Nephelium lappaceum - Rambutan, Mamon Chino

Native to Malaysia and Indonesia, the Rambutan is one of the most popular and common fruits in Southeast Asia where it is grown both on a domestic level, as a patio tree, and at a commercial level. It has been introduced to some areas of Africa and Central America, like Costa Rica and Panama, to a lesser extent.  The Rambutan is a medium size tree reaching 15 -25 meters in height, with a straight trunk and a dense canopy. 

The fruit is the shape of an egg encapsulated in a red, yellow, or sometimes orange casing covered in soft spiny hairs. The sweet, juicy, aromatic fruit is translucent and surrounds a large seed. There exist freestone cultivars. Fruit can range in acidity, yellow varieties tending to be more acidic than red. 

Reportedly the seed is edible. I forget where I first heard this, but I have eaten the seeds raw, which are not disagreeable in flavor and gave me the sense that they were especially nutritious. Any further info regarding Rambutan seed edibility would be greatly appreciated. 

The Rambutan fruit, like the Lychee, is rich in sugar (11%) and vitamin C.

There are more than 100 varieties of Rambutan in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. Culitvars are distinguished by whether they are best consumed fresh (Ayer Mas, Chooi, Ang, Kelip, Rongrien, Tau po Cheng), or used in preserves (Chompu, Kepala Besar).

The Rambutan is a tree from the humid tropics. It isn't found cultivated higher than 600 meters. It has not been successfully cultivated in Florida and other subtropical areas and does not tolerate long periods of drought. The tree is not especially selective in soil type although it does best in heavy clay soils with a heavy organic mulch layer. 

Orange Rambutan.

Orange Rambutan.

Yellow Rambutan.

Yellow Rambutan.

Red Rambutan. 

Red Rambutan. 

Nephellium mutabile - Pulasan

The Pulisan is native to South East Asia, widely cultivated in Indonesia, especially on the island of Java. It is also relatively well known in Malaysia, Thailand, and the Philippines.  The tree grows up to 10 - 15 meters, with spreading branches and an irregular crown. The fruit is 5-8 cm long and 3-5 cm wide encased in a red or yellow capsule covered in short, soft spines, similar to that of the Rambutan, a close relative to the Pulasan. The fruit is most similar to the Rambutan, typically consumed raw, also made into marmalades and preserves. 

There are two known groups of Pulasan varieties. Dark red and yellow. There are freestone cultivars in both groups. The most prized varieties are "Silbabat" and "Koneng". 

The Pulasan requires a hot, humid climate. Trees cannot withstand prolonged dry seasons. To obtain quality fruit the tree needs deep, well drained soil, rich in organic matter. 

The tree is propagated by seed, graft and air layer. 


Citrus, spp., Unidentified giant lemon variety

This is a large Citrus species. The fruit were given to me years ago when I lived in Panama City's Old Quarter. Almost everyday I would visit a fruit vendor in Santa Ana to buy a small watermelon and a pineapple. He knew I worked with plants and collected fruit species so occasionally we would exchange fruit. I would bring miracle fruit, jaboticaba, jackfruit, curry tree fruit, and others, none of which he had ever seen. Him and his family would bring me highly regarded or lesser known fruit varieties from the interior of the country, giant Nance, Algarrobo (Hymenia coubaril), Mangos.

I never verified the species of this particular Citrus, it looks like some kind of Pomelo / Citron hybrid and has a relatively think skin compared to the size of the fruit. 

Any thoughts on the species?

Hallucinogenic Plants: A Golden Guide by Richard Evans Schultes

I am pleased up upload a free, direct .pdf download of the Golden Guide to Hallucinogenic plants, by renowned ethnobotanist Richard Evans Schultes. This is a rare and timeless classic, and for those of you who can't find the original physical book to read, this is the next best thing. 

Hallucinogenic Plants – A Golden Guide

Hallucinogenic Plants, A Golden Guide

Aegle marmelos - Bael fruit, matoom, Indian quince, golden apple, holy fruit, stone apple, elephant apple


Bael fruit

Bael fruit

Syn. Feronia pellucida, Crataeva marmelos) Bael fruit is a citrus relative. One can see the similarity in the leaves and growth habit of the tree. Bael fruit is native to the dry forests, in the hills and plains of Burma, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The species can be found cultivated throughout India, where, due to its status as a sacred tree is grown in Buddhist temples where monks slice and dry fruit, then heat it in water to make a popular hot drink. The tree can be found cultivated in Southeast Asia, Indo-China, Thailand and N. Malaysia.

