The asset live in the mountains of the northern

Caucasus and are thought to be later descendants

of the ancient Scythians. The Oriental scholar

Julius Klaproth visited the asset during the

nineteenth century and returned with a description

of a divination ritual in which the

Caucasus rhododendron (whether the botanical identification is correct remains open) was used as

a psychoactive incense (Klaproth 1823,2:223 f.):

He described their ardent devotion to the

prophet Elias, who was regarded as their

greatest protector. In caves consecrated to

him, they [the Osset] offered goats and

consumed their flesh; after which they spread

the skins out under a large tree and honored

these in a special fashion on the prophet's feast

day so that he would keep away the hail and

grant them a bountiful harvest. The Osset

would often go to these caves to inebriate

themselves on the smoke of Rhododendron

caucasicum, which would cause them to sleep

deeply. The dreams that appeared to them

under these circumstances were interpreted as

prophecies. (Ginzburg 1990, 165)

The Caucasus rhododendron (section Pontica)

is a broad bush that grows to only about 1 meter in

height. The flowers are creamy or pale yellow,

sometimes with pink spots. The plant typically

blooms from April to May and is found primarily

at an altitude between 1,800 and 2,700 meters. It is

found across northeastern Turkey and the

Caucasus Mountains (Cox 1985, 175). Its evergreen

leaves are weakly aromatic. Rhododendron

caucasicum is only rarely encountered in rhododendron

gardens, for it is much more difficult to

cultivate than are other species.

In Nepal, the closely related Rhododendron

lepidotum WalL ex Donn (in two forms: var. album

Davidian and var. minutiforme Davidian; cf. Cox

1985, 113 f.) is still used today as a ritual and

shamanic incense, the effects of which are very

subtle (see incense). In Tibet and China, other

rhododendron species are also used as incense.

The yellow-flowered Rhododendron cinnabarinum

Hook f. is found in the high mountains of Sikkim.

Its smoke is said to have a profound effect on yaks,

producing a strong inebriation and altering their

behavior. It is possible that it also has psychoactive

effects upon humans.

In Nepal, the leaves of a Rhododendron species

are mixed with tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum) for

smoking. A snuff is made from the bark of a Rhododendron

species and tobacco leaves (Hartwich

1911, 108*).

Other rhododendron species, e.g., the rustyleaved

alpine rose (Rhododendron ferrugineum 1.)

and the Pontic rhododendron (Rhododendron

ponticum 1.), yield a psychoactive/toxic honey.

The Tartars made a tea from the leaves (ten or

more) of the gold-yellow alpine rose (Rhododendron

chrysanthum PalL [sm. Rhododendron

officinale Salisb., Rhododendron aureum Georg])

that is said to have produced a state of inebriation

(Roth et al 1994, 612*). There is also a cultivar,

Rhododendron x sochadzeae, resulting from a cross between R. ponticum and R. caucasicum (Cox

1985, 175 f.). This rare ornamental variety may

have potent psychoactive effects.

The aromatic species of rhododendron contain

relatively high concentrations of essential oil.

Mongolian species contain primarily limonene,

aromadendrene, caryophyllene, d-candinene, r3selinene,

and gurjunene (Satar 1985).

It is would be an interesting task to investigate

a possible cultural link between rhododendron

forests and psilocybin mushrooms. Rhododendron

groves are a preferred habitiat of some psychoactive

mushrooms, e.g., Psilocybe cyanescens.

Cox, Peter A. 1985. The smaller rhododendrons.

Portland, Ore.: Timber Press.

Ginzburg, Carlo. 1990. Hexensabbat. Berlin:


Klaproth, Julius. 1823. Voyage au Mont Caucase et en

Georgie. 2 vols. Paris.

Satar, S. 1985. Analyse der atherischen Ole aus drei

Rhododendron-Arten der Mongolischen

Volksrepublik. Pharmazie 40 (6): 432.

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