Salvia divinornum plant.

Credit: © Xka Pastora

For hundreds of years, the Mazatec people of Oaxaca in southern Mexico have conducted rituals that combine their own ancient beliefs with those of Catholicism. Healers use herbs and other plants, incense, and chanting in order to learn the cures for illness, seek out lost objects and people, and travel to spiritual or astral dimensions. The most famous component of their rituals is the "magic" mushroom, which contains the psychedelic chemical psilocybin. Another tool in the Mazatec healing toolbox is "divine sage," Salvia divinorum, which is said to belong to the Virgin Mary and the leaves of which are consumed for their physical and spiritual healing powers. If the patient has prepared their body and mind properly beforehand, if patient and healer are both able to sing well enough during the ceremony, and if the Catholic Saints and indigenous spirits are amenable, a ritual involving the use of Salvia can purportedly lead to profound healing.

One of the most intriguing reasons to participate in these Salvia rituals is for the healing of substance abuse and dependence. We have traveled to Oaxaca to learn from the healers and villagers about the history of Salvia and its uses. The results of our fieldwork with the Mazatec will be published later this year and can be followed here. The Mazatec employ Salvia as an effective treatment for arthritis and inflammation, headaches, gastrointestinal and other problems. Oaxacan villagers also told us of Salvia helping to cure people of addictions to alcohol, inhalants, and stimulants such as cocaine. They believe that the feminine entity that inhabits the plant heals the body, teaches the patient what causes and sustains the addiction, and guides the patient on the road to recovery and a balanced life. ...[Continue reading on Scientificamerican]