Bael grows up to 15 m in height. The bark is smooth and light gray in color, leaves are relatively small, deciduous, alternate, ovate - lanceolate, trifoliate. Branches are spiny. Like many of the Rutaceae family, Bael has fragrant flowers.

The fruit matures at between five and twenty centimeters. The ones I've seen are typically the size of a softball and has hard brittle shell, not dissimilar to that of the calabash tree. The inside is full of a very sticky, fibrous pulp around many seeds, which look like large grapefruit seeds. The outside is a hard, brittle shell, slightly thicker then that of the calabash tree. When ripe, the fruit emits an extremely pleasant aroma and can sit around for weeks doing so. Superior cultivars can yield over 400 fruit a year. Better varieties tend to have thinner rinds. The tree I have collected seed from seems to produce a lot, but the rinds are fairly thick, the fruit basically has to be stomped on, thrown onto a hard surface, or hit with a hammer to be broken open.


The leaves of Bael fruit are considered sacred in the Hindu culture, offered as sacrament to Lord Shiva, thus it is highly prohibited to uproot the trees. Shiva is believed to live underneath the tree.

The fruit is also made into jams and preserves. Young leaves and shoots are used to season food in Indonesia and eaten as a vegetable in Thailand.

Bael Tree

Bael Tree

Above all else Bael fruit seems to have potential for its medicinal benefits. In Asia it is widely used for such purposes. The fruit, roots and leaves all have antibiotic qualities. Unripe fruit are eaten by those recovering from dysentery. In India it is a highly revered as an aphrodisiac. Large quantities of the fruit are considered to act as a depressant, slowing the heart rate and inducing sleepiness. Juice extracted from the leaves is given to relieve the symptoms of asthma and fever. Tea made from the flowers is used to cleanse eye infections. Tea made from the root are used to relieve heart palpitations, indigestion, bowel inflammations and to stop vomiting and relieve nausea.

Interestingly, the fruit pulp, in addition to its edible and medicinal properties, is also used as glue; mixed with lime and plaster and employed as a sealant; mixed with cement and used when building walls; and added to watercolor paints. In the cosmetic industry the limonene-rich oil is used to scent hair products. The rind yields a yellow dye.


Trees can grow in a wide variety of soils in full sun or partial shade. It is considered sub-trpopical but I grow it in Panama, the full=on tropics.

Again, I am not familiar with a wide range of varieties, the one I have eaten has many seeds surrounded by a thick, stick pulp. The pulp is somewhat similar in consistency to  other citrus, and is divided into sections. The pulp is very aromatic. As is done traditionally in Asia, I have consumed it in a drink, basically made a tea out of the pulp.


Bael fruit

Bael fruit

Pseudobombax septenatum - Ceibo Barrigon, Barrigon

Pseudobombax septenatum is a large tree with a tall straight trunk that is usually swollen at the base. The bark has bright vertical lines, especially apparent in juvenile trees as is apparent in the images below.

P. septenatum is a highly deciduous species, dropping all of its leaves around December and leafing out again with the rains in April and May. The trunk stores water during the dry season and the tree uses these stores to fill out flowers and fruit. 


I took these photos on the island Pedro Gonzalez off the Pacific coast of Panama. This species species appears to be one of the tallest canopy trees on the island. 

Theobroma cacao- Chocolate, Cacao


There's a lot that can be said about this species.

Some of the latin synonyms are: Cacao guianensis Aubl., Cacao minus Gaertn., Cacao sativa Aubl., Theobroma caribaea Sweet, Theobroma interregima Stokes, Theoboma kalagua De Wild, T. leiocarpa Bernoulli, T. pentagona Bernoulli.

Some of the folk names include: Ah kakaw (Lacandon), aka-'i (Ka'apor), aka-'iwa (Ka'apor), bana torampi (Shipibo), biziaa (Zapotec), bizoya, cacahoaquiahuit, cacahoatl, cacahua, cacahuatl, cacao, cacaocuahuitl (Aztec).

The list of folk names goes on and on. Cacao has been a significant species for melenia. The tree was cultivated throughout areas of Central America 4,000 years ago where it was venerated as a divine substance, a food of the gods, and was primarily consumed during rituals and offered to the gods. Thus the plant genus is called Theobroma, meaning "gods" "food" in Latin. Cacao is a word borrowed from the Mayan language and refers to the tree, the fruit, and the drink that is prepared from the fruit. The word chocolate is derived from the Aztec word xocolatl.


