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Labiatae (Lamiaceae; Mint Family); Subfamily

Nepetoideae, Salvieae Tribe, Salviinae Subtribe,

Dusenostachys Section

Forms and Subspecies

Only clones or races of varying bitter taste are

known. The Wasson clone is very bitter and is

derived from plants collected in 1962; the "palatable

clone:' which has hardly any bitter taste, was

collected in Llano de Arnica, Oaxaca, by the

American ethnobotanist Bret Blosser (Ott 1996,33).



Folk Names

Aztekensalbei, blatter der hirtin, diviner's sage,

foglie della pastora, hierba de la pastora, hierba de

la virgen, hoja de la pastora (Spanish, "leaf of the

shepherdess"), hojas de adivinaci6n, hojas de

maria pastora, la hembra, leaves of the Mary

shepherdess, mazatekischer salbei, pipiltzitzintli,

sage of the seers, salvia, salvia of the seers, ska

maria pastora, ska pastora (Mazatec, "leaf of the

shepherdess"), wahrsagesalbei, yerba de maria,

yerba maria, zaubersalbei


The Aztecs knew and used a plant they called

pipiltzintzindi (literally "the noblest little prince")

in entheogenic rituals in a manner very similar to the ways in which they used mushrooms

(Psilocybe spp.). A number of authors have

suggested that this plant was Salvia divinorum

(Wasson 1962; Ott 1995, 1996).285

Gordon Wasson discovered the plant and its

divinatory use in 1962. That same year, the plant

was first botanically described by Carl Epling and

Carlos D. Jativa-M., botanists from UCLA. In the

1960s, Albert Hofmann was unable to discover any

active constituents in an initial analysis of juice

pressed from the plant (Hofmann 1979, 151-68*;

1990). The chemistry and pharmacology was not

clarified until the 1980s and 1990s, when

salvinorin A was discovered (Ortega et al. 1982;

Valdes 1994; Valdes et al. 1987; Siebert 1994).


Salvia divinorum is endemic to the Mazatec region

of the Sierra Madre Oriental in the Mexican state

of Oaxaca. Apart from this, the plant is found only

as a cultigen among "neo-shamans" and in

botanical gardens. It occurs naturally in tropical

rain and cloud forests at altitudes between 300 and

1,800 meters (Reisfield 1993). Because of its small

original range, the plant is one of the rarest of all

natural entheogens. It is now grown by plant

enthusiasts around the world.


Propagation is performed with cuttings or

layers/shoots. All leaves except the topmost pair

are removed from an 8 to 12 cm long branch tip, which is then placed in water. The cutting should

develop roots in about two weeks. It can be

planted in soil after about four weeks. Salvia

divinorum requires a great deal of water and

prefers high to very high humidity. If the edges of

the leaves turn brown, this is a sure sign that the

air is too dry. As a shade plant, it does not tolerate

any direct sunlight, prefers dark soil, and needs

copious amounts of water, i.e., it should be

watered almost every day. Although the plant is

sensitive to cold, cultivated Salvia divinorum can

survive a mild frost.

Methods for cultivating the plant from seed are

currently being investigated (cf. Reisfield 1993).


The evergreen plant is an herbaceous perennial

that can grow to over 1 meter in height. Its most

characteristic feature is its completely four-sided,

sometimes even square stem, which can grow as

thick as 2 cm. Its edges are angular. Both the

opposite leaves and the side branches develop

from nodes on the stem. The light to dark green

leaves are entirely covered in fine hairs and attain a

length of over 20 cm and a width of some 10 cm.

The leaves are lanceolate and tapered at both ends.

The panicled inflorescences appear at the ends of

the stalks and look exactly like those of Coleus

blumei. The campanulate calyxes are bluish or

purple in color, while the petals are always white

(Reisfield 1993; cf. Brand 1994, 540). In Mexico,

the plant blossoms between October and March

but primarily in January. In cultivation, the plant

seldom flowers, and fruits almost never develop.

Recently, however, one clone has been discovered

that develops fruits and seeds more frequently. A

hummingbird has been observed as a pollinator

(Reisfield 1993). The seeds germinate and begin to

develop, but with our current gardening techniques,

they all eventually die.

Salvia divinorum can be confused with a

similar, closely related Central American species,

Salvia cyanea Lamb. ex Benth. (Epling et J<itiva-M.

1962; Mayer 1977, 777).

Psychoactive Material

- Fresh or dried leaves (salvia divinorum leaves,

folia salviae divinorum, divination leaf)

Preparation and Dosage

The Mazatec take thirteen pairs of fresh leaves

(twenty-six leaves in all) and roll them into a kind

of cigar (quid) that they place in the mouth and

suck on or chew while retaining it in the mouth.

