Lily And Lotus-By Tao Jones

I am going to touch in this article on the botanical side of the plants in question and also delve into the metaphysical aspects of their use.

All quotations are from “Transcultural Use of Narcotic Water Lilies in Ancient Egyptian and Maya Drug Ritual” by William A. Emboden, published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 3 (1981) 39-83. and  from  “ Garden of Eden, vol II,” (2002, by Snu Voogelbreinder, unpublished).


“…It is necessary to distinguish clearly the genus Nymphaea from Nelumbo as the term ‘lotus’ has been used in a general sense to denote both genera.  The genus Nelumbo  (syn. Nelubium) was unknown in ancient Egypt and was never found as a part of ancient monuments or of any art. Nelumbo was introduced by the Persians and was present only as a cultivated plant….The large flowers of Nelumbo are borne a meter above the water and at maturity the petals are shed revealing a large funnel-form seed pod. Likewise the leaves are often a meter across and are peltate.  They are always held above the surface of the water.  These characteristics are not found together in any of the water lilies.

Nymphaea lotus does not refer to the lotus of common parlance, but to a white flowered night blooming species of Nymphaea also common to the Nile delta at a very early date.” (Emboden, pg. 40).

The plant parts in question—flowers of Nelumbo nucifera (Sacred Lotus), Nymphaea nouchali var. caerulea (Sacred Blue Lily of the Nile), Nymphaea alba and Nymphaea lotus—all have suggestion of entheogenic applications in the ancient cultures who used them reverently, although for the most part how they were utilized is still uncertain.

My experiences with these plants have convinced me that they were—at least in the Egyptian culture—responsible for entheogenic beliefs and practices.

I have tried the flowers of all the above mentioned plants by either smoking the flowers or an extract thereof, soaking the flowers in wine (7 grams of flowers per bottle) and drinking the wine thereafter and by soaking extracts in cranberry juice (1 gram of 5x per cup of juice) and drinking the juice, or smoking the flowers mixed with Cannabis flowers.

While alcohol infusions produced the most noticeable effects, the juice infusion left me completely incapacitated and in the ‘it can wait until later’ mode I mentioned in my previous paper.

“A decoction of 3-10 unopened flower buds (of  N. caerulea)  has narcotic, anaphrodisiac, mildly euphoric and antitussive effects.”  (Voogelbreinder, 2002, unpub.).

Smoking the flowers, no matter which species, had a more pronounced and immediate effect which required some familiarity to fully appreciate. The dreaminess of the plant is  more manifest when smoked, in my opinion. While all three Nymphaea species assayed—N. nouchali var. caerulea (Sacred Blue Lily of the Nile), N. alba  and N. lotus—as well as Nelumbo nucifera (Sacred Lotus) flowers had psychoactivity, all were different in potency. Nymphaea nouchali var. caerulea had the highest percentage of dissolved solids when prepared as a 5x concentrate powder.  Next was N. alba, followed by Nelumbo nucifera, and Nymphaea lotus.

When just the flowers were smoked, Nymphaea lotus seemed to be least effective, but as this is the species with which I have worked the least, there is a good possibility I have just not noticed the range of effects.

It is this euphoric and lasting sense that ‘nothing matters and all is perfect’ that the herb produces that is the main objection I have to continued use of the plant.  I find myself letting my affairs in the real world slide, something I cannot afford to do on a regular basis.

When I first started using Nymphaea species I was not obtaining the effects I now experience. It took a period of becoming acquainted with the effects in order to let the herb show me what it does before I understood the amazing power and beauty of the experience.  Indeed, a week after my last experience-a hard week, mind you—the first thing my body and mind wanted was to experience the blissful letting go into infinite oblivion that I had experienced previously.

However, it had taken me four days to return to ‘normal’ after trying the herb for two days in a row, and I could not spare that large a block of time from my professional life except on rare occasions.  It is easy to see that Homer had obtained his description of the effects of eating Lotus flowers from either firsthand experience or firsthand observation.


In instances of divination, one sometimes does not obtain an answer immediately upon asking the question.  Sometimes one does not get an answer. Sometimes it is not recognized for what it is until much later, long after the necessity for asking the original question has passed.  Sometimes one does not recognize the answer until years later, and then, only by the grace of memory recall the question asked so long ago. Sometimes one is not aware of having asked a question.

I was in Lily dreamland, a disincarnate intelligence traveling with another of the same.

We came upon a metaphysical knot in the path, one I had encountered before and for which I could see no solution.  I remarked to my ‘companion’ that it seemed unlikely this could be resolved in this lifetime.

I was immediately given a vision (within the dream) of myself in the future, young again, and in the fullness of health in a beautiful garden surrounded by friends and lovers; the obstacle—and all others—had been overcome and the scene was of youth and perfection.

This lasted only a second, and to myself at the time it seemed to be a different type of reincarnation vision.  Rather than visions of past lifetimes, this was of a future life.  I noted the oddity of this and proceeded with the dream.

Later that evening as I was going to visit friends I recalled that the Egyptians did not have the conception of previous lifetimes in their cosmology, but rather the promise of an afterlife of perfection with the gods.  My oriental-mysticism oriented mind had supplied an explanation from the Hindu system of belief instead of an Egyptian mythology based explanation.

When I realized that this plant gave visions of an afterlife as described by the Egyptian priests in the Book of the Dead, the origin of their cosmology began to make a great deal of sense.

