SPECIES: Angustifolia, Baileyana, Catechu, Coringera, Maidenii, etc.
COMMON NAMES: Pulque Tree, Timbre, Catechu Tree, Horned Acacia, Acacia, Maiden’s Wattle, Wattle, Druce
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The genus Acacia encompasses from 130 to 800 species, found all over the world. Most Acacia trees are medium sized, with pinnate leaves and clustered flowers. They produce pod-like fruits. The flowers are very fragrant and are often made in to an essential oil that is used in aromatherapy (Ratsch 1998, 28).
Acacia trees are very tolerant of dry climates and can actually restore fertility to the soil where they grow. Acacia enjoys sunny places and coarse, dry soil containing sand, gravel and rock dust. Acacia trees only requires moderate watering, and are fungus sensitive. They are very hardy and quite tolerant of both cold and heat (Ratsch 1998, 28).
TRADITIONAL USES: Numerous acacia species have been used for medicine and as entheogens, as well as for making incense. Many species of acacia, particularly Australian ones, contain DMT and other tryptamines, and are therefore suitable as ingredients in ayahuasca analogues. However, not all acacia species contain DMT.
In Mexico, the root of A. angustifolia is used as an additive to pulque, a fermented psychoactive agave beverage. The Aztecs called this small tree ocpatl – pulque drug. This beverage is thought to have interesting psychoactive effects (Ratsch 1998, 28).
The leaves of A. campylacantha contain N,N-DMT and other tryptamines, and the bark is used in West Africa as a psychoactive additive to a psychoactive beverage known as dolo, which is brewed from sorghum and pennisetum, as well as honey. Dolo is consumed ceremonially as well as in recreationally. The beverage is said to impart strength and lift the mood (Voltz 1981 cited in Ratsch 1998, 28).
A. catechu is a species of Acacia found in India, Indonesia and Malaysia, which can grow up to twenty meters in height. The inner wood is boiled in water to create an extract known as catechu, which is an odorless substance used both for tanning and as an additive to betel quids. Also in India, the gum of A. nilotica is fried in ghee and taken as an aphrodisiac, and the tree is considered sacred and is not to be cut down. A flower infusion of A. farnesiana is used as an aphrodisiac and muscle relaxant (Ratsch 1998, 29).
A. cornigera is a South American species used in the preparation of the Mayan ritual drink known as balche. The bark may contain N,N-DMT (Arvigo and Balick 1994 cited in Ratsch 1998, 29).
It has been suggested that the burning bush witnessed by Moses in the Old Testament was an A. senegal tree. This tree is still held sacred in the Middle East, and it is said that anyone who breaks off a twig will die in a year. It has even been suggested by scholar Benny Shanon that Moses composed an ayahuasca analog from acacia resin and syrian rue, an MAOI, and that this allowed him to see his visions of Yahweh, the burning bush, and so forth. The wood of this tree was also used to build the Jewish tabernacle (Wahba Khalil & Elkheir 1975).
In Australia, a wide variety of native acacia are used as food and to treat a number of illnesses. The leaves are also often burned as a “smoking medicine”, meaning that the smoke from the burning plant is inhaled to treat illness (Ratsch 1998, 30).
TRADITIONAL PREPARATION: Various types of acacia root, leaf and bark may be used as ingredients in ayahuasca analogues, in cases where they contain DMT. Many species of acacia are also used in combination with other herbs in ritual psychoactive alcoholic beverages, such as pulque. The Masai, who use A. ataxacantha to stimulate themselves for battle or hunting prepare the plant by making a water infusion of the bark and roots and then consume meat that has been cooked with an extract of the same plant. Milk is not to be consumed at the same time as this combination, in order to avoid illness. The Masai also occasionally chew the bark to produce stimulation and courage (Voogelbreinder 2009, 65-66).
In Australia, aboriginal tribes use various species of native Acacia to create a fine ash for chewing with tobacco and other entheogens to aid in alkaloid release. To prepare this ash, the tips of the branches are generally tied and ignited in a fire, and are then allowed to burn into a bowl. This ash is also sometimes combined with pituri (Duboisia hopwoodii) in order to leech psychoactive alkaloids out of the leaves to allow for a visionary experience. The boiled leaves, shoots and seeds of many acacia trees are edible, and the roots can be tapped for water or used as medicine (Voogelbreinder 2009, 65-66).
Much care should be taken with the preparation and consumption of unknown species of acacia, as many contain poisonous cyanogenic glycosides and have been known to poison livestock. Closely related species also often interbreed, which may make identification of the alkaloids present in the plant very challenging. Therefore, it is not recommended that one consume any part of an acacia plant until the species is confirmed (Voogelbreinder 2009, 65-66).
MEDICINAL USE: In India, Acacia catechu is used as a tonic for digestive ailments, to treat skin disorders, and to treat ulcers in the mouth, inflamed throats, and toothaches. A. catechu contains a great deal of tannins, and so is suitable for treating inflammations. A. farnesiana is used to in India to treat insanity, epilepsy, rabies and convulsions (Voogelbreinder 2009, 65-66).
The Maya of Belize use A. cornigera root and bark to treat snakebites, and as a tea to treat impotence. It is also used to treat asthma and headaches (Voogelbreinder 2009, 65-66).
In Africa, A. ataxacantha root is combined with other herbs and used to treat wounds. The leaf is an analgesic. A. nilotica has been used in Sudan to treat a variety of different inflammatory disorders. The Masai use a decoction of the stem bark and root to acquire courage and as a stimulant (Voogelbreinder 2009, 65-66).
A. confusa is a species of acacia that is said to be poisonous, but which is nevertheless used widely in Traditional Chinese Medicine to treat blood disorders and as a muscle relaxant (Voogelbreinder 2009, 65-66).
TRADITIONAL EFFECTS: Many African species of acacia are said to have very stimulating and energizing effects, although some individuals are also said to go mad from chewing the bark, and even to fall comatose in rare cases. The bark is said to cause a “furious and imbalanced state of mind” and is therefore often consumed before battle. Many species of African acacia are said to be stimulating aphrodisiacs, and are still used as such by indigenous tribes in the regions in which they grow (Voogelbreinder 2009, 65-66).
Species such as A. acuminata, A. albida and A. maidenii have been found to contain DMT, and so may potentially be useful as a part of an ayahuasca analog, although reports on the effectiveness of this practice seem to vary widely from case to case. In particular, there are a number of positive reports of using the leaves and bark of A. phlebophylla, an Australian species and A. maidenii, a species native to California, as a part of ayahuasca analogs (Voogelbreinder 2009, 65-66).
Hofmann, A., Ratsch, C., Schultes, R., Plants of the Gods: Their Sacred, Healing, and Hallucinogenic Powers. Rochester: Healing Arts Press, 1992.
Ratsch, Christian., The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants: Ethnopharmacology and its Applications. Rochester: Park Street Press, 1998.
Voogelbreinder, Snu, Garden of Eden: The Shamanic Use of Psychoactive Flora and Fauna, and the Study of Consciousness. Snu Voogelbreinder, 2009.
Wahba Khalil, S.K., and Y.M. Elkheir. “Dimethyltryptamine from the Leaves of Certain Acacia Species of Northern Sudan.” Lloydia 28, no. 2 (1975): 176–177.