still lifes of edible, medicinal, and psychoactive plants native and invasive to the Phoenix, AZ valley
Larrea Tridentata, Creosote Bush, 2016
The sacred creosote bush can be easily found covering dry plains and mesas throughout the desert. Known as the “plant that cures everything," creosote often symbolizes a long life full of knowledge and good health.
Tradescantia Pallida, Purple Heart, 2016
The ever popular houseplant commonly known as the "wandering jew" has a fascinatingly rich history in magic and witchcraft. From amulets (objects which are given certain powers to protect their creator from danger) to omiero (non-drinkable potion), this sacred purple heart brings a very calm energy of Oya (goddess of the winds, lightning, storms, death, and rebirth). From this range of symbolism, it is no surprise that this plant makes for an excellent agent of change in one's body, life, the weather, or for shapeshifting. It also has a number of medicinal applications, such as creating an infusion with apple cider vinegar to treat poison ivy, or using the leaves to treat the common cold, urinary tract infection, and tuberculosis. Care for the plant with caution, as my great aunt always said it was bad luck for it to live inside the house.
Gossypium Barbadense, Pima Cotton, 2016
Pima cotton is considered one of the highest quality in the world due to its extra long staple fibers. It was originally developed and grown in the early 1900's by the USDA experimental farm with the help of the Pima Indians in Sacaton AZ. Though cotton is one of Arizona's most profitable crops, it is also one of the thirstiest in the world. Each acre can demand more than six times as much water as lettuce, and 60 percent more than wheat.
Ephedra Trifurca, Longleaf Ephedra, 2017
The ephedra genus has some of the oldest known medicinal and ceremonial uses documented. In the Shanidar caves of modern Iraq, 40,000 to 60,000 year old Neanderthal remains have been found resting peacefully with the ephedra plant clutched to their chests. It is believed these Neanderthals placed this ephedra with the deceased as a type of aid, or guide, for their last journey. Similar ceremonies are evident with the Tamang people in Nepal, where they cremate their dead with dried bundles of the ephedra burning.
Amaranthus Palmeri, Pigweed, 2016
This course, herbaceous annual, commonly found along roadsides, ditch banks, river bottoms, and irrigated fields, is a prolific seed-bearer upon which many Arizona birds feed. The leaves, stems, and seeds are highly nutritious and can be eaten after boiling in water.
Datura Wrightii, Sacred Datura, 2015
Playing a significant role in the Pima culture, this datura's status parallels that of peyote. It was associated with both deer hunting and staying sickness (illness caused by not respecting certain power objects). Its close genus, brugmansia, are used in South America indigenous cultures as a ritualistic hallucinogen for divination, to communicate with ancestors, as a poison in sorcery and black magic, and for prophecy.
Solanum Elaegnifolium, Desert Nightshade, 2014
A pinch of powdered berries can be tied in a small bag or cloth and placed in a can of warm milk, to which is added a piece of the dried stomach of a rabbit or of a cow. After about half an hour the precious bit of stomach is removed, washed, dried, and saved for future cheese-making until it is worn out. The liquid is then squeezed from the cheese, which is salted and placed in a cloth on a metate, weighted with a heavy stone, and allowed to harden.
Thevetia Peruviana, Peruvian Rattle Tree, 2015
This unique oleander is originally from Peru but is now cultivated as an ornamental in most tropical zones of the world due to its evergreen quality. The seeds are rich in cardiac glycosides, with eight to ten being a lethal dose. Known as yoyotl in Mexico, the seeds are used in folk medicine as a cardiac stimulant and analgesic. Peels of fruits are hard and can be used to make rattles and clappers for dances. Its more powerful relative, cabalonga, is said to have magical powers and psychoactive affects similar to ayahuasca.
Ipomoea, Morning Glory, 2014
Some ipomoea species were and still are used as potent entheogens. Seeds of the Mexican morning glory (tlitliltzin, I. tricolor) were used by Aztecs and Zapotecs in shamanistic and divination rituals to determine the cause of disease and illness.
Nicotiana Trigonophylla, Desert Tobacco, Wild Tobacco, Coyote Tobacco, 2014
This wild tobacco species goes by many names, with the Tarahumara of the Southwest calling it tabaco del coyote, “tobacco of the coyote,” and the Seri Indians of Northern Mexico calling it hapis casa, “that which is smoked, rots.” The plant is believed by most to have magical powers, and is thus smoked as a cigarette in a variety of ceremonial contexts.
Hesperaloe Parviflora, Red Yucca, 2016
In warmer climates across the globe this red yucca is cultivated as a drought tolerant ornamental plant for landscaping purposes, most likely due to its hardy characteristics and lengthy flowering season. Traditionally, it was used as a fragrance to help enhance one's senses, and as a dye for certain materials. Current research is underway on its fibers for use as efficient cord and rope making, and on its pulp for producing paper.
Martynia Parviflora, Devil's Claw, 2014
Growing wild on planes and mesas, this unicorn plant bears large, fleshy, beaked pods which, when dry, split into hooklike appendages. These pods, when young and soft, can be opened and will have much seeds inside that can be cracked between your teeth and eaten much like pine-nuts.
