Alchemy Shamanism Organic Food And The Doctrine Of Signatures

Submitted by Howard G. Charing

The 16th century alchemist and philosopher, Paracelsus, introduced in his treatise the Doctrine of Signatures, the concept that the Creator has placed his seal on plants to indicate their medicinal uses.

Underlying Paracelsus’ treatise was the premise that nature was itself a living organism, which must be considered an expression of “the One Life”, and that man and the universe are the same in their essential nature.

The 16th century alchemist and philosopher, Paracelsus, introduced in his treatise the Doctrine of Signatures, the concept that the Creator has placed his seal on plants to indicate their medicinal uses.

In this book of nature, Paracelsus noticed how the qualities of plants so often reflected their appearance – that the seeds of skullcap, for example, resemble small skulls and, it transpires, are effective at curing headache. Similarly, the hollow stalk of garlic resembles the windpipe and it is used for throat and bronchial problems. By the same token, willow grows in damp places and will heal rheumatic conditions.

Because of this, Paracelsus held that the inner nature of plants may be discovered by their outer forms or ‘signatures’. He applied this principle to food as well as medicine, remarking that “it is not in the quantity of food but in its quality that resides the Spirit of Life” – a belief familiar to those who choose to eat organic food and share the common concern over Genetically Modified substitutes that they lack ‘life force’, or spirit. According to Paracelsus, then, the appearance of a plant is the gateway to its spirit or consciousness

Shamans recognise the spiritual powers and qualities of plants in many ways: the colours of the flowers, their perfumes, the shape and form of their leaves, where they are growing and in what ways, the moods they evoke, and the wider geographical, cultural, or mythological landscapes they occupy

The doctrine of signatures treatise is not something known by indigenous shamans, but they understand the principles behind it well enough, that nature has spirit and communicates with us. These principles are not regarded as fanciful at all, but so important that they can save lives.

I discovered how the doctrine of signatures operates in the Amazon, for example, during my experiences with the Jergon Sacha plant.

Jergon Sacha (Dracontium peruviuanum)

My first exposure to this plant came about quite accidentally, when one day walking through the rainforest studying the properties of the plants, the maestro Javier queried why I always walked around with a machete. I jokingly replied “it’s against anacondas!”. He paused in thought for a moment and beckoned for me to follow him, a few minutes later we came across this tall-stemmed plant. He proceeded to cut it down and then whip me around the body paying attention to my legs and the soles of my feet… He then said “no more problems, you are protected against snakes”. I asked him why this plant was used in this way, and he indicated the pattern on the stem, which looks identical to the snakes in the forest. Later as I started to investigate this plant even more, I discovered some interesting correspondences; this is a plant, which is widely used as an antidote against snakebite venom in the Amazon.

This is accordance with the ‘doctrine of signatures’ concept. This doctrine is at the heart of homeopathy, folk medicine, and plant shamanism. The doctrine was revealed by the great alchemist and physician Paracelsus who lived in the 16th Century. The underlying principle was that the healing properties of the plant are not only in the outer ‘physical’ form, but also in their inner or spiritual nature. The Doctrine of Signatures holds that this inner nature can be revealed by its outer physical form or signatures. This plant is a clear demonstration of the outer form indicating the inner qualities. It’s use is directly related to it’s physical appearance, the patterns on the tall stem closely resembles the skin patterns of the highly venomous pit viper known as ‘Bushmaster’ or Jararaca which is indigenous to the Amazon.

The large tuber of the plant is a well-known and highly effective antidote for the bite of venomous snakes. The tuber is chopped up, and immersed in cold water and then drunk. Also the chopped tuber is placed in a banana leaf and used as a poultice, which is wrapped around the bite area. These procedures are repeated every few hours. Of course the deal here is that it works, and as it not possible to store anti-venom vaccines in the rainforest without refrigeration, this plant has exceptional life-saving importance.

Mocura / Mucura Petivera Alliacea

This plant can be taken orally or used in floral baths to raise energy, or take you out of a saladera (a run of bad luck, inertia, sense of not living to the full). Gives mental strength and you can feel its effects as also with Ajo Sacha, both are varieties of ‘false’ garlic and have a penetrating aroma.

One of its qualities is that on a personal psychological level it can boost one’s strength. For example it is considered good in countering shyness, and can strengthen one’s own sense of personal value and authority. One of its properties is to help people overcome ‘irrational’ fears & fearful memories

Medicinal properties include asthma, bronchitis, reduction of fat and cholesterol. This plant grows widely in the lower Amazon, and it is used widely in purification (floral baths).

Piñon Colorado Jatropha gossypifoilio

Has short-lived effect after drinking but helps lucid dreaming later on when you go to bed. Can be used as a planta maestra and it is a plant that maestros can take when being during their initiation. Can also take with tobacco.

