Odor profile: very sweet narcotic scent, extremely fragrant and intoxicating, night-blooming and known for being toxic
Datura is probably one of the most interesting herbs in our glossary of perfumery notes. Doing research on Datura was quite a challenge, but the journey into the mythological garden was so interesting that I couldn’t help myself from composing a very long article and retelling many of the fascinating stories I’ve heard about it. The aim of this story is to help you understand many of the Datura-themed fragrances in which this herb sometimes appears as an ingredient and very often as a fantasy concept around which the notes are arranged. Special thanks goes to Elena Vosnaki—Fragrantica’s contributing editor and international fragrance specialist and consultant—for her priceless reviews on datura fragrances and expert recommendations.
Datura is a genus that consists of nine species of flowering plants belonging to the family Solanaceae. What is typical for all species of this genus is that they open and bloom in the evening, which perfectly fits the dark nature of Datura. Think of it as of a dark and powerful flower, a deadly and poisonous plant which is at the same time one of the oldest healing herbs.
The Aztecs reportedly used datura leaves as a treatment for hemorrhoids, to treat severe fevers, or to alleviate asthma. People suffering from insomnia have used it for centuries as a bed liner, while other folk remedies blend Datura with sesame oil and gigantic swallow wort leaves to create ear drops for the treatment and prevention of ear infections.
Datura is a wandering annual plant that typically grows in the vicinity of human dwellings. It grows in all parts of the world, typically at the borders of the fields or along the roadsides, on rubbish heaps and in neglected corners of rich ground. Datura's precise distribution is uncertain, but its name originates from the Hindi word dhatūrā, meaning "thorn apple." This descriptive name refers to the appearance of the seed capsules of the plant, which are typically the size of a walnut and are covered with thorns.
The most beautiful feature of Daturas is certainly their trumpet-like flowers which emanate an unusual heady scent at dusk. The sweet and distinctly erotic fragrance of this night-blooming plant is tainted with the strongly unpleasant smell of its deep green 6-inch leaves, which are sometimes used as an hallucinogen, or precisely, a potent deliriant. A day before it blooms, the Datura bud unfolds its petals in a gorgeous spiral pattern, which is a beautiful example of the Fibonacci sequence in nature.
Even though they are so charming in appearance, Datura plants contain lethal levels of poison, namely tropane alkaloids atropine, hyoscyamine and scopolamine. These active deliriants usually produce deep confusional states in which a person loses the ability to tell reality from fantasy, expresses bizarre or violent behavior and experiences elevated body temperature and heart rates, very painful photophobia and a loss of memory. Datura may even be fatal if ingested and, very often, deaths are reported from its recreational use. Each of Datura's names comes from a different culture and tells us the story about one of its numerous uses and abuses. As you will see, most of them are very sinister.
Before continuing with this article, I’d like to warn you that Datura is an extremely poisonous and dangerous hallucinogen. Datura use has been linked to many deaths, and even the smallest dose can produce extremely unpleasant and dangerous effects. Do not attempt to consume any of its parts.
These two plants are closely related and share the same characteristics
an herbaceous plant with white, yellowish, pink and purple flowers, which are erect
a small tree or shrub with pendulous flowers which can be white, yellow, pink, orange or red.
In the mythology of Native Americans, Datura was a sacred plant used for both magical and medicinal purposes. Native American mythology is composed of traditional narratives and spiritual stories which are deeply rooted in nature. In such a religious system, rich with the symbolism of plants, Datura holds a special place. In the culture of aboriginal America, an area populated by Indian tribes living throughout the North and South continents, Datura was one of the most widely used hallucinogenic plants. The plant was prized for its ability to help mortals communicate with gods and with the spirits of the dead.
The most interesting tales about Datura have been told by the people of Chumash, who used this plant in their quests for visions and supernatural powers. The Indians worshiped the goddess Momoy, the Chumash Goddess of Datura, who was often depicted as a frightening-looking old woman who holds the power of clairvoyance.
Momoy was able see into the future, even though she wasn’t able to interfere with the future events and change the course of history. Still, her omniscience was invaluable for mortals who could also become clairvoyant if only they drank of the water in which Momoy has washed her hands. This intoxicating liquid would lead souls into a deep slumber, surrounding them with visions of the future and revealing forthcoming prosperity or inevitable troubles.
Thanks to the work of contemporary ethnographers, many of the brief and hypothetical Chumash narrative texts have been decoded, providing us valuable insight into the Datura cult among the Native Americans. Today we know that the reason for Datura's immense significance in mythology of Northern American Indians lies in the fact that they used this plant to gain visions in which the individual's lifelong guardian spirit, a supernatural helper, was sought. Datura was administered to youths during a puberty ritual to make a contact with their dream helper. They believed that the dream helper comes only to a person who had drunk a potion made from Datura. The purpose of someone's first Datura experience was to establish this connection. Being successful in the ritual, one could take Datura anytime later in life, to strengthen the bond with the guardian spirit or to seek supernatural power and aid in times of trouble.
