Coryphantha compacta - Pincushion CactusFAMILY: Cactaceae

GENUS: Coryphantha

SPECIES: Compacta

COMMON NAMES: Bakanawa, Pincushion Cactus, Biznaga de Pina, Huevos de Coyote (Spanish, ‘the eggs of the coyote’), Wichuri, Santa Poli

Coryphantha compacta is a spherical cactus with a diameter of up to eight centimeters. The thorns are white and arranged in a radial pattern. The flowers are yellow and grow either singly or in pairs.  C. compacta is found mostly in Mexico, although some are also found in Texas.  It grows in dry hills and mountains.  It is often very hard to see in the sandy soil in which it grows (Hofmann et al. 1992, 40).

TRADITIONAL USES: C. compacta is believed to be the Tarahumara híkuri (type of peyote) known as “bakánawa.” Bakánawa, like most híkuri, is both respected and feared as a god, and considered to have a soul and human emotions. It has been recorded as both more powerful, and as only second in power, to Lophophora williamsii. To some populations of Tarahumara, particularly those of Guadalupe, it is the primary híkuri, valued in place of L. williamsii (Smith 2002).

“It is held that if one keeps bakánawa in her possession for more than three years it converts from a good medicine to an evil one that causes insanity. Therefore, one must sell it or hide it after the third year of ownership. Of interest are speculations by Thord-Gray that this belief may have originated through a shaman so “that he might sell more of the plant.” It is also believed that by either losing or burning this cactus one can become insane, sick, or even die. In some cases it is considered so “strong” that it must only be touched by the shaman” (Smith 2002).

TRADITIONAL PREPARATION: The thorns must be removed, after which the portion above ground and the water inside may be consumed fresh.  The dosage is between eight and twelve cacti. The cactus flesh may also be consumed dry. It is sometimes made into a beer (Gottleib 1973).

MEDICINAL USES: “C. compacta is a powerful medicinal panacea and is masticated and applied to the body to cure all imaginable ills. It is boiled for use as an internal medicine and the juice is applied externally for lung troubles. A chewed ointment of C. compacta is rubbed on the legs of Tarahumara foot-runners for three days prior to the traditional races and is kept in waiting by the shaman should the runner tire. The plant may also be carried in the runners’ belts to make them swift and fearless and to frustrate the evil spells cast by opponents. It is believed that the runner who offends bakánawa will slow in speed and eventually die” (Smith 2002).

TRADITIONAL EFFECTS: Many Coryphantha species bear an array of alkaloids, and even though only this one species is substantiated as híkuri, it is suspected that other related species also have sacramental and medicinal value. Anderson regards C. compacta and C. palmeri as synonymous. B-phenethylamines have been found in many Coryphantha species. Most species also contain hordenine (Hofmann et al. 1992, 40).

C. compacta is used by shamans as a plant medicine and is feared and respected by the indigenous peoples of Mexico. The active alkaloids in the cactus are said to be psychoactive, and similar to, though less potent than, mescaline. One ethnobotanist described the effects of one C. macromeris bioassay as “very mild and very strange, with many waves of intense nausea and extremely persistent after-effects, such as distorted vision and a very weird feeling of unreality lasting for weeks after its use” (Voogelbreinder 2009, 141).



Gottlieb, A. Legal Highs. Manhattan Beach, CA: 20th Century Alchemist, 1973.

Hofmann, Albert, and Schultes, Richard Evans and Ratsch, Christian. Plants Of The Gods. Healing Arts Press, 2001.

Ratsch, Christian., The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants: Ethnopharmacology and its Applications. Rochester: Park Street Press, 1998.

Smith, M. “Sacred and Medicinal Cacti: Peyote, San Pedro and Other Ethnopharma.”, 2002.

Voogelbreinder, Snu, Garden of Eden: The Shamanic Use of Psychoactive Flora and Fauna, and the Study of Consciousness. Snu Voogelbreinder, 2009.