Synonyms

Hedera caucasigena Pojark, Hedera chrysocarpa Walsh, Hedera helix var. chrysocarpa Ten., Hedera taurica Carr., Hedera helix var. taurica Tobler

Ivy is an ancient sacred plant that was associated with the cult of Dionysos, the god of wine, inebriation' and ecstasy. Dioscorides described three types of ivy,330 one of which bore the same name as the god, Dionysos. Plutarch, the philosopher, oracular priest, and disciple of Dionysos, wrote in his Roman Questions (112) that ivy contains "powerful spirits" that produce outbursts of madness and cramps. Ivy could induce an "inebriation without wine;' or a type of possession in those who had a natural tendency to enter ecstatic states. When ivy leaves are added to wine (see Vitis vinifera) , the resulting mixture is able to produce a delirium, «a confusion that can otherwise be produced only by henbane" (see Hyoscyamus niger). The Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder also wrote of the psychoactive effects: [Ivy] confuses the mind, cleanses, when drunk in excess, the head; taken internally, it damages the nerves, but is healthy for these same nerves when applied externally.... As a drink, [all species of ivy] are diuretic, soothe headaches, especially in the brain. . . . The berries, which are the color of saffron, provide certain protection against inebriation when they are taken beforehand as a drink. (Pliny 24.75178) Ivy has been linked to the Dionysian ecstasy of the maenads (= female bacchantes, bassarides; cf. Vitis vinifera) primarily through the work of Robert Graves and his book The White Goddess. It has been rumored that Graves wrote this book while under the influence of psilocybin. Otherwise, the ancient sources would be difficult to interpret in this manner: October was the season of the Bacchanal revels of Thrace and Thessaly in which the intoxicated Bassarids rushed wildly about on the mountains, waving the fir-branches of Queen of Artemis (or Ariadne) spirally wreathed with ivy-the yellow-berried sortin honour of Dionysus . . . , and with a roebuck tattooed on their right arms above the elbow. They tore fawns, children and even men to pieces in their ecstasy. The ivy was sacred to Osiris as well as to Dionysus. Vine and ivy come next to each other at the turn of the year, and are jointly dedicated to resurrection.... It is likely that the Bassarids' tipple was "spruce-ale;' brewed from the sap of silver-fir [Abies cephalonica Loud.] and laced with ivy; they may also have chewed ivy-leaves for their toxic effect. Yet the main Maenad intoxicant will have been amanita muscaria. (Graves 1966, 183*) The botanical identity of the inebriating ivy is a total mystery: «However, the Dionysian ivy was not the one native among us but the northern Indian with the yellow berries, of which it is said that it grows only on the mountain of Meros, near Indian Nysa" (Duerr 1978,213*). This may refer to Himalayan ivy (Hedera nepalensis K. Koch [sm. Hedera himalaica Tobl.]) , which bears orangeyellow fruits. Some subjects who have smoked the dried leaves have reported them to be inebriating. Ivy leaves contain glycosides, inositol, chlorogenic acid, hedera tannic acid, malic acid, formic acid, and triterpene hedera saponines (a-hedrine), as well as the trace elements arsenic, zinc, copper, manganese, iodine, lithium, and aluminum. The alkaloid emetine has been found in Egyptian specimens (Horz and Reichling 1993, 399). In the toxicological literature, it is noted that «a 3-yearold child ate a large amount and had hallucinations" (Roth et al. 1994, 391 *). To date, however, no truly inebriating substances have been found in ivy. Francesco Festi has worked extensively on the botany and phytochemistry of ivy and has not found the slightest evidence of the presence of psychoactive compounds (F. Festi, pers. comm.). It may be that the ancient word for ivy was a catchall phrase for climbing plants. There are vines (Convolvulus tricolor) in the Mediterranean region whose seeds contain lysergic acid derivatives. Or «ivy" may have been a designation for another plant that is no longer known or able to be identified but which had potent inebriating effects and contained psychoactive compounds.331 Imagine that a medical historian of the future finds an article written in the present that notes, "Grass has potent effects when smoked." He might think that people were smoking grass from their lawns as an inebriant. If he were to smoke it himself, he would find that it produces no such effects. How would he know that «grass" is a common and generally understood name for hemp (Cannabis sativa or Cannabis indica) and

for its female flowers?
Literature

Horz, Karl-Heinrich, and Jiirgen Reichling. 1993. Hedera. In Hagers Handbuch der pharmazeutischen

Praxis, 5th ed., 4:398-407. Berlin: Springer.

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