COMMON NAMES: Marigolds, Yauhtli (‘the dark one’), Flor de Santa Maria, Hierba de Nube (‘cloud herb’), Sweet Mace, Mexican Tarragon
Tagetes lucida is a perennial herb which is available in numerous cultivated forms and strains, which are often hard to distinguish from one another. This difficulty is compounded by the fact that most Tagetes have double flowers, are almost always yellow in color, with either five distinct petals or filled with smaller petals to some degree, and most have pinnate leaves. All Tagetes species exude a strong, distinct, pungent scent – sometimes medicinal, other times skunky (Ratsch 1998, 496).
Tagetes, or marigold, species spread quickly throughout the world as decorative plants. They originated in the Americas, occurring from their native North American southwest spreading to Argentina. Their main area of current distribution, which is also where one can find the greatest variety, is in southern Mexico. Tagetes lucidas is very commonly found in Nayarit and Jalisco at altitudes of up to 8,500 feet (Siegel et al. 1977).
TRADITIONAL USES: Tagetes lucida, widely identified as a powerfully psychoactive strain of the marigold flower, was first documented by the Aztecs. They used Tagetes lucida in a ritual incense they referred to as yyauhtl. This name was derived from the Aztecan word ujana, meaning “to offer incense in sacrifices” (Siegel et al. 1977)
In the Mexican Dia de los Muertos celebration, also known as All Saints’ Day (November 1st), marigolds are a traditional flower laid out in abundance as offerings on the numerous altars that commemorate the lives of those who have passed from this realm. They are popularly known as flores del muerto, or “flowers of the dead.” In Mexican folk art, skulls and skeletons made of wood, paper-mâché or sugar associated with All Saints’ Day are often times painted with decorative Tagetes flowers (Ratsch 1998, 496).
The Mexican Indians have attributed marigolds with magical properties since pre-Columbian times. One variety was thought to be the manifestation of Xochipilli, the god of psychoactive plants, by the Aztecs. The Maya used this flower as an additive to their sacred balché drink. It is said that contemporary Mayan shamans still use Tagetes lucida, which they call xpuhuc in shamanic rituals. The Mixe of Oaxaca drink a tea made from nine Tagetes flowers for divination (Ratsch 1998, 496).
The Aztecs referred to Tagetes lucida as yauhtli, ”the dark one.” They would sprinkle a powder of the plant into the faces of prisoners of war who were to be burned as sacrifices so that they would be sedated during the ordeal. Even today, many Mexican Indians burn the dried herbage of Tagetes lucida as an incense on home altars and during public ceremonies (Neher 1968).
The Huichol Indians of the Sierra Madre of Mexico call Tagetes lucida either tumutsáli or less commonly, yahutli. They smoke the dried herbage alone or mixed with equal parts of Nicotiana rustica. This smoking mixture, although sometimes smoked recreationally, does have ceremonial importance. It is reported to be smoked as a rite of passage in sexual shamanic rituals, most likely due to its aphrodisiac effects (Siegel et al. 1977).
The leaves and flowers are smoked in cigarettes made from corn husks, often in combination with peyote (Lophophora williamsii). The smoking blend is also sometimes smoked in conjunction with imbibing tesquino or nawa (maize beer), or homemade ci or soter (cactus liquor). The combinations of smoking the herbage of Tagetes lucida along with taking peyote, maize beer or cactus liquor is said to produce very active, dynamic hallucinations (Siegel et al. 1977).
Bundles of the dried herbage are placed as offerings in temples, administrative buildings, and sacred sites in Mexico. Tagetes lucida is used in combination with other herbs in Mexican brujería (witchcraft) in ceremonial healing rites known as limpias, or “purifications,” to dispel diseases. The related Tagetes erecta may be used as well (Ratsch 1998, 497).
