COMMON NAMES: Piri Piri, Sedges, Borrachera
Cyperus articulatus is a tall marsh grass that grows near the edges of lakes, ponds, swamps, rivers, streams, wetlands and other damp soil areas. This flat sedge grass grows in small clusters and routinely reaches over 6 feet (2 meters) in height. The stems are fibrous, cylindrical, hollow and can be as large as 3/4 of an inch (2 cm) in diameter at the base. The stem narrows as it grows upward turning into spiked blades of shiny grass, which range in color from bright yellow-green to dark forest green, and can project a purplish inflorescence under the right lighting conditions. During the summer season, the grass produces many tiny white flowers at the top of the stalk, which has been described as being similar to the tiny white flowers produced by wheat grass (Rain Tree Nutrition 2006).
Piri Piri is native to the Amazon basin, where tribes have used it as a medicine for hundreds of years; but it is also known to grow in tropical climates in a number of other countries. Notably, Piri Piri grows in the southeastern United States, in the Florida panhandle, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Texas. It also grows in Jamaica, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, the Congo, the Ivory Coast, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, Togo, as well as tropical areas in Asia, northern Australia, and most of the countries in Central and South America. It is still found growing wildly along the Nile River, the Amazon River and the Congo River (Rain Tree Nutrition 2006).
TRADITIONAL USE: Many aboriginal tribes that live in the Amazonian tropical rainforests believe that Piri Piri grass has magical qualities and have used it to cure disease, heal wounds, relieve pain, and so forth. The Sharanahua Indians, from the Amazon river basin, have used Cyperus articulatus to help pregnant women induce labor, or even force an early term abortion. They also use Cyperus articulatus to reduce high fevers, soothe upset stomachs, and induce sweating, which they believe expels evil spirits and disease. The Shuar shamans use the roots to make a tea which they consume and lulls them into a deep state of relaxation, trance and allows them to communicate with ancestors and the recently deceased; they also use it an additive in their potent Ayahuasca recipes for magical religious ceremonies. This grass is known throughout Central and South America as a Borrachera, a term used to describe many intoxicating, inebriating plants (Rain Tree Nutrition 2006).
TRADITIONAL PREPARATION: Almost all traditional preparations of C. articulatus use the rhizomes (roots or tubers) of this grass to make magical medicines, and healing salves. One preparation requires the roots to be dried, pulverized into a fine powder and then steeped in water to make a tea. In other preparations, the fresh roots are ground and squeezed to extract the juices, or just mixed into water (Greive 2009).
Modern scientific research has shown that an effective means of extracting active alkaloids requires the roots to be ground into a powder and allowed to sit in a large amount of warm water. The water mixture is then allowed to evaporate until the water is just 90% of its original volume. The wet pulp is mixed with pure alcohol, and the insoluble material is then separated, dried and mixed with water to make a potent elixir. In addition to the psychoactive compounds found in the rhizomes of this grass, it is believed that many root samples are infected with a species specific fungus called Balansia cyperi, a fungus related to the Claviceps purpurea fungus that also produces ergot-like alkaloids. This may explain why many tribes use this tuber as an additive in ayahuasca brews (Voogelbreinder 2009, 146-147).
MEDICINAL USES: Cyperus articulatus has many medicinal uses in both traditional folk remedies and modern medicines. In the early 1980s it was discovered that the rhizomes of Cyperus articulatus produce compounds that are effective anti-convulsants and beneficial in calming epileptic seizures. In traditional indigenous medicine, Piri Piri roots are made into a tea to treat myriad ailments; they used the tea as a digestive aid, to calm nervous anxiety, as a sedative and tranquilizer, and to induce vomiting at higher doses. Women in certain Amazonian tribes add the root to a love potion that they call Pusanga (Rain Tree Nutrition 2006).
The Karipúna-Palikúr Indians of Guiana use Piri Piri to treat the symptoms of malaria, and to help quell nausea. Other uses include: a hair tonic to help fight baldness, a treatment for severe flu symptoms, and relief for headache and migraine pain. However, the most notable and widely reported effects are the sedative and tranquil feelings induce by the rhizome tea. Even today, many lucid dreamers report that they are able to relax, meditate, dream and more easily recall those dreams, as well as being able to achieve lucidity more easily after consuming Cyperus articulatus tea (Voogelbreinder 2009, 146-147).
Native tribes in Central America have used this grass to relieve the pain caused by sensitive teeth and toothaches. The Shipibo-Conibo Indian tribe from the Peruvian rainforests make a nerve tonic from the roots of the grass, which helps to calm epileptic seizures and psychological imbalances. The Secoya Indians use the roots to make a medicine that they believe cures influenza, relieve anxiety induced stress and to calm frightened children (Rain Tree Nutrition 2006).
In 19th and 20th century America, a drug called Adrue was made from the roots of C. articulatus and sold over the counter as a digestive aid to help relieve morning sickness, nausea, gas, and other digestive problems; at higher doses it was used to sedate anxious patients and as a side effect produced euphoric states and dreamy surreal perception (Bum et al. 2003).
TRADITIONAL EFFECTS: Recent studies on the biochemical makeup of Piri Piri have shown that this grass contains an abundant amount of active alkaloids. These compounds include: flavonoids, polyphenols, saponins, tannins, and terpenes. Several specific compounds isolated from this tropical grass include alpha-corymbolol, alpha-cyperone, alpha-pinene, carophyllene oxide, corymbolone, cyperotundone, and mustakone. However, the most interesting and promising compounds isolated from this grass are cyperotundone and alpha-cyperone. These latter two compounds are believed to be effective pain relievers, working in the same manner as aspirin and ibuprofen, and may also possess antimalarial properties. A scientific research study published in early 2003 found that an extract made from the roots of the Cyperus articulatus produced compounds that acted as N-methyl-D-Aspartate (NMDA) receptor antagonists; another compound that acts as an NMDA receptor antagonist and has similar, yet much stronger, effects on the brain is phencyclidine (Bum et al. 2003).
Piri Piri is renowned in both modern and ancient societies for its calming, sedating, and tranquilizing effects. When the rhizomes are steeped in warm water and made into a tea, many people report feelings of relaxation, euphoria, lethargy, and profound tranquility. Overwhelming sensations of contentment, torpidity, and vivid waking dreams are also reported. Cyperus articulatus is classified as a dream herb, sedative, and euphorant, and a number of contemporary reports suggest that many people use the tea to improve dream recall and to induce vivid lucid dreams (DreamHerbs 2011).
Bum, E; Rakotonirinac, A; Rakotonirinac, S. and Herrling, P. 2003. Effects of Cyperus articulatus compared to effects of anticonvulsant compounds on the cortical wedge. Elsevier Science.
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“Cyperus Articulatus.” Dream Herbs, 2011. http://dreamherbs.com/herbal-products/cyperus-articulatus/.
Greive, M.2009. A Modern Herbal: Adrue (Cyperus Articulatus). Botanical.com
Mahailet; J. 1983. Pharmaceutical compositions containing a fraction extracted from mandassi (Cyperus articulatus L.). U.S. Patent 4,483,852
Rain Tree Nutrition. 2006. Piri-Piri (Cyperus articulatus). Rain-tree.com
USDA. 2009. Cyperus articulatus. plants.usda.gov
Voogelbreinder, Snu, Garden of Eden: The Shamanic Use of Psychoactive Flora and Fauna, and the Study of Consciousness. Snu Voogelbreinder, 2009.