The plant’s properties on the physical level relate to problems such as, burns, swellings, intestinal parasites, Insect bites and stings, vaginal infections, and bronchitis. It is possible to take the resin which is much stronger but toxic if too much ingested. The resin can be applied directly to the skin.

Piri-piri, (Cyperaceae)

Native people throughout the Amazon cultivate numerous varieties of medicinal sedges to treat a wide range of health problems, the native peoples for example, use sedge roots to treat headaches, fevers, cramps, dysentery and wounds as well as to ease childbirth. Special sedge varieties are cultivated by Shipiba women to improve their skill weaving and to protect their babies from illness.

Teresa a Shipiba craftswoman who joins us on our Amazon Retreats, told me that it is customary when the girls are very young for their mothers to squeeze a few drops of the ‘piri piri’ seed sap into their eyes in order to give their daughters the ability to have visions of the designs that she will make throughout her life.

The men cultivate special sedges to improve their hunting. Since the plant is used for such a wide range of conditions, it was once dismissed as being mere superstition. Pharmacological research has revealed the presence of ergot alkaloids, which are known to have diverse effects on the body from stimulation of the nervous system to constriction of blood vessels. These alkaloids are responsible for the wide range of medicinal uses. Apparently the ergot alkaloids come not from the plant itself but from a fungus that infects the plant.

Chanca piedra “Stone Breaker” (Phyllanthus Niruri)

This is a hybrid name “chanca” meaning “to break” in Quechua and “piedra” meaning “stone” in Spanish. This herb from the Amazon has been used by the indigenous peoples of the Rainforest for generations as an effective remedy to eliminate gall, and kidney stones. The plant has demonstrated its effectiveness against many illnesses including, kidney problems, urinary problems, colic, dysentery, jaundice and numerous other conditions. This herb has become widely used in South America as the herbal remedy for gall and kidney stones, and can typically be bought in capsule or leaf form from many stores. This plant is used only for its pharmaceutical properties, and is not a planta maestra. As a note, this plant is also starting to become known in Western Medical circles, as when I brought some back for my mother to help her with her kidney stones, her doctor was apparently familiar with this herb, but he still didn’t want her to use it due to possible contra-indications with the prescribed pharmaceutical medicine.


On reflection plant medicine is totally different than pharmaceutical medication which only affects one whilst it is being taken; these kinds of plant medicines seem to have a permanent effect in some way metaphorical or otherwise altering one’s consciousness or “DNA”. Paracelus, is still a source of inspiration to all those who work with the healing properties of herbs, and the plants.

One of the great revelations that we can experience in working with the plant spirit or consciousness is that we are not separate from the natural world. In our culture we perceive ourselves to be separate beings with our minds firmly embedded within our physical being (typically our head). The plants can show you that this way of being is an illusion and that we are all connected, all of us and everything else is a discrete element in the great universal field of consciousness or spirit.

Related link: The Attributes of Plants, and the Spirit of Life – a Shaman’s Perspective

Howard G. Charing is a partner in Eagle’s Wing Centre for Contemporary Shamanism. His initiation into the world of Shamanism was sudden, which was caused by a serious accident, which resulted in severe injuries and a near-death experience. After many months of physical pain and disability, he had a transformational experience, which started him on a path to healing. If you like to know more about his work, Howard conducts “Plant Spirit Medicine” journeys to the Amazon Rainforest.

Jimson Weed Datura Stramonium Poisonous Herbal Medicine

By Ina Woolcott

What is Datura Stramonium?

Datura Stramonium is the botanical name of the plant more commonly known as Jimsonweed. It is a widespread, poisonous plant of the nightshade family and is able to flourish in nearly all environments, but prospers in high nutrient soil. The name Datura is early Sanskrit and means “divine inebriation.” The Origins of Datura are unclear, due to the plants wide distribution, although Mexico and Central America have the highest concentration. It is found in most areas of the USA, apart from the West, Northwest and the northern Great Plains and most frequently in the South and throughout various other areas of the world, growing 2 to 4 feet high. The stems are purple and fork out with leaves 7-20cm long with ‘teeth’ of uneven occurrence similar to those of an oak trees leaves. What stands out the most are the flowers that are trumpet-shaped, white to purple in colour, and 5-12.5 cm long and because these open and close at atypical times, the plant has been given the nickname moonflower. There are also fruits on the plant which are egg shaped and roughly the size of a walnut and covered in spikes. Each fruit breaks into four compartments containing a small number of kidney shaped seeds. When crushed all parts of the plant give off an unpleasant smell.

Datura Stramonium is also known as simply Datura, Jimson Weed, Gypsum Weed, Loco Weed, Jamestown Weed, Thorn Apple, Angel’s Trumpet, Devil’s Trumpet, Mad Hatter, Crazy Tea and Zombie’s Cucumber.

