Written By: Zach Champ
DESCRIPTION & HABITAT:
Morning Glories are a type of flowering climbing plants in the Convolvulaceae family. The name ipomoea comes from the Greek ips and homios meaning “worm-like”, describing the plant’s tendrils and how the plant typically grows as a vine.
There are nearly 1,000 species of Morning Glories, most being perennials, although a few subspecies are annuals.
Morning Glories are very hardy plants, and can thrive anywhere, especially in dry and poor soil. They readily and quickly adapt and spread to new environments.
The vibrant and diverse flowers of Morning Glories are not just visually striking; they play a crucial role in the ecosystem by attracting pollinators such as birds, butterflies, and various insects.
Not only do Morning Glories provide aesthetic appeal, but they also serve a practical purpose. When grown against buildings, they offer substantial shade, potentially reducing heating and cooling costs.
A special variety of enchanting and mystical Morning Glories exists which only bloom at night under the light of the moon and which are referred to as Moonflowers.
Another interesting sub-species of the Morning Glory family also includes the Sweet Potato (Ipomoea batatas).
In Virginia (and throughout other parts of North America), the native Ipomoea lacunosa, or “Small White Morning Glory,” is known for its modest white flowers and the whitestar potato, a traditional food source for Native American tribes.
Another is Ipomoea purpurea which is an introduced species also commonly found throughout Virginia.
Morning Glories are found all over the world, and in some cases are considered an invasive plant species such as in Australia where it grows in thick patches blocking sunlight to other native plant species.
Cultures around the world have long revered and used Morning Glory for its medicinal and psychoactive properties.
Morning Glory seeds are a treasure trove of medicinal properties, including anthelmintic, anticholinergic, antifungal, antispasmodic, antitumor, diuretic, and laxative effects.
There are recordings of the Indians of Southern Mexico preparing the roots of the flower as a tea which was used as a diuretic, laxative and expectorant.
The ancient Chinese also used Ipomoea nil seeds to create a laxative.
Another medicinal use for Morning Glories is to alleviate fevers and headaches, with teas brewed from the dry leaves offering relief. Additionally, Morning Glory tea is reputed to enhance memory, cognitive function, alertness, and concentration, and has been employed in treating bronchitis.
BIOCHEMISTRY & PSYCHOACTIVITY:
The biochemical complexity of Morning Glories is fascinating. The seeds contain about 0.1% ergot alkaloids, including ergometrine, chanoclavine, lysergol, and notably, d-lysergic and d-isolysergic acids.
Plant-associated clavicipitaceous fungi located in the seeds of the plant synthesize ergoline alkaloids which are responsible for its psychedelic effects.
The highest concentration of LSA (ergine) is found in the seeds of the subspecies Rivea corymbosa, Ipomoea violacea, and Argyreia nervosa (Hawaiian Baby Woodrose) species.
Ergine, a serotonergic psychedelic, is believed to produce its psychedelic effects through partial agonism of the 5-HT2A receptor. It interacts with serotonin, dopamine, and adrenergic receptors, albeit with lower affinity compared to LSD.
The plant-associated clavicipitaceous fungi in the seeds synthesize ergoline alkaloids, contributing to the plant's psychedelic properties.
The Aztec were known to use Morning Glories in the creation of rubber by extracting the sulfur contained within the plant to vulcanize the rubber. This rubber would be used to create the athletic balls used in their ritualistic hoop games.
The main psychedelic compound in Morning Glory seeds, known as ergine, was first chemically defined by English chemists S. Smith and G. M. Timmis as a byproduct of ergot alkaloids.
The psychedelic effects of ergine have been theorized to have influenced a myriad of historical events and practices. For instance, it's speculated that ergine might have been a contributing factor to the infamous episodes of witchcraft and the Dancing Plagues that swept through medieval Europe.
These events, characterized by uncontrolled and ecstatic dancing and other unusual behaviors, might have been fueled by the inadvertent consumption of ergine through ergot-infected grains.
Furthermore, ergine's influence possibly extended to the ancient world, particularly in the context of Mystery Cults in Ancient Greece and Rome.
These secretive religious groups were known for their ritualistic consumption of revelatory drinks, which might have included ergine-containing substances, leading to profound psychedelic experiences and spiritual revelations.
Ergine was assayed for human activity by Albert Hofmann in self-trials in 1947, well before it was known to be a natural compound.
In 1956, the Central Intelligence Agency conducted research on the psychedelic properties of the ergine in the seeds of Rivea corymbosa, as part of Sub-project 22 of MKULTRA.
SPIRITUAL & RITUALISTIC USES:
In the lush landscapes of South America, the Zapotec Indians use the seeds for sacred ceremonies. Known as Tlitliltzen, morning glory seeds are integral to the Zapotec rituals, where it is believed they help facilitate sacred dialogue with the deities and ancestors.
