Alchornea floribunda is a small evergreen that can grow up to 32 feet tall. The flowers are dark red, and the fruit capsules are smooth, hairy, and ripen from green to red. Each fruit contains two bright red seeds. A. floribunda grows primarily in forest undergrowth in Africa. It may be propagated through seed or stem cuttings and enjoys very moist soil (Voogelbreinder 2009, 76-77).
TRADITIONAL USES: Members of the Byeri group of the Fang in Gabon, a precursor to today’s Bwiti tribe, once consumed large amounts of the root of A. floribunda, which they call alan, as part of initiatory rituals. It is said that the effects are weaker and not as long lasting as those of iboga (Tabernanthe iboga), the entheogen which the Byeri now regularly use in initiations. During such a ritual, the initiate is be shown the skulls of his or her ancestors, and the alan root assists them in communicating with the spirits of these invidivuals. A. floribunda is still used today by the Byeri alongside iboga for ritual purposes, and alone as an aphrodisiac (Voogelbreinder 2009, 76).
The related species A. laxiflora, is used by the Yoruba people of Nigeria to deflect negative magical attacks back to the originator. In Peru, A. castaneifolia has been used as an ayahuasca additive and treatment for rheumatism (Voogelbreinder 2009, 76).
TRADITIONAL PREPARATION: In order to enjoy the aphrodisiac effects of A. floribunda, the Bwiti macerate the root cortex and soak it in palm wine for several days. The root is sometimes combined with iboga to enhance the effects of both plants. The root bark may be sun-dried and powdered, then mixed with food and consumed prior to a ritual or a battle to give strength (Neuwinger 2000).
MEDICINAL USE: The leaves of A. floribunda are eaten in the Congo as an antidote for poison, and the leaf or root sap is applied to irritated or wounded skin as a salve (Burkill 1994).
In the Ivory Coast, the leaves of A. cordifolia are consumed and put in baths as a sedative and antispasmodic medicine. The root bark and leaves are used topically or made in to a tea for the treatment of parasites, venereal diseases, ulcers, and so forth. The leaves are chewed to relieve canker sores. In Nigeria, a tea prepared with the fruit is taken by women to prevent miscarriage and to heal various reproductive diseases (Burkill 1994). The leaves are also traditionally used externally as an anti-inflammatory, and Western medicine has recently begun to research the potential of this plant in the treatment of inflammation (Okoye et al. 2010).
TRADITIONAL EFFECTS: Consumption of A. floribunda creates a state of intense excitement and unbelievable ecstasy. This state is followed several hours later by depression, vertigo, and eventual complete collapse. At this point in the experience, the Bwiti say that the soul journeys to the land of the ancestors and holds council with these ancient spirits. A. floribunda may cause overdose and death in certain situations, which is perhaps why it has been primarily replaced by iboga, even among the Bwiti (Voogelbreinder 2009, 76). Please be extremely careful when working with this plant, and do not ingest it in any way – it is a powerful medicine that deserves great respect.
Several species of Alchornea, including A. cordifolia and A. hirtella, contain numerous alkaloids, including possibly yohimbine. When a decoction of powdered A. floribunda was given to dogs, it increased the sensitivity of the sympathetic nervous system to epinephrine (Voogelbreinder 2009, 76).
Burkhill, H.M. The Useful Plants of West Tropical Africa. Vol. 2. 2nd ed. Richmond, U.K.: Royal Botanic Gardens, 1994.
Neuwinger, H.D. African Traditional Medicine: a Dictionary of Plant Use and Applications. Stuttgart: Medpharm Scientific, 2000.
Voogelbreinder, Snu, Garden of Eden: The Shamanic Use of Psychoactive Flora and Fauna, and the Study of Consciousness. Snu Voogelbreinder, 2009.