COMMON NAMES: Amapolas del Campo, Bermuda Thistle, Bird-in-the-bush, Brahmadanti, Cardo Santo, Caruancho, Chadron, Flowering Thistle, Gamboge Thistle, Gold Thistle of Peru, Hierba Loca, Jamaican Thistle, Kawinchu, Mexican Prickly Poppy, Mexican Thistle, Mexican Thorn Poppy, Prickly Pepper, Prickly Poppy, Queen Thistle, Satayanasi, Shate, Svarnasiri, Thistle-bush, Xate, Yellow Thistle, Zebe Dragon
Argemone mexicana is an annual that grows to about 1 meter in height with several branches and bluish leaves with thorny ends. The flowers are between 4 and 6 centimeters across and have six yellow petals. The fruits are very thorny and full of small black seeds. In a tropical climate, the plant will flower throughout the year. A. mexicana is from the tropics of the Americas, but may now be found throughout the world, including in tropical Africa, India, and Nepal (Ratsch 1998, 61-62).
Argemone mexicana is a plant that not only produces a large number of seeds (just like Papaver somniferum), but is easy to sprout as well. The seeds look very similar to culinary poppy seeds that most are familiar with, but they are about twice the size. Simply scatter these on a flowerbed during the spring, and you will have a fast-growing garden that sprouts in a week or two at most.
The soil doesn’t have to be anything particular, although prickly poppy does seem to prefer lighter, sandier soil. This plant easily adapts to various climates, as well. From personal experience, this plant grows in a very similar fashion to wormwood (Artemesia absinthium) in many ways. Both plants grow enthusiastically, and although they like warmer climates, they thrive throughout the growing months in places that see snow cover as well, seeding themselves at the end of summer and popping up again in the spring.
A. mexicana’s favorite climates are tropical in nature, although when in a warm, sunny environment, dry air doesn’t seem to bother the plant one little bit. The plant produces a yellowish latex that is very similar in appearance to that produced by the narcotic poppy. This is a milky sap that can be collected and dried, and we have seen this latex, sourced from a private farm in Arizona appear for sale at Shaman’s Garden from May to about September. However, the supply is always limited, so if you find it there, take the opportunity to try it out!
TRADITIONAL USES: It is well documented that A. mexicana was an extraordinarily important plant for the Aztecs, especially for ritualistic purposes. Prickly poppy was considered the “nourishment of the dead” and would be offered to the gods during sacrifices. The Aztecs would collect the latex from this plant and make it into a thick, pliable material. This material would then be fashioned into an image of the god of the Aztecs known as Huitzilopochtli (Knab 1995 cited in Ratsch 1998, 62).
The Florentine Codex (The name given to 12 books created under the supervision of Bernardino de Sahagún between approximately 1540 and 1585) tells us that during Aztec sacrifice rituals, a high priest would “kill” the representation of the god, and then distribute the “flesh” of the god among the worshipers. As stated in the Florentine Codex, A. mexicana was one of the three psychoactive plants used by the Aztec god Tláloc: “And he was adorned in the following manner; a thick mask of soot over his face, his face painted with liquid cautschuk, he is smeared with soot; his face is spotted with a paste from the seeds of the prickly poppy, he wears the raiment of the dew, he wears the garb of the fog, he bears a crown of heron feathers, a neckband of green gems, he wears sandals of foam, and bells, he has white rushes for hair” (Ratsch 1998, 62).
The other two plants that are associated with and held sacred by Tláloc are Artemisia mexicana and Tagetes lucida (Ortiz de Montellano 1980 cited in Ratsch 1998, 62). Many modern day entheogenic explorers have found that a smoking blend composed of these three plants has very interesting effects indeed.
Outside of the Aztec civilization, A. mexicana became cemented in culture and infamy when Chinese residents in Mexico manufactured a product from the latex produced by this plant that was reportedly similar in effect to opium (Papaver somniferum) (Reko 1938 cited in Ratsch 1998, 61).
There is little documented evidence regarding the psychoactive properties of this plant, although there are two important and reliable reports. First, in India (one of the places this plant is commonly found), A. mexicana is known as pharamgi dhattura specifically because of its psychoactive properties. Secondly, there are numerous accounts of the freshly dried leaves being smoked as a Cannabis substitute. There is even scattered evidence that Argemone mexicana has been used as an aphrodisiac, but no solid evidence has been found to support this statement (Warrier et al. 1993 cited in Ratsch 1998, 61).
TRADITIONAL PREPARATION: The leaves of the A. mexicana are typically smoked or made into a tea which is taken with an accompanying cigarette, much as in the way which Calea zacatechichi, the famous Dreaming Herb, is used. The seeds have been ground and added to smoking mixtures as well, not only as a potentiator, but for their own distinct effects. When available, the latex is also smoked, just like many other Plant Resins. A. mexicana is typically regarded as a sedative, but its visionary and psychoactive properties are just recently being explored (Ratsch 1998, 62).
A. mexicana is only recently coming in to the spotlight as a medicinal herb and teacher plant, and there is much laboratory and personal research that gets to be done to explore and verify what is mostly anecdotal evidence regarding the effects of this plant. If you have any personal experience whatsoever with this plant or if you know of online venders who carry the latex other than the one mentioned above, please feel free to contact us through the comment section of this post.
MEDICINAL USES: The Seri tribe of northern Mexico use a tea made from the leaves of Argemone mexicana to treat kidney pains. This tea is also said to dispel bad blood that accumulates during birth. The Pima also use such a tea to treat kidney and bladder troubles. The Yucatec use the plant to treat gallbladder troubles (Ratsch 1998, 63).
In Peru, a plaster is made from Argemone mexicana and used to treat muscle pains. In the Caribbean islands the plant is used to remove warts and to treat sleep disorders. A tea made from the leaves is also used to treat asthma. In India, the latex is combined with cumin and oil and made into a paste which is used to treat skin diseases and flesh worms. In Africa, the leaves are utilized for their sedative and tranquilizing effects (Watt 1967).
TRADITIONAL EFFECTS: Bep Oliver-Bever says this in regards to A. mexicana; “The seeds have a cannabis-like effect and the herb, juice, and flowers are reputed to be narcotic in many countries” (Oliver-Bever 1986). We have many friends in Mexico who have personal experience with this plant and say that the effects of smoking the dried herb are far from subtle, offering not only euphoriant effects, but aphrodisiac ones as well.
Although the dried leaves are typically the only parts of the plant available through various entheogen and ethnobotanical dealers, we are starting to see more and more seeds offered as word of the potential of this plant spreads. The collected latex, which is then dried into a tarry resin, reportedly has potent narcotic effects.
These effects are most likely due to the interesting amalgam of alkaloids present in all parts of this plant, with the highest concentration found in a part that is rarely used or spoken of; the roots. It is important to note that the seeds contain TWO toxic alkaloids, sanguinarine and dihydrosanguinarine, so although the seeds seem to be safe to smoke, do not eat them if you chose to work with them. Symptoms of eating the seeds include nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, breathlessness, limb swelling, and glaucoma. Death can occasionally result from cardiac arrest (Voogelbreinder 2009, 88).
Aregemone mexicana also contains isoquinoline alkaloids. The effects and possible uses of isoquinolines, a compound found in many plants, including cacti and poppies, have still yet to be fully explored. There is now a great debate amongst chemists as to whether or not isoquinolines have the potential for psychoactive effects.
Oliver-Bever, B. Medicinal Plants in Tropical West Africa. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Cambridge University Press, 1986.
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.
Watt, J.M. “African Plants Potentially Useful in Mental Health.” Lloydia 30 (1967): 1–22.