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Solanaceae (Nightshade Family); Subfamily Solanoideae,
Solandreae Tribe (formerly Datureae
Forms and Subspecies
Ten to twelve species are currently botanically
recognized as belonging to the genus Solandra
(D'Arcy 1991, 79*; Bartels 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
The species of ethnopharmacological significance
Solandra brevicalyx Standl.-kieli, kieri, kieri
Solandra guerrerensis Martinez-huipatli,
Solandra guttata D. Don ex Lindley (possibly
identical to Solandra brevicalyx; Furst 1995,
Solandra nitida Zucco [syn. Solandra maxima P.S.
Green, Solandra hartwegii N.B. Brown,
Swartzia nitida Zucc.]-cutaquatzitziqui, copa
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
Solandra grandiflora Sw.
Solandra hirsuta Dun.
Solandra macrantha Dun.
Datura maxima Sesse et Mocifia (= Solandra sp.)
Datura sarmentosa Lam. (= Solandra grandiflora
Datura scandens Velloso (= Solandra sp.)
Solandra herbacea Mordant de Launay is a
synonym for Datura ceratocaula (see Datura
In Mexico, these folk names are used for all of the
species in the genus (cf. Martinez 1966): arbol del
viento, bolsa de Judas (Spanish, "bag of Judas"),
bolute, chalice vine, copa de oro (Spanish, "cup of
gold"), cup of gold, cutacua (Tarascan), cutaquatzitziqui,
floripondio del monte (Spanish,
"angel's trumpet of the forest"), goldkelch,
hueipatl, hueypatli, hueytlaca, itzucuatziqui, k'ani
bak'el (Lacandon, "yellow bone/scent"), kieli, kieli,
kieri, kieri (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, xochitec6matl (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 Solandra species, was first
described by Hernandez in the early colonial
period. Maximino Martinez was the first to
discuss the psychoactive use of Solandra species
(1966). It is possible that the Solandra shamanism
(also known as kieli shamanism) of central Mexico
may be older than the peyote cult, which arose in
northern Mexico (cf. Lophophora williamsii)
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" kieli, and to
Datura innoxia as kielitsha, "bad kielt (Knab
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 (Martinez 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
Solanda grandiflora and Solandra nitida are the
most commonly cultivated species for garden and
ornamental use (Bartels 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
Solandra species can be confused with the
tropical dogbane Allamandra cathartica 1., 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
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,
In colonial Mexico, Indians used the cup of
gold to add zest to their cacao drinks (cf. Theobromacacao) (Heffern 1974, 101*).
| Ritual Use
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 kiili or kiiri 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: Kieli
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).292 The Solandra is often identified with
Kieritawe, the "drunken Kieri" (Furst 1989;
This divine plant is regarded as very powerful
and mighty and thus can be used for all types of
magic Ckieli 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 tuche (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,
Shamans are able to receive sacred knowledge
from the "tree of the wind." The Huichol artist Jose
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 Kieri, 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 Kieri 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 kieli 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.Artifacts
Kieri 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 Teotihuacan may symbolize
Solandra vines (cf. Turbina corymbosa). Some of
the illustrations resemble the typical iconography
of the plant in modern Huichol yarn paintings (cf.
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 eyedrops
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, 3a-tigloyloxytropane,
3a-acetoxytropane, valtropine, norhyoscyamine,
tropine, nortropine, x-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% (Diaz
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
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
In Mexico, Solandra nitida Zucco (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.
Smoking the flowers and/or leaves produces
effects that are more subtle but still clearly psychoactive
and aphrodisiac and generally very similar
to the effects produced by smoking other nightshades
(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
Evans, W. C., A. Ghani, and Valerie A. Woolley. 1972.
Alkaloids of Solandra species. Phytochemistry
Furst, Peter T. 1989. The life and death of the crazy
kieri: Natural and cultural history of a Huichol myth. Journal ofLatin American Lore 15 (2):
---.1995. The drunkard kieri: 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
Furst, Peter T., and Barbara G. Myerhoff. 1966. Myth
as history: The jimson weed cycle of the Huichols
of Mexico. Antropol6gia 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.
Martinez, Maximino. 1966. Las solandras de Mexico
con una specie nueva. Anales del Instituto de
Biologia 37 (1/2): 97-106. Mexico City: UNAM.
Valadez, Mariano, and Susana Valadez. 1992. Huichol
Indian sacred rituals. Oakland, Calif.: Dharma
Yasumoto, Masaya. 1996. The psychotropic kieri in
Huichol culture. In People ofthe peyote, ed. Stacy
Schaefer and Peter T. Furst, 235-63. Albuquerque:University of New Mexico Press.