“…We must consider that the legends that became the history of Egyptian dynastic belief are founded upon a water lily as having arisen from chaos (nun) to produce the first god, Ra or Atum.  This was to have happened before the birth of the sun and it is the substance of three of the four cosmogonies of ancient Egypt.” (Emboden, pg. 42)

“An overview of these cosmogonies, which have numerous variant versions, shows the influence of the blue water lily in conceptions of the origins of the universe.” (pg. 47)

Blue Lily flowers were found in the tombs of the Pharoahs and unguent bottles in the shape of the blue lily flower were buried with the bodies.  Emboden proposes these to have contained a powerful extract made from the Blue Lily to help the deceased in their trip to the realm of the afterlife.

N. caerulea was a symbol of death and rebirth to the Egyptians and was held sacred to Osiris, who was said to have been reincarnated as a blue water lily  after his murder by Set. A text called “Transformation into the Blue Water Lily” [or alternately, Lotus] from the Egyptian Book of the Dead makes reference to a blue water lily associated with Ra and Hathor and the pure light of the sun.  The incantation discusses the desire of Ani to ‘transform himself into the sacred blue water lily so that his body might have new birth and ascend daily into heaven’.”  (Voogelbreinder, 2002, unpub.).

That this plant was responsible for the origin of the concept of and belief in an afterlife still remains to be seen, but my experience has shown that it is indeed to be classed as an narcotic entheogen, capable of producing ecstatic and wonderous visions. It can dissolve the boundaries between the self and the universe.  Infinity and ecstasy are recognized as realities rather than concepts.

The experience is of a subtle energy until one learns to tune in and let it take one where it will.  My latest experience lasted for four days and I found my self at times coexisting in two complete and separate worlds simultaneously.

On this particular journey I had smoked one small cigarette of a cultivar of an N. nouchali  species (‘pink’) followed the next day with a cigarette of  N. alba flowers.

As noted before, when one takes these herbs for more than one day or uses them more than once in a day, the effects become cumulative.  By the third day, one is in a place that is almost impossible to describe. It is truly a magical world of extreme physical joy and mental and spiritual amazement.  One can coexist in this world while present in the normal world in which we live.  They overlap in such a way that one can have awareness of living two completely different lives at the same time.  One coexists in both in a kind of dream state.

I should mention at this juncture that it took me over a year of sporadic use—perhaps 8-10 usages—before I fell into the state described above and it was only due the fact that I used the plant alone and not in a social situation with others which would leave one externally oriented as opposed to being inwardly focused.  It is only when one finds the inward focus that one will  experience these effects.

The effects of the Nymphaea species flowers appear very similar to that of the Nelumbo flowers, varying only in proportions of aporphine family alkaloids present from species to species.

While searching for Nymphaea and Nelumbo species alkaloids, I came across the following:

Emboden  mentions Nymphaea species contain  nuciferine, nornuciferine  nupharine and also apomorphine:  “…apomorphine is one kind of aporphine and is capable of producing profound neurochemical alterations. While it is listed in most pharmacopoeias as a non-narcotic emetic, we have evidence from Diaz that it acts much as ergotamine in Rivea corymbosa and Ipomoea violacea; that is to say, it acts directly upon the dopaminergic receptors to produce a compulsive stereotyped behavior in diverse species of animals…Large doses (in humans) mimic psychoses which would be considered typical shamanic behavior.”(Emboden, pg. 54).

Nelumbo nucifera contains the following alkaloids as listed on the Nelumbo pages of Garden of Eden, vol II:

“Seeds of N. nucifera are + narcotic (Ott 1993), and yield a variety of isoquinoline-type alkaloids—nuciferine, nornuciferine, pronuciferine, 0.01% armepavine, dl-armepavine oxalate, 0.02%nererine {antihypertensive}, lotusine, liensinine {antihypertensive}, 0.01% isolienisine, roemerine, anonanine, demethylcoclaurine, 4”-methyl-N-methyl-coclaurine, methylcorypalline and 5-MeO-6-OH-aporphine.” (Voogelbreinder, 2002, unpub.).

“The seeds are used as an antipsychotic, antihypertensive, tranquilizing,  tonic,  aphrodisiac, nervine, antifebrile, antipyretic heart tonic with an affinity for the spleen, kidneys and heart. (Bremness. 1994, Hu8ang, 1993, Nishibe et al, 1986, Reid, 1995).” {Voogelbreinder, 2002, unpub.}.

I could find no information on the chemical constituents of Nelumbo flowers, although there is copious information available on every other part of the plant.

“…In China the leaves have been smoked with tobacco….the rhizome fiber is used to restore the health of those with nervous exhaustion” (see Nicotania , Cooke, 1860).

“…A methanol extract was shown to have CNS-depressant or narcotic and muscle relaxant activity in mice. (Mukherjee, et al. 1996)”   {Voogelbreinder, 2002, unpub.}


While I am convinced that nuciferine is the prominent alkaloid in N. caerulea flowers—aporphine being a powerful emetic and I experienced no nausea or emesis at any time while using these plants except for a slight dizziness the first few time I smoked N. caerulea flowers–there seem to be many other alkaloids present that while less understood may account for some or the majority of the perceived effects.

This is certainly an area which is far from being fully explored and understood, and I have been experimenting with other Nymphaea species flowers to determine if the effects are ubiquitous throughout the genus.  So far I have had success with a number of different species and cultivars, information about which will be forthcoming when I have had time to more fully assess and evaluate these species and cultivars.

There are also species listed in botanical literature as having no alkaloid content and I am attempting to locate these as well and assay them for comparison.

A personal communication from Theobromus mentions activity in Nuphar species. While I have not had the opportunity to assay these plants for myself as yet, I am confident in his findings.

In conclusion, this field has barely been touched and is wide open for further exploration and discovery. I feel certain that experiments with other parts of Nelumbo species than the flowers will provide results similar to those of the flowers and have strong suspicions that the same holds true for the other plant parts of various Nymphaea species.


Reprinted with permission from Entheogen Review 2002