FAMILY: Solanaceae (Nightshade Family)
COMMON NAMES: Coa, Fabiana Bush, K’oa Santiago, Monte Derecho (Spanish, ‘right mountain’), Monte Negro (Spanish, ‘black mountain’), Peru False Heath, Peta, Pichi-Pichi, Romero, Tola
Fabiana imbricata is a bush that grows up to ten feet tall. It has many branches at the ends of numerous stems. These stems are covered in tiny, needle-like leaves that are arranged like scales. The flowers are small, trumpet-shaped, and vary in color from white to purple. The fruits are oval capsules about 1/4 in or less in length. The plant flowers from November to January in the southern hemisphere and from May to June in the northern hemisphere (Ratsch 1998, 264).
F. imbricata is indigenous to Chile, and may also be found in Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, and parts of Brazil. There are over twenty-one species of Fabiana, but it is difficult to find information about most of them. F. imbricata may be propagated by planting the seeds, which should be pre-germinated, and potted once they are seedlings. The bush enjoys rocky, rough soil. In Chile, it is grown for use in gardens as an ornamental. It may be grown inside, or outside in areas that rarely see frost (Hoffmann et al 1992 cited in Ratsch 1998, 263).
It is difficult to purchase F. imbricata herbage outside of South America, although the plant is occasionally sold in nurseries as an ornamental.
TRADITIONAL USES: F. imbricata is held sacred for its powers as an incense, as the plant produces a large quantity of fragrant smoke when burned. In Chile, and many other South American countries, the fresh or dried herbage is burned during most all traditional ceremonies, festivals, offerings to nature deities, and so forth. Many native peoples keep bundles of the branches to light as incense whenever purification, cleansing, or an energy shift is needed. When an individual is ill, the sick room is filled with the smoke of F. imbricata, which is said to banish unwanted spirits and demons, and to push away the darkness of sickness. In the Atacama Desert, this incense is burned to purify spaces, and to calm and liberate the spirits of the dead (Aldunate et al. 1983).
In the early colonial period, F. imbricata was brought to Europe and cultivated in a garden in Madrid that was devoted to research of plants from the Americas. Although the plant has a long history of medicinal use in the Americas, Western doctors did not become interested in plant until the 19th century, when the pharmacologists Henry Hurd Rusby introduced the plant to the United States under the name Pichi-pichi. The plant was primarily used as a diuretic, and this use later spread to Europe as well (Rusby 1890).
The genus is named after Francisco Fabiano y Fuero, an archbishop who greatly supported the botanical sciences (Ratsch 1998, 264). The irony of naming a South American healing herb after a Spanish Catholic priest suggests the possible necessity of reassessing the scientific names of this sacred plant, and many others as well.
TRADITIONAL PREPARATION: The tips of F. imbricata branches are dried, and may be chopped into small pieces as well. The dried herbage is then burned as an incense or tossed on to burning charcoal, releasing a resinous smoke that is quite easy to inhale. The smoke smells like pine, if a little bit sweeter. There are no records of overdose or negative side effects following the inhalation of F. imbricata smoke. 1 tablespoon of fresh or dried herbage may also be placed in hot water to make a spicy tea that is beneficial for overall well being (Ratsch 1998, 264).
MEDICINAL USE: F. imbricata is used in Chilean folk medicine to treat diseases of the kidneys and urinary tract. It is a potent diuretic which also promotes digestion when prepared as a tea. F. imbricata has a long history of use in the treatment of general diseases as well. A mother tincture is occasionally used in homeopathy for the treatment of the liver and urinary system, as well as as a general tonic (webhomeopath.com n.d.). A water/alcohol extract is beneficial as an antiseptic (Hoffmann et al. 1992).
TRADITIONAL EFFECTS: F. imbricata contains a number of essential oils and alkaloids, including some that are also found in Pernettya furens, Artemisia absinthium, Psidium guajava, Vaccinium uliginosum, and kinnikinnick. The plant also contains camphor oil and the coumarin scopoletin (Horhammer 1973 cited in Ratsch 1998, 265).
An extract or tea prepared from F. imbricata herbage makes potent diuretic that is very effective in cleansing and healing disorders of the kidneys, urinary tract, genitals, and so forth. Consuming a tea or extract is generally excellent for overall health (Hoffmann et al. 1992). Inhaling the smoke of burning F. imbricata herbage brings feelings of inebriation and euphoria, which may be mild or potent depending on the individual and the situation in question (Ratsch 1998, 264). When burned in ritual contexts, the inhaled smoke may allow some individuals to access deep trance states.
Aldunate, C., J.J. Armesto, V. Castro, and C. Villagrán. “Ethnobotany of pre-Altiplanic Community in the Andes of Northern Chile.” Economic Botany 37, no. 1 (1983): 120–135.
Ratsch, Christian., The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants: Ethnopharmacology and its Applications. Rochester: Park Street Press, 1998.
Rusby, H.H. “The New Chilean Drug ‘Pichi’.” Therapeutic Gazette 9 (1885): 810–813.