Calea ternifolia
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Clade: Asterids
Order: Asterales
Family: Asteraceae
Genus: Calea
C. ternifolia
Binomial name
Calea ternifolia

Calea zacatechichi Schltdl.

Calea ternifolia (syn. Calea zacatechichi)[1] is a species of flowering plant in the aster family, Asteraceae. It is native to Mexico and Central America.[1] Its English language common names include bitter-grass, Mexican calea,[1] and dream herb.[2]

It is used in traditional medicine and ritual in its native range.[3]


In Mexico the plant is used as a herbal remedy for dysentery and fever.[3] The Zoque Popoluca people call the plant tam huñi ("bitter gum") and use it to treat diarrhea and asthma, and the Mixe people know it as poop taam ujts ("white bitter herb") and use it for stomachache and fever.[4]

The Chontal people of Oaxaca reportedly use the plant, known locally as thle-pela-kano, during divination. Isolated reports describe rituals that involve smoking a plant believed to be this species, drinking it as a tea, and placing it under a pillow to induce divinatory or lucid dreams due to its properties as an oneirogen.[5] Zacatechichi, the former species name, is a Hispanicized form of the Nahuatl word "zacatl chichic" meaning "bitter grass".[6] Users take the plant to help them remember their dreams;[2] known side effects include nausea and vomiting related to the taste and mild-to-severe allergic reaction.

While quite bitter if brewed in hot water, the bitterness can be considerably masked by brewing with Osmanthus flowers, which have a compatible scent profile.

Chemical composition

Cultivated specimen

Chemical compounds isolated from this species include flavones[7] such as acacetin[8] and sesquiterpene lactones such as germacranolides.[9] The sesquiterpenes known as caleicines and caleochromenes may be active in its effects on sleep.[2]

Legal status

While it is not a controlled substance under federal law in the United States, some states have considered it individually. Louisiana State Act 159 specifies that it is illegal to possess if it is intended for human consumption, but not if they are intended for ornamental or landscaping use. Tennessee proposed a bill that would have made this and many other plants classified as hallucinogenic illegal, but when the bill was passed only Salvia divinorum was banned.[10]

This plant was banned in Poland in March 2009.[2][11]

Calea ternifolia (syn. Calea zacatechichi) dream herb


One study suggest that the herb may have some toxic properties towards kidneys (nephrotoxicity).[12]

In popular culture

American composer David Woodard, who cultivated Calea ternifolia on his San Francisco estate, composed a motet entitled "Calea Zacatechichi", which he recorded with a Hispanic choir.[13]: 34 

See also



  1. ^ a b c "Calea ternifolia". Germplasm Resources Information Network. Agricultural Research Service, United States Department of Agriculture. Retrieved 12 December 2017.
  2. ^ a b c d Simonienko, K., et al. (2013). Psychoactive plant species – actual list of plants prohibited in Poland. Archived 2013-09-27 at the Wayback Machine Psychiatria Polska XLVII(3), 499–508.
  3. ^ a b Ferraz, A., et al. (2009). Pharmacological and genotoxic evaluation of Calea clematidea and Calea uniflora. Latin American Journal of Pharmacy 28(6), 858-62.[1]
  4. ^ Leonti, M., et al. (2003). Antiquity of medicinal plant usage in two Macro-Mayan ethnic groups (Mexico). Journal of Ethnopharmacology 88(2), 119-24.
  5. ^ Sałaga, Maciej; Fichna, Jakub; Socała, Katarzyna; Nieoczym, Dorota; Pieróg, Mateusz; Zielińska, Marta; Kowalczuk, Anna; Wlaź, Piotr (2016). "Neuropharmacological characterization of the oneirogenic Mexican plant Calea zacatechichi aqueous extract in mice". Metabolic Brain Disease. 31 (3): 631–641. doi:10.1007/s11011-016-9794-1. ISSN 0885-7490. PMC 4863909. PMID 26821073.
  6. ^ Díaz, J. L. (1979). Ethnopharmacology and taxonomy of Mexican psychodysleptic plants. J Psychedelic Drugs 11(1-2), 71–101.
  7. ^ Mariano, M. V., et al. (1987). Thymol derivatives from Calea nelsonii. Phytochemistry 26(9), 2577-79.
  8. ^ Mayagoitia, L., et al. (1986). Psychopharmacologic analysis of an alleged oneirogenic plant: Calea zacatechichi. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 18(3), 229–43.
  9. ^ Lee, I. Y., et al. (1982). New germacranolides from Calea ternifolia and the molecular structure of 9α-Hydroxy-11, 13-Dihydro-11α, 13-Epoxyatripliciolide-8β-O-(2-Methylacrylate). Journal of Natural Products 45(3), 311-16.
  10. ^ Calea zacatechichi Legal Status Jun 20 2006.
  11. ^ (in Polish) Dz.U. 2009 nr 63 poz. 520, Internetowy System Aktów Prawnych.
  12. ^ Mossoba, Miriam E.; Flynn, Thomas J.; Vohra, Sanah; Wiesenfeld, Paddy; Sprando, Robert L. (2016). "Evaluation of "Dream Herb," Calea zacatechichi, for Nephrotoxicity Using Human Kidney Proximal Tubule Cells". Journal of Toxicology. 2016: 1–7. doi:10.1155/2016/9794570. ISSN 1687-8191. PMC 5040790. PMID 27703475.
  13. ^ Kerekes, D., Headpress 25: William Burroughs & the Flicker Machine (Manchester: Headpress, 2003), p. 34.

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