Heimia spp.



Sinicuiche; Sun Opener.

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Heimia spp.

Botanical information

A perenniel plant it grows to a height of 3m with a spread of 6m. The roots are strong, thick and fibrous; the stems are grey/brown, straight and branching; the leaves are dark green, small, oval-acuminate, entire, sessile and 2-9cm long; the flowers are 1-2cm wide, yellow, six-merous and sessile in the leaf axis; seed pods are hard, round, 5-10mm wide, sessile, containing many tiny, round, light brown seeds.

Indigenous to Mexico, and cultivated in most of South America, it prefers well-drained soils in dry and hot climates, does best in a sunny position and is drought resistant, but frost tender.

Propagation is by seed sown in fine, moist seeding mix, or by cuttings.


Traditional uses

Heimia salicifolia is the active principle in the fermented drink sinicuiche, which is prepared by Mexicans who bruise the leaves and twigs and soak them in water for a few hours. Then the water and juice are pressed into a container and left to ferment in the sun for a few days. The resulting beverage is a pleasant tasting intoxicant causing yellow visions and euphoria.

In traditional medicine this herb is regarded as a healer and tonic, finding application mostly in fertility and gynaecological matters, but also for intestinal and skin problems.


Pharmacology

The active principle in Heimia salicifolia is probably the quinolizidine alkaloid cryogenine (=vertine). It has anticholinergic and antispasmodic effects, causing mild auditory and visual hallucinations, intoxication, numbness and euphoria. No adverse side-effects or after-effects are known. While the fresh leaves, either fermented or extracted with alcohol, are generally active, the dried material is not. However it appears that concentrated extracts made from the dried material are active.

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