|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
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 psychoactivemushrooms, 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 MongolischenVolksrepublik. Pharmazie 40 (6): 432.