, as Momoy herself was said to eat nothing but tobacco. Nicotiana rustica (Solanaceae) is also an important plant spirit, and some believe was given to humanity as an aide in communication with the supernatural realm. Certainly, tobacco is often used in conjunction with other magical and visionary ceremonies across the world.Among some traditions Coyote is the Datura giver, who came into existence from Momoy's sweat. Some say Coyote is not only the trickster, but perhaps also the first witch/shaman. The rock art of the Lower Pecos indicated that shaman would use Datura to seemingly transform back into coyotes, or other animals. Many spiky Datura seed pods are depicted in the art, and thousands of seeds have been found in ceremonial areas.
A shaman might also use Datura to diagnosis an illness, or induce a vision of future events. The shaman would prepare him or herself in order to harvest a portion of the sacred plant's root, which would always be done with a prayer. The Datura giver would have to be very knowledgeable about the dose, meaning he or she would need to assess the type of Datura, the soil, age, season, rainfall, moon phase, what parts and amounts to harvest, and finally how to prepare the brew. Datura has three active chemicals (scopolamine, hyoscyamine, and atropine), so all these factors go into determining the best time to harvest a plant with the right chemical concentrations. Harvesting a plant too young, or otherwise unready, may result in too much hyoscyamine or atropine, and not enough scopolamine. This mistake could make for a particularly frightening journey fraught with terrible visions. It might also result in an over dose, which was said to turn you into a devil, if not kill you.
VI. Rites of Passage.
Historically, Datura would be prepared by a shaman, curandero, other villager elder or wise person. Consuming it is well known to cause incurable madness or death if taken without proper guidance. Datura was used in several cultures as a rite of passage from childhood into adulthood. Often Datura was given to youths upon entering puberty. These events would typically last days or in some cases even weeks. Sensations of death and memory loss can occur with Solanaceae use, making the spiritual journey also literal. The childhood was actually meant to die and the youth to be reborn in a mature form. Many times it would be given in groups, especially with females who reacted less violently. The youths would be leaving their childhood behind and connecting with a spirit guide that would show them their adult path.
Great variation existed among tribes. Some would have Datura use occur with a season or at individual choice year round. Other groups might limit its use to once in a lifetime, unless by a spiritual leader. Datura was thought to have many supernatural uses, including the ability to speak with the dead. In some cultures Datura is thought to grow over portals to the realm of the ancestors. In general, atropine, hyoscyamine, and scopolamine have all been associated with communication from dead ancestors.
Datura taken as a medical cure, which it was also often employed, was not thought to cause supernatural powers. When used to treat an illness, or as an aphrodisiac, only small doses would be given. Datura taken with the specific intent to communicate with the spirit was the only way to get magical access. Datura was known to grant great courage and strength, but also protection from danger. For these reasons Datura also had uses in hunting ceremonies to ensure success. Maybe the greatest gift granted was the ability to see beyond the surface of things, and see them as they really are.
V. Divine Beings.
A Zuni legend says that long ago, a brother and sister who lived in the underworld found their way up to the light. The brother and sister would take long walks on the earth, wearing Datura flowers in their hair. They learned many things during their walks, and had many adventures. One day they met the Divine Ones, the twin sons of the Sun father. They talked too much about their adventures, about how they had learned to make people see ghosts, and make them sleep, and how they could even make others find lost or stolen objects, or find the thief. The Divine ones decided that these children knew far too much, and something had to be done with them. They caused the brother and sister to disappear from the earth forever; but where they sank back into the underworld sprang up the beautiful white flowers they had worn on their heads. The gods called the flowers by the name of the boy, A’neglakya, and the flowers had many children to be found throughout the land.
Among the many plants in the Aztec garden that Hernando Cortes encountered was Datura, known for the ability to relieve pain and cause sleep. One of the Aztec names for Datura was Toloatzin, meaning inclined head. Datura flowers are depicted in various Aztec art works and codices, sometimes shown in a ceremonial bowl to be consumed. This sacred plant (and several others) was a important element in ceremonies and communication with the gods. An Aztec magic formulary from the colonial period invokes the plant spirit of Datura with the following prayer: “I call to you, my mother, she who is of the beautiful water! Who is the god, or who has the power to break and consume my magic? Come here, sister of the green woman Ololiuqui, of she by means of which I go and leave the green pain, the brown pain, so that it hides itself. Go and destroy with your hands the entrails of the possessed, so that you test his power and he falls in shame.” -(Jacinto de la Serna Documentos Ineditos para la Historia de Espawe).
In the Peruvian Andes priests at the Temple of the Sun believe that Datura allows them to communicate with the spirits of their ancestors, allowing them to gain wisdom from beyond the grave. This is why they know the thorn-apple as Huacacachu, the grave plant. Sacred Datura may even have been known to the ancient Egyptians, as it is depicted in the stele art "Lady Tuth-Shena". Streaming from the sun disc on Horus's head are five rows of what appear to Datura flowers, which have a distinct trumpet shape, and also five points. These flowers are being received by Tuth-Shena, in this epic depiction of how the gods speak through plants.
