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Calea zacatechichi - Dream Herb
- Compositae - Northern South America, Mexico

Family: Compositae (Sunflower Family)
Genus: Calea
Species: Zacatechichi
Common Names: Ahuapatli, Amula, Atanasia amarga, Aztec Dream Grass, Bejuco chismuyo, Betonica, Bitter Grass, Chapote, Chichicxihuitl, Dream Herb, Falso simonillo, Hoja Madre, Iztactzapotl, Jaralillo, Matasano, Paiston, Prodigiosa, Sacatechichi, Thle-pelakano, Tzikin, Xikin, Yerba amarga, Zacachichi, Zacate de perro.

This plant grows many slender branches and when left to grow wild, it will easily spread into a thick bush. Under the right conditions Calea Zacatechichi can grow up to 10 feet (3 meters tall), but in normal conditions most specimens tend to be half that size. Each branch produces many small oval leaves, between 3/4 of an inch to 2.5 inches in length (2 Ė 7cm), they have serrated edges and curl under. The younger leaves are brilliant green on top and violet underneath, in the right lighting this plant luminesces and will dramatically standout from its surroundings.

Dream Herb originated in central Mexico, predominantly growing in the mountainous areas above 5000 feet (1500 meters), in the Mexican states of Chiapas, Jalisco, Morelos, Oaxaca, Veracruz, and even in lowland areas on the Yucatan peninsula; it also grows as far south as Costa Rica. This plant tends to grow in areas populated by Pine Trees and Oak Trees.

Analysis of Aztec Dream Grass has shown that the primary psychoactive compounds are germacranolides, which are also the cause of this herbís sharp bitter taste. Specifically, Calea Zacatechichi naturally produces: 1B-acetoxy-zacatechinolide, 1-oxo-zacatechinolide, budleine A, caleicine I, caleicine II, caleine A, caliene B, caleocromene A, caleocromene B, germacrene 7, O-methyl-acacetine, and zexbrevine. Recent research has also revealed a compound of unknown structure that is moderately psychoactive and possesses sedative qualities. These compounds are all soluble in water as well as alcohol.

TRADITIONAL USE: The Chontal Indians of the Oaxaca region in Mexico have used Thle-pelakano (meaning Leaf of God) for centuries, as a medicine that clarifies the senses and allows the medicine man to receive divinatory messages while dreaming and to see visions through their dreams. This magical herb is used in a great number of their folk remedies, as an appetite stimulant, cleansing agent for deep wounds and minor burns, to treat diarrhea, reduce fevers, as a application to heal skin rashes and swollen scalps, and most notably to relieve headache pains.

TRADITIONAL PREPARATION: The Chontal Indians prepare the Dream Grass in several different ways: when used as a topical medicine, fresh leaves are crushed and squeezed and the juices are directly applied to the affected area. When used to divine the future, the Chontal brew a powerful tea with the dried leaves, they drink the tea, relax and smoke the dried leaves just before they go to sleep, this method is believed to induce vivid lucid dreams that are memorable and occur several time throughout the night.

TRADITIONAL EFFECTS: Dream Herb is an all natural oneirogenic herb, meaning it is an herb that promotes sleep and induces lucid dream states. Research conducted by Paul Devereux, using 2.5 grams of dried Calea herbage blended in a decoction was consumed, followed by a marijuana joint just before bedtime. The participants reported that after 30 minutes they began to feel intense sensations of relaxation, euphoria, calmness, and drowsiness. They also report clarity of mind, being able to hear their heart beat and to be consciously aware of their body as they transitioned from completely awake through hypnogogic states and the onset of sleep. Some people report that when Calea is smoked it produces a mild marijuana like high, although confirmation of this claim has not been verified.


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Excerpted from "Psychopharmacologic Analysis of an Alleged Oneirogenic Plant:
Calea zacatechichi" by Lilian Mayagoitia. Jose-Luis Diaz and Carlos M. Conteras

From the Journal of Ethnopharmacology 18 (1986) 229-243




Calea zacatechichi is a plant native to Oaxaca, Mexico, and is still used by the Chontal Indians of Mexico to obtain divinatory messages during dreaming. At human doses, dried leaf material and organic extracts of the plant produce the EEG and behavioral signs of somnolence, and has been shown to induce a light sleep in cats. In human healthy volunteers, low doses of the extracts administered in a double-blind design against placebo increased reaction time end time-lapse estimation. A controlled nap sleep study in the same volunteers showed that Calea extracts increased the superficial stages of sleep which are critical for states of lucid dreaming, also known as the Theta state.  In fact, it is believed that lucid dreaming happens when one half of the human brain is in Theta (dreaming) state, and the other is in Delta (deep sleep).  The subjective reports of dreams were significantly higher than both placebo and diazepam, indicating an increase in hypnagogic imagery occurring during superficial sleep stages.


The effects of the plant upon cingulum discharge frequency were significantly different from hallucinogenic / dissociative drugs such as ketamine, quipazine, phencyclidine and SKF-10017.




