FAMILY: Solanaceae (Nightshade)
COMMON NAMES: Belladonna Tree, Blood-red Angel’s Trumpet, Borrachero Rojo, Chamico, El Guantug, Floripondio, Guantug, Huacacachu, Huanto, Humoco, Misha Colorada, Perecillo, Poroporo, Red Brugmansia, Tonga, Yerba de Huaca
Brugmansia sanguinea is a perennial shrub-like tree, indigenous to the midlands of South America. It can grow 15 feet (5 meters) tall, with long thin oval shaped leaves that grow up to 16 inches (40 cm) long and 6 inches (15 cm) wide. The flowers are up to 9 inches (23 cm) long, narrow and trumpet shaped, and range in color from a light pink to a deep blood-red, but can also be pure yellow, yellow–red, green–red and pure red. Unlike the closely related Golden Angel’s Trumpet, B. sanguinea’s flowers do not produce an aromatic fragrance and tend to be slightly smaller (Ratsch 1998, 104).
Blood-red Angel’s Trumpet is native to the midland and lowland areas around the Andes mountain range in South America. It grows wildly throughout Bolivia, Chile, Columbia, Ecuador, and Peru. It has also been found growing at sea level in Chile (Ratsch 1998, 103).
TRADITIONAL USE: Mestizo Shamans have used the Blood-red Angel’s Trumpet as a sacrament in their burial ceremonies and grieving rituals. It was believed that widows would be gently lulled into the afterworld by consuming a hallucinogenic maize beer, Chicha, while they were being buried alive with their deceased husband. Chicha was made from corn, tobacco, and B. sanguinea flowers and allowed to ferment. Modern day shamans use this traveling plant to communicate with their ancestors as well as the animal spirit world, to diagnose disease, find lost objects, prophesize, and predict the future. The native tribes still use the seeds, mixing them in with coffee, to induce sexual arousal or to harm someone and put them into a coma or even kill them, depending on the dosage (Ratsch 1998, 105).
TRADITIONAL PREPARATION: There are several traditional ways in which the seeds, flowers, and leaves were prepared to produce various intoxicating drinks, teas and powders. The native Canelo Indians would scrape the pith from the stem and flowers and squeeze out the juices, which were then consumed straight away. Other preparations include steeping the leaves and flowers in hot water to make delirium-inducing teas; in some areas the seeds would be dried and powered and then added to Chica, a fermented maize beer (Hofmann et al. 2001).
In Peru, the seeds may also be added to cimora, a beverage made from Trichocereus pachanoi. This would allow the curandero, or healer, to “see” better. They would also use the woody stems of B. sanguinea to create magic wands for mesa rituals. There are also reports of indigenous peoples mixing the dried leaves with tobacco and smoking the resulting blend. One of the most powerful B. sanguinea decoctions was exclusively made and consumed by the shaman, who boiled the fruits and seeds of the plant to produce a potent drink called tonga (Ratsch 1998, 104).
MEDICINAL USES: It seems that almost every tribe in a region had a different medicinal use for this magical plant. Most prominently it was used to treat rheumatism and arthritis. It has also been used to treat sore throats, stomach pains caused by parasitic worms, to cleanse wounds of infected pus, and to help sooth irritated bowels and reduce flatulence. Due to many undesirable side effects and after-effects there are no currently accepted medicinal uses for this plant, although today in Ecuador, the pharmaceutical industry grows Brugmansia to produce pure scopolamine for medicinal purposes (Hofmann et al. 2001).
In the Sibundoy Valley of Colombia, B. sanguinea flowers, Brugmansia x candida leaves, and the stems of Phenax integrifolius are macerated with water and made in to a plaster that assists in healing rheumatism. Heated leaves may also be placed on swollen infections, and water infusions of the leaves are used to wash inflamed parts of the body. In South America, the leaves are smoked as part of asthma cigarettes, which assist with the effects of asthma (Ratsch 1998, 104-105).
TRADITIONAL EFFECTS: The plant’s stems, flowers, leaves and seed are known to contain large quantities of tropane alkaloids. Recent research has shown that the main active compound in this plant is scopolamine, it also contains aposcopolamine, atropine, hyoscyamine, meteloidine, and norscopolamine. All of these compounds are illegal in most parts of the world when extracted from their naturally occurring sources (Leary 1970).
One of the earliest documented reports of the effects Brugmansia was written in 1846 by Johann Tschudi: the user “fell into a heavy stupor, his eyes vacantly fixed on the ground, his mouth convulsively closed, and his nostrils dilated. In the course of a quarter hour, his eyes began to roll, foam issued from his mouth, and his whole body was agitated by frightful convulsions. After these violent symptoms had passed, a profound sleep of several hours’ duration followed.” It is during this delirium that users reported hallucinations, visions, and communication with the animal spirits (Hofmann et. al. 2001).
Erowid. 2009. Brugmansia. Erowid.com
Hofmann, Albert; Ratsch, Christian, Schultes, Richard E. Plants of the Gods: Their Sacred, Healing and Hallucinogenic Powers. Rochester: Healing Arts Press, 2001.
Leary, J.D. “Alkaloids of the Seeds of Datura Sanguinea.” Lloydia 33, no. 2 (1970): 264–266.
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.