Tagetes lucida, widely identified as a powerfully psychoactive strain of the marigold flower, was first documented by the Aztecs. They used Tagetes lucida in their ritual incense they referred to as yyauhtl. This name was derived from the Aztecan word ujana, meaning “to offer incense in sacrifices.”
The Tagetes, or marigold, species spread quickly throughout the world as decorative plants. They originated in the Americas, occurring from their native North American southwest spreading to Argentina. Their main area of current distribution, which is also where one can find the greatest variety, is in southern Mexico. Tagetes lucidas is very commonly found in Nayarit and Jalisco at altitudes of up to 8,500 feet.
Many species of Tagetes are available in numerous cultivated forms and strains, and are often hard to distinguish from one another. This difficulty is compounded by the fact that most Tagetes have double flowers, are almost always yellow in color, with either five distinct petals or filled with smaller petals to some degree, and most have pinnate leaves. All Tagetes species exude a strong, distinct, pungent scent – sometimes medicinal, other times skunky.
The Aztecs used all species of Tagetes for medicinal purposes such as with a tea made from the infusion of the fresh herbage to treat hiccups and diarrhea. Tagetes lucida extract was specifically used to treat people who were struck by lightening. In modern times, its fresh herbage is made into a tea to treat stomach pains and abdominal cramps. In Mexico, it is believed that it promotes lactation, and it is also added to bath water to help relieve the symptoms of rheumatism.
In India, juice from its freshly pressed leaves is administered to treat eczema. In Argentina, a decoction of the leaves is drunk for coughs, and when applied topically on the skin, it is well known as an insect repellent. In Mexico, juice that has been pressed from the herbage or crushed leaves are mixed with water or wine and drunk as an aphrodisiac. A tea of the plant is also used as a stimulant. It has been recognized since Spanish Colonial times that Tagetes lucida has aphrodisiac effects. It was also believed during Spanish Colonial times to treat the clinically insane.
In the Mexican Dia de los Muertos celebration, also known as All Saints’ Day (November 1st), marigolds are a traditional flower laid out in abundance as offerings on the numerous altars that commemorate the lives of those who have passed from this realm. They are popularly known there are flores del muerto, or “flowers of the dead.” These same blossoms are also used as flower offerings in many Hindu ceremonies in Nepal and India, and they also possess significant ritual importance as flowers given over as offerings to the goddess Bhagwati and to Shiva.
In Mexican folk art, a wide variety of skulls and skeletons made of wood, paper-mâché or sugar associated with All Saints’ Day are often times painted with decorative Tagetes flowers.
The Mexican Indians have attributed marigolds with magical properties since pre-Columbian times. One variety was thought to be the manifestation of Xochipilli, the god of psychoactive plants, by the Aztecs. The Maya used this flower as an additive to their sacred balché drink. It is said that contemporary Mayan shamans still use the plant they call xpuhuc (actually Tagetes lucidas), in their shamanic rituals. The Mixe of Oaxaca drink a tea made from nine Tagetes flowers for divination.
The Aztecs referred to Tagetes lucida as yauhtli, ”plant of the clouds.” They would sprinkle a powder of the plant into the faces of prisoners of war who were to be burned as sacrifices so that they would be sedated during their ordeal. Even today, many Mexican Indians burn the dried herbage of Tagetes lucida as an incense on their home altars and during public ceremonies.
The Huichol Indians of the Sierra Madre of Mexico call Tagetes lucida either tumutsáli or less commonly, yahutli. They smoke the dried herbage alone or mixed with equal parts of Nicotiana rustica. This smoking mixture, although sometimes smoked recreationally, does have ceremonial importance. It is reported to be smoked as a rite of passage in sexual shamanic rituals, most likely due to its aphrodisiac effects.
The leaves and flowers are smoked in cigarettes made from corn husks, often in combination with the ingestion of peyote (Laphophora williamsii). The smoking blend is also sometimes smoked in conjunction with imbibing tesquino or nawa (maize beer), or homemade ci or soter (cactus liquor). These combinations of smoking the herbage of Tagetes lucida along with ingesting peyote, maize beer or cactus liquor is said to produce very active, dynamic hallucinations.
Bundles of the dried herbage are placed as offerings in temples, administrative buildings and sacred sites. Tagetes lucida is used in combination with other herbs in Mexican brujería (or witchcraft) in ceremonial healing rites known as limpias, or “purifications,” to dispel diseases.
Depictions of flowers having five petals are often found in pre-Columbian art, and it is widely believed that these are representations of the Tagetes species. There is an artifact of a cylindrical polychrome ceramic vessel from the classic Mayan period (300-900 C.E.) that depicts a yellow, five-petal flower whose form and color suggest that it represents Tagetes lucida.
The herbage of Tagetes lucida can be infused, boiled or ground to produce a paste. All Tagetes species contain potentially aromatic essential oils. Tagetes lucida contains a substance very similar to Salvinorin A which has been found to be an extremely powerful, non-alkaloid compound for altering consciousness and one of the most potent, naturally occurring hallucinogens. Also present in Tagetes lucida are thiophene compounds and benzofurans.
Bundles of the fresh or dried flowering herbage are sold in marketplaces throughout Mexico. These bundles have numerous uses - as an aromatic herbage used as a flavoring spice in preparing maize dishes; as a medicinal remedy; and in ceremonial or shamanic rituals. The infusion of one bundle with water makes two to three cups of an aromatic tea, a sufficient dosage to produce profound stimulant effects, as well as successful aphrodisiac results. The exact dosage needed to produce hallucinations is not documented.