COMMON NAMES: Taique, Borrachero de Paramo (‘intoxicator of the swamps’), Chapico (‘chili water’), Defontainia, Intoxicator, Latuy, Michai, Muerdago, Trau-trau (Mapuche, ‘unique’)
Desfontainia spinosa is a beautiful shrub 1-6 feet in height with glossy dark green leaves, resembling those of Christmas holly, and tubular red flowers with a yellow tip.The berry is white or greenish yellow, globose, with many lustrous seeds (Hofmann et al. 1992, 42).
D. spinosa is found from Columbia to southern Chile, as well as in the higher Andean area of Argentina, and Ecuador. It has also been found in Costa Rica. D. spinosa is popular as a garden plant in southern Chili, and may be propagated from seeds or cuttings. It requires moist soil, as it usually grows in marshy areas (Hofmann et al. 1992, 42).
TRADITIONAL USES: Desfontainia spinosa is reported to be used as an entheogen in Chile and southern Colombia. In Chile, it is known as taique, in Colombia as borrachero (“intoxicator”). Colombian shamans of the Kamsa’ tribe take a tea of the leaves to diagnose disease or “to dream”. Some medicine men (Curanderos) assert that they “go crazy” under its influence. The southern Chileans also use the leaves to make a yellow dye for coloring fabrics (Schultes 1977 cited in Ratsch 1998, 219).
The plant was discovered to be an entheogen by Richard Evans Schultes when he was traveling in Colombia, but little research has been done on it since that time. It is possible that the Chiloe deity, El Trauco, a forest spirit, is a representation of the plant spirit of D. spinosa, which is sometimes called Trau-trau. However, individuals with knowledge of the plant seem very reluctant to speak of it with outsiders (Ratsch 1998, 219-220).
TRADITIONAL PREPARATION: The leaves of D. spinosa may be brewed into a psychoactive tea. The fruits are considered even more powerful and may also be made into a tea. No dosage information is available. It is possible that the fruits are sometimes made to prepare potent chicha brews (Ratsch 1998, 219).
MEDICINAL USES: The leaves of D. spinosa are used as a stomach remedy in Chile (Urquieta 1953 cited in Ratsch 1998, 220).
TRADITIONAL EFFECTS: No active constituents have yet been isolated from D. spinosa, although sufficient research has not yet been carried out. The plant is regarded as poisonous in southern Chile, but no toxic compounds have been found in it, either. There are very few reports regarding Desfontania spinosa effects. One report mentions that smoking two dried leaves produces psychoactive effects with minor visual changes and a feeling of intoxication (Ratsch 1998, 220).
Hofmann, A., Ratsch, C., Schultes, R., Plants of the Gods: Their Sacred, Healing, and Hallucinogenic Powers. Rochester: Healing Arts Press, 1992.
Ratsch, Christian., The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants: Ethnopharmacology and its Applications. Rochester: Park Street Press, 1998.