Hemia salicifolia is a flowering shrub that grows from Mexico to Argentina and is widely cultivated through its range.
Hemia salicifolia has a Shamanic tradition dating to the Aztecs. The leaves were crushed, mixed with water and allowed to ferment for a few days, making a nice-tasting tea called Sinicuichi. The effect of the Sinicuichi tea was a euphoriant and a brightening/yellowing of vision, hence the name "Sun Opener." Sinicuichi is also thought to give the ability to recall past events with great clarity.
Native in Highlands from Mexico to Northern Argentina, Sinicuichi is an interesting and ancient divination plant, but one of the least known in the Western world. The natives believe that sinicuichi has sacred or supernatural qualities, since they hold that it helps them recall events which took place many years earlier as if they had happened yesterday; others assert that they are able, with sinicuichi, to remember pre-natal events. This has also been said of theAfrican Dream Herb, and I often wonder what the Witch Doctors of Africa (that's actually what Shamans in Africa are called) would think of Sinicuiche as a tool for contacting their ancestors through their dreams
Anyway, alkaloids were first reported in Heimia salicifolia in 1958. More recent work has isolated and characterized five alkaloids. One of these alkaloids, cryogenine, has been shown to "mimic qualitatively and semi-quantitatively the action of the total alkaloid extracts of Heimia salicifolia. Much observation of an ethnobotanical nature must be carried out in Mexico to amplify our understanding of the possible use in native cultures of the psychotomimetic effects of Heimia salicifolia. It has apparently not been employed as a narcotic (in the classical sense of the word) elsewhere in the world.
SINICUICHI (Heimia salicifolia) is a poorly understood but fascinating auditory hallucincogen of central Mexico. Its leaves, slightly wilted, are crushed and soaked in water. The resulting juice is put in the sun to ferment into a slightly intoxicating drink that causes giddiness, darkening of the surroundings, shrinkage of the world, and drowsiness or euphoria. Auditory hallucinations may result, with voices or sounds distorted and seeming to come from a distance. Partakers claim that unpleasant after-effects are rare, but excessive drinking of the intoxicant can be quite harmful, although there are no reports as of this writing that states what exactly "harmful" translates into.
Sinicuichi is a name given also to other plants that are important both medically and as intoxicants in various parts of Mexico. Other intoxicating sinicuichis are Erythrina, Rhynchosia, and Piscidia, but Heimia salicifolia commands the greatest respect. With the closely related H. myrtifolia (which may represent but a geographical variant), is found in the highlands from Mexico south to Uruguay, Paraguay and northern Argentina. Although unusual uses in folk medicine are reported from widely separated parts of this area, only in Mexico, apparently, has the small shrub been valued as a shamanistic plant. Some of the local vernacular names are suggestive of the biodynamic properties of Heimia salicifolia, such as abre-o-sol ("sun opener ") and herva de la vida ("herb of life") in Brazil. The name sinicuichi, or derivatives of it such as sinicuilche and sinicuil, refer to other plants in Mexico, all of which are, in one way or another, intoxicating: species of Rhynchosia, Piscidia and Erythrina; the sinicuicheof the Mexican highlands, however, refers to Heimia salicifolia.
Heimia belongs to the loosestrife fomily, Lythroceae, and represents an American genus of three hardly distinguishable species that range in the highlands from southern United States to Argentina. Presence of hallucinogenic principles was unknown in this family, but chemists have recently found six alkaloids in Heimia salicifolia. They belong to the quinolizidine group. One, cryogenine or vertine, appears to be the most active, although the hallucinogenic effects following ingestion of the total plant have not yet been duplicated by any of the alkaloids isolated thus far. This provides us with another example of the often appreciable difference between the effects of drugs taken as natural products and the effects of their purified chemical constituents.