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Labiatae (Lamiaceae; Mint Family); Subfamily
Nepetoideae, Salvieae Tribe, Salviinae Subtribe,
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).
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).
- 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
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).
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.
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;
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,
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
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
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;
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.
Clebsch, Betsy. 1997. A book ofsalvias: Sages for every
garden. Cambridge, U.K.: Timber Press.
Debin, David. 1992. Nice guys finish dead. New York:
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.:
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.
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
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 bekanntenPsychedelikums. Hanfblatt4 (36): 15-19.