Cacao beans were held in extremely high regard by the Aztecs who used them as food, stimulant, medicine and currency. Notably, as a currency, the cacao bean was typically used as standard fare to pay prostitutes. Perhaps this has something do to with the beans aphrodesiac properties.

The Aztec viewed the cacao tree as a gift form the god Quetzalcoatl. The following, extracted from an Aztec text, provides a precise description of the tree and of the drink:

Cacaoaquavitl - Cacao Tree

It has broad branches. It is simply a round tree. Its fruit is like the ears of dried maize, like an ear of green maize, some whitish brown. Its name is "cacao ear." Some are reddish brown, some whitish brown, some bluish brown. Its heart, that which is inside it, its filled insides, is like an ear of maize. The name of this when it grows is cacao. This is edible, is drinkable. This cacao, when much is drunk, when one consumes much of it, especially that which is green, which is tender, makes one drunk, has an effect upon one, makes on ill, makes one confused. If a normal amount is drunk, it makes one happy, refreshes one, comforts one, strengthens one. Thus it is said: "I take cacao, I moisten my lips. I refresh myself." (Sahagun, 11)

Initially, when cacao beans were first brought to Europe by Hernan Cortez it was used almost exclusively in the production of love drinks

Today, although the wild form of the plant (T. lacandonense) is found only in the jungles of southern Mexico, domesticated cacao can be found grown as a crop throughout many of the tropical rainforest regions of the world, throughout the Americas, in southeast Asia, and parts of Africa.

I have found wild cacao relative, Herrania purpurea, on an island off the Caribbean coast of Panama. The pod is smaller than T. cacao. When opened the pod contains a similar white pulp surrounding smaller seeds.

Interestingly, in ancient Nicaragua, cacao farmers were required to abstain from sex for thirteen days prior to planting cacao seeds so they would not make the chocolate god (moon god) angry.

Generally speaking, cacao served (and still serves) the important function as a vehicle for administering other psychoactive plants and fungi (Ott 1985). The Aztecs ingested cacao together with entheogenic mushrooms (Psilocybe spp.) Associated rituals are still practiced amongst numerous tribes today.

In ancient America, cacao was esteemed as a tonic and aphrodisiac. Cacao is also used in indian fold medicine to treat diarrhea and scorpion stings. Kuna women (Panama) drink a decoction of the fruit pulp as a pregnancy tonic. Fresh young leaves are applied externally as an antiseptic agent. In Peru, cacao is drunk primarily as a diuretic and in cases of kidney infection.

Cacao beans contain 18% protein, 56% lipids, 13.5% carbohydrates, 1.45% theobromine, .05% caffeine, and 5% tannin.

The following cacao recipe was said to have been brought by conquistador Hernan Cortez to Spain in 1528:

700 g cacao

750 g sugar

56 g cinnamon (probably Canella winterana)

14 Mexican peppercorns (Capsicum spp.)

14 g spice cloves (Pimenta dioica)

3 vanilla pods

1 handful of anise (probably Tagetes lucida)

1 hazelnut

musk, grey amber, and orange blossom water

Edible Condiment Leaves of Southeast Asia

The following is a list of species whose leaves are used as condiments in Southeast Asia. The list is not, by any means, complete, but includes some of the lesser known, more obscure species.