The juice is not swallowed, as the active constituents

can be absorbed only through the mucous

membranes of the mouth. At least six fresh leaves

are needed to prepare one quid (threshold

dosage), while more distinct effects will occur with

eight to ten leaves. When consumed in the form of a quid, the effects appear after almost exactly ten

minutes and persist for some forty-five minutes.

The dried leaves are best smoked by themselves.

Here, as little as half an average-sized leaf (two or

three deep inhalations) can be sufficent to elicit

profound psychoactive effects. Usually, however,

one or two leaves are smoked. The dried leaves can

be soaked in a Salvia divinorum tincture, after

which they should again be allowed to dry.

Dried Salvia divinorum leaves are becoming

popular as an ingredient in smoking blends and

even in the manufacture of psychoactive incense

(Valdes 1994).

Tinctures are prepared from fresh or dried

leaves by using an ethanol-water mixture (600/0

alcohol). The tincture can be either used to

impregnate dried leaves, thereby potentiating their

effects, or applied sublinguallyRoute of administration in which the subject places a substance under the tongue.. Dosages appear to

vary considerably in their effects among

individuals. In addition, several experiments seem

to be needed before the effects become apparent.

Looking back, however, one realizes that there

were noticeable effects before.

For information concerning the use and

dosage of the primary constituent, see "Constiuents"

and also the discussion of salvinorin A

(cf. also Ott 1995; Siebert 1994; Valdes 1994).
Ritual Use

The shamans and shamanesses of the Mazatec of

Oaxaca use Salvia divinorum in divinatory and

healing rituals, usually as a substitute for the

preferred psychoactive mushrooms (cf. Psilocybe

mexicana, Psilocybe spp.). Only a few shamans

prefer to use this Salvia. The ritual use is very

similar to that of the mushrooms (Hofmann


Salvia divinorum rituals almost always take

place at night in complete darkness and silence.

Either the healer is alone with the patient or other

patients as well as healthy participants are present.

Before the shaman and perhaps other people chew

and suck the leaves in the form of a quid, the leaves

are fumigated with copal (cf. incense) while

prayers are spoken and the quids are consecrated

to the higher powers. After chewing the leaves, the

participants lie down and try not to make any

sound. Both sounds and sources of light will

greatly disturb the visionary experience. Because

the effects of the leaves are much shorter in

duration than those of the mushrooms, Salvia

rituals rarely last more than one or two hours. If

the visions are sufficiently pronounced, the

shaman will have identified the cause of the illness

or some other problem. He then reports to the

patient, provides appropriate advice, and ends the

nocturnal meeting (Hofmann 1990; Mayer 1977;

Ott 1995; Valdes et al. 1987; Wasson 1962).

In Mazatec folk taxonomy, Salvia divinorum is

related to two species of Coleus. Salvia is la hembra ("the mother), Coleus pumila (a species introduced

from Europe) is el macho ("the father"), and

Coleus blumei is both el nene ("the child") and el

ahijado ("the godchild") (Wasson 1962, 79). It is

this relationship that is responsible for the

psychoactive reputation of Coleus.

In the region of Puebla, a similar and botanically

as yet unidentified species of Salvia known as

xiwit is cultivated for use in treating the folk

ailment susto ("fright") and in rituals. The ritual is

said to be very similar to that practiced by the

Mazatec (Diaz 1979,91*).Artifacts

The botanist William Emboden has suggested that

certain floral elements in the Mayan hieroglyphic

manuscripts may represent Salvia divinorum (cf.

Nymphaea ampla). This interpretation is difficult

to imagine, for the plant is entirely unknown in

the Yucatan Peninsula.

The American artist Brigid C. Meier has

produced several paintings inspired by her own

Salvia divinorum visions.

A riotous novel titled Nice Guys Finish Dead

(Debin 1992) features Salvia divinorum and a

"super drug" called NICE made from the plant.

Medicinal Use

Indians use nonpsychoactive preparations to treat

defecation and urination disorders, headaches,

rheumatism, and anemia and to reinvigorate the

infirm, the aged, and the dying (Brand 1994, 541;

Valdes 1994,277).


The leaves contain the neoc1erodan diterpenes

salvinorin A and salvinorin B (= divinorin A and

divinorin B) as well as two other similar substances

whose composition has not been completely

determined (Brand 1994, 540; Siebert 1994;

Valdes 1994). The main active constituent is

salvinorin A, which can induce extreme effects in

dosages as small as 150 to 500 [/-L] g (Siebert 1994,

Zubke 1997).

Loliolide,286 a substance known from Lolium

perenne 1. (cf. Lolium temulentum), has also been

detected (Valdes 1986).

Neither an essential oil nor thujone, which is

known to occur in other Salvia species, has been

discovered to date (Ott 1996,35).


