COMMON NAMES: Kalifornischer Stechapfel, Kiksawel (Cahuilla), Manai (Yokut), Nakta Mush (Luiseno), Smalikapita (Yuma), Tanabi (Mono), Tana’nib (Mono), Thornapple, Toloache, Wright’s Datura
Datura wrightii is very similar in appearance to Datura innoxia, but grows in a creeping fashion and has hanging fruits with many thin thorns. The plant is found only in Southern California, and is particularly common in areas that were once occupied by the Chumash (Los Angeles and Ventura counties, specifically) (Ratsch 1998, 214).
TRADITIONAL USES: For over five thousand years the people of the Southwestern United States region have used D. wrightii as a medicine and teacher plant. During the colonial period, the plant was used regularly as an entheogen, to the great dismay of Catholic missionaries, who unfortunately managed to erase much ancient knowledge regarding the plant. Some present day members of the Chumash tribe have begun to use the plant to explore their roots in modern-day plant ceremonies, although little more is known on this topic. To the Chumash, D. wrightii has a female spirit, and certain shamans may specialize in the use of this plant, which communicates with them through prophetic dreams (Applegate 1975). The Chumash also use D. wrightii in sweat lodge rituals, but the precise manner of use is not known. The seeds may be tossed over burning coals to create a psychoactive incense (Timbrook 1987).
D. wrightii is most important to the Chumash, and other California tribes, as part of initiatory rituals for boys. To prepare for the ritual, the initiate fasts and eats no meat for several days. He smokes a great quantity of tobacco during this time. The boy then consumes the D. wrightii beverage, which is traditionally prepared by his grandmother. He is left alone in a cave, where he must give in to the power of the plant and allow it to show him visions. At this time, the Datura spirit teaches the boy anything he might want to know, and often assists him in finding an animal spirit ally. The period of intoxication lasts for 24 hours, after which time a Datura shaman assists the initiate in constructing a life plan based on the visions he has experienced (Applegate 1975).
The Miwok shamans of northern California eat D. wrightii roots and tea made from the herbage to provide them with clairvoyance and spiritual capacity. The plant was also used at times in black magic. The Kawaiisu of southern California use the plant as a ritual medicine, to create vision and prophetic dream, and as part of coming of age ceremonies for boys (Applegate 1975).
Interestingly enough, hawk-moths, which are pollinators of D. wrightii appear to become intoxicated when visiting the flowers of the plant (Voogelbreinder 2009, 150-151).
TRADITIONAL PREPARATION: To create a psychoactive drink, D. wrightii root is crushed and soaked in water, then strained out. No information regarding appropriate dosages of this beverage is available at this time. Indigenous peoples of southern California use the seeds and fruits of D. wrightii to prepare a fermented beverage by grinding and mixing them with water, then setting them in the sun along with other ingredients, such as manzanitas. Fermentation takes one to two days, and the resulting beverage is only mildly alcoholic but is highly psychoactive. The seeds and dried leaves of D. wrightii may be used as part of smoking blends and incenses (Balls 1962).
MEDICINAL USE: D. wrightii is made in to a tea or root decoction for pain, especially that which is caused by broken bones and physical trauma. Some tribes believed that snakes bit D. wrightii fruits in order to make their fangs poisonous, and therefore used the plant to treat snakebites in a form of homeopathy. The smoke from burning the dried leaves is inhaled to treat asthma (Timbrook 1987).
The Kawaiisu take the pressed root of D. wrightii to heal serious pain, and apply it externally to treat broken bones and swelling. A bath is made from the roots for cases of rheumatism and arthritis (Timbrook 1987).
TRADITIONAL EFFECTS: The effects of consuming D. wrightii are similar to those of consuming other species of Datura and plants which contain tropane alkaloids. These effects include a feeling of exhaustion which develops in to hallucinations, followed by deep sleep and loss of consciousness. In excessive doses, death or permanent insanity may occur. Therefore, it is very important to avoid ingesting this plant in any way.
Applegate, R.B. “The Datura Cult Among the Chumash.” The Journal of California Anthropology 2, no. 1 (1975): 7–17.
Balls, E.K. Early Uses of California Plants. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1962.
Ratsch, Christian., The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants: Ethnopharmacology and its Applications. Rochester: Park Street Press, 1998.
Timbrook, Jan. 1987. Virtuous herbs: Plants in Chumash medicine. Journal of Ethnobiology 7 (2): 171-80.
Voogelbreinder, Snu, Garden of Eden: The Shamanic Use of Psychoactive Flora and Fauna, and the Study of Consciousness. Snu Voogelbreinder, 2009.