Acacia farnesiana, Cassie flower, Leguminaceae

Achronychia laurifolia, Ketiak, Rutaceae

Aegle marmelos, Bael fruit, Rutaceae

Allium odorum, Chinese chives, Liliaceae

Ancistrocladus extensus, Ox-tongue, Dipterocarpaceae

Antidesma ghaesembilla, Sekinchak, Euphorbiaceae

Begonia tuberosa, Tuberous begonia, Begoniaceae

Claoxylon polot, Rock blumea, Euphorbiaceae

Coleus tuberosus, African potato, Labiatae

Crypteronia paniculata, Sempoh, Lythraceae

Curcuma domestica, Turmeric, Zingiberaceae

Cymbopogon citratus, Lemon Grass, Graminae

Cyrtandra decurrens, Graminae

C. pendula, Rock sorrel, Graminae

Dendrobium salaccense, Cooking orchid, Orchidaceae

Derris heptaphylla, Seven finger, Leguminaceae

Elethariopsis sumatrana, Frangrant gingerwort, Zingiberaceae

Eugenia polyantha, White kelat, Myrtaceae

Evodia roxburghiana, Sour-relish wood, Rutaceae

Gymura procumbens, Akar, Compositae

Homalomena graffithii, Itch grass, Araceae

Hornstedtia, Tepus, Zingiberaceae

Horsfieldia sylvestris, Pendarahan, Myristicaceae

Kaempferia galanga, Chekur (Galangal), Zingiberaceae

Kaempferia rotunda, Kenchur, Zingiberaceae

Leucas lavandulifoia, Ketumbak, Labiatae

L. zeylanica, Ketumbak, Labaiatae

Limnophila aromatica, Swamp leaf, Scrophulariaceae

L. villosa

L. conferta

L. pulcherrima

L. rugosa

Lycium chinese, Kichi, Matrimony vine, Solanaceae

Lycopersicum esculentum, Tomato, Solanaceae

Medinilla crispata, Medinilla, Melastomataceae

M. hasseltii

M. radicans

Mentha longifolia, Longleaf mint, Labiatae

Murraya koenigii, Curry-leaf tree, Rutaceae

Nauclea esculenta, Pincushion, Rubiaceae

Ocimum canum, Hoary basil, Labiatae

Oenanthe javanica, Shelum, Umbelliferae

Ottelia alismoides, Pojnd lettuce, Hydrocharitaceae

Oxalis corniculata, Sorrel, Oxalidaceae

Pilea melastomoides, Sweet nettle, Urticaceae

Piper lolot, Pepper leaf, Piperaceae

P. caducibracteum

P. umbellatum

Pistacia lentiscus, Pistachio resin tree, Anacardiaceae

Pluchea indica, Indian sage, Comppositae

Polygonum hydropiper, Water polygonum, Polygonaceae

Staurogyne elongata, Cross flower, Acanthaceae

Trachyspermum involucratum, Wild celery, Umbelliferae

Datura metel - Devil's Trumpet, Zombie Cucumber


Datura metel is native to the east Asia, D. stramonium is thought to be from Tropical America. Both have a similar range of medicinal properties. Numerous Datura species have been documented as being used by the Aztecs and modern indians as an intoxicant and hallucinogen in the same way as other tropane plants of the New World. They have also been used in Europe for healing and divination since the 16th century.


Datura metel is of similar toxicity to D. cerantocaula, D. ferox, D. stramonium, and D. innoxia. The plant is a fast growing, robust annual. Some find the aroma of the large white and/or purplish flowers to be objectionable, I think they smell good.

The thorny capsules are seed pods, containing numerous kineyshaped seeds.

Datura metel is a neurotoxin, hallucinogen, and considered to be extremely hazardous. Apparently, falling asleep beneath certain Datura and Brugmansia species can give rise to hallucinatory dreams.

Datura extracts have also been used (or misused) for infanticide, suicide, and murder.

Datura is used medicinally, mainly as an analgestic, used to relieve pain without loss of conscious.

The whole plant, but especially the leaves and seed, is anaesthetic, anodyne, antiasthmatic, antispasmodic, antitussive, bronchodilator, hallucinogenic, hypnotic and mydriatic. This species, and others in its genus, have a long history of use in ethnomedicine.

Caution is advised since a toxic dose can be very close to the medicinal dose. This plant should only be used under the guidance of a qualified practitioner. Many horror stories can recounted about naive individuals who decided to self-medicate with this and other closely related plants only to find themselves in a dark and scary place they never thought they would escape from, and sometimes they were right.

At low doses the alkaloids act as a depressant and sedative, but higher doses can lead to powerful "true" hallucinations, exitation, dry mouth, euphoria, confusion, insomnia, respiratory arrest and death.

The plant contains the alkaloids hyoscyamine, scopolamine, hyoscine and atropine. Atropine dilates the pupils and is used in eye surgery. Dried leaves contain .3 - 1 % tropane alkaloids (mainly hyoscyamine and scopolamine), seeds contain .6 % and roots .2 %.

Datura metel

Purple Datura metel
Purple Datura metel

Here's a link to a post with more information and photos on Datura metel. And see article below 

The Genus Datura: From Research Subject to Powerful Hallucinogen

By Kirsten Bonde

Datura is one of the most interesting plants with hallucinogenic properties. Despite having a reputation as one of the 'darker' hallucinogens, it has been widely used by societies historically in both the Old World and the New, and continues to be today. For those interested in ethnobotanical uses of this plant world-wide, Datura is a fascinating topic. While being limited in its uses economically, the alkaloids contained in the plant have been in demand in the past and its application as a subject for botanical research is vast. Heiser has stated that "Datura is a genus of contrasts - from smelly weeds to lovely ornamentals." This paper will attempt to provide an overview of this varied genus, with specific attention being given to Datura stramonium, most common in North America.