Most people who have ingested Salvia divinorum

in the form of a quid or tincture or by smoking

have reported very bizarre and unusual psychoactive

effects that are difficult to compare to the

known effects of euphoric or psychedelic substances.

Space is often perceived as curved, and

surging and rolling body sensations or out-ofbody

experiences are frequently described as


Daniel Siebert has summarized the phenomenology

of the effects of Salvia divinorum in the

following way:

Certain themes are common to many of the

visions and sensations described. The following

is a listing of some of the more common


1. Becoming objects (yellow plaid French fries,

fresh paint, a drawer, a pant leg, a Ferris

wheel, etc.).

2. Visions of various two dimensional surfaces,

films and membranes.

3..Revisiting places from the past, especially


4. Loss of the body and/or identity.

5. Various sensations of motion, or being

pulled or twisted by forces of some kind.

6. Uncontrollable hysterical laughter.

7. Overlapping realities. The perception that

one is in several locations at once.

(SIEBERT 1994, 55)

These effects are strongly reminiscent of those

that are experienced at subanesthetic dosages (50

to 100 mg) of ketamine (Ketanest®) (Bolle 1988;

Jansen 1996).287

Commercial Forms and Regulations

Living plants are increasingly available from

sources specializing in ethnobotanical products,

especially in North America and Europe. The

plant is not regulated in any way.


See also the entries for Coleus blumei, diterpenes,

and salvinorin A.

Bolle, Ralf H. 1988. Am Ursprung der Sehnsucht:

Tiefenpsychologische Aspekte veriinderter

Wachbewufitseinszustiinde am Beispiel des

Aniisthetikums KETANEST. Berlin: VWB.

Brand, Norbert. 1994. Salvia. In Ragers Randbuch

der pharmazeutischen Praxis, 5th ed., 6:538-74.

Berlin: Springer.

Clebsch, Betsy. 1997. A book ofsalvias: Sages for every

garden. Cambridge, U.K.: Timber Press.

Debin, David. 1992. Nice guys finish dead. New York:

Random House.

Epling, Carl, and Carlos D. Jativa-M. 1962. A new

species of salvia from Mexico. Botanical Museum

Leaflets 20 (3): 75-76.

Hofmann, Albert. 1990. Ride through the Sierra

Mazateca in search for the magic plant « Ska

Maria Pastora!' In The sacred mushroom seeker,

ed.Th. Riedlinger, 115-27. Portland, Ore.:

Dioscorides Press.

Jansen, Karl 1. R. 1996. Using ketamine to induce the

near-death experience: Mechanism of action and

therapeutic potential. Yearbook for Ethnomedicine and the Study ofConsciousness 1995 (4): 55-79.

Berlin: VWB.

Mayer, Karl Herbert. 1977. Salvia divinorum: Ein

Halluzinogen der Mazateken von Oaxaca.

Ethnologia Americana 14 (2): 776-79.

Ott, Jonathan. 1995. Ethnopharmacognosy and

human pharmacology of Salvia divinorum and

salvinorin A. Curare 18 (1): 103-29.

---. 1996. Salvia divinorum Epling et Jativa

(foglie della pastora/leaves of the shepherdess).

Eleusis 4:31-39. (Very good bibliography.)

Reisfield, Aaron S. 1993. The botany of Salvia

divinorum (Labiatae). Sida-Contributions to

Botany 15 (3): 349-66.

Siebert, Daniel J. 1994. Salvia divinorum and

salvinorin A: New pharmacologic findings.

Journal ofEthnopharmacology 43:53-56.

Valdes, Leander J., III. 1983. The pharmacology of

Salvia divinorum Epling and Jativa-M. PhD

thesis, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

---. 1986. Loliolide from Salvia divinorum.

Journal ofNatural Products 49 (1): 171.

---. 1994. Salvia divinorum and the unique

diterpene hallucinogen, salvinorin (divinorin) A.

Journal ofPsychoactive Drugs 26 (3): 277-83.

Valdes, Leander J., Jose 1. Diaz, and Ara G. Paul.

1983. Ethnopharmacology of ska maria pastora

(Salvia divinorum, Epling and Jeitiva-M.). Journal

ofEthnopharmacology 7:287-312.

Valdes, 1. J., G. M. Hatfield, M. Koreeda, and A. G.

Paul. 1987. Studies of Salvia divinorum.

(Lamiaceae), an hallucinogenic mint from the

Sierra Mazateca in Oaxaca, central Mexico.

Economic Botany 41 (2): 283-91.

Wasson, R. Gordon. 1962. A new Mexican

psychotropic drug from the Mint Family.

Botanical Museum Leaflets 20 (3): 77-84.

Z[ubke],A[chim]. 1997. Salvia divinorum: Lieferant

des starksten aus dem Pflanzenreich bekannten

Psychedelikums. Hanfblatt4 (36): 15-19.

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