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Thornapple – Sacred Datura

Thornapple, also known as sacred datura Western jimson weed, toloache, and toluaca, (Datura wrightii, Solanaceae) is an annual or perennial native to the Western region of the United States and Mexico.1-3 The plant can grow up to 4 feet in height, is spreading and vine-like, has green, ovate leaves with many glands, and white to lavender trumpet-shaped, five-toothed flowers. The corolla can be up to 8 inches long, with the calyx being up to 5 inches long. The showy flowers open late in the day, closing in the morning, and have a sweet scent.2 The flowers have five male stamen with one female pistol arising from the center of the flower.3 The pendulous fruit is usually less than 1.5 inches long with a covering of long, hooked spines. Green when young, the fruit eventually turns brown and produces numerous tan seeds which are released as the fruit dries up. Flowering season ranges from April to November depending on climate.1 Thornapple habitats include sandy-loam soils, roadsides, alongside ditches, and gravelly open areas. All parts of the plant are poisonous. The plant contains an array of alkaloids, the primary being scopolamine, also known as Devil’s breath.3

Thornapple has been used for ceremonial, medicinal, and nefarious purposes.3 Shamans, brujas, and Columbian criminals have used it for both good and ill. The Californian Chumash people considered it the most important medicinal plant, and it was used as a respiratory aid, an analgesic, and a hallucinogen. The Luiseño people of coastal Southern California treated rheumatism and earache pain with thornapple smoke. A liquid created from the plant’s roots was given to young men during initiation ceremonies to produce hallucinations. (See HC 012148-672) These hallucinations provided the young men with spirit guides or dream helpers who would help provide guidance throughout their lives. The pounded roots were applied to cuts, bruises, and gunshot wounds. The Cahuilla people, located in the canyons south of the San Bernardino and San Jacinto mountains, used an ointment made from the powdered leaves as an analgesic while setting bones.1 Steam from the leaves was inhaled for bronchial and nasal infections. Hunters used thornapple to allay hunger and provide strength and focus when hunting. The Havasupai people, from the region of the Grand Canyon, used folded leaves to rub into red ant stings. The leaves and/or seeds were ingested as a narcotic to cause intoxication. Hopi medicine men would chew the root to induce visions in order to diagnose an illness. In the 21st century, the safest ways to enjoy thornapple are to plant it in one’s garden or admire Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings of it.

Lori Glenn
HerbClip™ Managing Editor

References

1Datura wrightii – Western jimson weed. Southwest Desert Flora website. September 4, 2016, updated format October 4, 2017. Accessed September 9, 2021. http://southwestdesertflora.com/WebsiteFolders/All_Species/Solanaceae/Datura%20wrightii,%20Western%20Jimson%20Weed.html.

2Datura wrightii. Theodore Payne Foundation. September 30, 2009. Accessed September 9, 2021. https://theodorepayne.org/nativeplantdatabase/index.php?title=Datura_wrightii.

3Sacred datura (Datura wrightii). Nature Collective website. Accessed September 9, 2021. https://thenaturecollective.org/plant-guide/details/sacred-datura/.