Datura belongs to the family Solanaceae, the nightshades, which Includes some 2,400 species in total (Siegel 1989:36). Other plants with narcotic properties in this family are mandrake (Mandrogora), belladonna (Atropa), henbane (Hyoscyamus), and tobacco (Nicotiana). Appropriately called the "paradoxical plants" by Heiser, this family also includes such common food plants as the tomato, potato, and eggplant (Safford 1922:539). There seems to be some disagreement as to how many sections and species belong to the genus Datura. Conklin (1976:3-4) states that herbaceous Datura is now divided into five sections, while the older citation by Avery (1959:18) claims only four. in any case, this genus contains about ten different herbaceous species, the most important ones being D. stramonium, D. inoxia, D. metel, and D. ceratocaula (Schultes 1979:41-42).

Common names for Datura are numerous, some of the most common ones being raving nightshade, thorn apple, stinkweed, Devil's apple, Jimson weed, and angel's trumpet (Heiser 1969:140 and Avery 1959:19). Datura can be found throughout Asia, Europe, and the Americas as either native or adventive plants, and some have also been found in Africa and Australia (Conklin 1976:5). The epicenter of diversity of this plant is in the New World, specifically in Andean South America and in the southwestern United States/Mexico region (Lewis 1977:423-4). This data correlates with the generally agreed upon origin of Datura, although this topic was debated for some time. Researchers now believe the plant originated and evolved in Mexico and the American Southwest, followed by adaptive radiation into new desert environments (Conklin 1976:5).

Today, Datura (mainly the species stramonium) can be found all over North America as a roadside weed, but never in mountainous or forested habitats (Hutchens 1991:166). A possible explanation for its success as a weed has been offered by Heiser, who argues that the long duration of the seeds is responsible. Tests have shown that Datura seeds stored for 39 years still had a germination rate of 90% (Heiser 1969:140). The plant seems to prefer xeric environments and has an annual or short-lived perennial life cycle (Conklin 1976:5). Since Datura is not a widely grown crop plant, estimations on yield were difficult to locate. The only mention on the topic was in reference to experiments carried out to determine the effect of manure and other nitrogenous fertilizers on the plant. "In 1911 yields from Datura stramonium were reported as increasing from 23 kg. per 100 square meters, on unmanured land to 33 kg. per 100 square meters on land which had been dunged with farmyard manure" (James 1947:230-231).

The earliest mention of a plant of this genus was by the Arab Avicenna in the 11 th century in an account of Arabian medicinal plants, later translated by Dioscorides. The "nut" of the plant was recognized by early botanists as a fruit of a solanaceous plant, later called Datura metel (Avery 1959:3). The generic name of Datura was first used by Linnaeus in his 1737 publication Hortus Cliffortianus. Objecting to "barbaric" nomenclature, he latinized Dhatura or Dutra into the modem name of Datura (Avery 1959:17). The English herbalist Gerard also made mention of Datura in reference to the plant Greek writer Theocrastus called Hippomanes, thought to drive horses mad. He also believed Datura was responsible for putting the priests of Apollo in ancient Greece into their prophetic state (Schultes 1979:109).

Later historical accounts of Datura include Christoval Acosta's Tractado de las Drogas y Medicinas de las Indias Orientales (1578). He describes the use of Datura in the East Indies as an aphrodisiac and also states that the seeds were highly prized treasures by Hindu enamorades, who ground them into a powder to be added to wine or some other medium. Herbalist Li Shi-Chen, in a work on Chinese medicines entitled Peu ts'ao Kang mu (15 90), explained the origin of the Chinese name for Datura. Man t'o lo h ua is said to be taken from the famous Buddhist sutra "Fa hua ching," which states that when Buddha preaches a sermon from heaven, dew forms on the petals of Datura from raindrops. According to the Taoist tradition though, the name refers to a specific star whose envoy is supposed to carry a Datura flower in one hand (Safford 1922:540). These early accounts of the plant offer valuable insight into its widespread use and rich history. But while Datura continued investigated, the most thorough study was conducted in the early 20th century by Albert F. Blakeslee, who spent most of his career using the plant to conduct groundbreaking research Into plant genetics.

