Salvia Divinorum History

Salvia Divinorum is one of over two thousand varieties of the plant genus Salvia (Sage), and the plant has been used for centuries as a sacred visionary and healing medicine by the Mazatec Indians living in Oaxaca, southwestern Mexico.

Salvia Divinorum grows wild only in a small, mountainous region of the Sierra Mazateca in Oaxaca. In addition to its psychoactive use in divination ceremonies, the medicine has traditionally been used in small doses as a diuretic, and to treat diarrhea, rheumatism anemia and headaches.

The psychoactive properties of Salvia Divinorum were unknown to the West until 1939, when anthropologist Jean Basset Johnson wrote of an infusion made with “Hierba Maria” or Mary Herb with visionary properties that was used for divining purposes while he was studying Mazatec shamanism.

However, it was not until the early 1960’s that Gordon Wasson and Albert Hoffman visited Oaxaca in search of the magical plant and they were finally given some samples after much difficulty. They took the samples to be analyzed in Europe by botanists Carl Epling and Carlos D. Játiva who christened the plant Salvia Divinorum since it was related to the Salvia or sage genus and was primarily used for its divining properties.

Salvia Divinorum’s psychoactive mechanism was not identified until the 1990’s by a team led by Daniel Siebert.


Salvia Divinorum is endemic to and only grows wild in the Sierra Mazateca where it thrives near streams in fertile ravine areas that are shaded and humid in mountainous regions at an altitude of between 1,000 and 6,000 feet. However, it will grow in parts of coastal California and Hawaii that enjoy coastal fogs and which remain frost-free.

The plant has square stems that can easily break off and start rooting on the ground through the nodes and internodes. Salvia Divinorum has leaves that are green with a yellow undertone and which measure between four and twelve inches long with serrated edges. The whole plant grows to just over three feet in height.

Salvia Divinorum rarely flowers. However, when it does, it produces white flowers about 1.25 inches in circumference that are curved with white hairs held in a violet calyx. Since its seeds are hardly ever viable, the Salvia Divinorum plant propagates primarily through cloning.

Scientists have therefore concluded the plant is either a Mazatec cultigen, with its partial sterility due to long term cultivation and selection, or a hybrid, although the two parent species have not yet been found.




The strains of Salvia Divinorum are extremely limited outside of their natural range. The most commonly-cultivated Bunnell strain was collected in 1962 by psychologist/ecologist Sterling Bunnell and has often been incorrectly referred to as the Wasson-Hoffman strain. Another popular strain, known as the Blosser or Palatable strain due to its better taste, was collected by anthropologist Bret Blosser in 1991 from Huatla de Jimenez, high atop the Sierra Mazateca.

Additionally, a number of other less-documented and possibly mutant strains have been isolated. For example, the Hawaiian mutant Luna strain features rounded leaves instead of the more common oval leaves.


Traditional curanderas or healing priests working among the Mazatec Indians originally made a tea with the crushed leaves of between 20 and 80 or more fresh leaves or between 50 and 80 grams. If the leaves were chewed, the Mazatecs would roll the fresh leaves into cigars which they then put as a wad between the cheek and the gum and chewed gently in order to absorb the juices into the lining of their mouth.

Because smoking the untreated dry Salvia Divinorum leaves produces very little noticeable effects, the favored modern method of ingestion involves smoking or vaporizing concentrates that are enhanced and labeled with an x indicating the gram concentration.

For example, a 25x extract would indicate that one gram contained a concentrated extract of 25 grams of salvia leaf concentrated onto one gram of leaf. A wide variety of standardized extract smokable leaf concentrates can be obtained at that range from 5x to 60x in potency.

While these multiplication factors give an indication as to strength, the potency of the dose will still depend on the quality of the underlying untreated leaf that is used in the concentrate, and the efficiency of the extraction process. Laboratory techniques such as liquid chromatography can be used to make sure that the potency is properly standardized.

Chewing is also a viable ingestion alternative; however, the active chemical ingredient called Salvinorin A becomes inactivated in the digestive system when ingested internally. This makes it imperative to keep the leaves in the mouth and absorb the juices through the oral mucous to experience an effect. Chewing takes more leaf and makes for a longer overall effect than smoking.

Although less popular, Salvia Divinorum can also be ingested in an herbal tincture that is typically administered sublingually with an eye-dropper. The alcohol in the tincture ensures a rapid delivery and the effects vary depending on the potency of the preparation.




The active psychotropic chemical in Salvia Divinorum is a trans-neoclerodane diterpenoid known as Salvinorin A. The chemical comprises about 0.18% of the dried plant, and unlike other substances active on the opioid brain receptors, Salvinorin A is not an alkaloid since it does not include a nitrogen atom in its basic makeup.

Furthemore, Salvinorin A is the only naturally-occurring substance known that can induce visionary states by being a selective kappa-opioid receptor agonist. Salvinorin A does not affect the 5-HT2A serotonin receptor which is the main receptor site for the classic hallucinogens, such as LSD and mescaline, thereby making Salvia Divinorum a completely different type of entheogenic experience.


Salvia Divinorum is still legal to possess and distribute in most of the world, making it one of the most interesting legal highs available. However, certain countries such as Australia, Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Italy, Japan, Spain, and Sweden have now placed restrictions on the plant that range from an outright ban to limiting distribution.

In the U.S., due in large part to unwise YouTube video postings on the Internet of young people looking silly while reportedly taking Salvia Divinorum, some states have made the plant illegal, while others are in the process of passing laws limiting its use and distribution.

For example, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and Virginia have placed the plant and its active ingredient Salvinorin A into the most restrictive Schedule I category. Louisiana, Maine and Tennessee have restricted distribution of the plant, while Maine and California have restricted sale to adults only.

Bills have been proposed to place Salvia Divinorum in Schedule I in Iowa, Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina, while New York has proposed restricting possession.

Even though there have been relatively few reports of adverse effects, some people experience what can be overwhelming effects because of the high potency of commercially available concentrates, so avoid taking high doses of concentrated extracts in public and without the support of a trained and sober sitter.

Nevertheless, exaggerated reports in the media are primarily responsible for unjustified fears about Salvia Divinorum being spread among the public and lawmakers about this truly unique and mind-expanding sacred plant medicine.

Perhaps the Mazatecs were wise in hiding their sacred herb from the West for so many years. The limited and overprotected mind set of much of Western humanity may not be ready to deal with the awesome truths revealed by communion with this extraordinary magical plant.

So, those who wish to experience this amazing plant medicine first hand and legally should take advantage of the rapidly-closing window of opportunity to do so.

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