Depictions of flowers having five petals are often found in pre-Columbian art, and it is widely believed that these are representations of the Tagetes species. There is an artifact of a cylindrical polychrome ceramic vessel from the classic Mayan period (300-900 C.E.) that depicts a yellow, five-petal flower whose form and color suggest that it represents Tagetes lucida (Ratsch 1998, 497).
The blossoms of the related T. erecta are used as flower offerings in many Hindu ceremonies in Nepal and India, posessing significant ritual importance as flowers given as offerings to the goddess Bhagwati and the god Shiva (Voogelbreinder 2009, 324).
TRADITIONAL PREPARATION: The herbage of Tagetes lucida can be infused, boiled, or ground to produce a paste. Bundles of the fresh or dried flowering herbage are sold in marketplaces throughout Mexico. These bundles have numerous uses – as an aromatic herbage used as a flavoring spice in preparing maize dishes; as a medicinal remedy; and in ceremonial or shamanic rituals. The infusion of one bundle with water makes two to three cups of an aromatic tea, a sufficient dosage to produce profound stimulating and aphrodisiac effects. The exact dosage needed to produce hallucinations is not documented (Neher 1968).
MEDICINAL USES: The Aztecs used all species of Tagetes for medicinal purposes, such as in a tea made from the infusion of the fresh herbage to treat hiccups and diarrhea. Tagetes lucida extract was specifically used to treat people who were struck by lightning. In modern times, the fresh herbage is made into a tea to treat stomach pains and abdominal cramps. In Mexico, it is believed that T. lucida promotes lactation, and it is also added to bath water to help relieve the symptoms of rheumatism (Siegel et al. 1977).
In Argentina, a decoction of the leaves is taken for coughs, and when applied topically on the skin, it is well known as an insect repellent. The plant was also used during Spanish Colonial times to treat the clinically insane. In India, juice from the freshly pressed leaves of marigolds is administered to treat eczema (Voogelbreinder 2009, 324).
TRADITIONAL EFFECTS: All Tagetes species contain potentially aromatic essential oils. Tagetes lucida contains a substance very similar to Salvinorin A which has been found to be an extremely powerful, non-alkaloid compound for altering consciousness and one of the most potent, naturally occurring hallucinogens. Also present in Tagetes lucida are thiophene compounds and benzofurans. No alkaloids have been isolated from Tagetes lucida, but a leaf extract was found to act as a CNS-depressant in rats in a laboratory study (Sutfeld et al. 1985).
The consumption of Tagetes lucida by smoking in Huichol ceremonial work is said to cause “quiescence, lying down, a fixed gaze, and frequent periods of closed eyes…the smoker would often turn away from the fire and face the darkness.” Closed-eye visual images are sometimes reported, along with stomach upset and vomiting (Voogelbreinder 2009, 324).
Up to 2 grams of the dried plant matter taken orally has been found in some to cause alertness, lucidity, a feeling of well-being, closed-eye visual and a warming of the body lasting 2-3 hours. Dream enhancement was also reported (Voogelbreinder 2009, 324).
Hofmann, A., Ratsch, C., Schultes, R., Plants of the Gods: Their Sacred, Healing, and Hallucinogenic Powers. Rochester: Healing Arts Press, 1992.
Neher, R.T. “The Ethnobotany of Tagetes.” Economic Botany 22 (1968): 317–325.
Ratsch, Christian., The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants: Ethnopharmacology and its Applications. Rochester: Park Street Press, 1998.
Siegel, R.K., P.R. Collings, and J.L. Diaz. “On the Use of Tagetes Lucida and Nicotiana Rustica as a Huichol Smoking Mixture.” Economic Botany 31 (1977): 16–23.
Sutfeld, R., F. Balza, and G.H. Neil Towers. “A Benzufuran from Tagetes Patula Seedlings.” Phytochemistry 24, no. 4 (1985): 876–877.
Voogelbreinder, Snu, Garden of Eden: The Shamanic Use of Psychoactive Flora and Fauna, and the Study of Consciousness. Snu Voogelbreinder, 2009.