Cultivating Diviner's Sage
– by Will Biefuss (Author of the Psychedelic Sourcebook)
A step by step guide to cultivation, propagation, and keeping your Salvia plants happy
SALVIA DIVINORUM IS A MEMBER of the mint family which also includes such familiar herbs as oregano and basil. There are dozens of Salvia species, but Salvia is the only one known to contain the psychoactive diterpenes salvinorin A (at 96%) and salvinorin B (at 4%). Salvia has hollow, square stems with winged edges. The stems are not very sturdy, but with support, the plant can grow to eight feet tall. Filtered sunlight is best, and the plant likes plenty of water and humidity. It rarely sets seed, and when it does the seeds are usually not viable. In the wild, the plant propagates by falling over and sending out roots where it touches the ground. In a high humidity environment, it is not uncommon to see roots forming on the stem even before the plant has fallen over. These root formations make cuttings an easy method of cultivation.
Cutting & Transplanting
To take a cutting, first cut off a branch tip that has four to six sets of leaves on it with about four inches of stalk below that. Place the cutting in water so most of the bare stalk is covered – tap water is fine and you don’t need to add any nutrients. The cutting may wilt for a day or two, but should recover nicely. Mist the cutting frequently or keep it in a high humidity environment to ease the shock of being cut. In summer wait until the evening to take cuttings to prevent excessive wilting.
In about one week nodes will appear on the stalk where the roots will eventually emerge. In another week the roots will appear and grow to a length of 1/4″ to 3/4″ long. This is the time to transplant the cutting into soil. Keeping the cutting in water beyond this point will deprive it of nutrients, and longer roots are more susceptible to damage during transplanting.
Transplant the cutting into a medium sized pot using either commercial potting soil or your own formula. I make a mixture of one part each compost, peat moss, sandy loam, and a half part perlite. Salvia likes a friable soil rich in humus and with good drainage, so avoid heavy soils with a lot of clay. The plant also likes a lot of root space, so re-pot often for maximum growth. When you see growth starting to slow down, or the plant looking ragged, it’s probably time to re-pot.
Temperature & Seasons
The ideal temperature is in the 60 to 70 degree range, but my plants have survived hot spells of 100 degrees and night time chills as low as 35 degrees. In hot weather make sure the plants have enough shade and plenty of water with frequent misting. In the summer I keep my plants on my deck and under 60% shade cloth. I have misters that come on six times a day for one minute, which is long enough to wet all the foliage. The misters are controlled by an electronic timer that screws onto my outside faucet.
The plants can put on four to five feet of growth during the six months they are outside. I have heard that the salvinorin A content is twice as high in the leaves during the summer, but this is anecdotal information. In the fall, growth slows as temperature and light levels decrease. If the temperature falls below freezing, the plant will immediately turn black and die. If the root ball has not frozen, the plant can grow back – often quite prolifically because it has a large root system supporting the new growth. I know it’s time to bring my plants inside when the leaves start to blush red from the cold nights. This reaction will disappear after a few weeks of being indoors.
Plants will flower in the fall when there are about ten to twelve hours of light a day. If you are bringing your plants inside under artificial light, you can prevent flowering by increasing the light to fourteen to sixteen hours a day. The plants will then go back to vegetative growth and put their energy into leaf production. I enjoy the flowers, so I keep my lights on for only twelve hours a day and let the plants go through their cycle. Each plant sends up a spike that can grow to be a foot in length, filled with many small bluish white flowers. The flowers have a very delicate, spicy scent.
Each flower spike will last about a month, but if you have many plants in different phases of flowering, the whole process can last two to three months. I know people who have grown Salvia for years without their plants ever flowering, even though the plants go through a period of shortened day length. The plants tend to get leggy during flowering, lose some of their lower leaves, and in general look a little ragged. Once flowering is over, start increasing the light cycle and the plants return to vegetative growth. Light can be increased to as much as eighteen hours a day for maximum growth. Anything beyond this can be detrimental to the plants.
