Jimson weed, a key plant for pre-Columbian medicine

Jimson weed, a key plant for pre-Columbian medicine

The genus Datura, which includes plants such as thorn apple, encompasses a set of plant species that have had great importance in traditional medicine and popular culture in countries such as Mexico and Spain.

Researchers from Mexican and Spanish institutions, among which are scientists from the National Museum of Natural Sciences (MNCN-CSIC) and the University of Granada, have carried out a study about the past and current uses of these plants. Among its conclusions, it stands out its growing use as a drug, used on several occasions in sexual crimes.

The genus Datura It is made up of 14 species of plants and some hybrids, most of them herbaceous annuals or shrubs. These species come from America, but today many are found in a great diversity of environments and countries.

Also, they all have in common that they contain alkaloids, some cyclic and nitrogenous organic compounds from its metabolism. The presence of these substances is the reason why they have been and continue to be so widely used.

“These species have been widely used in traditional medicine in both countries. Our review includes 111 medicinal uses to treat 76 different diseases or symptoms, among which we can mention asthma, diarrhea, or its anti-inflammatory or antibacterial capacity in dermatological conditions, among others ”, points out Guillermo Benítez, professor at the University of Granada who participates in the study.

“On the other hand, it is known that in the past they were part of the rituals of shamans and witches both in Mexico and in Europe, ”continues Paloma Cariñanos, also from the University of Granada. The importance of these plants has led scientists from Spain and the National School of Anthropology and History of Mexico to carry out a historical review of the uses of these plants in both countries.

Analysis of plants in ancient documents

“The results, which we have obtained from the study of pre-Columbian codices, medieval texts and books on ethnobotany, showed that, despite the fact that many of the traditional uses have been similar in both countries, currently there are notable differences. While in Mexico these plants are more used for medicinal purposes, in Spain their consumption seems to be associated with supposed leisure and recreation. The use of its alkaloids in sexual crimes has even been identified ”, points out the MNCN researcher Martí March-Salas.

"These results indicate the importance of continuing to investigate these species and the compounds derived from their metabolism, both from botany and from forensic toxicology or medicine," the researchers conclude.

Bibliographic reference:

Benítez, M. March-Salas, A. Villa-Kamel, U. Cháves-Jiménez, J. Hernández, N. Montes-Osuna, J. Moreno-Chocano, P. Cariñanos. "The genus Datura L. (Solanaceae) in Mexico and Spain - Ethnobotanical perspective at the interface of medical and illicit uses (2018)" Journal of Ethnopharmacology. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jep.2018.03.007

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