The plant contains tropane alkaloids that cause life like hallucinations which cant be differentiated from ‘normal’ reality. Sometimes Jimson Weed is used instead of illegal drugs as it is generally not illegal, although there are regulations on its usage. Generally it is drunk as a ‘herbal’ tea, although it can be smoked or eaten. As it is reputed to be an unpleasant and poor high, it is not in big demand as a recreational drug. Now and again a grazing goat will come across Jimson weed and upon eating it, die a prolonged and painful death.

Who uses Datura and for What Purpose?

Navajo cautionary advice on Datura “Eat a little, and go to sleep. Eat some more, and have a dream. Eat some more, and don’t wake up.”

No matter where Datura originated from, it appears to have played an important role as a “culture plant,” particularly in Asia and the New World, for many years. It has been used as part of spiritual ceremonies and acts in many parts of the world. The Sadhus (Yogis) of Hinduism used datura as a spiritual tool, smoking it with cannabis in traditional pipes called chillums. Native Americans have used this plant in sacred ceremonies, such as the ceremonies of manhood, and also to receive visions. A young Native American coming of age would go to an isolated location, sometimes alone, fasting and praying to purify himself. Then a shaman would come and give the initiate a Datura tea to induce visions. A shaman would always prepare the brew as he knows how much to administer and also where to gather the plants. In Haiti’s Voodoo religion, Datura is known as Zombie Cucumber and is used on the trial by ordeal which at times makes zombies. The ‘Zombie cucumber’ is mixed with other ingredients to make a balm which is used to find out if someone is telling the truth or not. If they are being honest they stay alive, if not they die by turning into a zombie.

Carlos Castaneda used Datura under the tutelage of Don Juan Matus and write about his experience with the plant ally in great detail in THE TEACHINGS OF DON JUAN: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge

Datura has been used for its mind altering properties, to induce visions, to ‘fly’, (this is what ‘witches’ used, the word flying was used metaphorically) to help foretell the future, to reveal the causes of disease and misfortune, to treat colds and nervous conditions and to hex and un-hex. Other datura species have been used to hold counsel with the gods. In addition, it has been used to find stolen objects and even to make predictions of the likelihood of recovery of black magic associated illness. Datura ceratocaula was used in an ointment to treat cracked soles, sores, bruises, as plasters for ulcers, pustules, and as a poultice for rheumatic pains. It has also been highly revered as a powerful aphrodisiac and is by some regarded as one of the most ancient healing herbs. Datura has been used for empowerment to manipulate the “supernatural forces” that control nature and influence human activity.

The effects of Jimson Weed are extreme dilating of the pupils, flushed, warm and dry skin, dry mouth, urinary retention, slowing or stopping of intestinal movement, rapid heart beat, high blood pressure and jerky movements as well as of course being a strong hallucinogen. People who have experienced Datura describe the effects as if living in a dream, where one falls in and out of consciousness. When at the peak of the experience, one often loses touch with reality and is unable to communicate. It is a “real” trance when someone under Daturas influence is awake but completely disassociated from his immediate surroundings. He would ignore most stimuli and respond to unreal ones. People known miles away are visited and engaged with. Effects can last for 24-48 hours, sometimes longer due to the alkaloids in Jimson weed slowing the digestive process! Some users have described their experiences as disagreeable and extremely frightening.

Datura has a long history of use as a herbal medicine, it is very poisonous though and should be used with extreme caution, the line between the amount taken for hallucinogenic effects and death are very thin. Overdosing is easy to do, and can result in hyperthermia, coma, respiratory arrest, seizures and fevers in the 40-43°C range. This can be accompanied by delirium with visual and auditory hallucinations and can be fatal. Advise for an overdose: Vomit and go straight to hospital! There is no antidote for this and treatment normally includes pumping the stomach and administering activated charcoal to absorb the contaminants. The drug physostigmine, a mild nerve agent and a reversible cholinesterase inhibitor obtained from the Calabar bean is used in severe cases. People overdose mainly because effects take a while to kick in, they take some more and before they know it have OD’d.

Once upon a time Datura was used as a medicine – the alkaloid was known as daturine – to help asthma sufferers, by extracting Stramonium from the seeds and leaves and then using it to relax the smooth muscles of the bronchial tubes. This was done by smoking Stramonium or by taking the solution internally. Often the Datura leaves were ground in to a powder with the same amount of cannabis and lobelia then blended together with potassium nitrate. This was then burned in an open dish giving off dense smoke giving tremendous relief from asthma attacks. At the start of the 20th century asthma was treated with medicines that had these ingredients in extensive amounts. When the dangers of tropane poisoning were uncovered datura stopped being used medically. The FDA has rendered it unfit for human consumption.