FAMILY: Compositae: Asteraceae
COMMON NAMES: Mexican Wormwood, Agenjo del Pais, Ambfe (Otomi), Artemisia, Cola de Zorillo (‘little tail of the fox’), Ensencio de Mata Verde (‘incense of the green bush’), Guitee (Zapotec), Hierba de San Juan (Spanish, ‘Saint John’s herb’), Hierba Maestra (Spanish, “master herb’), Si’isim (Maya), Tlalpoyomatli (Aztec)
Artemisia mexicana is a perennial upright shrubby herb that can grow up to three feet tall. The leaves are whitish grey and covered on both sides with fine hairs. They exude an aromatic-bitter scent immediately when crushed. The flowers are small, yellow and clustered (Voogelbreinder 2009, 93). A. mexicana is so similar to European wormwood in appearance that even experienced botanists have a hard time telling them apart. Some botanists even believe that A. mexicana is a sub-species of A. absinthium (Ratsch 1998, 73). A. mexicana is found in both dry and moist areas of Mexico and the Yucatan Peninsula. It may also be found in Arizona and New Mexico (Ohno et al. 1980).
TRADITIONAL USES: The Aztecs and other native peoples of Mesoamerica have been using A. mexicana for various ritual and medicinal purposes for hundreds of years. The Aztecs used A. mexicana as a ritual incense – the plant is sacred to Uixtociuatl, the Aztec goddess of salt and salt makers. It is sacred to Tlaloc, the rain god, who also holds Argemone mexicana and Tagetes lucida as holy – this suggests a possible interesting psychoactive incense or smoking mixture. Today in Mexico it is used in folk medicine and smoked as a marijuana substitute (Ratsch 1998, 74).
TRADITIONAL PREPARATION: The Aztecs consumed the inside of the stem of A. mexicana as an intoxicant, as it lightens the mood and improves general well being (Voogelbreinder 2009, 93). Fresh A. mexicana herbage may be added to mescal, tequila or other distilled spirits to create an alcohol extraction. The herbage is used in the making of the absinthe-like Mexican herbal liquors known as yolixpa, which is said to create a state of euphoria in anyone who drinks it. Dried A. mexicana herbage may also be smoked – 1-3 grams of dried plant material will produce mild psychoactive effects (Martínez 1994 cited in Ratsch 1998, 73).
MEDICINAL USE: The Aztecs used the stems of A. mexica as a tonic and to relieve coughs. The flowers were consumed by those with low energy (Voogelbreinder 2009, 93). In Mexican folk medicine, which is strongly influenced by Aztec knowledge, an alcohol extract of A. mexicana herbage is taken for digestive troubles (Martínez 1994 cited in Ratsch 1998, 74). Similarly, a tea made from the plant is taken by those who have lost the desire to eat, as well as to treat coughs and diarrhea. The roots and plant material are used to treat epilepsy and as a form of birth control – the plant can bring on menstruation and cause abortions (Reza 1994 cited in Ratsch 1998, 74). The Yucatec Maya burn the herb as an incense to relieve headaches (Pulido Salas & Serralta Peraza 1993 cited in Ratsch 1998, 74).
TRADITIONAL EFFECTS: A. mexicana contains a powerful essential oil, as well as several active alkaloids. Thujone is likely present in the plant, as it is so similar to A. absinthium, but the compound has not yet been formally detected. Smoking the dried herbage creates mild stimulation followed by pleasant euphoria if enough smoke is inhaled. The effects may vary widely from person to person, however. The plant contains fewer toxic alkaloids than A. absinthium and is therefore easier to work with (Martínez 1994 cited in Ratsch 1998, 74).
Ohno, N., J. Gershenzon, C. Roane, and T.J. Mabry. “11,13-dehydrodesacetylmatricarin and Other Sesquiterpene Lactones from Artemisia Ludoviciana Var. Ludoviciana and the Idenity of Artecanin and Chrysartemin B.” Phytochemistry, no. 19 (1980): 103–106.
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.