Dreams are extraordinarily important in in mesoamerican cultures as well as other cultures around the world, including many African cultures as well as many tribes of Native American Indians in North America. Dreams for the Chontal Indians are believed to occur in a realm of suprasensory reality and, therefore, are capable of conveying messages (Lopez-Auatin. 1980). The use of plant preparations in order to produce or to enhance dreams of a divinatory nature constitutes an ethnopharmacological category that can be called "oneiromancy" and which justifies rigorous neuropharmacological research.


There are several plants used in Indian communities of Mexico to obtain divinatory messages from dreams. Several puffball mushrooms (Lycoperdon spp.), wrongly reported as hallucinogens (Ott et al., 1975), are eaten fresh by Mixtec Indians before going to bed in order to dream (Diaz, 1975. 1979). Nahuatl Indians from the Sierra de Puebla use an as yet unidentified species of Salvia, known by the name of Xiwit, for the same purpose (Tim Knab, pers. commun.). The plant known as Bakana to the Tarahumara Indians, which has been reported to be an analgesic, antipsychotic and divinatory agent (Bye. 1979), was later found to be employed for dreaming during night sleep (William Merrill, pers. commun.). Finally, Calea zacatechichi Schl. (Compositae) is used in the same context by the Chontal Indians of Oaxaca.


Calea is a plant of extensive popular medicinal use in Mexico (Diaz. 1976), and not only for dreams and as an aid for dream recall. An infusion of the plant (roots. leaves and stem) is employed against gastrointestinal disorders, as an appetizer. cholagogue, cathartic. antidysentry remedy, and has also been reported to be an effective febrifuge. With other aromatic Compositae, dry C. zacatechichi is used as insecticide (Diet, 1975). There is also some information concerning psychotropic properties of this plant that require further clarification (Schultes and Hofmann, 1973).


The pioneer study on the appetizer properties of zacatechichi, conducted at the Institute Medico Nacional of Mexico, mentioned some psychoactive effects (Sandoval, 1882). MacDougall (1968) reported that a Chontal informant knew that the leaves of the plant were to be either smoked or drunk as an infusion to obtain divinatory messages. Subsequent interviews with MacDougall's informant and active participation in ceremonial ingestion revealed that the plant is used for divination during dreaming (Diaz, 1975). Whenever it is desired to know the cause of an illness or the location of a distant or lost person, dry leaves of the plant are smoked, drunk and put under the pillow before going to sleep. Reportedly, the answer to the question comes in a dream. A collection of interviews and written reports concerning the psychotropic effects of these; preparations on 12 volunteers has been published (Diaz. 1975, 1979). Free, reports and direct questioning disclosed a discrete enhancement of all sensorial perceptions, an increase in imagery, mild thought discontinuity, rapid flux of ideas. and difficulties in retrieval. These effects were followed by somnolence and a short sleep during which lively dreams were reported by the majority of the volunteers. These preliminary observations suggested that the psychotropic effects of the plant were similar to those interesting from ethnobotanical. psychological and neuropharmacological of the "cognodysleptic" drugs, whose prototype is marihuana (Cannabis saliva)(Diaz, 1979). The possible effects upon dreaming are the most perspectives .


C. zacatechichi is a shrub measuring 1-1.5 m in height. The plant has many branches with oviform and opposite leaves (3-5 cm long and 2-4 cm wide). The leaves show serrated borders, acute endings and a short petiole. They are rugose and pubescent. The inflorescence is small and dense (comprising around 12 flowers each) with the pedicels shorter than the heads (Martinet, 1939). The plant grows from Mexico to Costs Rice in dry savannas and canyons (Schultes and Hoffmann, 1973). The name of the species comes from Nahuatl "zacatechichi" which means "bitter grass' and is the common name of the plant all over Mexico. It is also known with the Spanish names of "zacate de perro" (dog's grass), "hoja madre" (mother's leaf) "hoja de dies" (Cod's leaf), and thle-pela-kano in Chontal Diaz, 1975).


Several sesquiterpene lactones had been isolated from the plant. Calaxin and ciliarin were identified by Ortega et al. (1970), and the germacranolides, 1B-acetoxy zacatechinolide and l-oxo zacatechinolide, by Bohlmann and Zdero (1977). Quijano at al. (1977. 1978) identified caleocromenes A and B and caleins A and B. while Ramos (1979) found caleicins I and II. Herz and Kumar (1980) isolated acacetin, o-methyl acacetin, zexbrevin and an analogue, as well as several analogues of budlein A and neurolenin B, including calein A. C. zacatechichi samples show differences in chemical composition, which has led Bohlmann et al. (1981) to suggest that chemical taxonomy may help to reclassify the genus. Further taxonomic work is required since our Chontal informant distinguishes between "good" and "bad" varieties according to their psychotropic properties.



Ratsch, Christian. 2005.
The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants: Ethnopharmacology and Its Applications. Park Street Press; Rochester, VT.

Schultes, Richard E; Hofmann, Albert; Ratsch, Christian. 2001.
Plants of the Gods: Their Sacred, Healing and Hallucinogenic Powers. Healing Arts Press; Rochester, VT.M


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