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Lamiaceae, Salvia divinorum, Ska Maria Pastora, diviner’s sage – Sierra Mazateca, Oaxaca, Mexico

March 23, 2012

I found this growing in a botanical garden in San Francisco today, so I thought I’d post an article since I don’t have one at present…

Salvia divinorum is native to the Sierra Madre Oriental, Oaxaca, Mexico, where it grows in tropical rainforests at 300 – 1800 meters. Because of its limited geographic habitat, S. divinorum belongs to the rarest of psychoactive plants. That said, it is grown by plant lovers all over the world, propagated easily by cuttings.

Ska Maria Pastora, Hierba de la Pastora, Hierba de la Virgin, Pipiltzintzntli, Diviner’s Sage (of the diviners) , these are all names for Salvia divinorum a sage species of the Lamiaceae family (which includes mints, sages, basil, and many other well known plants). S. divinorum has been used by the Mazatec Indians of Mexico as a substitute for psychoactive mushrooms. S. divinorum is called “herb of the shepardess (hierba de la pastora) in spanish. The plant is closely associated with Indian mushroom cults around Oaxaca although it is not entirely clear if it was used in pre-Spanish times, many believe it is the narcotic Pipiltzintzntli (“the noblest little prince”) of the Aztec Indians.  In Oaxaca, Mexico, mazatec Indians cultivate the plant for its hallucinogenic properties in divinatory rituals. Apparently, S. divinorum is used when Teonanacatl (Psilocybe spp.) and Ololiuqui (Turbina corymbosa) are scarce or not available. Maria Sabina, the Curandera brought western fame the writings and research of Gordon Wasson, was quoted to have said this of diviner’s sage, “When I am in the time that there are no mushrooms and I want to heal someone who is sick, then I must fall back to the leaves of pastora. When you grind them up and eat them they work just like the ninos (referring to mushrooms) But, of coure, pastora has nowhere near as much power as the mushrooms.”

Ritual use of Salvia divinorum is very similar to that of mushroom rituals. Rituals take place at night in complete darkness and stillness. The healer is alone with the patient or numerous patients may be present. Pastora leaves are held over Copal incense and prayers are said before they are chewed. Salvia rituals last around two hours while mushroom rituals are longer. If visions are strong enough the healer can give the patient advice on their illness.

Salvia divinorum is also used in non-psychoactive preparations to treat defecation and urination disorders, headaches, rheumatism, and anemia, and to reinvigorate the infirm, the aged, and the dying (Brant 1994, 541: Valdes 1994, 277).

The primary form of ingestion is chewing fresh leaves. Traditionally the Mazatec take thirteen pairs of fresh leaves (twenty six leaves in total) and, after twisting them up like a cigar they are chewed. The juice is not swallowed because the psychoactivity is broken down in the stomach. Instead juices are retained in the mouth where the active ingredients are absorbed through the mucous membranes in the mouth.  Leaves that have been crushed on a metate, then filtered and diluted with water for a drink. The dried herb is also smoked. When chewing the leaves an effect begins in almost exactly ten minutes and lasts up to 45 min. When leaves are smoked, two to three deep inhalations produces a strong psychoactive reaction lasting about 15 min.

The active ingredient in S. divinorum is salvinorin A, which can bring about extreme hallucinations, even when inhaled in amounts of 150 to 500 mg. Salvanorin A (C23 H28 O8) is a neocerodan-diterpene. It is not an alkaloid and interestingly the neurochemestry of salvinorin is still an unsolved puzzle. The ingredients do not bind to any receptors in any receptor tests that have been undertaken.

Cuttings: All but the topmost pair of leaves should be removed from an 8-12 cm long branch tip. Place branch in water. The cutting will develop roots in about 2 weeks. S. divinorum requires a lot of water and high to very high humidity. If the air is too dry the edges of the leaves will turn brown. The plant does not tolerate sun. Cultivated S. divinorum can survive a mild frost.

Coleus pumulus and C. blumei were considered to be close relatives of S. divinorum by the Mazatecs.

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. March 23, 2012 10:08:28 am

    Lovely leaf, very lush and tropical? It will be interesting to see just what it is tomorrow :)

    • March 23, 2012 10:08:37 am

      DUH! It just goes to show how much I look at the title of posts…a salvia…and a desert one at that…I guess I should hand back my Diploma in horticulture about now? :)

      • March 23, 2012 10:08:14 pm

        It is a sage. The Sierra mazateca are kind of highland rainforests. The plant likes cool, himid air and cold nights. And, as the genus “divinorum” suggests, its a plant that has been used for magico/religious purposes for millennia. Its highly psychoactive. There’s a lot of interesting information on the plant and it’s etnobotanical significance. I’ll upload an overview.

        • March 23, 2012 10:08:46 pm

          Cheers for that…we are in the process of isolating edibles and medicinal plants that will grow where we live. Everything ethnobotanical that you post I pass on to a couple of friends who are very interested. Love Salvias and should we EVER be able to isolate seed for this plant we may be able to grow it. Australia is tough on what it will and won’t let in (especially ANYTHING with the genus ‘divinorum’ if you get what I mean ;)

          • March 24, 2012 10:08:39 am

            If you send me a list of some of the more common fruit/nut trees cultivated in the region you live in I can offer suggestions as to what else might work well (you may already be growing or aware of many of my suggestions)… More info on S. divinorum posted…

          • March 24, 2012 10:08:30 am

            Cheers! Any info out there will be most gratefully accepted and acted on :)

  2. rob montgomery permalink
    November 15, 2013 10:08:39 pm

    The Salvia divinorum patch hidden in Strybing Arboretum in SF came from a specimen I donated back in the early 80’s…

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