COMMON NAMES: Ain-vai (Kofan), Angel’s Trumpet, Aromatic Angel’s Trumpet, Baikua, Canachiari (Shipibo), Chinki Tukutai Maikiua (Achuar, ‘angel’s trumpet to blow on small birds’), Datura d’Egypt, Engelstrompete, Fleur Trompette, Huanduc (Quechua), Ishauna (Zapara), Juunt Maikiua (Achuar, ‘large angel’s trumpet’), Ohuetagi (Huaorani), Peji (Secoya), Sprengels Engelstrompete, Toe Canachiari (Shipibo), Ts’ak Tsimin (Lacandon, ‘horse medicine’), Tu-to-a-va-a (Kofan, ‘white angel’s trumpet’), Wahashupa (Sharanahua), Yawa Maikiua (Achuar, ‘dog’s angel’s trumpet’), Yumi Maikiua (Achuar, ‘heaven’s water angel’s trumpet’)
Brugmansia suaveolens is a large perennial bush with woody stems and large, smooth, oval leaves. It grows to 17 feet tall, and the flowers grow up to 12 inches in length, are usually pink, and hang down at an angle. At night, the flowers exude a wonderful, inebriating scent. Fruits form very rarely, and are short and spindle-shaped, with large brown seeds (Ratsch 1998, 106).
Brugmansia suaveolens is found throughout the Andes and Central America. It has spread to other regions of the world through cultivation and may now even be found in Nepal at heights of up to 1700 meters! The simplest method of cultivation is through cuttings, although B. suaveolens may be grown from seed. B. suaveolens prefers sandy, loose soil that is well moistened.The plant likes a great deal of water and somewhat shady areas (Ratsch 1998, 106).
TRADITIONAL USES: B. suaveolens has been an essential aspect of South American ritual and medicine for many thousands of years. There are no wild forms in existence, indicating that this plant has been cultivated for a very long time indeed. This is the most widely cultivated species of Brugmansia in the upper Amazon region, perhaps due to the lovely salmon pink flowers and the inebriating, bewitching scent they produce (Descola 1996).
The Achuar and Jibaro warriors of the northern Amazon drink the juice of the stems of B. suaveolens mixed with tobacco juice. This must be done when one is alone in the forest, and is said to restore any power lost through ritual killing. Tribes of this region are also known to take a B. suaveolens tea called maikuna in order to allow the soul to leave the physical plane and enter the spirit world, where it may make requests and learn information through interaction with spirit beings. Children who misbehave badly may be given a small quantity of such a tea in order to teach them proper behavior (Descola 1996).
The altered state created by the Brugmansia medicine is described in this account of a writer who was visiting Peru 1846: “The native 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 of an 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, and when the subject had recovered, he related the particulars of his visit with his forefathers” (Chinhay n.d.)
The shamans of the Tzeltal of southern Mexico smoke B. suaveolens leaves in order to divine the future and to diagnose illness in patients. However, it is said that those who smoke too much of the plant ‘go crazy’ and see demons, indicating the need for great care and respect in this practice (Ratsch 1998, 107).
In Nepal, B. suaveolens leaves are combined with Cannabis indica and smoked by Tantric practitioners. This blend is said to facilitate meditation and yogic practices. Indeed, these shamans also traditionally smoke C. indica along with Aconitum ferox, which likely produces a similar, if more potent and dangerous, experience (Ratsch 1998, 107).
TRADITIONAL PREPARATION: Fresh B. suaveolens leaves, flowers, and seeds are taken fresh or prepared as a tea. These teas may be mixed with various types of alcohol, including tequila and rum, depending on the application. The tea may also be used as an ayahuasca additive (Schultes and Raffauf 1990 cited in Ratsch 1998, 107). Fresh flowers may also be soaked in milk (Hall et al. 1978, 251). To prepare a potent aphrodisiac tea, hot water may be poured over one fresh flower and consumed after ten minutes. In the Himalayan region, dried B. suaveolens leaves are added to Tantric smoking blends, as with Datura metel leaves (Ratsch 1998, 107).
MEDICINAL USES: In much of Latin America, B. suaveolens leaves are applied externally to treat wounds, rashes, and ulcers. The Achuar people place the leaves on battle wounds and snakebites in order to relieve pain and speed healing. The flowers and leaves are also commonly used as aphrodisiacs, and indeed, just the smell of the plant may bring on potent aphrodisiac effects. Preparations of the plant may also be taken for menstrual pain, infections, and general physical or mental weakness (Descola 1996).
The modern Lacandon Maya use pounded B. suaveolens stem to heal animals suffering from skin disorders. The stem material is applied externally to rashes and skin anomalies, and this is said to bring healing very rapidly (Ratsch 1998, 107-108).
TRADITIONAL EFFECTS: B. suaveolens contains tropane alkaloids, as do all species of Brugmansia. However, this particular species contains certain alkaloids that are unique to it, including cuscohygrine. The alkaloid content is highest when it is flowering (Evans & Lampard 1972).
In Colombia, it is said that the mere scent of B. suaveolens brings deep sleep and intensely erotic dreams. Thus, people suffering from sleep disorders will sometimes walk past the trees in the evening in order to bring restful sleep. However, even here one must treat this plant wiht great respect – in Peru, it is said that one who sleeps beneath a B. suaveolens tree will go permanently mad (Schultes 1980 cited in Ratsch 1998, 108).
The visions induced by B. suaveolens consumption may last for three days or longer. Overdose is serious and may lead to delirium, great physical discomfort, and death. At least five deaths have been reported due solely to the consumption of B. suaveolens plant matter. The Shuar shamans say that B. suaveolens is the most potent and dangerous of all the plant teachers, and state that continuous use will surely lead to permanent insanity (Voogelbreinder 105-106). Extracts of this plant are also, unfortunately, presently being used to drug people and to force them to act against their will in many parts of South America, as it is so powerful that it can effect one simply through contact with the skin.
Like many of the indigenous peoples who use this sacred plant as a teacher, the land of the Achuar is presently being drilled by Talisman, a Canadian oil company. This company uses inhuman practices, such as creating conflict between tribal groups to create genocides, so that the Achuar will not be able to stand up to the oil company. Please take a moment to watch the following video, to educate yourself about the great damage that is being done to our rainforests, and to the holders of the wisdom of this plant teacher.
Descola, P. The Spears of Twilight: Life and Death in the Amazon Jungle. Translated by J. Lloyd. New York: The New Press, n.d.
Evans, W.C., and J.F. Lampard. “Alkaloids of Datura Suaveolens.” Phytochemistry 11 (1972): 3293–3298.
Hall, R.C.W., B. Pfefferbaum, E.R. Gardner, S.K. Stickney, and M. Perl. “Intoxication with Angel’s Trumpet: Anticholinergic Delirium and Hallucinosis.” Journal of Psychoactive Drugs 10, no. 3 (1978): 251–253.
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.