History of Morning Glory Seeds

Some info from the Psychedelic Encyclopedia: “When the Conquistadores subdued the Aztecs, early chroniclers recorded that the Indians made religious and medicinal use of peyote, another psychoactive plant called tlitliltzin, and a small lentil-like seed called ololiuqui. The third, alleged to have been used also for purposes of divination, came from a vine known in the Nahuatl language as coaxihuitil (or `snakeplant’).”

The plant called (in Nahuatl) “coaxihuitl” (the snake plant) is, botanically, Rivea corymbosa (or Turbina corymbosa or Ipomeia sidaefolia). The seeds are small and spherical, brown colored, and have the common name “ololuiqui” or the Zapotec name “badoh.” A second plant of this morning glory series, is a large five-petaled beauty called Ipomoea violacea (or Violacea tricolor). In the seeds are black, and rice shaped, and are called (in Aztec) “tlitliltzen” and (in Zapotec) “badoh negro.”

The records from the time of the Spanish conquest describe the medical and divinatory use of small seeds that were called ololiuqui and reported their role in the dulling of pain and the production of visions. For quite a while it was uncertain just which plant groups were the sources of these seeds, and in the early 20th century literature, the general opinion leaned towards this all being some Datura species. Finally, in the late 1930s, Richard Evans Schultes and his ally Reko, collected the active seeds in Oaxaca, Mexico, where it was still being used by the Mazatec Indians. He identified them as being from the Morning Glory world. And Albert Hofmann, of LSD fame, was the chemist who discovered that these seeds contained ergot alkaloids.

Illustrations from the Florentine Codex suggested that coaxihuitil was a member of the morning glory family. Though this family (Convolvulaceae) has over 500 species all over the globe, they seem to have been used for their psychoactive properties only in the New World.

In 1959, the ethnobotanist Richard Schultes sent samples of a cultivated Mexican morning glory, Turbina corymbosa, to Albert Hofmann, the discoverer of LSD. Schultes had seen it used by a Zapotec shaman. In 1960, Hofmann analyzed the seeds and said they contained ergot-like alkaloids. This was hard for people to believe since previously such chemicals had only been found in the rye fungus Claviceps purpurea (ergot). But Hofmann was right; the seeds contained d-lysergic acid amide. This differs from LSD only in that it has a NH2 where LSD has a N(C2H5)2, but LSD is some 50 to 100 times as potent. The morning glory Turbina corymbosa’s seeds also have other psychoactive alkaloids in them: d-isolysergic acid amide, chanoclavine, elymoclavine, and lysergol.

In 1960, Don Thomes MacDougall reported that seeds of another morning glory, Ipomoea violacea were used as sacraments by certain Zapotecs, sometimes with the Turbina corymbosa seeds and sometimes not. This morning glory species is the one with familiar varieties in America: Heavenly Blue, Pearly Gates, Flying Saucers, Blue Star, Summer Skies and Wedding Bells. The Ipomoea violacea has the same psychoactive compounds in it except with ergometrine instead of lysergol. Ergometrine has strong uterus-stimulating properties so it’s a really bad idea for pregnant women to eat these seeds. Also, these seeds are supposed to be bad for people with liver problems (e.g. jaundice, hepatitus). These seeds are called badoh negro down in South America, since they are black, and some people think these were the mysterious tlitliltzin, which is the Nahuatl word for “black” with a reverential suffix.

A third plant that has leapt into notoriety is the Hawaiian Baby Woodrose. This is a four-to-the-seed capsule morning glory known as Argyreia nervosa. It was unknown to the rain forest cultures, but it contains ergot alkaloids and must be brought into this compilation. The better known Hawaiian Wood Rose is of no interest at all.

My earliest exposures to Morning Glory seeds followed a Herb Caen column in 1963. There was at that time an advertising slogan LS/MFT (“Lucky Strikes Means Fine Tobacco”), which got shifted over to LS/MGS with the MGS being Morning Glory Seeds. The seeds were available in 25-pound sacks, and were selling like fury. This brought it into our western world, in spades.

For more exacting details of the history of rare and exotic botanicals, I know of no better source than the book by Schultes and Hofmann, entitled, “The Botany and Chemistry of Hallucinogens.”

by Dr. Shulgin