I am not a big fan of the high priced fluorescent grow lights marketed under such names as Vita Lite, Agro Lite and Grolux. One of these bulbs costs about $15. Five or six standard fluorescent bulbs can be purchased for this price and will do just as well. Fluorescent bulbs emit light predominantly in the blue spectrum which encourages leaf and stem growth, but are low in red light which promotes flower development. Unlike Cannabis, where the goal is flower production, the aim with Salvia is leaf production, so fluorescent lights are fine. Of course natural sunlight is best, but unless you have a greenhouse or a sunny location indoors, fluorescent bulbs will maintain your plants through the winter until you can get them back outside in the spring.
High Pressure Sodium (HPS) or Metal Halide (MH) lights can also be used. They come in 400w and 1000w sizes. Unless you have a large area to cover, the 400w is plenty. A 400w MH system costs about $200 and puts out as many lumens as twenty fluorescent bulbs. This fixture would provide enough light for an eight by eight foot growing space. However, you need to be careful to keep the light at least two feet above the tops of the plants. If the leaves start to blush red, then the light is too close. Leaves will lighten in color when exposed to high light levels; this is fine and does not affect potency. If you do use one of these lights, your plants will require more humidity as the extra heat the lights give off will quickly dry out the leaves. HPS lights are higher in the red spectrum and emit a golden light, MH lights are more balanced and are usually better for use with Salvia divinorum.
One fallacy often heard about Salvia divinorum is that they need a lot of humidity to survive. In fact the plants do enjoy high humidity, and will achieve optimum growth if grown in these conditions, but they can be grown successfully in a low humidity environment with a few simple steps.
The trick is to slowly acclimate the plant to a lower humidity environment over the course of several weeks. If you have ordered a cutting by mail, chances are good it came from a high humidity environment in a greenhouse. Give it high humidity initially by misting it often or placing it in a tent with a humidifier, but slowly reduce the humidity over the course of the next month. The plant will do just fine, and will be much less hassle for you. In the winter when my plants are indoors, I cover the walls with plastic sheeting and spray the plants three times a day with a pump-style tank sprayer. This takes less than fifteen minutes a day and I never have a problem with leaf edges turning brown – the typical sign that the humidity is too low.
If you are going to grow your plants in a high humidity environment, don’t make the mistake of thinking that you don’t need to water them much. They still require regular watering even with humidity levels in the 90% range. I do not like using tightly sealed tents or other grow chambers, these do not allow for a healthy flow of air and such stagnant conditions encourage the growth of molds and bacteria.
Pests & Prevention
The most common pests of Salvia divinorum are whiteflies and aphids. Both of these insects live on the underside of leaves, preferring the new growth on the top half of the plant. Aphids will also cluster on the stems. Whiteflies are small insects with bright white wings. Their pupa are light green and look like small grains of rice. All stages suck on plant juices, and heavily infested plants will yellow and grow poorly. If the infestation is left unchecked, the plants can die from a black sooty mold that grows on the honeydew that the whiteflies and aphids produce.
I have had good results combating whitefly (and to a lesser degree aphids) simply by spraying the underside of the leaves with a solution of one teaspoon liquid castile soap to one quart water. The soap breaks down the insects’ protective coating and causes them to drown. The plants can be rinsed off the following day with clean water. You will want to repeat this procedure once a week for a couple of weeks to kill any pupa that survive the initial spraying and grow into adults.
Aphids are a little more resistant to a simple castile soap spray, so I recommend using insecticidal soap on them. These soaps contain salts of fatty acids and are quite safe to use, even within days of harvest. The directions say the soap can be left on, but I wash the leaves off the following day after application just to be safe.
There are some biological controls that work wonderfully. The parasitic wasp Encarsia formosa is very effective against whitefly. These tiny wasps are barely visible to the eye. They lay their eggs inside developing whitefly pupa, so one of their young hatches out instead of the whitefly. For aphids, try ladybugs or Aphidoletes aphidimyza (see source on page 35 for these).
