Names, species and ritual uses: Commonly known as Angel’s Trumpet, or also Devil’s Trumpet, Borrachero and Devil’s Breath, the plant is sometimes confused with Thorn Apple (Datura). Whilst Brugmansia contains the same tropane alkaloids (Scopolamine, Atropine, Hyoscyamine and Solanine) it is an own genus with different species, of which the Sweet Smelling Angel’s Trumpet (Brugmansia suaveolens) is probably the most popular.
The following brugmansia species are discussed below:
- Brugmansia suaveolens
- Brugmansia candida
- Brugmansia sanguinea
- Brugmansia arborea
Brazilian Angel’s Trumpet (Brugmansia suaveolens)
“This species is the most commonly used brugmansia in the upper Amazon region. The Jibaro or Shuar and Achuar drink a tea of the plant they call maikuna to obtain a vision that can help them acquire an arutam wakani, “visionary soul” (cf. Nicotiana tabacum). Once acquired, this soul will be sent forth to make inquiries in the “other world” (Bennett 1992, 493*). Among the Achuar, the visions of the arutam are especially important because they restore to a warrior (once hunter for shrunken heads) the power lost in ritual war killing.”
The coming of the Arutam is described as follows: “Arutam is first a vision, the fruit of change in consciousness through catharsis, ingestion of tobacco juice and the strong dose of Scopolamine, which is released through the preparation of the plant. The conditions under which Arutam appears are stereotype. Exhausted from the ecstatic state, the senses weakened and fully focused upon the encounter, the begger waits at the side of the road, until he suddenly becomes aware of the rustling wind, which turns into an orcano, and which breaks with full force upon the glade, whilst slowly a strange figure or monster approaches: a gigantic jaguar with fire spitting eyes, or two giant anacondas, a super harpy, a bunch of sneering strangers, a dismembered human body who’s body parts crawl upon the ground, or a flaming head falling from the sky and rolling on. […] The wind disappears as fast as it came and from the sudden silence an old man steps forth. The arutam is there…” (Christian Rätsch)
Other names are Baikua, Juunt Maikiua (Achuar, ‘large angel’s trumpet’), Yawa Maikiua (Achuar, ‘dog’s angel’s trumpet’), Yumi Maikiua (Achuar, ‘heaven’s water angel’s trumpet’) or also simply Maiku(n)a.
“The fresh leaves, seeds and flowers of B. suaveolens may be eaten fresh or consumed as an infusion. Infusions are sometimes mixed with various types of alcohol. The fresh flowers are also sometimes added to milk and taken that way. To make an aphrodisiac tea, hot water is poured over one fresh flower and this is allowed to sit for 10 minutes. The fresh leaves can be added to tequila, rum, or other spirits. The leaves are also sometimes made in to a decoction and used as an ayahuasca additive. In the Himalayas, the dried leaves of B. suaveolens are used in Tantric smoking blends in much the same way as Datura metel leaves” (Hall et al. 1978, 251).
“B. suaveolens leaves are used externally in Latin America to treat wounds, rashes and ulcers. The Achuar use the leaves to treat battle wounds and snakebites. The flowers and the leaves are used as aphrodisiacs throughout the world, and even the scent is regarded as a potent aphrodisiac. The plant is also sometimes used to treat weakness, menstrual pain, and infections” (Descola 1996).
B. suaveolens contains tropane alkaloids, as do all species of Brugmansia. In addition this particular species contains certain alkaloids that are unique to it, including cuscohygrine.
White Angel’s Trumpet (Brugmansia candida)
Another species of which ritual uses are recorded is the White Angel’s Trumpet (Brugmansia candida), native to Columbia and Equador. From there it spread out to the Mexicans, where used as a substitute for Thorn Apple. A suggested dose are 3 to 6 fresh flowers steeped in hot water, which is later filtered with a cloth. The Huasteces believe the plant will make them ‘see true’. The Kamsá people drink it in ceremony for learning how to hex, divine, prophecy and heal. A strong vehicle for the shaman, the Kamsá call the plant mets-kwai borra-chero or mits-kway borrachero, “the drug of the jaguar”. It was used only in the phase of the waning moon, when a drink is ingested in intervals over a period of three hours until the individually fitting dosis is reached. The Kamsá use this plant only on rare occasions, and only for prophecy and divination. The shaman also has a supervisor recording everything that is said during the delir. The Sibundoy also call it Snake Plant in reference to visions of gigantic snakes: “The first time I ingested at night a potion with six leafs. I got drunk. I saw forests, people from far, animals, meadows full with snakes, which would come to bite me. When the delir became stronger the house would start to move against the rest of the world but the snakes would continue wanting to bite me.”
Blood-Red Angel’s Trumpet (Brugmansia sanguinea)
The Blood-Red Angel’s Trumpet (Brugmansia sanguinea) is native to to the midland and lowland areas around the Andes mountain range in South America, also known as Borrachero Rojo. “Mestizo Shamans have used the Blood-red Angel’s Trumpet as a sacrament in their burial ceremonies and grieving rituals. It was believed that widows would be gently lulled into the afterworld by consuming a hallucinogenic maize beer, Chicha, while they were being buried alive with their deceased husband. Chicha was made from corn, tobacco and B. sanguinea flowers and allowed to ferment. Modern day shamans use this traveling plant to communicate with their ancestors as well as the animal spirit world, to diagnose disease, find lost objects, prophesize, and predict the future. The native tribes still use the seeds, mixing them in with coffee, to induce sexual arousal or to harm someone and put them into a coma or even kill them, depending on the dosage. […] In Peru, the seeds may also be added to cimora, a beverage made from Trichocereus pachanoi. This would allow the curandero, or healer, to “see” better. They would also use the woody stems of B. sanguinea to create magic wands for mesa rituals. There are also reports of indigenous peoples mixing the dried leaves with tobacco and smoking the resulting blend. One of the most powerful B. sanguinea decoctions was exclusively made and consumed by the shaman, who boiled the fruits and seeds of the plant to produce a potent drink called tonga.” (Christian Rätsch)
Tree Trumpet (Brugmansia arborea)
A not so common species is the Tree Trumpet (Brugmansia arborea), which is found from Ecuador to Peru and northern Chile. According to Rätsch “at present they exist only in culture and there are no known wild species.” It can grow up to 5 m tall and develops wood-like stems like the other Brugmansias, but is distinguished by the pilose branches and leaves wearing fine hairs. The flowers are white or creamy white and emit a dominant sweet scent at night. They are pollinated by moths and produce green, spindle-shaped fruits containing large brown seeds. In China the fruits are commercially available as food.
Drug use: The main drug obtained from the seeds is Scopolamine. In Colombia the drug is called Burundanga. Its use for criminal acts is on the rise. Effects of Scopolamine poisoning: The person is hypnotized, sometimes euphoric and submissively obeys any orders but else occurs outwardly normal. Further effects are hallucinations and loss of memory. Respiratory depression sets in at hallucinatory dose. An overdose will ultimately lead to death through respiratory paralysis or heart seizure.
Sources and further reading:
- Enzyklopädie der psychoaktiven Pflanzen, by Christian Rätsch
- The A-Z Encyclopedia of Alcohol and Drug Abuse
- VICE: World’s Scariest Drug (Documentary)
- Biopsychiatry.com – Scopolamine
- Wikipedia English, Wikipedia German
Art and photos: Wiebke Rost