Saturday, March 9, 2013

Oneirogenic Herbs: Masters of Dreaming

Oneirogenic is not a word you come across every day.   It is used to describe a plant that induces lucid, or at least vivid dreaming when you sleep.  The dreams often are profound.  Sometimes they illustrate present circumstances, hashing out the psychological and spiritual knots for you; less often they can illustrate events "that have not yet come to pass..." (Galadriel's voice there).  Different oneirogenic plants will take you to distinctively different dream worlds, if you will, with their own unique landscapes and/or moods.  They are rich with symbolism; our subconscious mind thinks with symbols.

I've mentioned before how plants can work on the mind-body-spirit connection to bring about wholeness and healing.  The dream world is just another route that some plants are able to work through.  In dream state, when we recess partially back into the fullness of who we are outside of this limited material reality, our rational linear mind is out of the way and our subconsciousness takes over, sorting through events and issues for us.  Some plants are teachers that work through dream time.

Cultures the world over have discovered green allies where they live that are dream-inducers.  It's not witchcraft, it's not voodoo, it's really just the natural way of some plants' medicine.  And if you are willing and able to listen to what they have to show you, you can benefit from dream medicine.  Shamanic plants are a natural phenomenon, though not all people have the strength nor understanding to use them.  Here we will discuss a few oneirogenic herbs and some of their other medicinal properties.


Mugwort, Artemisia vulgaris

Ah, Mugwort.  One of the most common of the Artemisias (vulgaris means common) and possibly the most well known dream inducing herb.  Mugwort is the cousin of Wormwood, Artemisia absinthium, the most famous (or should I say infamous) of the genus.  Wormwood is one of the main herbs in Absinthe, giving the drink its famous green color and its name.  But woe to the person who uses Wormwood without caution.  It is a powerful vermifuge (expels parasites) and contains large amounts of thujone which is toxic in high doses.  Mugwort, on the other hand, does not have the toxicity of Wormwood, though all Artemisias do have vermifuge properties to varying degrees.

Mugwort (and Mugwort species similar to A. vulgaris that grow in other countries) is the plant used in moxibustion , which is the practice in acupunture of smudging (burning/smoldering) the plant material over an acupuncture needle/point to remove a blockage at the acupuncture point and open the channel by stimulating circulation.

Mugwort is famous for inducing dreams.  Primarily the fresh plant is used.  You pick a sprig and place it under your pillow while you sleep at night.  The dried herb is commonly used in dream pillows, but it is not as effective as using the fresh plant.

The dreams brought on by Mugwort tend to deal with boundaries and protecting the "wounded feminine" (à la Matthew Wood, confirmed by my own experience) side of a man or woman.  They have a neutral feel to them while you are dreaming, upon waking and reflecting on the dream, they tend to, at least in my experience, have a serious tone that exposes the shadows.  Artemisias are all associated with Artemis, or Diana, the virginal goddess of the hunt.  Her aim is true and she is a tireless warrior.

Speaking of tireless, there are times when Mugwort will not allow you to dream, instead she will keep you awake.  The solution to this is to remove the sprig of Mugwort from under your pillow.  Maybe even change the pillow case if the scent of the plant still lingers and keeps you alert.  This will mainly happen if you are trying to use it for a second or third night in a row, or are going to bed with a racing mind.  Mugwort will give you specific messages but when used multiple days in a row may cease "working" because you are expected to take time to digest what lessons have been presented.

Avoid using internally during pregnancy.

Silene undulata at iSpot

Xhosa, Dream Root, White Ways/Paths, Silene capensis, Silene undulata

Xhosa is a plant from South Africa with delightfully scented flowers.  The root is used as an oneirogen.  The name "White Ways" comes from the dreamscape this plant offers, which is often white, the mood cleansing and pure, and it is reported that on these "White Paths" you can communicate with ancestors.  Thus, no surprise, it has historical shamanic use by the female diviners of the Xhosa people of South Africa.  However, Xhosa is known to only open the White Paths to people receptive/sensitive enough to do the work.

The Xhosa root is the part used.  It is high in saponins, or foaming agents.  A traditional preparation involves mashing the root and mixing it briskly in water until foam forms.  Then you eat the foam until you have a feeling of fullness and ultimately burp, and may repeat this process with the same cold infusion of the root.

It does not seem to matter what time of day you consume Xhosa, as you will have the dreams the following night even if you ingested it in the morning.  This plant may be taken multiple nights in a row (usually three) with increasing effects.  It does seem to matter that you avoid meat before taking the herb, and resume eating meat afterwards, for maximum benefit.  This is traditional practice.

Using dried root seems less successful than using fresh as an infusion, but it can be used.  I would suggest grinding it up and letting it sit in the water to re-hydrate for a few hours before making the bubbles.  The fresh or dried root can also be chewed instead of mashed and foamed up in water, with excellent results.

Xhosa gives no reported side effects besides a feeling of well-being and lightness of heart the next day.



