COMMON NAMES: Pituri Bush, Bedgerie, Camel Poison, Emu Plant, Pitchiri, Poison Bush
Image credit: Herbalistics
Duboisia hopwoodii is an evergreen shrub with woody stems that can grow up to three meters in height. The wood is yellow and smells of vanilla. The leaves are green and lineal. The flowers are white, sometimes with pink spots, and occur in clusters. The fruit is a black berry with many tiny seeds. D. hopwoodii is found mostly in the Australian interior. It is propagated through seeds or branch end cuttings (Ratsch 1998, 222).
TRADITIONAL USES: Aborigines in Australia have been using D. hopwoodii for recreational and ritual purposes for up to 60,000 years, meaning it is probably the psychoactive substance with the longest history of continuous use. The plant and its leaves were a valuable trade item and a big part of the indigenous economy. So, of course, the plant is often depicted abstractly in Aboriginal rock art (Ratsch 1998, 222).
D. hopwoodii leaves are combined with various other plants to make a quid known as pituri. The dried herbage may also be used as a tobacco substitute. Currently, use of pituri is uncommon, and one indigenous healer indicated to a researcher that although the plant was once chewed by the elderly, the practice was put to a stop by local police. Pituri was used by men of the tribes for social and ceremonial purposes and to relieve physical stress. Elderly men would consume pituri in order to gain visionary powers (Voogelbreinder 2009, 160).
TRADITIONAL PREPARATION: Among Aborigine groups, only the elders were provided with the information necessary to process D. hopwoodii. The elders would build a fire and let it die down, and then harvested branches were placed in a pit underneath where the fire had been, and covered in sand for more than two hours. This ‘steamed’ the plant matter, after which it was cooled, broken up, and stored. The stored plant matter was then powdered and rolled with plant ash, preferably that of an Acacia tree, which is high in calcium. This aids in alkaloid release. This was then formed into a pituri quid (Voogelbreinder 2009, 160).
MEDICINAL USES: The Pituri bush is a wild plant medicine that bushwalkers use as an analgesic. The leaves are also sometimes burned to create an anesthetic for operations (Cherikoff 1993).
TRADITIONAL EFFECTS: D. hopwoodii contains a number of stimulating and toxic alkaloids, including piturine (which may be identical to nicotine), duboisin, d-nor-nicotine, and possibly nicotine. The root contains the psychotropic tropane alkaloid hyoscyamine. The effects have been compared to those of tobacco. They have been described as stimulating, invoking passionate dreams, and removing hunger and thirst. The effects have been compared to those of tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum), opium, and coca (Hartwich 1911 cited in Ratsch 1998, 223). The effects of smoking the leaves have been described as similar to those of smoking Cannabis. Other reports indicate invigorating, psychedelic and erotic effects (Stark 1984 cited in Ratsch 1998, 223).
Cherikoff, V. The Bushfood Handbook. Boronioa Park, Australia: Bush Tucker Supply Australia Pty. Ltd., 1993.
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.
Voogelbreinder, Snu, Garden of Eden: The Shamanic Use of Psychoactive Flora and Fauna, and the Study of Consciousness. Snu Voogelbreinder, 2009.