According to the legend, Momoy took a bowl, added water, and then washed her hands in it to create a magic potion. When her grandson asked her why she didn't take a bath and make an even more powerful drink she said, “If I took a bath, you’d turn into a devil or die. Just up to my elbows is enough.” American Indians were familiar with all of the dangers of Datura, and for this reason only the specialists in the use of the plant were allowed to make the potions and give them to the drinkers. Moreover, the specialists and the drinker would have to fast for a couple of days before the ritual, abstaining from sexual intercourse, meat and grease.
Datura specialists were also the ones who went to dig the roots from the ground, while approaching Datura respectfully and in prayer: “Grandmother, I have come to beg for one of your roots.” Datura givers would calculate the effective dose according to the type of the soil from which the roots were dug, the age of the plant and the size of the roots. The first Datura experience was the most closely controlled, but deaths from poisoning would still happen from time to time. The Chumash believed that these occasional deaths occurred always when the drinker had violated fasting taboos, disrespecting the Datura spirit and causing its hostility.
The drinker who had not prepared himself through fasting, to approach the experience with a calm mind, would perceive only exaggerated echoes of own dreads and weaknesses. The one who prepared would meet the dream helper, usually an animal-spirit, who would offer lifetime protection and some specific talent to the drinker.
Perhaps the most controversial use of Datura stems from the Vodun tradition, popularly known as the voodoo. Vodun is a religion of coastal West Africa from Nigeria to Ghana, which is also practiced as a traditional animistic religion among the African Diaspora in the Dominican Republic, Haiti and in the American Deep South. In the Vodun religion, there is a strong distinction between the physical body, the animating principle and the awareness. According to the doctrines of Vodon, the sorcerers can zombify their victims by simply extracting the awareness from the person and leaving the spirit to reanimate a dead body. Study of the folklore in Haiti suggests that the zombified persons truly existed and that they became victims of zombification due to a powerful psychoactive drug—two special powders rubbed into the wound and thus introduced to the bloodstream. The first powder is made from the flesh of the pufferfish and toad skin, while the second one blends various dissociative drugs, and primarily Datura.
Across the Caribbean, Datura is known as the Herb of the Sorcerers or Zombie Cucumber. The name, obviously, refers to a disturbing use of the plant to induce a state of trance, numbness of the physical sensations and complete depersonalization. Usually, the victims of zombification were disobedient members of the community, various delinquents or rebellious slaves who would not improve their habits upon milder means of punishment. A Zombified person was pronounced dead and, according to the Haitian penal codes from 19th century, zombification was considered murder. The intoxicated person was even placed in a coffin with an air tube (to provide a supply of fresh air), and buried for 3 days. After this period, the coffin was recovered from the grave and the victim was given another dose of Datura powder, followed by a ceremony to initiate the zombie into the after-life. At this point the victim was completely brainwashed and the pharmaceutically induced hypnotic state was further maintained by giving regular doses of the Datura brew to the zombie, who had completely lost any sense of self.
A zombified person can move, hear and speak, but they cannot respond to any kind of stimulus. Basically, the victim’s metabolic rate is slowed down to the point where it appears to be "living dead." Suffering from memory loss and complete disorientation, zombified victims would typically become submissive servants, living in the induced state of psychotic delirium. They were often sold to sugar plantations as slave labor.
Datura was also one of the ingredients of witches’ flying ointment—an hallucinogenic balm used by witches, consisting of a fatty base and a blend of various herbal extracts. The ointment was poisonous when ingested but it was absorbed more slowly into the body if applied on the skin. With the help of the mixture, the witches were able to fly to the Sabbath on their broomsticks, to attend the occultists’ meetings at midnight.
For those who don’t believe in mythical beings, flying brooms are just a symbol for the psychoactive drug trips. Modern science often translates these fabled journeys to the Sabbath into chemical terms and complex reactions between alkaloids. But in this article, I want to do justice to Datura and propose another reading for the legend of the flying brooms.
Historically, witches are commonly believed to be in league with the Devil and other dark forces. However, according to the witch-cult hypothesis, European witchcraft was in fact a suppressed pre-Christian pagan religion, based on the Earth, nature, cyclical changes, plants and animals. The priests and priestesses of this matriarchal religion, just like the Indians of the Americas, often used psychoactive plants to communicate with the divine supernatural forces. The broomsticks were actually used for stirring the boiling fat mixed with hexing herbs, and to apply the ointment to the mucous membranes of some hard-to-reach places—by sitting on them nude.
It takes some serious historical digging to comprehend the role of women and Goddesses in pagan religions. Perhaps that’s why the image of the old witch flying across the sky on her faithful broomstick still remains only a mythical symbol and a true cultural icon.
