Many teacher plants grow in Southern California, many of which have been known and used by humans for centuries and millennia. This page lists a few of which I’m personally aware. I’m certain there a dozens more; the local tribes knew of hundreds, but I’m honored to share what little I know. Seasoned practitioners may experience some of these plants as doorways to healing and/or wisdom of the ages, deserving reverence and respect. Used unwisely by ill-informed persons, they can be deadly toxic, and the US government classifies some of the following plants as illegal to ingest. This list is not intended as a foraging guide and is for informational purposes only.
Passion Flower grows in the wild in Los Angeles, and is also domestically cultivated. The leaves and flowers have been used to make a relaxing tea.
Mugwort has many, many uses. Ancient Romans used the dried plant as torch heads. Juice from its crushed leaves can be used to treat poison oak outbreaks. It was used in medieval times as the base of beer instead of hops, a practice in current revival among LA’s foraging community. It also has slightly psychotropic properties. It’s considered to be a dream potentiator: drinking a mild tea brewed from several leaves before bed induces vivid dreaming.
I eat tons of wild lettuce in my salad during Springtime when the leaves are tender. However, in much higher concentration than one could possibly ingest by consuming whole leaves, wild lettuce sap is ingested for mild opiate-like properties. The white sap can be collected through scoring of stems, or by chemical extraction from the entire plant.
California Poppy extract has sedative and anti-anxiety effects far milder than opium. It contains an entirely different class of alkaloids than opium poppies. Because it is California’s official state flower, people sometimes incorrectly assume it has special protection against being picked inside California. Harvesting laws are subject to the same restrictions as all other wild plants within California.
THIS PLANT IS NOT A 1:1 TOBACCO SUBSTITUTE. Its nicotine levels are many, many times higher than smoking tobacco. Unwise smokers have passed out from a single puff, and ingesting the leaves can be fatal. Tribal practitioners have ceremonial uses for this plant. The botanical name is Nicotiana glauca, also known as wild tobacco and tree tobacco, it’s a member of the nightshade family.
Coleus is a widely cultivated ornamental plant, both indoors and outdoors. Its brightly colored leaves can be spotted in many home gardens. Ingesting 40-50 fresh leaves from the Coleus blumei strain may produce mild hallucinogenic effects, though this has been little studied by modern science. The Mazatec Indians of southern Mexico are said to have a tradition of ingesting the plant for mind altering effects.
Certain varieties of Acacia trees bear minute trace amounts of DMT and other alkoloids including tryptamine. The phsychoactive elements may be in the leaves, bark or seeds, depending on species. At least three phychoactive acacias have been imported into the Southern California landscape for ornamental purposes. These include Bailey Acacia (baileyana), Knife Acacia (cultriformis), Golden Wattle (longifolia).
Like Acacia, some ornamental Phalaris grasses growing in Southern California have trace amounts of DMT and/or other tryptamines.
This seductively beautiful plant is legally grown for ornamental purposes by gardeners throughout Los Angeles and other parts of the US. This plant should be treated with incredible respect. It has grown on mother earth much longer than humans have walked the planet, and is deservingly labeled as a cunning and baffling opponent. Persons suffering from emotional or physical pain are at risk of quickly becoming addicted. Wisdom dictates extreme caution and respect in regard to this plant, which has been considered a potent trickster over the millennia, capable of capturing naive souls and under-informed minds.
According to California state law, marijuana is legal to grow by state-licensed persons. LA is full of pot connoisseurs who grow some of the most highly refined and potent strains in entire world. The plant grows wild in much milder form in many parts of the US including Indiana and Ohio. I’ve seen entire feilds growing wild in Pakistan and Greece.
I know absolutely nothing about Psilocybe Mushroom harvesting practices. However, I have been told they’re regularly spotted growing spontaneously in Los Angeles gardens treated with manure after rainy weather. EXTREME caution would be required for harvesting, as look-alike species can be deadly poisonous, quickly shutting down human organs.
San Pedro Cactus / Peruvian Torch
The most common ornamental cactus in Southern California gardens, this plant bears mescaline in much lower amounts per gram of flesh than peyote. Shamans in Southern California, Mexico and Latin America regularly use it in spiritual ceremony. Sister San Pedro contains several alkaloids in addition to mescaline.
Also known as moonflower and Datura, Chumash tribes consider Jimson weed the Grandmother to a family of plant helpers including morning glory. This plant is a very potent hallucinogen and dangerous in untrained hands. All parts of the plant contain dangerous levels of the tropane alkaloids including: atropine, hyoscyamine and scopolamine. Fatal overdoses and many hospitalizations occur amongst novice recreational users who don’t understand the volatility of their plant guide. Simply put, this plant demands grave respect. There can be as much as a 5:1 toxicity variation from one plant to another, depending on its age, growing location, and weather conditions. Additionally, toxic concentrations are higher in certain parts of the plant than others, and can vary from leaf to leaf.
Morning Glory seeds land scores of kids in the hospital every year. They are illegal to ingest and have psychotropic effects. The seeds sold in nurseries are commonly treated with chemicals to dissuade ingestion.
Also known as Brugmansia, this plant is incredibly potent, one of the strongest hallucinogens known to mankind. It’s also an extremely dangerous plant to use, a known killer in amateur hands. Potency varies from one plant to the next, and there’s no reliable published methodology for determining plant strength. Hence, while a small amount from a low-potency plant might not lead to death, the same amount from a high-potency plant could easily kill an adult human. Member of the Datura family.