COMMON NAMES: A’neglakya, Desert Datura, Hehe Camostim, Heilige Datura, Holy Datura of the Zuni, Malykatu (Mohave), Sacred Thornapple, Thomas’ Thornapple, Toloache
Datura discolor is a bushy herb with dark green leaves and white trumpet flowers that are occasionally tinged violet inside. The flowers blossom in the evening, giving off a sweet, delicate scent. The fruits are green and spiny, and contain many black seeds. Datura discolor is found across the American Southwest and in northern Mexico. It has also occasionally been found in the Carribean. It is cultivated in Egypt as a source of pharmaceutical scopolamine (Ratsch 1998, 194-195).
Datura discolor is propagated from seeds, which may be scattered over the ground or planted in beds or pots. Seeds are pressed lightly in to the soil and watered regularly. They will germinate in 5-10 days. The seedlings do not tolerate direct sunlight or complete shade, and must neither be watered excessively or left in dry soil. Once the seedlings have grown a bit they may be exposed to more sun. Datura species require large amounts of water but desire little other care. They are self-sowing, and once planted will likely come back in following years (Ratsch 1998, 194).
TRADITIONAL USES: The Seri of Mexico tell us that Datura discolor was one of the first plants ever created. Thus, humans must avoid contact with the plant at all costs – inappropriate or disrespectful use is very dangerous, and only the most experienced shamans may even approach the plant. In the American Southwest and Mexico, shamans may work with D. discolor for divination, ritual, and as an aphrodisiac. However, D. discolor has a significantly higher alkaloid content than Datura innoxia, which is found growing in many of the same areas, and is therefore rarely taken internally. The experience of working with Datura discolor is said to be much more challenging than with most any other Datura (Felger & Moser 1991).
The Zuni also use D. discolor for certain sacred purposes. One legend tells of a boy and a girl who lived in the underworld. One day, they find a trail which leads them to the world above ground. They wear garlands of Datura blossoms, which allow them to put people to sleep and make people see ghosts. The people and their gods are so frightened that they send the children back to the underworld. The Datura flowers remain behind, though, and spread across the desert, still potent soporifics capable of causing terrifying visions (David 2006).
TRADITIONAL PREPARATION: D. discolor seeds are ground and mixed with cinnamon bark, desert lavender leaves, and sugar to create a medicinal tea (Felger & Moser 1991). Dried leaves may be smoked on their own or in a kinnikinnick or other smoking blend. The fresh root may also be chewed (Voogelbreinder 2009, 150-151). Dosage information is not available, and, due to the highly potent nature of this particular species of Datura, casual experimentation of with the plant must be avoided at all costs, as death will easily and rapidly manifest in most cases.
MEDICINAL USE: The Seri prepare an extremely mild tea of D. discolor seeds for swollen throats (Felger & Moser 1991). A poultice of the leaves is applied to swollen and inflamed joints, and such a poultice may also be blended with aloe to sooth the pain of burns. Datura has broad antimicrobial activity, meaning that it prevents infection from manifesting in damaged tissue when applied externally. Small quantities of smoke may also be inhaled to relieve asthma or allergy symptoms (as with the popular Asthma Cigarettes of Edwardian Europe) (Kane 2007).
TRADITIONAL EFFECTS: D. discolor contains between 0.13 and 0.49% alkaloids, mostly tropane alkaloids. Half of the alkaloid content is hyoscine (scopolamine). Alkaloid concentrations vary as the plant grows, flowers, and fruits. The highest concentrations of alkaloids are found in the stems as the plant is fruiting (Saber et al. 1970).
The effects of consuming D. discolor are similar to those of consuming D. innoxia, and include delirium, intense hallucinations, and various toxic physical effects. Even in indigenous groups with a long history of use, this plant is only used by very experienced shamans, and then rarely. The experience that this plant induces is notoriously difficult to work with, and includes dissociation, temporary insanity, extreme physical discomfort, and very possible death. Regular use, even among experienced shamans, is said to cause insanity. It is essential to avoid consuming D. discolor under any circumstances.
Felger, R.S., and M.B. Moser. “Seri Indian Pharmacopoeia.” Economic Botany 28 (1991): 414–436.
Kane, Charles W., Herbal Medicine of the American Southwest: a guide to the medicinal and edible plants of the Southwestern United States. Tucson: Lincoln Town Press, 2007.
Ratsch, Christian., The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants: Ethnopharmacology and its Applications. Rochester: Park Street Press, 1998.
Saber, A.H., G.A. Balbaa, El Hossary, and M.S. Karawya. “The Alkaloid Content of Datura Discolor Grown in Egypt.” Lloydia 33, no. 3 (1970): 401–452.
Voogelbreinder, Snu, Garden of Eden: The Shamanic Use of Psychoactive Flora and Fauna, and the Study of Consciousness. Snu Voogelbreinder, 2009.