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
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
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
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):
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
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.
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
American Civil Liberties Union. Useful drug policy links.