Calea zacatechichi is a plant that finds its origin in Central America. It grows mainly in Mexico and Costa Rica. It belongs to the Asteraceae, to which the sunflower also belongs. Although she belongs to the family of flowers with a very round profile and a circle of petals, as is the case with sunflowers and daisies, she gets large, trumpet-like flowers and grows into a medium bush. She can grow to a height of about 1.5 metres. The plant spreads through seeds and through cuttings. Its leaves always remain green and are the most commonly used part, although the roots and stem also contain active substances.
The plant is seen by the indigenous people as a magical plant and used for various spiritual and medical applications. The most mysterious application is its use in inducing vivid dreams. The awakening of vivid dreams by means of psychoactive plants is also called 'oneiromancy'. During a ritual, or during sleep, contact is sought with spirits that can give information about a certain subject. When, for example, someone is ill, this illness can be detected and treated with the help of the dream world. The Chontal tribe from Mexico, Oaxaca, is known for its shamans who regularly go to the dream world to communicate with spirits. They use the plant to get a clear mind and improved navigation through their dreams. They call the plant thle-pela-kano. This tribe uses the plant in different ways. There are sources that mention smoking the plant, using it as tea and putting the leaves under the pillow, before going to sleep. The name zacatechichi comes from the Nahuatl language and means 'bitter grass'. Several side effects are nausea and vomiting because of the extremely bitter taste. Nevertheless, the plant is also used as a medicine, mainly for intestinal problems.
The Zoque Popoluca strain from Mexico uses the plant to treat asthma and diarrhea. The Mixe people use the plant against stomach aches and fever. Besides inducing visions in dreams, Calea was used by Native Americans against a number of ailments. It is said to be effective against diarrhea, asthma, fever and stomach ache. Studies have been done with mice that have shown that the plant can indeed have a positive influence on intestinal complaints. Certain substances in the plant would also have an anti-inflammatory effect.
The naturalist Thomas MacDougall worked with the Chontal Indians and described in 1968 a 'secret' plant, from which the tribe learned a lot. They processed this plant into a tea or an infusion and drank it alone, without other company, while smoking a cigarette containing the leaves of the plant. According to the naturalist this caused a pleasant feeling that lasted for one or more days. Calea zacatechichi provided the Chontal users with an effect of rest and a delayed heartbeat and pulse. (Source: Emboden, Narcotic Plants, revised ed., Collier Books, pgs 33-34). Also ethnobotanists Schultes & Hoffman describe in 'Botany & Chemistry of Hallucinogens' the use of the Chontal Indians, described by MacDougall. The Indians who 'believe in the visions of their dreams' make a tea from the crushed leaves, which is drunk slowly. After drinking the tea, the person lies down in a quiet place and smokes a cigarette made from the dried leaves. The medicine men of this tribe call this plant 'thlepelakano' or, in other words, the Leaf of God and that it is capable of clarifying the mind. (Source: Schultes & Hofmann, Botany & Chemistry of Hallucinogens, page 313). In terms of dosage, the Chontal Indians indicate that a handful of the dried leaves is the right dosage for one person to come into contact with the spirits.
There are also a number of studies known in which low doses of an extract of the plant were given to healthy participants. One study, for example, took place from 1975 to 1979. The participants indicated that they had stronger dream images, an enlargement in images they saw, an enhanced sense of creativity, forgetfulness and sharpened perception, not so long after they had ingested the plant. Subsequently, drowsiness occurred and they had vivid dreams. Although this research served rather as observation, it was already a step in the right direction and indicated that the plant did indeed have interesting dream-enhancing properties.
This was later followed by another investigation, with extra control, which gives it more value. This double-blind placebo-controlled study took place in 1986 and resulted in participants having an increase in the number and intensity of their dreams compared to the placebo group and the group that had received the drug diazepam. Furthermore, it was observed that Calea zacatechichi caused participants to wake up more spontaneously at night and that their dreams were more vivid. This indicates an increase in a certain stage of sleep, when so-called hypnagogical images occur in particular. At low doses the participants were better at keeping track of time and improved their responsiveness. It was as if they had more control over the moment and their attention was brought to the here and now.
Bittergrass, Dreamherb, Mexican calea, Leaf of God, Dreamwort, tam huni, poop tahm uujts
Not enough is known yet about the exact working of the plant. Substances that have been isolated include flavonoids such as acacetin and sesquiterpenes and lactones such as germacranolids. Probably the sesquiterpenes caleicin and caleochromene are responsible for the psychoactive effect and the influence the plant has on sleep behavior. In the book 'Handbook of Medicinal Herbs' James Duke describes the substance that is probably responsible for the extremely bitter taste and aroma of the plant. In his findings, the plant contained 0.01% of a certain alkaloid, C21H26O8.
You can use Calea zacatechichi in different ways. It is possible to make a tea from the dried leaves. The taste of this is extremely bitter and this can be remedied a bit by sweetening it. One can add Osmanthus flowers (Osmanthus fragrans) to the brew, these are known to neutralize certain flavors. Another method used to slightly improve the taste is to add (soy) milk to the brew. It is also possible to make a tincture of the dried leaves. This is done by adding 2 volumes of Calea zacatechichi 100% proof alcohol to a volume. This mixture should be drawn for 5 days and shaken every day. After this the mixture is filtered and a very strong extract remains, it would be five times stronger than tea. To make a tincture of this, some water is added, so that it can be kept in the mouth comfortably.
It is also possible to roll a joint with the dried leaves. In this way the taste of the tea can be avoided, although it also gives Calea zacatechichi a rather bitter smoke. In terms of effects, mild euphoria is generally reported.
Another good working method is filling capsules with the crushed dried leaves. In this way the bitter taste and associated side effects are avoided. Take Calea zacatechichi just before you go to sleep.
Calea zacatechichi can cause nausea because of its very bitter taste. It can also cause vomiting, to avoid this, capsules can be made that are ingested in this way.
It is possible to grow Calea zacatechichi yourself. She doesn't need a lot of light and thrives in moist, nutrient-rich soil. To keep her as a plant it is best to take cuttings, growing from seed is very difficult. She can best be placed in a greenhouse in order to obtain a high moisture content. As soon as she has taken root, you can repot her in soil and keep her as a houseplant.