Oddly enough, Datura is known both as the Angel’s Trumpet and the Devil’s Weed. Much of the contemporary interest in Datura is traceable to the writings of Carlos Castaneda, and especially his popular book The Teachings of Don Juan. In this work, Castaneda describes the philosophy of Don Juan, a Yaqui sorcerer and shaman, whom he had met in the early 60s, before psychedelic drugs became popular with the hippie movement. In Castaneda’s writings, Don Juan appears as a typical shaman who teaches his apprentices to navigate through the fantasy realms carried by the wings of Datura. Castaneda's drug experiences are closely tied with the Yaqui philosophy and mythology, giving birth to what was later called the New Age Movement—an ideology that draws on both Eastern and Western spiritual and metaphysical traditions.
Although typically associated with Peyote, Castaneda’s first drug experiences were actually with Datura. In a series of fascinating dialogues, Castaneda learns from Don Juan, his teacher and shaman, about a spiritual helper—an ally—living in Datura plants. The name Don Juan uses to refer to this spiritual entity is one of the Spanish names for Datura: Yerba Del Diablo or "Devil’s Weed." The shaman’s power is vast and unthinkable, but it comes to its full use only with the help of the ally who assists in transcending the realm of conventional reality. In one of his infamous experiments with Datura, Castaneda transformed into a crow and learned how to fly—just like medieval witches on their broomsticks.
Datura was regarded as one of the sacred plants even in Eurasia, and predominately in India where it was honored as one of Shiva's sacred plants. According to the Hindu religious texts, Datura grew out of Shiva's chest. On the 13th day of the waxing Moon in January, Hindu practitioners would give flowers and fruits of Datura on Shiva altars, as ritual offerings. On the festival of Shiva, hundreds of Sadhus and Yogis—who are revered by Hindus as representatives of the gods—would gather at the Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu to smoke Datura mixed with Cannabis sativa (Ganja)—two plants sacred to Shiva.
Another religious cult of Central India, known as Thuggee, or thugs, is associated with more sinister use of Datura. Worshippers of Kali, the goddess of time, change and death, Thuggee performed their ritual sacrificial killings with help of Datura. The Thuggee were traveling assassins who would attack voyagers they met on their journeys, robbing their bodies and burying them somewhere along the roads. They would typically invite a traveler, or even whole groups, to join their caravan. Once they would join, the Thuggee would delay an attack until they gained the trust of the newcomers. Thugee would then use Datura seeds to produce a twenty-hour intoxication of the travelers, during which they were robbed, murdered, or left to recover or pass away from the effects of the poisoning.
If you’re not afraid of the dark, there are a couple of wonderful Datura fragrances Elena Vosnaki would like to recommend.
DATURA in FRAGRANCES
by Elena Vosnaki
Two characteristic fragrances that bring to mind the dangerous qualities of the datura plant are Serge Lutens Datura Noir and Evening Edged in Gold by Ineke.
Datura Noir is rather schizophrenic, even for a Lutens fragrance, aiming at pushing several buttons at once, much like the hallucinogenic datura plant is famous for; the Lutens fragrance is a kaleidoscope which changes perceptibly every time you give it a slight shake. It has the almond nuance of cyanide we read about in novels, yet dressed in edible apricot and tropical fruit and floral (tuberose) notes as if trying to belie its purpose, while at the same time it gives the impression of coconut-laced suntan lotion smelled from afar, as if vacationing at Palm Beach in some 1950s film noir where women are promiscuous and men armed to the teeth beneath their grey suits. The noir moniker is perfect for a night-blooming blossom, but also for something dangerous and off- kilter just like a classic cinemascope of the era. And yet Datura Noir is a modern fragrance, very much with its feet in the here and now.
The apricot nuance in Datura Noir is due to both apricot pits used in making amaretto liqueur (which smells and tastes of bitter almonds oddly enough) and to osmanthus flowers, a blossom that smells like an hybrid between apricot and peach. The effect is sweet, narcotic, perhaps a tad too buttery sweet thanks to the profuse and clearly discernible coconut note which smothers the more carnal aspects of the tuberose in the heart.
Evening Edged in Gold by Ineke uses Angel's Trumpet (a particularly fragrant datura) mixed with supporting players (plum and osmanthus) but also with contrasting elements for balance (bitterish, leathery saffron). The general ambience is warm, smoldering, sweet, headlong into what the French call capiteux ("heady, intoxicating").
The creamy tonality of Evening Edged in Gold is less loud or potent than the Lutens fragrance, while at the same time still delivering a punch. This is a perfume to opt for when you are in a sexy or party mood, but are sure that the floral sweetness and candied aspects will be appreciated.
Other fragrances featuring datura include Maître Parfumeur et Gantier Secrète Datura, a powdery, elegant take of the herbal tinge of datura allied to vanilla-smelling heliotrope, Keiko Mecheri's Datura Blanche (lighter than the Lutens), White Datura by lluminum Perfume and Green Datura by Voluspa.
Author: Marina Milojević (Mary)
Fragrantica Writer, Translator & Editor
عطر با رایحه تاتوره Datura
- بروزرسانی : 1394-09-08
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