My friend Nan De Grove and I love datura and across many years we’ve shared seeds and lore. Nan’s datura began blooming before mine. She sent these images from her garden and we combined some of our thoughts. Nan begins:
Datura, also known as Jimson weed, angel’s trumpet, and sometimes devil’s weed, is both reviled and adored; reviled for its poison and connection to sorcery, and adored for its ethereal beauty and divine scent. Georgia O’Keeffe painted it, then pulled it all up in her New Mexico garden when she learned of its toxicity.
Datura blooms in the dog days of summer heat when the Dog Star, Sirius, rises and sets with the Sun. As a night-blooming flower it opens slowly in the cool evening air, beginning with a five-pointed pinwheel shape, and unfolding slowly like a pleated handkerchief into a ten-pointed star shape. It attracts moths, especially Sphinx moths. In the morning it folds in on itself, and drops off. The blossom lasts for one night only.
I have spent many hours observing datura, drawing and painting it in its various stages. Just gazing at it and inhaling its fragrance invites a gently altered consciousness. I believe it opens the third eye, and is indeed connected to the sacred star, Sirius, which was revered in ancient Egypt as a heavenly manifestation of the goddess Isis.
It is an immense thrill to walk out in the morning and see the first datura of the season still in bloom from it’s nighttime debut. This one comes from seeds given to me by the contemporary artist Jaune Quick-to-See Smith. Unlike O’Keeffe, she lets them grow along her New Mexico driveway, where there is hot sun and almost no moisture.
Datura is poisonous and therefore it’s difficult to discover its uses in books about herbal remedies, although nearly all 15 species have been employed medicinally wherever they grow. Fearless Mrs. M. Grieve in her 1931 A Modern Herbal writes of the “thornapple” (aka, sacred thornapple), so called because of the prickly seedpod.
Properly prepared and carefully used, datura is “antispasmodic, anodyne and narcotic..,” Mrs. Grieve writes. “It acts similarly to belladonna, though without constipating…and is considered slightly more sedative to the central nervous system. It has been used to treat spasmodic bronchial asthma, whooping-cough and spasm of the bladder … as a sedative in epilepsy, and in acute mania and other forms of active insanity, but its action is very uncertain.
“Applied locally, in ointment, plasters or fomentation, it will palliate the pain of muscular rheumatism, neuralgia, and also pain due to haemorrhoids, fistula, abscesses and similar inflammation.”
In some cultures, the dried datura leaves are smoked. Carlos Castaneda wrote in his various Don Juan books that datura is a feminine hallucinogen, while peyote is masculine. Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs advises sprinking datura around the house to break spells and protect against evil spirits. Insomnia can be cured by “placing datura leaves into each shoe, then setting the shoes under the bed with the toes pointing toward the nearest wall.”