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  • Writer's pictureInquisitive Mystic

Calea Zacatechichi - Mexican Dream herb


Calea Zacatechichi or “Mexican Dream Herb'' has been used by indigenious people for years as a remedy for various ailments and a tool for lucid dreaming. Join me as we explore the botany of Calea, delve into the invisible world of dreams, and circle back to some more recent biomedical scientific studies associated with this fascinating plant.


Botany

Calea Zacatechichi has many aliases, including it’s way easier-to-say scientific name of “Calea Ternifolia.” A few other names for this plant include: Mexican Dream Herb, Mexican Calea, Calea, Bitter-Grass or Dream Herb. Who doesn’t love a nickname?!?


Who’s ready to take it way back to middle school biology? Scientific classification anyone?


Order: Asterales. Don’t you think for a moment that my mystical self didn’t immediately think of astrology when I read the name Asterales, because I one hundred percent did. Believe it or not, the family Asterales has nothing to do with astrology. Ok, it may have a little to do with astrology, but in name only as the Latin root word “aster” means “star”. The star in this order refers to a star shape exhibited by many of the flowers found in Asterales.


Members of the order Asterales are dicots. Back to basic plant biology. Remember monocots and dicots? Neither did I. Dicots refer to flowering plants or angiosperms in which the seeds have two embryonic leaves.


Asterales are a cosmopolitan order, meaning they exist pretty much everywhere. Members of this order can be found in their various forms across the globe. They are believed to have evolved from a common ancestor. Members of this order also share some common morphological (form and structural features) and biochemical similarities.


Family: Asteraceae aka Compositae. After researching this family I suddenly realized why I subconsciously love Calea Turnifolia so much. Turns out that the Asteraceae or Compositae family includes more than a few of my favorite flowering plants. There are over 32,000 species in this family. Calea’s flowery familial relatives include asters, daisies, and sunflowers. The members of this family are referred to as composite because they are composed of many florets. Florets are many little flowers that make up a bigger flower (see photo below). This family showed up on earth an estimated 85-89 million years ago during the late cretaceous period. Family Asteraceae can now be found almost anywhere on the globe with the exception of Antarctica.



Genus: Calea. As of 2017 there were 125 known species of Calea. While Calea’s Asteraceae family members can be found all over the place, genus Calea prefers to live in Mexico, Central America, South America, in tropical and subtropical regions. Genus Calea is no stranger to medicine. Members of this genus have been used in traditional and native medicine for years. Plants in this genus have been found to have anti inflammatory, antifungal, antiplasmodial, antihypertensive, larvicidal, cytotoxic, and antipyretic effects. Natives commonly use plants from this genus to fight fever, dysentery, and to induce dreams.



Species: Calea Ternifolia. Calea Ternifolia is a shrubbing plant that grows 0.5-3m (or if you’re North American 1.6 to 9.8 ft) tall. Most Calea Ternifolia shrubs have green leaves with serrated or semi-serrated edges and small bunches of white flowers. (See photo).

Native Use

Unfortunately, there was not a ton of information available on the folklore or mythology surrounding Calea Ternifolia. However, there was a lot of information available on oneiromancy (dream divination) so stay tuned for a future podcast episode and blog about that.


Cala is used by the Zoque and Mixe people of Mexico for medicinal purposes. Calea is used by these groups to treat GI issues, asthma, and fever.


The Chontal people of Mexico use Calea for oneiromancy, the practice of dream divination. During oneiromancy Calea is used as a tool to induce a shamanistic journey while sleeping. Once awake the dreams are interpreted. Dream messages can come from gods, spirit messengers, ancestors, or from deep within one’s own subconscious mind. To prepare for lucid dreaming, Calea may be smoked, ingested in the form of a bitter tea, or placed in a sachet under your pillow before bedtime.

Experiences

Reported experiences with Calea Ternifolia vary widely depending on where you look. On the subreddit r/LucidDreaming user experiences range from “this herb is garbage and nothing happened” to “I had a life-changing meaningful dream filled with vivid imagery and I was able to navigate the dream world through my subconscious.” One point of interest in relation to the subreddit experiences is that several users reported ingesting the herb, quickly falling asleep and quickly having vivid dreams. A few of the scientific studies that I read mentioned that many users reported brief periods of sleep or naps with dreaming. I found it interesting that the reddit community confirmed.

