COMMON NAMES: Cabellito, Cabeza de Angel (Spanish, ‘angel’s head’), Chak Me’ex K’in (Lacandon, ‘the red beard of the sun/of the sun god’), Ch’ich’ ni’ (Tzotzil, ‘bloody nose’), Engelshaupt, Hierba de Canela, Lele, Meexk’in, Pambonato, Red Powder Puff, Saqaqa (Totonac), Tabardillo, Tlacoxiloxochitl (Aztec)
Calliandra anomala is a branched shrub that can grow up to 20 feet tall, although it usually only grows about 13 meters. It has thick olive green bark that is covered with short hairs. The flowers are small and white, developing at the tips of the branches. From these flowers sprout extremely long, bright red filaments that give the plant the appearance of a crimson powder puff. The bush blooms throughout the year in the tropics. The fruits are long flat pods containing several seeds (Ratsch 1998, 119).
Calliandra anomala originated in Mexico, and may now also be found in the tropical regions of Central and South America. It may be cultivated from seeds or cuttings. C. anomala requires a warm to hot and moist climate, and will not tolerate cold or frost (Martinez 1987).
TRADITIONAL USES: Since ancient times, C. anomala has been used in Mexico as a medicine and narcotic, particularly by the Aztecs. The plant has not been studied much, although it has much medicinal value and makes a very attractive ornamental plant (Emboden 1979). In Aztec mythology, C. anomala is associated with the realm of the dead and is considered nourishment for reborn souls. The Lacandon Maya still refer to the plant as Chak Me’ex K’in, ‘the red beard of the sun god’, indicating that it may have had ritual significance in ancient Maya culture as well (Ratsch 1998, 119).
TRADITIONAL PREPARATION: C. anomala has been used as an additive in pulque, the alcoholic beverage made from Agave, and may also have been used along with cacao. It may also be used to prepare snuff by making incisions in the bark and collecting the resulting resin, which is then dried, powdered, mixed with ash, and snuffed (Schuldes 1995). The root, when powdered, is very irritating to the nose, acting as a sneezing powder similar to Veratrum album. The related species C. angustifolia is used in South America as an ayahuasca additive. The psychoactive dosage is not presently known, but total daily consumption must not exceed 120g, as fatal overdose is possible (Martinez 1987).
MEDICINAL USES: The Aztecs dripped C. anomala sap into the nose to bring on a deep sleep. The root was either chewed fresh or peeled, ground, and mixed with water and honey to treat coughs. In Modern Mexican folk medicine, the root is used for fevers, diarrhea, and malaria, and is becoming an important aspect of diabetes treatment as well (Emboden 1979).
The Tzotzil peoples of Mexico use C. anomala and other species of Calliandra to treat diarrhea by macerating the root in water, boiling the resulting mixture, and drinking three to five cups a day. The bark of related species has also been used in Europe for Marsh Fever (Berlin & Berlin 1996, 212).
TRADITIONAL EFFECTS: The root of C. anomala contains tannins, fat, resin, an essential oil, minerals and a glycoside called calliandreine. The bark also contains harmane. Some have also suggested that the bark contains N,N-DMT, although chemical analysis has not confirmed the presence of this compound. The root cortex has not been studied. The closely related C. angustifolia and C. pentandra have been found to contain both harmane and N,N-DMT (Ratsch 1998, 120).
The effects of consuming C. anomala resin are hypnosis and deep sleep. A snuff made from the resin is has soporific and hypnotic effects. However, there are no known reports of psychoactive experiences with C. anomala in modern times (Emboden 1979).
Berlin, E.A., and B. Berlin. Medical Ethnobiology of the Highland Maya of Chiapas, Mexico. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1996.
Emboden, W. Narcotic Plants. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1972.
Martinez, M. Catalogo De Nombres Vulgares y Cientificos De Plantas Mexicanas. Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1987.
Schuldes. “Antiquity of the Use of New World Hallucinogens.” Integration, no. 5 (1995): 9–18.