IV. Poison or Medicine?
The alkaloid hyoscine in Datura has also been identified as a remedy for organophosphate, nerve gas, and puffer fish exposure. This is another reason why Datura has been used by some darker Voodoo practitioners in Haiti as a ‘Zombie’ poison, when combined with puffer fish toxin. The puffer fish toxin gives the appearance and full effect that a person has died (Being that it is capable of doing just that). A small amount combined with the antidote, Datura, would make it appear as though a person has died, and then returned in a ‘Zombie’ dream-like stupor. Along with the power of suggestion, this is one of the more sinister uses of Datura, and not one which I favor.
The effects of Datura toxicity have been described as: "Blind as a bat, mad as a hatter, red as a beet, hot as a hare, dry as a bone, the bowel and bladder lose their tone, and the heart runs alone." Once a person reaches this stage he or she would also be completely delirious and unable to distinguish reality from a waking dream. This is an extremely dangerous state, where hyperthermia (extreme over heating), heart attack, or other serious health complications could occur. However, most deaths happen as a result of the delirious person stumbling unwittingly into danger (oncoming traffic, drowning, etc).
There are many historical medicinal uses for Datura. While I do not recommend it be used internally today, its capacity for healing should not be over looked. Medicinal doses would all have been minimal to avoid side effects and danger. Formally all parts of the plant were considered anodyne, antispasmodic, hallucinogenic, hypnotic and narcotic. It has been used as a pain killer and also in the treatment of insanity, child birth, fevers with catarrh, diarrhea and skin diseases. Scopolamine is a powerful anticholinergic medicine. Scopolamine has many effects in the body including decreasing the secretion of fluids, slowing the stomach and intestines, and dilation of the pupils. Scopolamine is used in modern medicine to relieve nausea, vomiting, and dizziness associated with motion sickness. Scopolamine may also be used in the treatment of parkinsonism, spastic muscle states, irritable bowel syndrome, diverticulitis, and other conditions.
Externally, it is used as a poultice or wash in the treatment of fistulas, hemorrhoids, abscesses, wounds and severe pain. The leaves have been successfully smoked as an anti-spasmodic in the treatment for asthma. The seeds are used in Tibetan medicine as analgesic, anti-helmintic and anti-inflammatory. The leaves and branches are effective against many common bacteria and fungi. They are used in the treatment of stomach and intestinal pain due to worm infestation, toothache and fever from inflammations. The juice of the fruit is applied to the scalp to treat dandruff. No topical or bathing applications should be used for any extended period to due to over-dose risks from skin absorption.
In ancient times Belladonna and Datura (due to the Atropine and Scopolamine content) were employed as an antidote for Amantia Muscaria poisoning, as the effects are opposing. New research indicates that in some cases, depending on the type of Amantia, or if another mushroom is eaten by mistake, the effects can actually be potentiated and therefore significantly more dangerous. So while Datura can be a possible antidote for some types of poisoning, medical advice is needed before it can be used safely and confidently.
The plant contains several tropane alkaloids, the most active of which is scopolamine. This is a potent cholinergic-blocking deliriant, which has been used to calm schizoid patients in the past. One Datura specimen showed the following scopolamine content: leaves contain 0.52% scopolamine, the calices 1.08%, the stems 0.3%, the roots 0.39%, the fruits 0.77%, the capsules 0.33%, the seeds 0.44% and the whole plant 0.52 – 0.62%. The alkaloid content varies greatly from plant to plant, and has an important impact on the effects experienced, and the danger of toxic over dose.
IIV. She of Many Names.
Known by many names, Angel’s Trumpet, Moonflower, Downy Thorn-Apple, Thorny Apple of Peru, and more than I could possibly list, but here is a sample (especially as most groups had unique names for each datura species). The Zuni call her A'neglakya and u'teaw ko'hanna ("white flower"), the Mazatec A-neg-la-kia, the Dine (Navajo people) called her chamico, chanikah, ch'oxojilghef ("crazy making"). The Tarahumara call her Dekuba, telez-ku, and tikuwari. The Hopi call her Tsimonmana (in connection with her pollinator, the Hawk moth).
The Seri say it is devil's weed, hehe camostim ("plant that creates grimaces"), hehe carocot (“plant that makes crazy“). The Spanish called her hierba del diablo, Indian apple, Jamestown weed, Jimson weed, toloache. The Pima called her katundami, and the Huichol called her kieli, Kiéri, nacazcul.
The Zapotec said she was nocuana-pato. The Mayan called her nohochxtohk'uh ("large plant in the direction of the gods"). To the Tewa she is rauchaofel, rikuri, sape enwoe be. To the Garigia she is rhe solanum manicum, stechapfel, tepate, tecuyaui. The Aztecs knew her as toloatzin, tolochi, tolohuaxihuitl (“inclined head“), toluache. The Hindus called her Dhatura, Ummatta, and the Sanskrit D'hastura.
PIMA O’ODAM POEM
Sacred Datura leaves, sacred Datura leaves,
eating your greens intoxicates me,
making me stagger, dizzily leap.
Datura blossoms, Datura blossoms,
drinking your nectar intoxicates me,
making me stagger, dizzily leap.