I fertilize my plants about once a month with fish emulsion when they are outdoors in the summer. In the winter I use Stern’s Miracid as Salvia divinorum likes acidic soil. Feeding a lot of nitrogen to your plants will attract more problem insects to them, so cut back on fertilizing as part of the strategy to bring pests under control. lifespan.
For all practical purposes, the lifespan of a Salvia divinorum plant is about five to six years. The plants get woody as they age, growth slows, and they become more brittle and start to fall apart. If they have been staked and prevented from falling over and rerooting, then it is time to take some cuttings and start again. Cuttings from an old plant will show the same vigor as cuttings from a younger plant.
Preparing the Leaves
Salvia divinorum leaves should be dried in a food dehydrator on a medium high setting (130-140 degrees). At this temperature, drying will take between one to two hours depending on the size of the leaves. I remove the mid ribs on the large leaves and they never take more than one hour to dry. Drying at lower temperatures causes the leaves to lose their green color and turn brown. The leaves are 90% water, so ten grams of fresh leaves equals one gram of dried material. It takes a lot of fresh leaves to produce one ounce of dried leaves; a gallon size plastic bag stuffed full with leaves weighs only two ounces.
Once dry, I push the leaves through a sieve to powder them, then pack the powder tightly into glass vials and store in the freezer. The potency of salvinorin A will be retained for many years this way. Fresh leaves can be stored in the refrigerator for a few days before losing potency, but be sure to keep them in a plastic bag with a damp paper towel. Freezing fresh leaves does not work, as when thawed they turn into a slimy mess. Leaves can be juiced using a wheat grass juicer and then frozen for long term storage. When thawed, the juice is held in the mouth as is done with the fresh leaves. Dried leaves can be reconstituted by soaking in a small amount of water and then chewed.
Since Salvia divinorum is one of the rarest of all plant entheogens, it is my hope that many people will choose to cultivate this plant. It was almost driven into extinction once, so let’s work to preserve this valuable plant ally for future generations to enjoy.
Specific to Salvia divinorum (Diviner’s Sage):
- Botany of Salvia – General Overview
- Diviner’s Sage – General Overview
- Sage Genus – General Overview
- Salvinorin-a – An Explanation
- ska Maria Pastora – A Healing Ceremony
- Mazatec Indians – Curanderos and Shamans
- Salvia Cultivation – Keeping Your Plants Happy & Healthy
- Growing Salvia – The Easy Way
- Salvia for Depression – A Case Study
- Commercializing Diviner’s Sage – from the Washington Post
- Lagochilus inebrians – An intriguing psychoactive member of the Labiatae family
- Salvia splendens. A psychoactive sage???
- Salvia Article from ABC News
- Erowid – Salvia divinorum Vault
- Lycaeum’s Salvia Archives
- Something from the Heffter Research Institute
- USDA info on Salvia divinorum
- A Salvia divinorum summary
- The Drug Policy Alliance – Alternatives to the war on drugs based on science, compassion, and human rights.
- The Center for Cognitive Liberty & Ethics (CCLE). Working in the public interest to foster freedom of thought.
- MAPS (The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies). Supporting psychedelic research since 1986.
- The Council on Spiritual Practices. Making direct experience of the sacred more available to more people.
- The Media Awareness Project. A worldwide network dedicated to drug policy reform.
- The Drug Reform Coordination Network. A national network of more than 21,000 activists and concerned citizens including parents, educators, students, lawyers, health care professionals, academics, and others working for drug policy reform. DRCNet supports rational policies consistent with the principles of peace, justice, freedom, compassion and truth. Each of these has been compromised in the name of the Drug War.
- Students for Sensible Drug Policy. Students for Sensible Drug Policy is committed to providing education on harms caused by the War on Drugs working to involve youth in the political process, and promoting an open, honest, and rational discussion of alternative solutions to our nation’s drug problems.
- The American Civil Liberties Union. Useful drug policy links.