COMMON NAMES: Abre-o-sol (Sun Opener), Heimia, Herva de Vida (Herb of Life), Hierba de San Francisco (Herb of Saint Francis), Huanchinal, Jarilla, Shicuichi, Sinicuiche, Sinicuichi, Xonochilli, Yerba de Animas (Herb of the Spirits).
Heimia salicifolia is a perennial herbaceous shrub; it has very few distinguishing characteristics and resembles many other shrubs native to Mexico and Central America. In the wild it can grow over 10 feet tall (3 meters), and can spread out to cover 20 feet (6 meters) around. It produces many thin straight branches all emanating from a single base and varying in color from light to dark brown and grey. The small bright yellow flowers are made-up of 6 petals and are less than an inch (2.5 cm) in diameter; each branch will only produce a few flowers but many leaves. The small oval shaped leaves grow directly out of the thin branches and are approximately 3 inches long (7.5 cm) by 1 inch wide (2.5 cm). They vary in color from light green to dark forest green (Graham 1997).
Sinicuichi grows natively throughout central and northern Mexico, preferring hot, sunny, and tropical areas. The plant has been successfully cultivated as far north as Baja California and as far south as Argentina. It has also been reported to grow wild in the southwestern United States, as well as throughout Mexico, Central and South America (Graham 1997).
Cultivation of the sinicuichi (sinicuiche) plant occurs through propagation of plant cuttings, as well as through planting the tiny seeds. The seeds like to be sown in garden beds set aside especially for their germination, or in pots filled with soil. The soil must be of a fine texture and pressed down gently with a flat garden spade or a similar tool. The seeds like to be slightly moistened with water by using a fine mist sprayer, and should never have water poured directly on to them. The soil should be kept slightly moist until the seeds have germinated. The seedlings should not be exposed to direct sunlight, but kept in indirect sun to semi-shade. Only when the seedlings have developed full leaves should they be placed in the sun and watered thoroughly. The plant thrives in loosely packed soil that dries quickly in areas that are warm and arid (Rev. MeO 2003).
TRADITIONAL USE: Gordon Wasson linked Sinicuichi to the Aztec god of spring and desire, Xochipilli. Naturalistic flower elements that appear on the legendary Aztec statue of Xochipilli have always been assumed to be the flora of sinicuiche. Although no documented proof is available regarding its ritual use, anecdotal evidence does show that it has been used in fertility ceremonies, as well as spiritual cleansing rituals said to rid one of evil and ward away dark spirits (Wasson 1974).
There is no verifiable evidence of Sinicuichi being used in prehistoric Mexico. Wasson’s hypothesis connecting the plant to Xochipilli has never been substantiated and is tenuous at best. Modern accounts of H. salicifolia use can be traced back to the 1800s, when the indigenous Indians throughout Mexico used a decoction of the flowers, leaves, branches, and roots to treat the symptoms of syphilis. J.B. Calderon first reported its hallucinogenic effects in 1896 while investigating the medicinal folk remedies of Mexico (Theatrum Botanicum 2004).
The popular name, Sinicuiche, is used for both the plant and the drink that is made from the plant. The plant also goes by folk names including anchinol, chapuzina, escoba del rio, flor de San Francisco, granadillo, hanchinoli, hierba de San Francisco, jara, quiebra yugo, and xonoxhilli, among many others. In reference to the drink, the name sinicuiche refers to the Mexican “magical drink which causes oblivion,” that was immortalized by German supernatural fiction author Hanns Heinz Ewers in his tome The Blue Indians (translated to English from its native title, Die blauen Indianer) (Graham 1997).
TRADITIONAL PREPARATION: Many different indigenous tribes have used Heimia salicifolia for myriad medicinal and spiritual purposes; however, there are three main categories which most of the preparations fall into: fermented teas, healing salves, and direct extractions.
The most common and most widely reported preparation is Sinicuichi fermented tea. Tribes collected fresh leaves and allowed them to wilt, then crushed them and soaked them in a cup of cool water. The cup was then placed outside under the sun for one day to allow the concoction time to ferment. Honey was sometimes added to improve the taste, although this is not an essential ingredient. When fresh leaves are unavailable the dried leaves and branches are used with equal success, following the same procedure, except that the dried material is steeped in hot water instead of cold water. After 24 hours, the infused water is strained and the juices are squeezed from the leaves to make a hallucinogenic tea. A third of an ounce (10 grams) of dried plant material is used as a starting point to initiate the shaman in the spirit world, but reports indicate that as much as 14 grams (1/2 ounce of dried leaves) are needed for pronounced effects.
There is also mounting ancedotal evidence that Sinicuichi can be rolled into a cigarette and smoked for a very pleasing experience, especially when combined with a potentiator such as Wild Dagga flowers. The only complaint regarding this method is that it takes a lot of dried leaf to feel pronounced effects. Sinicuichi is often overlooked as an entheogen, and is legal everywhere in the world (Gottlieb 1973).
For medicinal preparations, Sinicuichi is blended into a thick salve that is used to cover open wounds to stop bleeding and to promote accelerated healing. These salves are made in a similar way as the tea, except that large amounts of the leaves, stems, branches and roots are used and the resulting tea is then allowed to evaporate until there is nothing left but a dark thick paste. The resulting paste may be used to treat many different skin ailments.