Similarly, in the villages of Oaxaca, the shamans of the Mazatec Indians use Ipomoea tricolor to induce mystical states of consciousness, a practice which continues to this day.
The Aztec civilization, renowned for its advanced understanding of botany and spirituality, also held the Morning Glory in high esteem.
Known as coaxihuitl, or “snake-plant,” it was a key element in the shamanic rituals of Aztec priest-shamans. The seeds of the plant are referred to as ololiuqui, which is Nahuatl for "little round thing." Its entheogenic properties were employed to induce transcendent states of consciousness, connecting the physical with the metaphysical.
“The Snake Plant” was closely associated with Xochiquetzal, the Goddess of Love and Fertility, as well as Huitzilophochitl the god of sun and war.
In Aztec iconography, Huitzilopochitl is a deity whose very name conveys secrets of the natural world and its mystical connections… literally translating as "Hummingbird on the Left," Huitzilopochitl, is represented with a depiction of a hummingbird, drawn as if in a sacred dance to the deity's forehead.
This is no ordinary depiction but a metaphorical representation of the bird imbibing nectar, akin to divine wisdom or knowledge. The hummingbird, in this context, is not just a consumer of the morning glory's essence but a seeker of enlightenment, while Huitzilopochtli himself is the embodiment of this sacred flora, a deity who is both the guardian and the bestower of esoteric knowledge.
This reverence for the Morning Glory was not confined to just the Aztecs. The Mayans, another pillar of ancient Mesoamerican civilization, also appreciated Morning Glories as sacred plants, and were very familiar with the plant’s entheogenic properties.
The Lady Xoc stela, a monumental stone artwork, stands as a remarkable emblem of Mayan artistry and spirituality, particularly highlighting the esteemed status of the famous Mayan Queen Lady Xoc... She is the only Mayan Queen to be depicted in monumental stone artwork, a testament to her esteemed social and spiritual status amongst the Mayan culture.
This stela, discovered amidst the ruins of her majestic palace, is one of three stone artifacts that celebrate the legacy of Lady Xoc. In this particular carving, she is portrayed in a moment of profound spiritual experience, embodying the role of a priestess. Her gaze is fixed in awe upon a "vision-serpent," a revered entity in Mayan religious and ritual tradition. This serpent is not just a symbol but a conduit to the divine, representing a bridge between the earthly realm and the spiritual world.
The depiction of the vision-serpent emerging from three morning glory flowers is a striking feature of the stela. This imagery is deeply symbolic, mirroring the growth pattern of the "Snake Plant," where flowers spring forth from sinuous tendrils. This artistic choice is a testament to the Mayans' keen observation of nature and their ability to infuse their art with layers of meaning and symbolism.
While its use was likely restricted to the priestly and noble classes, the Morning Glory played a pivotal role in various spiritual practices of Native American cultures in both North American tribes and in the advanced civilizations of ancient Mesoamerica.
After the discovery of the America’s, the plant's influence traveled overseas, finding a home in Japanese gardens as a beloved ornamental, admired for its aesthetic appeal.
During the Victorian Period, the Morning Glory became popularized as a symbol representing love and affection.
LEGALITY & RISKS:
Morning Glories are legal to possess and cultivate, however the legality of consuming, cultivating, and possessing ergine varies depending on the country.
In the United States, while possessing ergine-containing seeds is not illegal, possessing pure ergine without proper authorization is prohibited under Schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act.
Ergine is not considered addictive, and there are no known deaths directly linked to its pharmacological effects. All associated deaths are due to indirect causes, such as self-harm, impaired judgment, and adverse drug interactions.
While its physiological effects vary from person to person, consumption of the seeds can typically lead to a range of physiological responses, including visual and auditory hallucinations, euphoria, anxiety or nausea, and in some cases, cardiovascular dysregulation. This variability underscores the need for caution and respect for its potent effects.
One popular study conducted on the effects of ergine and morning glory seeds determined that half of the participants experienced cardiovascular dysregulation, leading to an abrupt halt of the research.
This outcome challenged the previously assumed safety of ingesting these seeds, suggesting that the adverse effects might be due to not only ergine but potentially other substances within the seeds as well. Furthermore, the study underscored the unpredictable nature of these effects, as reactions varied greatly in type and intensity among different individuals.
This research highlights the complex and potentially hazardous nature of natural psychoactive substances, emphasizing the necessity for comprehensive understanding and cautious usage.
Individuals should practice caution and the utmost care when consuming entheogenic plants, due to the inherent health risks.
Psychedelic plants and compounds such as Morning Glories are primarily therapeutic, spiritual, and creative tools of the divine and should be respected as such, rather than being viewed as a “cheap legal high”.