Perhaps the most Important contribution of Datura, at least in sclentIfIc terms, is its use as a research subject to better understand fundamental biological principles (Heiser 1069:141). Datura plants contain 12 pairs of chromosomes normally, but trisomic (2n+1) individuals can be grown which have an extra chromosome in one of their twelve sets. This was discovered by Blakeslee, who went on to identify twelve primary mutants, each with one of the normal chromosomes as an extra, and for many of these, two secondary mutants where the extra chromosome was a reduplicated half of the one of the normal ones (Avery 1959:viii). The Blakeslee himself understood the Implications of his work, as evident when he wrote an article for Smithsonian in 1930 and stated, " is our belief that in the future extra chromosomes will be consciously utilized as a source of desirable variations in plants of economic Importance" (449). How right he was!

Another great accomplishment was the discovery of a haploid in Datura by Blakeslee. "This was the f1rst haploid to be found in vascular plants and created something of a sensation. Haploid plants, one thought, should be gamophytes, but here was a little plant, rather weak and nearly sterile, that was clearly a sporophyte, but that had only one set of chromosomes in its cells" (Avery 1959.-Vili). With this research, much interest in polyploidy was aroused and investigations continued.

While a total of six stages in the polyploidy series of Datura have now been Identified (1n, 2n, 3n, 4n, 6n, and 8n), the Initial work by Blakeslee was of vast importance. With the finding of polyploids containing four sets of chromosomes Instead of two "was born the concept of genic balance; that is, an organism that has complete extra sets of all of its genes is not very different from a normal organism of its type, whereas an organism that has a single extra chromosome, giving it an extra 'dose' of the genes carried on this chromosome and thus changing the ratio of these genes to those bome on the other chromosomes, has a profoundly changed appearance" (Heiser 1969:142). The research conducted by Blakeslee during his lifetime were of immeasurable value to such diverse aspects of botany as genetics, cytology, physiology, morphology, and anatomy. in the process of this, the Datura plant itself has become better understood. The numerous variations genetically in the plant has amazed many researchers and it is believed that "Datura now probably displays a larger number of distinguishable types due to gene mutations than any other species of plants except corn" (Avery 1959:110).

Being a known hallucinogen, the chemistry and alkaloid composition of Datura also becomes important if one is to understand the plant itself as well as its history. The main alkaloids of medicinal value in Datura are members of the tropane class, namely atropine, hyoscyamine, and hyoscine (Avery 1959:48). All are commonly grouped under the headings of stramonine or daturine (Heiser 1969:141), and are present in varying concentrations in all parts of the plant. The variance is due to the stage of development of the plant and the environmental conditions it is grown in. There is a decreases in the concentration during the day and an increase at night, as well as less following a rainy period than after clear weather (Lewis 1977:419). The effect of environmental factors has been shown to cause as much variation as that found between specific races (Avery 1959:48).

The medicinal value of the alkaloids themselves is significant, but Datura is not considered the best source for them. Atropine is present in small amounts in Datura and can be extracted from hyoscyarnine in a commercial process. The alkaloid has a paralyzing action that helps relieve bronchial spasms in the treatment of asthma. Old-fashioned methods of treating this respiratory problem included use of an inhaler containing stramonine and belladonna (also a primary source of atropine). When the supply of belladonna was cut off during World War II, the United States began intentional cultivation of D. stramonium as a domestic source of atropine. This was abandoned later because imported belladonna was cheaper than domestic Datura resources (Heiser 1969:141).

The daturine alkaloids are also known to cause dilation of the pupil of the eye (mydriasis) and paralysis of the muscles of accommodation (cycloplegia). They effect the nervous system too, with atropine acting as a stimulant and hyoscine as a depressant. Atropine is used to counteract the depression associated with morphine and hyoscine acts as an antidote to highly toxic phosphate insecticides and so called "nerve gases." Other applications of hyoscine Include prevention of motion sickness, as an analgesic along with morphine in obstetrics to produce "twilight sleep," and as a truth drug (Avery 1959:51).

While people may not have been aware of the chemical constituency of Datura, the plant was used medicinally all over the world in historical times. in the Old World, the Chinese used Datura to treat colds and nervous conditions (Siegel 1989:21). in India, the powdered seeds were mixed with butter and taken internally for impotence as well as being applied to genitalia to obtain sexual vigor (Lewis 1977:330). Referred to as the tuft of Shiva, the god of destruction, Datura was also used in the form of a liquid extract by thugs - worshipers of Kali, the goddess of fertility and death - to stupefy sacrificial victims. The plant was also given to young girls in India to bring them Into prostitution as well as on their clients (Siegel 1989:21). The leaves were smoked as well in that country to relieve asthma (Lewis 1977:395).