Dog Grass, Dream Herb, Leaf of God, Calea zacatechichi, Calea ternifolia


Calea zacatechichi is a hot-climate bitter and astringent plant that grows in Central America, Costa Rica and elsewhere.  The Chontal Medicine men of Oaxaca, the people known to use this plant, give Zacatechichi the name "Leaf of God."  They state it sharpens and clears the senses.  It also has important uses beyond is oneirogenic effects.  Bitter is the key, as bitter plants work on the digestive cascade, priming it to receive and digest food.  Thus, for this purpose it may be used before meals.  Zacatechichi (means bitter grass) has uses for a variety of digestive complaints, especially coupled with its astringent nature which aids in cases of pathogen-induced diarrhea.  It is a febrifuge as well.  Zacatechichi also gives a feeling of euphoria when ingested.

Apparently poorly educated persons in the state of Louisiana and the country of Poland have banned human consumption of this plant and such action illustrates continued ignorance and fear of things most do not understand.  A plant that makes you dream just enhances a natural function you would already be doing while asleep.  The ignorant suppositions that 1) feeling euphoric and 2) lucid dreaming is worth banning are thick-headed devil spawns of the eternally failing "War on Drugs," pharmaceutical companies' interests and residual Puritanical religious taboo (aka the Axis of Evil for human consciousness).  But I digress.

As a dream inducing plant, Zacatechichi is taken before bed because it will make you sleepy, and is used in a two or threefold manner.  First, before bed, an infusion is made from the leaves.  It is bitter and Americans really can't stomach that kind of drink well without getting nauseated.  But it is the first step nonetheless.  Second, a cigarette is rolled out of the leaves and smoked.  Reportedly you know you have ingested all the plant material necessary when a state of relaxation is reached in which you can hear and feel your heart beat, strong and slow.  Then, a leaf of the plant may be slid under the pillow and you drift off to sleep.

The dreamscape is ultra vivid, as with many oneirogens, and I've read about others experiencing a suspension of time, as if much more time is "lived through" if you will, in a night than the normal dream process would allow.  There are no reported side effects the next day, only a persisting feeling of wellness and peace.

Most people opt for solely smoking the Zacatechichi cigarette, but if you wish to follow tradition, gather your wits and drink the tea first...cheer yourself on with the saying from San Salvador Island..."What goes in bitter, comes out sweet and what goes in sweet comes out bitter."  Translation: bitters do good things in the body, sweets do bad things.

May sweet dreaming visit you tonight...

This information is for educational purposes.  It is not intended to be a replacement for advice from a licensed medical professional.  It is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

3 comments:

  1. Hello there. i was curious about the use of Calea Zacatechichi during pregnancy and or nursing? I've been scouring the web and your site has been the most informative about herbal applications. Thank you!

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    1. I have never come across information for that, so I would always go with, "if you don't know what it will do, don't take it." Pregnancy itself is a dreamtime; a shamanic time of personal and physical transition and, ultimately, creation...it starts an evolutionary process of the deepest kind that extends beyond the actual even of birth for all three beings involved. Some very profound dreams come during pregnancy, esp. the farther along you are. Work that needs to be done will be presented, naturally, in dream land. I think pregnant women know this, but want it to be more accessible that it usually is. The ten moons of gestation are a time of descending into the spiral depths and dancing in the Gate of Life and Death, the woman ultimately becomes The Door, and returns carrying the manifestion of her power to be a vessel for Life within and without. Dreamtime seems to help us work through these levels to reach our power buried under years and layers of junk and youth and lack of understanding...to clear the way.

      I would avoid Calea zacatechichi (and other plants with unknown safety status) in pregnancy and breastfeeding as well, because babies are sensitive and it does not take much of a thing to affect them, and this herb obviously sedates your nervous system and I would assume slows down the heartbeat a good deal. Not something that you would want to use on a fetus or infant. The only way to find out how the indigenous peoples handle this would be to go visit and learn from them, however, the answers might make Westerners' brains explode, I dunno.

      HOWEVER, Red Raspberry leaf (Rubus idaeus), which is a traditional pregnancy herb the world over--supplies many vitamins and is important for strengthening and tonifying the uterus, pelvic floor and inner thigh muscles in preparation for childbirth--also influences dreams. Phyllis Light taught me that it, as she says, "helps you see the shadows when you are ready." All dream herbs, as fun as they sound, don't usually give you some Candy Land trip of a dream but often something cryptic, shamanic and deeply exposing as they are allies for your personal growth that work through dreamtime. So Red Raspberry leaf could be the good ally for the pregnant woman to both nourish her baby, or for the breastfeeding mama, it will fortify her milk with good nutrients and help ensure a good supply...but one can't expect dreams, they will only come when you are ready. Hope this helps!

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    2. Thank you so much for your time and information. I just discovered the possibility of me being with child and I was in the process of self discovery and spiritual education. I am more than happy to put aside my need for heightened self discovery if I am truly carrying a new being within. Thanks for the reminder on the red raspberry! Love and light I hope you have a beautiful day!

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