COMMON NAMES: Akab-xiu (Mayan, ‘night plant’), Ak’a’yo’om (Lacandon, ‘night foam’), Dama de Noche, Ejek Tsabalte’, Galan de Noche, Hammerstrauch, Hierba Hedionda, Iscahuico (Totonac), It’ib To’ol (Huastec), Lady of the Night, Mach-choch, Nachtschaum, Night-blooming Jasmine, Night-blooming Jessamine, Orquajuda Negro, Palo Huele de Noche, Pipiloxohuitl (Nahuatl), Putanoche (‘whore’s night’), Scauilojo (Totonac), Zitza Kiwi (Totonac)
Cestrum nocturnum is a perennial bush which may grow up to 13 feet in height. It has shiny lime-green leaves and yellow funnel shaped flowers which open at night and give off a sweet, seductive, all-pervading scent. The fruits are round and white. The fresh leaves of C. nocturnum produce a scent similar to that of fresh Datura stramonium leaves when rubbed (Ratsch 1998, 162-163).
Cestrum nocturnum is native to Central and South America and the West Indies. It is cultivated in southern California and other parts of the world for perfumes and essential oils. Propagation is through seeds or cuttings. C. nocturnum cannot tolerate frost or cold, and likes plenty of water. In most of North America and northern Europe it may only be grown as a house plant. C. nocturnum is particularly prized for the seductive scent it gives off at night, and it is said to be the world’s strongest smelling plant. Indeed, the scent can reach up to 165 feet away from the location of the plant! (Ratsch 1998, 162-163)
TRADITIONAL USES: In Central and South America, local species of Cestrum have been used as teacher plants and medicine for quite some time. The Lacandon Maya, who have preserved many of the original beliefs of the ancient Maya, say that Kisin, the Lord of Death, was born from a Cestrum nocturnum flower. It has thus been suggested that this plant may have played a role in Mayan necromantic ritual (Ratsch 1998, 163). The plant is also used as a stupefying charm medicine in the West Indies (Voogelbreinder 2009).
In Kathmandu, C. nocturnum flowers are presented as offerings to Shiva and Ganesh. Nepalese shamans create a ritual incense from the leaves and fresh flowers, eat the fresh flowers, and smoke them when dried to increase spiritual healing energies. The plant is occasionally added to liquor in Kalinchok, a region north of Kathmandu (Voogelbreinder 2009, 126).
TRADITIONAL PREPARATION: C. nocturnum leaves are dried and smoked, either alone or in a blend. Fresh or dried leaves may also be steeped in hot or boiling water to create a tea. However, no information regarding dosage is known at this time (Argueta et al. 1994, 830 cited in Ratsch 1998, 163).
MEDICINAL USE: The Yucatec Maya place C. nocturnum leaves and flowers in hot baths as a treatment for night sweats (Pulido S. & Serralta P. 1993, 61 cited in Ratsch 1998, 163). In Mexican folk medicine, an extract of the leaves is used to treat epilepsy and other seizure disorders, as well as headaches and nervous imbalances (Argueta et al. 1994).
TRADITIONAL EFFECTS: Little is know about the chemical composition of C. nocturnum. The sapogenin steroids tigogenine, smilagenine and yuccagenine have been found in the leaves. The leaves also contain traces of nicotine. The composition of the amazing scent of the plant is not well understood, but many find that simply inhaling the perfume deeply is enough to induce a psychoactive state. The berries and the leaves are said to induce hallucinations when consumed (Argueta et al. 1994).
C. nocturnum may cause poisoning in both humans and animals. The symptoms of this are similar to those induced by atropine, the substance found in Belladonna and other members of the Solanaceae family. Effects include hallucinations, nervous irritability, tachycardia, raised temperature, increased salivation, and paralysis. However, C. nocturnum has displayed no toxicity in several laboratory tests on animals (Voogelbreinder 2009, 126).
Some individuals, especially those with asthma have reported difficulty breathing, nose and throat irritation, headaches, nausea, and other negative symptoms when exposed to the scent of C. nocturnum. This may be due to the fact that the plant contains chlorogenic acid, which is a powerful sensitizer. Some reports have indicated that ingesting the fruit results in raised temperature, rapid pulse, and increased salivation (Erowid n.d.).
Descriptions of the shamanic smoking of dried C. nocturnum flowers in Nepal include experiences of ‘trippy’ effects with no unpleasant side effects. However, since very little is known about this plant, and since it is a member of the nightshade family, great care should be taken when working with it in any form (Voogelbreinder 2009, 126).
“Erowid Cestrum Vaults : Cestrum Health Concerns.” Erowid. Web. 07 May 2011. <http://www.erowid.org/plants/cestrum/cestrum_health1.shtml>.
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.