European usage of Datura can be traced back to pagan rituals. The Church suppressed knowledge of the plant during the medieval witch-burning period and associated Datura and other plants such as deadly nightshade and monkshood with the Devil. "...flying ointments and magical salves were compounded out of Datura roots and seeds, parts of the plant rich in delirium- and delusion-producing tropane alkaloids. When this material was applied to the witch's body, it produced states of extraordinary derangement and delusion" (McKenna 1992:90). The use of broomsticks by witches can be explained by these practices, serving to apply the salves to sensitive vaginal membranes (Lewis 1977:420).

Experiments on these controversial religious practices were carried out by Andres Laguna, a physician to Pope Julius III, and showed how the salves containing Datura took the women on "Journeys" by producing dreams only, contrary to widely-held folk beliefs of the period. Giovanni Battista Porta, a colleague of Galileo and who also took part in Laguna's experiment, described how men drank potions of Datura to create the illusion of being a bird or beast. The men wore wolfs skin and ran about on all fours following ingestion of the hallucinogen, providing the basis of our modem werewolf stories (Siegel 1989:22).

While Datura was definitely used in the Old World, no where did it have as much application as in the New World. The seeds were used by ancient Peruvians in trepanning operations as an anesthetic and archeological evidence Indicates that these complex surgical procedures had a higher survival rate than one would expect (Heiser 1969:136). The use of enema syringes in Peru dates back to 600800 AD and could have contained Datura among other things, considering the vast herbal knowledge of the healers of this region (McKenna 1992:197-8). Wild and cultivated species of Datura were also used in other parts of western South America by indigenous peoples to Induce partial intoxication, to control unruly children, and the plant was given in large doses along with tobacco to women and slaves to deaden their senses before being buried alive with their dead husbands or masters. Extracts made from the bark, leaves, and seeds were also used in shamanistic rites and practices of this region (Avery 1959:4).

The Aztecs also made use of Datura, specifically D. meteloides, which they called ololluhqui "the magic plant," for all kinds of diseases including paralysis and as an ointment for cuts or wounds (Safford 1922:550). The plant's narcotic effects were employed by Aztecan shamans and priests to communicate with spirits, causing visions and stimulating people to dance, laugh, weep, sleep, or tell oracular prophecies. The seeds were considered sacred and kept on altars or in secret boxes and sacrificial offerings made to them by the Aztecs (Avery 1959:4).

Zuni Indians and other cultures in the American Southwest and Mexican region used Datura as well and referred to it as toloache Used to relieve pain during the setting of bones among other things, D. meteloides was the most universally used drug in the region. it was also taken by young boys in male initiation rituals and used in ceremonies following the death of a member of the tribe (Avery 1959:4). Attitudes toward the plant varied among tribes from no special reverence to attribution of supernatural powers. But while knowledge of this plant was widespread among Native Americans, early colonialists were not as aware of Its properties. An interesting example of this is what happened to British soldiers in 1676 sent to Jamestown, Virginia to quell Bacon's Rebellion. After including Datura stramonium in a salad, the soldiers were reported to have gone mad for eleven or so days before the effects finally wore off. This incident is probably the source for Datura's common name jimsonweed, a shortened version of James Town weed (Avery 1959:5).

From an anthropological perspective, the use of Datura stramonium by Algonquin Indians of Virginia in their huskanawing ceremony provides an excellent example, of the role of hallucinogens during the liminal period in rites of passage. The concept of liminality was first discussed by Arnold Van Gennep in his Rites o Passaga (1908) and later elaborated on by Victor Turner. The liminal period is one part of rites of passage during which initiates are removed from social space and involved in reflection and learning about their particular society. Victor Turner has pointed to the Importance of studying this phenomenon in order to understand processes of social change generationally within a culture. The use of Datura in this rite provides such insight.

Beverly in his History of Virginia (1705) described the rite of huskanawing. The rite was practiced by Algonquins every fourteen or sixteen years and involved taking the "choicest and briskest" young men of the society into the woods and ritually administering an intoxicating medicine (wysoccan), containing Datura, to them. The rite was necessary if the young men hoped to become great men or officers within their society. Kept in cages or enclosures for several months, the local medicine men carefully fed the boys only wysoccan, causing them to become "stark, raving mad" for a period of eighteen or twenty days so as to "perfectly lose the remembrance of all former things, even of their parents, their treasure, and their language." When sufficient dosages had been administered, the amount was reduced gradually and the young men slowly returned to their senses. But before the potion completely wore off, the boys were brought back, into their village and carefully observed to see if any memories of their former life as boys were discovered. If one did show signs of remembering, the entire ritual had to be undergone again, this time greatly endangering the life of the initiate (Safford 1922:558-9).

