FAMILY: Solanaceae (Nightshade)
COMMON NAMES: Bella Union, Borrachero, Chacruco, Chipiritsontinbaka, Chiricaspi Salvaje, Chiric-Sanango, Huha Hay, Kiss-me-quick, Manaka Root, Sanango, Picudo, Royal Purple Brunfelsia, Uhahai
Brunfelsia grandiflora is a tree-like shrub indigenous to the tropical regions of South America, ranging from Venezuela to Bolivia. It is especially abundant in Brazil and on the Caribbean Islands. In the wild this plant can grow up to 10 feet (3 meters) tall, and produces many dark green long oval leaves that will grow up to 12 inches (30cm) long. This shrub produces many ornamental flowers and has long been cultivated for its aesthetic beauty. The flowers are thin, trumpet-like and will grow up to 4 inch long, producing five petals and varying in color from lavender, dark blue and violet to light purple and white (Ratsch 1998, 112). View more images of Brunfelsia grandiflora flowers.
Most Brunfelsia species may be propagate through cutting or root pieces. However, the plants rarely produce fruit in cultivation. Indoor plants need to be watered regularly with water that has been let sit out for some time. They like to be fertilized every two weeks between April and August (Ratsch 1998, 112).
TRADITIONAL USE: The indigenous peoples of the Amazon have used Manaca for ritual healing ceremonies, and in magical and religious observances. The shaman of the Kofan Indian tribe drink a tea made from the roots and root bark of the plant to see into the body of an ill patient. The plant allows them to understand the nature of the ailment and to help heal the patient. Many tribes throughout the Amazonian River basin add Brunfelsia grandiflora leaves, roots and root bark to their Ayahuasca brews, to produce a brew that is blessed by the plant and animal spirits. In Peru, the roots are sometimes taken as a plant teacher for a period of one month. It is said that the older, thick roots are toxic, whereas the young roots that are 1.5cm or under are safe for use. A dose generally consists of two or three roots (Plowman 1977).
TRADITIONAL PREPARATION: There are several different preparation methods used by the Amazonian tribes, but the most common method is to make a tea from the roots and bark of the plant. The Shuar Indians make a potent tea using the leaves, roots and bark and then straining out the plant materials. Other tribes use a cold water extraction by shaving the bark from the roots and stems and then allowing them to soak in cold water until much of the active alkaloids are leeched out. Another common preparation used by the indigenous peoples was to extract the active compounds into an alcohol mixture. They used about 2 ounces (50 grams) of the root, macerated it, and allowed it to soak in 34 ounces (1 liter) of cane juice alcohol (Plowman 1977).
The Jibaro make a version of Ayahuasca by boiling Banisteriopsis caapi vines, Brunfelsia grandiflora roots and another vine only known as Hiaji. The Banisteriopsis vines are boiled for 14 hours, after which all the other ingredients are added and boiled until only the thick dark residue remains. In the Yabarana tribe, the leaves are routinely dried, crushed, mixed with tobacco, and smoked (Ratsch 1998, 113).
MEDICINAL USES: The Amazonian tribes used this magical plant to treat many different ailments: fevers, symptoms of syphilis, snake bites, yellow fever, and arthritis. They even made a topical rub used to heal minor skin rashes and insect bites. Although it is not widely used in modern Western Medicine, the main active alkaloid in Brunfelsia grandiflora is scopoletin which has been shown to help regulate blood pressure, and has anti-inflammatory properties that are beneficial to those suffering from asthma and other bronchial disorders. Recent research has shown that scopoletin may also help balance serotonin levels, and this can be very useful for people suffering from depression and various anxiety disorders (Ratsch 1998, 114).
TRADITIONAL EFFECTS: The plant’s psychoactive compounds are found in the leaves, stems, roots, and root bark. The roots are especially abundant in active alkaloids like aesculetine, cuscohygrine, manaceine, manacine and scopoletin. Recent research has shown that the bark and roots of this plant contains as much as .08 percent manacine (Schultes 1979 cited in Ratsch 1998, 114).
According to early reports, the effects of consuming Manaka Root are not very appealing. The effects include dizziness, exhaustion, nausea, excessive salivation, muscle weakness, lethargy, facial paralysis, mouth pains, swollen tongue, numbness in the extremities, tingling sensations, tremors, feeling of unbearable cold and blurred vision. At higher does, there are reports of delirium, sustained mental confusion, and possible blindness. Modern reports liken the experience to an overdose of nicotine for non-smokers. Jonathon Ott has commented on his personal Brunfelsia experience, stating that his self experiments with this teacher plant nearly killed him (Ratsch 1998, 115).
When added to ayahuasca brews, B. grandiflora is said to make the brew stronger and make a sound ‘like rain in the ears’. The Quechua call the plant ‘chiricaspi’, meaning ‘cold tree’. By this they are referring to the chills and tingling sensations that the plant causes once consumed. If the plant is consumed over a period of time as a tonic it is said to give one strength and resistance to cold (Voogelbreinder 2009, 106).
Gilman, Edward. 1999. Brunfelsia Grandiflora. University of Florida. PDF.
Plowman, T. “Brunfelsia in Ethnomedicine.” Botanical Museum Leaflets 25, no. 10 (1977): 289–320.
Rain Tree Nutrition. 2007. Manaca (Brunfelsia uniflora). Rain-tree.com
Ratsch, Christian. 2005. The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants: Ethnopharmacology and Its Applications. Park Street Press; Rochester, VT.
Schultes, Richard E; Hofmann, Albert; Ratsch, Christian. 2001. Plants of the Gods: Their Sacred, Healing and Hallucinogenic Powers. Healing Arts Press; Rochester, VT.
Voogelbreinder, Snu, Garden of Eden: The Shamanic Use of Psychoactive Flora and Fauna, and the Study of Consciousness. Snu Voogelbreinder, 2009.