I was curious about the dream herb myself. I have a line of teas and I wanted to create a lucid dream blend. I went on Etsy and ordered some dried Calea to try as a possible tea ingredient. The website (which shall remain unnamed) where I found the dosage information recommended 5 grams. Friends, let me tell you that 5 grams of any herb is a lot, especially in a cup of tea. I feel that I should mention that at the time of this tea experiment I did not know Calea’s super appropriate nickname, “bitter grass.” The tea was all steeped and steamy, so I went ahead and took a big ol’ swig. Let me tell you what; I almost barfed. This tea was so damn stinky and bitter that I nearly puked. I tried to do it all at once like a shot, and came close to hurling. I thought that maybe honey would make it better. There is not enough honey in the world to hide the taste of this stuff. The half a lemon I squeezed in made it even worse. I ended up having to chug the concoction while dry heaving over the sink. The half an orange that I choked down afterward barely got the taste out of my mouth. Needless to say, I skipped this ingredient for my lucid dream tea. The tea tasting did not go well, however I was not ready to give up on calea ternifolia just yet.


The second time I tried calea ternifolia I smoked it. I’m not here to endorse or encourage smoking. We all know smoking is not good for you. I’m just relaying my own personal experience. I smoked the calea and what a difference! It did not smell or taste bad. I felt almost immediate relaxation. While I do not remember lucid dreaming or particularly vivid dreams, I do remember that I had dreams, which is rare for me. I am one of those individuals that either rarely dreams or rarely remembers dreaming. Hence my interest in lucid dream herbs.


Science

Science time! The first publication that I want to mention is from Canadian Science Publishing’s journal, “Botany.” The article, “Calea Ternifolia, Kunth the Mexican “dream herb”, a concise review” was published in 2021 and it is indeed concise. Shout out to the scientists that published this before I hit some of the highlights for you. Rachel Mata, Aldo J. Contreras-Rosales, José A. Gutiérrez-González, José L. Villaseñor, and Araceli Pérez-Vásquez. This publication mentions botany, traditional medicinal uses, oneiromancy, toxicology, pharmacology, and more. A few takeaways that I learned from this publication were calea’s role as a treatment for diabetes, depression, and it has antinociceptive (pain relieving) effects. The research also confirms that Calea does induce dreaming.


In the late 1800’s Mexican medical researchers began to investigate the pharmacological properties of Calea. They confirmed that the plant was useful for stimulating appetite, relieving fevers, alleviating diarrhea, and stomach aches. Fast forward to the late 1960’s through early 2000’s during which time a number of scientists studied and confirmed Calea’s use for dreaming, dream divination, and promoting an overall sense of serenity or well-being to the user.


A 1979 Neuropharmacological study reported that individuals reported “mild augmentation of sensorial perceptions, imaginings, thought gaps, and retrieval problems; lethargy and a short sleep with lively dreams followed these events.” The changes experienced after using Calea are unlike other psychedelics such as LSD or Ketamine.


A recent 2021 study confirmed Calea’s antianxiety and antidepressant effects in rats. The study compared the use of Calea versus benzodiazepines in rats.


A 2021 toxicology study found that animals that were given high doses of Calea experienced diarrhea, rash, and loose stools. The animals recovered quickly and were healthy afterward leading to the conclusion that this is not a highly toxic or deadly plant.


Sleepy Rats & Neuroscience

A 2021 study from “The Journal of Ethnopharmacology” titled, Calea zacatechichi Schltdl. (Compositae) produces anxiolytic- and antidepressant-like effects, and increases the hippocampal activity during REM sleep in rodents” confirms several of the aforementioned pharmacological benefits of Calea. I previously discussed the fact that Calea can alleviate some symptoms of anxiety and depression. This study confirms that Calea is a useful mood enhancer.


What I found most interesting about this study was the portion involving the hippocampus and REM sleep. Quick refresher, the hippocampus is the part of your brain that is involved in memory and learning. REM sleep or Rapid Eye Movement sleep is the sleep stage in which dreaming occurs. This study concludes that Calea does not actually enhance REM sleep. What happens to Calea users is that during REM sleep the hippocampus is firing more rapidly or at a faster frequency, therefore enhancing the hippocampal activity during REM sleep and leading to more vivid dreams that are better remembered when awake. Whaaaat?!? Finally, Calea was found to be a good alternative to other sleep inducing medications.


Calea Zacatechichi as a Pain Relief Alternative

The final study I wanted to mention briefly is from 2021 in an online publication, “Plants” titled, Mexican Plants and Derivatives Compounds as Alternative for Inflammatory and Neuropathic Pain Treatment—A Review”. This study looked at several Mexican plants that are traditionally used to treat inflammatory and neuropathic pain. The goal being to try and find healthier alternatives to opioid use for neuropathic pain. I am going to jump straight to the conclusion about Calea as an antinociceptive. As it turns out, Calea is effective at alleviating inflammatory pain, but ineffective at relieving neuropathic pain. More research needs to be done here, however this is a promising new discovery. Who knows? Maybe Calea could be the new ibuprofen?



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