While this may serve as a severe example of liminality, the purpose of the rite being one of transition follows Van Gennep's and Turner's theory perfectly. As Beverly describes, the boys are forced to relearn all aspects of their culture, "...thus they unlive their former lives, and commence men by forgetting that they ever have been boys" (Safford 1922:558-9). In order to become fully adult, socialized members of Algonquin society, the boys must leave their former role of boyhood and its accompanying memories behind. While possible reasons for the severity of the ritual are beyond the scope of this paper, the account by Beverly struck me as Important enough to Include and is worth further research in the future.

While the above descriptions make it appear like Datura is a fairly widely used, relatively harmless hallucinogenic plant, this is not at all the case. There is adequate reason for Datura's dark -reputation and probably one of the more famous examples has to do with Abraham Lincoln's mother, Nancy Hanks. She apparently drank milk from a local cow that had grazed on the plant and consequently developed "milk sickness," a slow but fatal disease. Her death effected Lincoln tremendously and caused the President to remain abstinent from alcohol for the remainder of his life (Siegel 1989:259). The possibility of poisoning when taking Datura is fairly high and occurs often with symptoms similar to belladonna. As discussed earlier, chemical composition of the plant varies with environmental conditions the plant is grown In, thereby making it difficult to determine a safe dosage. Cases of children eating parts of the plant have often been reported, attracted by the colorful flowers and seedpods. Livestock poisoning seems to be rarer, possible due to Datura's odor and taste (Lewis 1977:54).

With its long history of human usage, one may ask how people learned to use Datura safely. One possible answer lies in the foraging habits of animals. Tribal peoples, living in a much closer relationship with nature, probably observed the effects Datura had on different species of animals and copied their eating strategies when consuming the hallucinogen themselves. Modern scientists have watched hawk moths feed on the flowers at night and become disoriented. Nonetheless, the moths continue to attempt to return to the plant for further feeding. Hummingbirds also favor Datura and after ingesting the narcotic perch, fluff their feathers, and then freeze stiff like corpses for several hours (Siegel 1989:25). Other research has also demonstrated that animals chose to eat hallucinogenic plants on an infrequent basis only, seeming to realize that tolerances can easily develop with regular usage.

Interestingly, some animals are unaffected by Datura Beetles have developed biochemical defenses against the plants potent chemicals and ants appear to have done the same, often being observed carrying away the seeds. Bees are unaffected as well and various species of birds are known to eat the seeds, thereby acting as a dispersal mechanism for the plant (Siegel 1989:24). Using animals as a model to learn from, ancient hunters and gatherers probably began using Datura and many incorporated it into shamanistic rituals, a more controlled environment for ingestion of such a powerful and dangerous hallucinogen.

The uses of this plant historically have been numerous, but we can also benefit from Datura in the future. Detoxification of the environment used to be taken care of by nature back when human beings lived in a more harmonious relationship with the earth. With increasing amounts of pollution resulting from modernization and industrialization, cleaning up the mess becomes a Larger challenge every day. The Datura plant can aid in these efforts. "The shrub Datura stramonium can act like a toxin sponge, leaching heavy-metal elements from polluted soils. The toxins are concentrated in its tissue, which can then be removed" (McKenna 1989:8). When discovering this Information, I was further Impressed with the belief that only by becoming more in touch with plants and nature can we hope to sustain as a species in the future. By ignoring the knowledge plants such as Datura can offer, we miss the very means by which to insure our own survival.

Literature Cited

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Conklin, Marie E "Genetic and Biochemical Aspects of the Development of Datura" Monographs in Developmental Biology. New York: Karger, 1976.

Heiser, Charles B. Jr. Nightshades., The Paradoxical Plants. San Francisco: WH Freeman and Co., 1969.

Hutchens, Alma R. Indian Herbalogy of North America. Boston: Shambala, 1991.

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Effecting Man's Health. New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1977.

McKenna, Terence. Food of the Gods: The Search for the Original Tree of Knowledge. New York: Bantam Books, 1992.

McKenna, Terence. "Plan, Plant, Planet." Whole Earth Review (64) Fall 1989.

Safford, William E. "Daturas of the Old World and New: An Account of their Narcotic Properties and their Use in Oracular and Initiatory Ceremonies." Annual Report of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution 1920. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1922.

Schultes, Richard E. and Albert Hoffman. Plants of the Gods. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1979.

Siegel, Ronald K. Intoxication: Life in Pursuit of Artificial Paradise. New York: EP Dutton, 1989.

This document Copyright Kirsten Bonde