Pandanus spiralis, spp. - Screw TreeFAMILY: Pandanaceae

GENUS: Pandanus

SPECIES: Antaresensis, Spiralis, Nepalensis, Odoratissimus, Tectorius

COMMON NAMES: Screw Tree, Ketaka, Kevada, Vacoa

Pandanus is a large genus of the tropics. These plants are tree-like and each plant is both male and female, with prominent stilt-like roots. The leaves may attain a length of up to 15 feet, and are used for matting.  They are long, stiff, and sharp at the edges, with prickles that hook forwards and backwards. The flowers are naked and occur in large heads.  The fruit is large, heavy, ball-like, and is composed of easily detachable carpels. Most species of Pandanus can be found on the seacoast or in salt marshes. They occur primarily in the tropical and warm zones of Europe, Asia, and Africa (Hofmann & Schultes 1992, 52).

TRADITIONAL USES: The Nangamp of the Wahgi region and their neighbours in the Chimbu region of Papua New Guinea eat the nuts from certain species of Pandanus to induce a state they call ‘karuke madness’.  The species used is thought to be Pandanus papuanus. The Wopkaimin of the Ok Tedi region also consume the nuts, with whole villages going into ‘hysterical excitement’ at times as a result. This always occurs during the Pandanus fruiting season, from September to January. The nuts are often eaten as food, or pressed to make oil. Other parts of the tree are used to build huts and torches. Pandanus anataresensis is used to make magical medicine bundles that help with fevers, headaches, diarrhoea and breathing troubles. The leaf fibres symbolise semen and are woven with clay and other fibers into the hair of male initiates to make a headdress.  This species is also used as an analgesic (Voogelbreinder 2009, 258).

The Bimin-Kuskusmin of West Sepik in Papua New Guinea use the nuts of Pandanus anataresensis, Pandanus brosimos and Pandanus julianetti in a twelve stage initiation ritual.  Other psychoactive plants are consumed as well, including species of Nicotania, Kaempferia, and Psilocybe. The nuts are associated with female bird-spirit messengers, and are therefore sometimes also eaten by women in ceremonies along with Ipomoea batatas flowers and Boletus mushrooms.  Planting a Pandanus tree is even said to help strengthen a sick person in the village (Voogelbreinder 2009, 259).

The fruit of Pandanus spiralis is used to make a wine by the Aborigines of Australia by crushing the nuts and letting them ferment in water. Aborigines also use the leaves to make baskets, and consume much of the plant as food (Voogelbreinder 2009, 259).

In Nepal, Pandanus nepalensis, or screw pine, is said to be sacred to Ganesha. The leaves of the aromatic screw pine, Pandanus odoratissimus, are known as ketaka in Sanskrit and are used as offerings to Shiva (Majupuria & Joshi 1988 cited in Ratsch 1998, 574).  The spikey inflorescences of Pandanus tectorius are used to make kweda perfume, which is used to enhance smoking tobacco (Ratsch 1998, 574). In Thailand Pandanus parts are used regularly in cooking (Norman 1991 cited in Ratsch 1998, 574).

TRADITIONAL PREPARATION: The nuts are roasted and eaten, or left to soak in water and ferment. There is very little information available about dosage or combinations with other plants. It has been suggested that doses well over 25 g are be necessary to induce significant psychotropic effects (Voogelbreinder 2009, 259).

MEDICINAL USES: The root tips that grow above the ground are combined with sugarcane juice to make a tonic by natives of Hawaii (Krauss 1981). In Zanzibar and Tanganyika of Africa, the flowers of local Pandanus trees are used to drive evil spirits from the insane. The leaves are also used in Ayurvedic medicine as an aphrodisiac, brain and heart tonic. In Australia, base of the leaf is chewed to relieve sore throats, scabies, and eye troubles, as it has antiseptic qualities (Voogelbreinder 2009, 258-259)

TRADITIONAL EFFECTS: The fruits of several species of Pandanus have been found to contain N,N-DMT by Schultes and Hofmann. DMT and harmine, as well as numerous other alkaloids, have also been isolated from Pandanus nuts (Hofmann & Schultes 1992, 52).

Individuals experiencing ‘karuke madness’ from consuming large quantities of Pandanus nuts in a ritual setting generally become restless and excited about an hour after consumption takes place. Some people even become dangerously intoxicated, and there are reports of individuals falling from rope bridges and drowning. The eyes become glazed and the individual experiences visions and ecstasy. After the psychotropic experience, the individual becomes dazed and foams at the mouth.  Equilibrium is often greatly disturbed, but the individual is in a good humour and laughs easily. Eventually, a deep sleep manifests.  The entire experience is reported to last up to twelve hours (Voogelbreinder 2009, 259).

An experimenter reported eating about 1/2 of a pound of roasted Pandanus nuts, which he mentions is over ten times the suggested dose. He experienced nothing other than gastric troubles. He thus determined that this meant that ‘karuke madness’ was a sort of socially incited psychosis.  However, these nuts are likely quite variable in alkaloid content, and it is possible that an even greater quantity of nuts would be necessary to create an effect.  It is also possible that the other plants which are traditionally consumed along with the Pandanus nuts create the effects, similar to the way in which the MAOI containing ingredients in an ayahuasca brew allow the DMT containing ingredients to become orally active.



Hofmann, A., Ratsch, C., Schultes, R., Plants of the Gods: Their Sacred, Healing, and Hallucinogenic Powers. Rochester: Healing Arts Press, 1992.

Krauss, B.H. Native Plants Used as Medicine in Hawaii. Honolulu: Lyon Arboretum, University of Hawaii at Manoa, 1981.

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.