Silene Capensis, Dream Root, 2015
Used as a sacred plant by the Xhosa in Africa, this dream root contains potent amounts of triterpenoid saponins that are very useful in ceremonies. During the final initiation process of these Xhosa shaman, the root was consumed nightly over the course of two to three weeks. As the power of the plant built up in the system, the user began to experience vivid lucid dreams that would get stronger as the nights went on. In order for these shamans to pass their final initiation process, they must journey into their dreams and return with some type of knowledge or power. They then must correctly interpret the meaning of these dreams to the older shamans, who will decide if they pass or fail.
Thamnosma Montana, Mojave Desert Rue, 2017
Shamans of the North American Kawaiisu Indians were said to drink a tea from this plant so that they could become “crazy like coyotes.” It is quite understandable that users could have such experiences due to the plant containing numerous coumarins that may have psychoactive properties, while also containing N,N-Dimethyltryptamine, one of the most powerful tryptamine molecules known. It is also noted that the powdered plant was used as an aid for hunting. With these two recordings in mind, it seems likely that this desert-rue played a large role in certain hunting ceremonies where the users could trance themselves into their prey's world.
Sphaeralcea, Globemallow, 2014
A strong infusion can be made from pounded root and boiled water to treat diarrhea, sore eyes, and to enhance vision. It is wise to avoid touching the plant with bare hands as the tiny hairs can cause pain and irritation in the eyes.
Strelitzia, Bird of Paradise, 2016
The Abakwa Mthethwa clan in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, have long used strained decoctions from this bird of paradise to treat inflamed glands and venereal diseases. They also used the seeds to sour milk in preparation for cheese-making, skin care ointments, and cooking. In modern science, delphinid-3-rutinoside has been isolated from the petals for use in pigments and dyes, and proanthoncyanidin polymers (flavonoids, antioxidants) from the leaves for use in dietary supplements.
Yucca Elata, Soaptree Yucca, 2015
Found growing across the desert grasslands, this yucca elata is often the most conspicuous plant over the plains. The leaves can be harvested and used as the binding element in making different baskets. The flowers can be cooked and eaten much like a cabbage.
Ruellia Brittoniana, Purple Showers, 2016
This fast growing purple showers petunia was originally native to Mexico but is now found all across the United States as an invasive species. It is a very potent herb that can be harvested throughout most of the summer. Simply collect the flowers and leaves and let them dry completely. They can then be used later as a tea to treat headache and dizziness. This dried mixture can also be smoked, which will indeed induce strong hallucinations where the user is said to have "sensations of soaring through the air as if they had transformed into a raven."
Datura Stramonium, Jimson Weed, Devil's Snare, 2014
This datura is one of the most powerful hallucinogens and deliriants of all flora, producing intense visions and delusions while under its spell. The difference between a deliriant and a hallucinogen is when a user is hallucinating they are aware of what is going on and why they are seeing intense visions. But with a deliriant the user goes mad and delirious to the point where they can no longer differentiate what is a hallucination and what is normal. Only the most skilled medicine people should consider the power of the datura, as it contains tropane alkaloids that are fatally toxic. Traditionally, this plant was used in medicine to relieve asthma and other breathing issues, and as an analgesic during surgery or bone setting.
Verbesina Encelioides, Golden Crownbeard, 2015
Three different species of verbesina grow in Arizona. An infusion can be created by steeping fresh flowers in warm water, which can then be applied to the skin to heal a number of issues, such as rashes and boils, spider bites, and lacerations. In abandoned lots throughout the city you will often see this plant take over quickly, as it bears a good amount of seeds that birds and rodents will feed on.
Calliandra Eriophylla, Fairy Duster, 2017
The Yavapai of Arizona created a fragrant decoction used as a gynecological aid for women after child birth to help with postpartum disorders and body regeneration. Because of its bright pink fragrant flowers, it is also noted that the plant has many uses in making dyes and fragrances.
Baccharis Sarothroides, Desert Broom, 2014
The resilient desert broom plant has many household uses, such as quick fuel, roofs and walls for outside kitchens or windbreak, and cleaning seeds after thrashing. The Pima name, shooshk vakch, means "wet shoes," and is often praised for its strength and durability. The leaves and stems can also be chewed medicinally for toothache. Care should be taken around livestock as the plant can be poisonous to some animals.
Aloe Barbadensis, Torch Aloe, 2014
6000 year old stone carvings in Egypt contain images of aloe, which they referred to as the “plant of immortality,” and was often given as a burial gift to deceased pharaohs. Early Hawaiians used the plant for healing burns, as a tea to detoxify the body, and as a moisturizer for the skin. They would also mash the leaves and stems to make a poultice for arthritic conditions.
Cirsium Neomexicanum, Desert Thistle, 2014
Thistle milk has been used to treat liver disorders for over 2,000 years, due to its efficient ability to detoxify and protect vital liver functions. Peeled stems of this tall growing thistle can be eaten raw, and a cold infusion of the root can be used as an eyewash for diseases and irritations. This same infusion can be taken as an overall remedy for the common cold. The seeds are also one of the favorite foods for goldfinches and many other birds that flock to the valley for sustenance.
Alcea Rosea, Hollyhock, 2017
The hollyhock's leaves and flowers can be gathered and boiled in water to create an infusion, which can then be applied to the skin where inflammation is occurring. If you need help applying the infusion, leaves of the plant can be wrapped much like a bandage, after being soaked in the medicine.
Macfadyena Unguis-Cati, Cat's Claw Creeper, 2017
From treating snakebite to dysentery, inflammation, rheumatism, venereal disease, and malaria, leaf and root extracts from this quickly creeping vine have an impressive list of uses.