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ShrubbySpecies Plant

Psychotria viridis

Psychotria viridis

The Chacruna (Psychotria viridis Ruiz & Pav., 1799) is a shrub species belonging to the Rubiaceae family.

Systematics –
From a systematic point of view it belongs to:
Eukaryota Domain,
Kingdom Plantae,
Magnoliophyta Division,
Magnoliopsida class,
Order Rubiales,
Rubiaceae family,
Subfamily Rubioideae,
Psychotrieae Tribe,
Genus Psychotria,
P. viridis species.
The terms are synonymous:
– Palicourea viridis (Ruiz & Pav.) Schult.;
– Psychotria glomerata Kunth;
– Psychotria microdesmia Oerst.;
– Psychotria trispicata Griseb.;
– Uragoga glomerata (Kunth) Kuntze;
– Uragoga microdesmia (Oerst.) Kuntze;
– Uragoga trispicata (Griseb.) Kuntze;
– Uragoga viridis (Ruiz & Pav.) Kuntze.

Etymology –
The term Psychotria probably derives from the Greek ψῡχή psyché breath, soul, vital force and from ἰατρέια iatréia cura, healing: referring to the healing properties of some species of this genus.
The specific viridis epithet refers to the general appearance of the plant, superlative of green viridis: very green.

Geographic Distribution and Habitat –
Psychotria viridis is a plant whose range of origin extends from southern Mexico to a large part of Central America (Belize, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Panama, Cuba, Haiti, Dominican Republic,) and to the tropical belt of South America (Venezuela, Bolivia , Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Brazil).
Its habitat is that of humid woods and rainforests, in areas that are however quite sunny, where it grows in the undergrowth often on rich and fertile limestone soils, at altitudes of up to 150 meters.

Description –
Psychotria viridis is a shrubby, evergreen plant with an enlarged or flat crown, which can reach 5 m in height.
The trunk is straight and slender, often unbranched for more than half of its height.
The stem is woody and in the middle and lower part, in correspondence with the insertion points of the opposite leaves, it has a series of horizontal scarified zones of 0.3-1 mm, which bear on the upper margin a thick down of thin trichomes 0 long, 5–1 mm, brownish red in color. In the upper part of the stem this character is obscured by the presence of stipules, which cover the trichomes.
In the upper part there are several pairs of stipules, which are foliar structures that differ at the base of the petiole; these are elliptical in shape, 5-25 x 4-12 mm long, strongly angled at the apex, of membranous consistency, ciliated along the upper margin.
The leaves are opposite, oval in shape and bright and intense green, generally 5-15 cm long and 2-6 cm broad, covered with a thin down on the underside, with 5-10 pairs of secondary veins and a long petiole 1–10 mm. The lower surface of the leaf has numerous foveoles. When dried they take on a reddish-brown color.
On the lower face of the leaves, at the points of intersection between the main vein and the secondary veins, there are foveole which are small pockets; these act as a shelter for small symbiotic organisms such as mites, which protect the plant from attacks by fungi and other herbivorous microorganisms. They measure 1.5–5mm x 0.5–1mm, and are generally conical in shape. However, they may vary in shape and size in different plants, and may be more or less numerous from one leaf to another or be absent in some leaves.
The fruits are small red berries gathered in clusters, containing four small brown seeds.

Cultivation –
Psychotria viridis is a plant whose leaves are collected in nature for use in local medicine.
It is a plant that is grown and can grow in both sunny and partial shade areas.
It prefers a well-drained soil, of a basically alkaline type.
The plant propagates more easily from cuttings. A single leaf (or even part of a leaf lightly covered with earth) may be enough to prepare a cutting. Seed propagation is extremely difficult. The germination rate can be up to 1%.
The plant was grown in hydroponic systems, with particular light cycles. Under these conditions the plant does not use its root system as often during the day. The optimal pH of the solution should be between 5.5 and 6.1. The level of nutrients in the solution should be between 300 and 500 parts per million (ppm).

Customs and Traditions –
Psychotria viridis is a plant known above all for its use in traditional pre-Columbian medicine, as an ingredient for the preparation of ayahuasca, a plant extract prepared by the shamans of the Amazon and Andean peoples, used as an entheogenic principle for the rites of vision and communication with the divine. It has many local names, including chacruna or chacrona (from the Quechua language chaqry = to mix).
The leaves are often added to the hallucinogenic drink “Ayahuasca” (prepared by Banisteriopsis Caapi and B. inebrians in the western Amazon) to “strengthen” and “lengthen” the effects of the drink. The leaves contain the compound N, N, -dimethyltryptamine (DMT), and this has been shown to enhance the action of the β-carboline alkaloids harmine, harmaline and tetrahydroharmine found in Banisteriopsis.
The active ingredients are mainly alkaloids, in particular derivatives of tryptamine (N, N-DMT, 5-MeO-DMT, 5-MeO-NMT, bufotenin) and of 2-methyl THbC (N-methyl-tetrahydro-b-Carboline) . Dimethyltryptamine, which can represent 0.1-0.61% of the dry weight of the plant, is the main responsible for the psychoactive effects.
The effects, which appear about an hour after ingestion and last from 4 to 6 hours, consist of euphoria, alterations in visual and auditory perception, alterations in the perception of time and space. It can cause alterations of the autonomic nervous system with the appearance of profuse sweating, nausea, vomiting, tremors, increased body temperature, mydriasis.

Preparation Method –
Psychotria viridis is a plant that has long been used mainly by pre-Colombian populations for its psychoactive effects.
Together with Banisteriopsis caapi it is one of the main constituents of ayahuasca, an entheogenic ritual drink used by the shamans of the Amazon and Andean peoples.

Guido Bissanti

– Acta Plantarum – Flora of the Italian Regions.
– Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
– GBIF, the Global Biodiversity Information Facility.
– Useful Tropical Plants Database.
– Conti F., Abbate G., Alessandrini A., Blasi C. (ed.), 2005. An annotated checklist of the Italian vascular flora, Palombi Editore.
– Pignatti S., 1982. Flora of Italy, Edagricole, Bologna.
– Treben M., 2000. Health from the Lord’s Pharmacy, Advice and experiences with medicinal herbs, Ennsthaler Editore.
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Warning: Pharmaceutical applications and alimurgical uses are indicated for informational purposes only, they do not represent in any way a medical prescription; therefore no responsibility is taken for their use for curative, aesthetic or food purposes.

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