Direct extractions are the easiest of the three preparations. The leaves are collected, then crushed and squeezed until all of the juices have been extracted; the resulting juices are then rubbed all over the body to repel mosquitoes and other insects (Gottlieb 1973).
MEDICINAL USE: Heimia salicifolia was well known by many different indigenous tribes in Mexico, so much so that it was given over 50 different folk names; every region and every tribe knew of the plant’s medicinal properties and gave it their own unique name. The natives used the plant to treat high fevers, parasitic worms, and to cover open wounds to prevent bleeding and promote healing. It was also widely used to treat the symptoms of syphilis, to expel ailments by increasing sweat production, and as a laxative to soothe stomach problems. Current research into four of the active compounds has shown promising new applications: cryogenine works as an anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, and sedative; nesodine possesses anti-inflammatory properties as well; lythrine has been shown to be a very effective diuretic; and sinicuichine is known to act as a muscle relaxant and tranquilizer (Malone & Rother 1994).
Heimia salicifolia has a long history of use in Mexican folk medicine. It is used to this day as a narcotic, a diuretic, a fever reducer and as a general inebriant. It has also been used as a medicinal bath additive. Mexican folk medicine practitioners brew a tea from sinicuiche leaves that is drunk to promote digestion, and to create a tonic that is used to treat rabies as well as to counteract the “evil eye.”
The plant’s primary use in Mexican folk medicine is for the purposes of fertility. Infertile women are said to be helped by soaking in a bath prepared with sinicuichi leaves among other herbs and essential oils. To promote conception, a tea is made from a combination of Heimia salicifolia twigs with other plant herbage and root extracts. To treat sexual dysfunction, ovarian inflammations and cysts, and various uterine ailments, a woman’s genitals are exposed to the steam of a tea made with sinicuiche and rosemary. After giving birth, or in case of a miscarriage, a concoction made from sinicuiche, cinnamon, agave (pulque), and piloncillo may be taken (Argueta 1994 cited in Ratsch 1998, 267).
The Maká Indians of of Chaco in Paraguay use fresh Haeimia salicifolia leaves to create an extract that they then make into a plant paste for treating puncture and scrape wounds made by thorns that have remained in the wound. The leaves are believed to make the extraction of thorns easier, and also to speed up the healing of the wound. The Pilagá of Argentinean Chaco place sinicuiche leaves directly on sores. They also make a drink from the plant’s root that is taken to treat stomachaches (Arenas 1987 cited in Ratsch 1998, 267).
TRADITIONAL EFFECTS: Recently conducted analysis has shown that Heimia salicifolia contains 16 different active alkaloids. These compounds include dihydrodecodine, cryogenine/vertine, lythrine, heimine, sinicuichine, lythridine, lyfoline, heimidine, anelisine, abresoline, demethyllasubine I, demethyllasubine II, epidemethoxyabresoline, sinine, vesolidine and nesodine. There are also studies showing that the alkaloidal precursor to cryogenine, the main active compound in Sinicuichi, is phenylalanine; phenylalanine is structurally very similar to dopamine and adrenaline, which may account for some of the reported effects of the plant (Malone & Rother 1994).
Effects reportedly include pleasant drowsiness, skeletal muscle relaxation, slowing of heartbeat, dilation of coronary vessels, inhibition of acetylcholine, enhancement of epinephrine, slight reduction of blood pressure, cooling of body, mild intoxication and giddiness, darkening of vision, auditory hallucinations (sounds seem distant), and increased memory function. No reported hangover or undesirable side effects. Overindulgence causes golden-yellow tinge to vision on following day. Continued immoderate use may eventually hamper memory (Gottleib 1973).
J.B. Calderon first reported on Sinicuichi’s hallucinogenic effects in 1896. He claimed that Sinicuichi possessed a “curious and unique physiological action… the plant [produces] a pleasant drunkenness… all objects appear yellow and the sounds of bells, human voices […] reach the ears as if coming from a long distance” (Calderon 1896). In 1926 Victor Reko further elaborated on the effects of Sinicuichi, citing increased “strength, energy, and joy, awakens the spirit. Objects are very clearly seen in great detail. […] Individuals feel as if walking on a soft carpet. They see a door opened but don’t hear the sound. There is nothing unpleasant, except that objects have a yellow-blue or purple sheen. Users say it is the remedy to secure happiness.” These descriptions closely mirror modern personal reports on the effects of Heimia (Reko 1926).
Modern accounts describe the effects felt from drinking the fermented tea as pleasant euphoria, relaxing and soothing muscles, slightly increased sweating, and mild auditory hallucinations. Sounds produced nearby may seem to have come from a great distance away. The most noticeable effects are the visual hallucinations; the field of vision takes on a yellowish aura, and objects appear to have purplish, bluish and greenish hues. The yellowing of the field of vision is one reason that the plant has taken the name ‘Sun Opener’; the visual hallucinations resemble the yellow and orange hues that the sun creates in the sky at dawn.
One of the most remarkable effects that have been reported from consumption of H. salicifolia is a greater clarity of thought and the ability to clearly remember events from early childhood. While under the influence of the Sun Opener, people have been able to described events from their childhood so clearly and precisely that they claim it feels as if they experienced them yesterday. Others have reported recollections of events that transpired before they were born, while they were in their mother’s womb. There are also reports that native tribesmen are able to commune with their direct ancestors, and remember events that took place in their great grandparents’ lives with the help of the plant (Rev. MeO 2003).
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