Atropa, Brugmansia, Hyoscyamus, Mandragora, Scopolia, Solanum
The word datura comes from the Hindi dhatūrā (“thorn apple”); records of this name date back to 1662 (OED). Nathaniel Hawthorne refers to one type in The Scarlet Letter as apple-Peru. In Mexico, its common name is toloache.
Species and Varieties
Daturas have the interesting property of being able to change size of plant, size of leaf, and size of flower, depending on location. The same species, when growing in a half-shady damp place can develop into a magnificent flowering bush, or when growing in a dry and sunny place may not become larger than one foot and bearing only tiny flowers and leaves.
In the Garden
Annual and perennial species exist. Needs warm, sunny or half-shady places and soil that will keep the roots dry. Plants are susceptible to fungi in the root area. Avoid organic enrichers such as compost and manure.
Datura plants contain dangerous levels of tropane alkaloids (atropine, hyoscyamine and scopolamine) and may be fatal if ingested by humans or other animals, including livestock and pets. In some places it is prohibited to buy, sell or cultivate datura plants. Medical literature holds several accounts of deaths from poisoning with Datura stramonium and Datura ferox. In some parts of Europe and India datura has been a popular poison for suicide and murder. From 1950–1965, the State Chemical Laboratories in Agra, India investigated 2,778 deaths caused by ingesting datura.
The dose of tropane alkaloides varries greatly from plant to plant as well as within the plant. E.g. consumption of a single leaf might already cause severe symptoms.
Symptoms of poisoning include a flushed skin, headaches, hallucinations, convulsions, and subsequently coma. Opposed to mere hallucinations a complete inability to differentiate reality from fantasy (anticholinergic delirium), hyperthermia, tachycardia, bizarre and possibly violent behavior, severe mydriasis with resultant painful photophobia that can last several days. Pronounced amnesia is another commonly reported effect.
Symptoms resolve, usually from 24–36 hours after ingestion. No other psychoactive substance has received as many “train wreck” (i.e., severely negative experience) reports as has datura. The overwhelming majority find their experiences extremely mentally and physically unpleasant and often physically dangerous.
Specific Scopolamine effect: during the delir a person panics and attempts to run for shelter. Scopolamine causes him to lose sight, due to which the person might become involved in an accident and end up at hospital. Scopolamine induces respiratory depression at a hallucinogenic dose. The combination of anesthesia (in the hospital) and datura is usually fatal due to combined respiratory depression. Seizures and fevers as high as 43 C (110°F) have been reported.
Gastric lavage (stomache pumping) and administration of activated charcoal; Benzodiazepines to curb the patient’s agitation, and otherwise supportive care with oxygen, hydration, and symptomatic treatment. Antidote: Physostigmine
Datura is one of 50 main herbs in traditional Chinese Medicine, where called yáng jīn huā. Anticholinergic, deliriant, the legitimate medical applications of Scopolamine are in the treatment of nausea and motion sickness, intestinal cramping, ophthalmic dysfunctions and drug addiction. Further it is general depressant and adjunct to narcotic painkillers. It has also shown effects in memory research (Alzheimer’s treatment).
Dried flowers rolled into a cigar and smoked were used to relieve asthma and wheezing like symptoms.
The genus name is derived from dhatura, an ancient Hindu word for a plant. Stramonium may derive from Greek, strychnos στρύχνος “nightshade” and maniakos μανιακός “mad”.
In the United States the plant is called jimson weed, or Jamestown weed. Name stems from the town of Jamestown, Virginia, where British soldiers were drugged with datura while attempting to suppress Bacon’s Rebellion. They are reported to have spent eleven days generally appearing to have gone insane.
jimson weed, devil’s trumpet, devil’s weed, thorn apple, tolguacha, Jamestown weed, stinkweed, locoweed, datura, pricklyburr, devil’s cucumber, hell’s bells, moonflower, in South Africa malpitte and mad seeds, in Southamerica Chamico - from chamakani - “the diviner”
Origin and Distribution
Kaspian Sea, Mexico, North American east coastal region, Eurasia and brought to Mexico by colonists; oriental species brought to Europe by gypsies.
Today widespread over the Canarian Islands, Himalaya (Nepal, purple variant), Central and South America (D. stramonium ferox); also growing in the wild in Germany and Switzerland. In some places considered a wasteland weed. The seed is thought to be carried by birds and spread in their droppings. It can lie dormant underground for years and germinate when the soil is disturbed.
