COMMON NAMES: Piule, Bejuco, Culebra, Favinha, Kokriki, Mulungu, Olho de Onca, Pega-Palo (‘virility vine’), Guatabe, Pimande, Oja de Cangrejo, Atecuxtli, Crab-Eye, Ah mo’ ak’ (Lacandon, ‘ara parrot vine’), Antipusi, Cha’pak’ (Mayan), Gun-ma-muy-tio-na (Chinantec), Liucai-nofal (Chontal), Ojitos de Picho (Spanish, ‘little eyes of the dove’), Ojo de Cangrejo (Spanish, ‘crab’s eye’), Ojo de Chanate (Mexico, ‘eye of the thrush’), Ojo de Culebra (Spanish, ‘eye of the snake’), Peyote, Sinicuiche
Rhynchosia pyramidalis is a climbing, perennial herbaceous vine with stems 20 feet or longer that grow from a woody base. Three leaves sit upon each stalk. The flowers are green in color. The bean-shaped seedpods are found between two small red and black, spherical, hard seeds that are 4-6mm long. The plant is found in thickets and woodland margins in tropical Central and South America, including the Caribbean. It is often found in fallow milpas (slash-and-burn gardens) (Ratsch 1998, 460).
Rhynchosia pyramidalis is propagated by nicking the seed and sowing in damp peat moss with bottom heat. Once the seeds sprout they may be transplanted into rich, well-drained soil and grown outdoors in warm or hot climates. R. pyramidalis must only be grown as a houseplant in northern regions, as it will not tolerate cold (Ratsch 1998, 460-461).
TRADITIONAL USES: In a Mexican Tepantitla fresco dating back to 300-400 AD, Rhynchosia pyramidalis seeds are depicted falling from the hands of the Aztec rain god, Tlaloc. This has caused some individuals to suggest that these seeds may have entheogenic properties. The seeds are called ‘piule’, a word which is also used for psilocybin containing mushrooms and certain species of morning glory. The seeds are used as good luck charms, made in to amulets and necklaces, and regarded as auspicious gifts (Schultes 1970 cited in Ratsch 1998, 461).
At this time, the only descriptions to be found of the ritual use of the seeds is alongside psilocybe mushrooms. It is not known whether this ingestion is due to the fact that the seeds have entheogenic properties, or if it is because their red and black coloring represents bodiless eyes, a symbol of transcendent, divinatory vision (Ratsch 1998, 461).
A related species, R. longiracemosa, is said to have narcotic properties and is referred to as ‘peyote’ in some parts of Mexico. Its seeds are also reported to have been used for magical purposes (Diaz 1979 cited in Ratsch 1992, 461). The seeds of another related species, R. pracatoria, is claimed to have been used to prepare a ‘sinicuichi‘ beverage in parts of Mexico (Voogelbreinder 2009, 296).
MEDICINAL USES: Rhynchosia pyramidalis is used in parts of Mexico as a topical analgesic. It is used in the Dominican Republic in a tea or alcohol extraction as a male aphrodisiac. It is said to improve sexual desire and performance, although lab studies on animals have not yet confirmed this (Voogelbreinder 2009, 296). The Pima people of Mexico grind the seeds and sprinkle the powder in the eyes of individuals who are under the curse of the ‘evil eye’ (Pennington 1973 cited in Ratsch 1998, 461).
TRADITIONAL PREPARATION: According to Wasson and Wasson, in the high valleys of Mexico twelve untreated seeds are ingested with six pairs of Psilocybe aztecorum mushrooms per individual (Wasson & Wasson 1957).
TRADITIONAL EFFECTS: Rhynchosia pyramidalis seeds have yielded ethyl gallate and another un-named alkaloid. The foliage contains the flavonoids cajanin, genistein, and 2′-OH-genistein. The stems are recorded to contain 0.19% crude alkaloids, as yet unidentified, as well as saponins, tannins, phenols, and inorganic acids. An extract from the stem acts as a CNS-depressant in mice. A seed extract shows some curare activity in animals (Voogelbreinder 2009, 296).
In Mexico, the seeds of Rhynchosia pyramidalis are said to be both narcotic and toxic, and are said to cause insanity. Therefore, it is recorded that they have been powdered and fed to unsuspecting victims to do them harm (Voogelbreinder 2009, 296). There are no present reports of psychoactive effects.
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.
Wasson, R.G., and V.P. Wasson. Mushrooms, Russia, and History. New York: Pantheon Books, 1957.
Voogelbreinder, Snu, Garden of Eden: The Shamanic Use of Psychoactive Flora and Fauna, and the Study of Consciousness. Snu Voogelbreinder, 2009.