SPECIES: Furens, Parvifolia, spp.
COMMON NAMES: Peat Myrtle, Hierba Loca (“maddening plant”), Huedhued, Taglli, Macha-macha
Hierba loca and taglli (Pernettya furens and Pernettya parvifolia) are two of about twenty species of Pernettya, mostly very small sub-shrubs that grow in the highlands from Mexico to Chile, the Galápagos and Falkland islands, Tasmania, and New Zealand. These plants belong to the heath family, Ericaceae, along with the cranberry, blueberry, Scotch heather, rhododendron, and trailing arbutus. Several species are known to be toxic to cattle and man, but only these two are known definitely to be employed as hallucinogens (Ratsch 1998, 575).
These two species of Pernettya are small sprawling, bushy shrubs with dense leaves. Their flowers are white or rose tinted, and the berries are white to purple in color (Hofmann et al. 1992, 53).
TRADITIONAL USES: It is questionable as to whether the fruits of this genus have been used culturally on their own as a psychoactive sacrament. It is possible that the ripe fruits were used solely in the preparation of various intoxicating drinks. However, the plant does seem to have some sort of entheogenic quality – in Peru, folk healers say that the spirit of the plant appears as a bull. In Venezuela, various species of the genus are called borrachero, a name that is used for most all plants of the region that have psychoactive or inebriating effects (Ratsch 1998, 575).
TRADITIONAL PREPARATIONS: Ripe fruits of various species of Pernettya are used in Chile in the brewing of chicha, a type of maize or corn beer that usually contains a variety of tubers and fruits. In northern Peru curanderos, or folk healers, add a species of Pernettya they call toro-maique to their San Pedro brew. This is said to give the drink more power (Ratsch 1998, 575).
TRADITIONAL EFFECTS: Pernettya furens, which in Chile is called hierba loca (“maddening plant”) or huedhued, has fruits that, when eaten, can cause mental confusion, madness, possession, and permanent insanity. The intoxication resembles that following the ingestion of Datura (Hofmann et al. 1992, 53).
The fruit of Pernettya parvifolia, or Taglli, of Ecuador, is well recognized as poisonous, capable of inducing hallucinations and other psychic alterations as well as affecting the motor system. Though the chemistry of these and other species of Pernettya needs further study, it seems that the toxicity may be due to andromedotoxin, a resinoid, or to arbutin, a glycoside. Both compounds are rather common in this plant family (Ratsch 1998, 575).
The fruit of the Andean species Pernettya prostrata, called macha-macha, is said to cause dizziness and a drunken quality in those who ingest them. In Bolivia and Columbia, children have even died from eating the fruit of this species. This species, along with several others of the genus, are considered very toxic. Overdose on toxic Pernettya spp. berries results in salivation, vomiting, depressed respiration, collapse, debility, and death (Voogelbreinder 2009, 270).
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.