In Mexico similar to the use of Datura innoxia, where considered its ‘younger sister’. The Mixe in Oaxaca believe the plant to be housed by a spirit called ta:gamih, “the grandmother”. She is called upon to heal and divine. In ritual the males use 3x9=27 seeds and women use 3x7=21 seeds. In Mexico the catholic church believes the plant to have been created by the devil.
Mayas of Yucatan use the mehen xtoh-k'uh, “kleines Wesen in Richtung der Götter” in the same way as Datura innoxia. It has a long tradition of use in prophecies and oracles (similar to Brugmansia sanguinea).
Aboriginal Americans in North America, such as the Algonquin and Luiseño have used this plant in sacred ceremonies.
In Europe associated with witch ointments and hex rituals. Seeds used as narcotic ingredient in beer. Gypsies used it ritually to banish and attract ghosts and are said to have known the thorn apple very well. In the night of the 30th of November the gypsies would place the seeds of thorn apple outdoors and in the next day throw them into a fire. If the seeds cracked loudly, then the winter would be hard and dry. For divination they would place 9-21 seeds upon marked animal skin and beat upon it so that the seeds would move and, depending on the position of the seeds (on or between the marked lines) a sick person could be cured or not.
Aztecs used it in medicine: “Mixitl is not ingestible; it paralyses, shuts the eyes, constricts the throat, supresses the voice, makes thirsty, paralyses the genitals, splits the tongue. He who drank it has his eyes closed forever or open forever because it makes stiff and numb. Wine can ease the effect.” If applied to the skin it eases pain.
According to one recipe 1 part thorn apple and 8 parts tobacco are smoked against asthmatic spasms or 5 – 15 drops of the Tincture Seminum Stramonii are applied in cases of Nyphomania and Satyriasis.
Elisabeth Blackwell (1747) notes, “the leafs are cooling against burns and inflamations and the seed is relaxatory and narcotic”.
In voodoo thorn apple is a main ingredient in zombie powders (see the case of Clairvius Narcisse).
The scientific name is often cited as D. innoxia. From Latin innoxia/inoxia, meaning without prickles, harmless. In this species the fruit does have prickles but the plant itself may be less toxic than other species of Datura. Synonyme: Datura meteloides Dunal
thorn-apple, downy thorn-apple, Indian-apple, moonflower, sacred datura, nacazcul, toloatzin, tolguache or el toloache
Toloatzin from toloa “to bow one’s head” and -tzin “honorific/diminutive”
Also called “la yerba del diablo” in Castaneda’s writings, and in Navajo religion this plant is emblematic of the Changing Woman, a goddess who can take the form of a maiden, a mature woman, or a crone (similar to the three phases of the moon).
Origin and Distribution
Native to Central and South America, and introduced in Africa, Asia, Australia and Europe.
The plant is now considered an invasive species in several locations. For example, because of the similarity of its life cycle to that of cotton, it is a pest in cotton fields. It is also a potential seed contaminant.
Seeds have hibernation capabilities, and can last for years in the soil. The perennial rhizomes can be kept from freezing and planted in the spring of the following year.
Aztecs used toloatzin long before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors, as anodyne in poultices placed on wounds.
Aztecs warned against madness and “various and vain imaginings”, yet many native Americans have used the plant as an entheogen for hallucinations and rites of passage. Chumash people of California used this handsome datura as part of adolsecense vision quest; they drank a tea of the plant to open themselves to an animal spirit who taught the seeker a song or a dance and who would guide the person throughout the rest of their life. Later both men and women drank datura tea on their own, often to strengthen their bond with their spirit helper (famulus), to communicate with the dead or to divine the future.
Also called Hindu datura or Horn of Plenty. An Old World plant for which similar effects were described by Avicenna in eleventh century Persia.
Originally white flowering, yellow and purple flowering varieties existed. A black-stemed cultivar is D. metel ‘Fastuosa’, which has become naturalized in Israel. Other names are ‘Black’, 'Blackcurrant Swirl’, 'Cornucopaea’, 'Double Blackcurrant Swirl’, 'Double Purple’, 'Purple Hindu’.
In Hinduism, Lord Shiva was known to smoke Datura. People still provide the small green fruit of Datura during festivals and special days as offerings in Shiva temples.