A brief history of Salvia divinorum

Sierra Mazteca MountainsSalvia divinorum (hierba de la pastora, Diviner’s Mint)

Of all the plants in the Salvia genus, Salvia divinorum is the most mysterious. It’s endemic to a mountainous region in Oaxaca, Mexico called the Sierra Mazateca.  The Mazatec Indians in the area used the leaves of the plant for their divinatory properties in their shamanic curing rituals along with other seeds, plants, and mushrooms. They called  it hierba de la pastora “Herb of the Sheperedess”  or La Maria “who speaks with a quiet voice.”

Traveling western botanists discovered this plant only in 1962 (Carl Epling and Carlos D. Sativa). They gave the samples to ethnobotanist and mycologist Gordon Wasson and LSD chemist Albert Hoffman who brought it back to the States and began to study the plant’s psychotropic properties.

Salvia divinorum remained hard to find, and only a handful of small populations were ever found. The plant rarely flowers and sets seed.  It grows deep in the forest understory near streams and the only way it can propagate itself is vegetatively by layering its stems along the ground until they root.  Flowers are white with hairs on a violet or purplish calyx.

The exact natural origins of the plant are still a mystery and it is widely believed to not grow in the wild.  Botanically, it is regarded as a cultigen, a plant that has evolved because of humans propagating it rather than through natural selection.  Some disagree on this point, however, and claims have been made of viable seed and successful germination.  It is believed that Mazatec Indian Shamans would grow the plant in secret locations, and no natural populations exist.  The botanists in 1962 were guided by Mazatecs to their own cultivated lots.

Salvia divinorum was one of three plants Mazatec shamans used in their curing rituals along with Psilocybe cubensis (Sacred Mushroom) and Rivea corymbosa seeds(Morning Glory).  La Maria was considered a great teacher, and in conjunction with the other two plants, she opened the doors of perception to powerful visions. Their relationship with the plant and the spirit of the plant goes back thousands of years.

Controversy surrounding the plant

Westerners began experimenting with the plants hallucinogenic properties ever since it was brought to the U.S. The 60’s and 70’s saw the emergence of Salvia divinorum amidst all the other hallucinogens and drugs of the time, and a legendary subculture grew.  But controversy began too, because many westerners did not respect the spirit of the plant and companies began promoting concentrated eye candy Salvia XXXtract products. Salvia was pushed in head shops by the 80’s and continues to this day to be sold between bongs and dildos.  Many use the drug recreationally, at parties, and smoke the leaves as a substitute for weed.  And it has gotten a bad rap among the mainstream population because of its misuse.  Laws have since been passed illegalizing and restricting the plant in many states, classifying it as a Schedule I substance.

Users often have a confusing experience or experience no effects at all when chewing or smoking the leaves. It seems that the spirit of Salvia must “let you in” before she will extol to you the divinatory virtues of the plant.  When taken out of its context of traditional usage, depending on the temperament and experience of the user,  it can be an uncomfortable and puzzling experience.  Therefore, it is not suggested that the plant be used for hallucinogenic experiences outside the guidance of an authentic and experienced Shaman.  Experimenting with Salvia alone for one’s first time or driving while doing so is stupid and dangerous, because the properties of the plant can cause lack of coordination, and the user can be completely “out of this world” for a brief amount of time.  It is traditionally taken lying down, in the dark.

The active ingredient in the plant, Salvinorin A is one of the most potent psychotropic properties known to man. However it differs from alkaloid molecules like LSD and Psilocybin that act on the serotonin receptors in the brain. Salvinorin A is pharmacologically known as a diterpenoid.  There is a bit of uncertainty over how this molecule takes action on the brain to produce visionary experiences.  Salvinorin A should be approached with high caution and respect, because it is very potent, and can cause extremely intense, unpredictable, and highly variable experiences.  The extracted molecule, Salvinorin A should only be studied for scientific research. It is recommended that one does not personally experiment with it at all.

It is best to cultivate a sincere respect for Salvia divinorum and the spirit behind the plant. Modern science cannot fully understand this plant, because the true part of it does not exist in the material realm. It defies usage as a recreational drug and we should not treat it as one.  Today there is a large community of people who respect this plant immensely, along with many other sacred species.  We can grow and conserve this rare species, and develop our own unique spiritual relationship with the plant.

Care instructions

Salvia can be grown quite easily in the home or greenhouse.  It prefers shade, water, warmth, and humidity.  Allow for air circulation but protect from strong wind because the stems are brittle and break easily.  Grow in rich soil with lots of humus.  Most pests can be controlled with weekly or monthly applications of Neem oil from the Neem Tree (Azadirachta indica). If you live in a cold environment, take cuttings in late fall before frost and root them indoors in water or a soil-free or perlite/coco coir based mix.

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10 Responses to “A brief history of Salvia divinorum”

  1. Limitations live only in our minds. Nonetheless if all of us utilize our creativeness, our possibilities become unlimited

  2. Michel Zale says:

    I have heard of it setting seed, but never seen it with my own eyes…lots of people blowin’ smoke out there about it. Thanks, nice post.

  3. When I search for blogs I never know what I will find and that is half of the fun of it really. I was surprised I ran across yours though. It is excellent writing though. You have talent in there – keep it up.

  4. Great job here. I really enjoyed what you had to say. Keep going because you definitely bring a new voice to this subject. Not many people would say what youve said and still make it interesting. Well, at least Im interested. Cant wait to see more of this from you.

  5. How come your header covering up the navigation menu? Shouldn’t it be towards the top?

  6. Awesome article man.. I very loved it but I have a question for everybody, are you getting problems seeing images?

  7. helena beer says:

    How do I get on your own mail list?

  8. Bryers fly says:

    A very good analysis guru; Keep this kind of clear thinking going! I’ll definitely read it. Respect to you. You’re right about salvia divinorum ‘permitting’ access to the deeper visionary imagination.

    We use only a fraction of our brain’s full capacity, and Salvia is one of the only substances on earth that has the key to unlock our full potential. Salvia divinorum deserves the kind of sentiment people reserve for sacraments belonging to organized religions of the world.



  9. Shan Vona says:

    There is visibly a bunch to know about this. I believe you made various nice points in features also.

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