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WHAT IS DATURA? THORNAPPLE: A POISONOUS NARCOTIC PLANT
DATURA STRAMONIUM, THORNAPPLE
There are many Datura species, and some which were formerly classed as Datura have been separately categorized into the genus Brugmansia. One of these is the Trumpet Flower tree, which I first saw growing wild in southern Turkey, near Antalya. They are truly magnificent flowers although at the time I was told that they were highly poisonous; all the Datura and Brugmansia species are.
The thornapple grows in Britain but has not really become naturalized there. However the herbalist Gerard, writing in the late 16th century had this to say about it,
“the juice of thornapple, boiled with hogs grease, cureth all inflammations whatsoever, all manner of burnings and scaldings, as well of fire, water, boiling lead, gunpowder, as that which comes by lightning and that in very short time, as I myself have found in daily practice, to my great credit and profit.”
At the time it grew wild and in gardens for ornamental and medicinal purposes. However it is also called stinkweed as the leaves emit a foetid stench when bruised (hence the common appellation for this plant; Stinkweed), although the flowers are quite fragrant. The leaves were once listed in all Pharmacopoeias but in the early 20th century they were reviewed annually in some countries. They were used for respiratory purposes as they have antispasmodic effects as well as being anodyne. The leaves and seeds especially are narcotic and have been used by bandits such as the assassins in India to drug victims and cause a deep sleep as they have narcotic and sedative effects. In Turkey it is believed that they were smoked by the poor who could not afford opium. The plant used for such purposes in India was and is Datura metel (an indigenous species) which if ingested can cause acute confusion in less than one hour. In India it is used in rituals and ceremonies for the god Shiva, and the flowers are strewn in his temples. It was believed that the plant first grew from Shiva’s chest. Datura fastiosa also grows in India, where it is an indigenous species and both also grow in Pakistan.
In Peru the indigenous people brewed an intoxicating drink from the seeds which could apparently cause delirium and stupefaction if taken in large doses. The Chinese use the flowers of fastiosa in herbal preparations. Arabs in Africa used to smoke the dried leaves, flowers and seeds in hookahs as a remedy for asthma and flu. Today people smoke the dried leaves and seeds for their narcotic effects as well as to relieve asthma. It is said that the inhalation of the smoke from such a mixture relaxes the muscles and kills pain as well as relieving inflammation caused by rheumatism and other ailments.
It has been used by shamans in different cultures for predicting the future, as a way of opening the doors to communication with spirits and was thought to have been utilized in this way by the priests and priestess of Apollo at Delphi before they read the oracle.
It has been linked to the Salem witch trials and as it causes hallucinations, it may have been integral in these. Don’t touch this plant and then rub your eyes as it can cause loss of vision. It’s one of the few wild plants that animals won’t eat, and there have been many accidental deaths because of this plant’s poisonous properties.
The thornapple variety of Datura is thought by some to have originated in Russia, around the Black Sea, as it grows wild as far as Siberia from that region. The Indian varieties are thought to have been spread to Europe by gypsies. Some species are native to the South American continent and were found by the early Jamestown colonists who recorded its effects. It is from this that it gets the names Jamestown-weed and Jimson-weed, the latter being a corruption of the former name. However it also goes by some other more colourful names such as Devil’s apple, Devil’s Trumpet, and Apple of Peru.
It gets the name Thornapple from the seed pod which has spines on its outer casing. The seeds have the ability to remain dormant for long periods and can then germinate when conditions are right.
Both the Nazis and the Americans investigated the plant for its truth telling potential but it would seem that the results of their experiments were inconclusive.
The plant looks pretty, smells awful and is extremely dangerous and can kill,like aak, so the best advice is to steer clear of it and only use it when prescribed by a physician who knows what he/she is doing. It is psychotropic and can cause hallucinations which may not always be as happy as some would have you believe. It isn’t an upper by any stretch of the imagination.