Salvia Divinorum: Characteristics, Habitat, Properties, Effects

Salvia divinorum is a species of hallucinogenic perennial herbaceous plant belonging to the Lamiaceae family. Known as leaves of the shepherdess, María Pastora, Hierva de la Virgen, sage or sage of the fortune tellers, it is a native plant of southwestern Mexico.

It is a rare plant, endemic to the Sierra Mazateca in the Oaxaca region of Mexico. Its natural habitat is located in inaccessible high mountain areas, on shady and humid ravines.

Salvia divinorum. Source: Photo by David J. Stang [CC BY-SA 4.0 (]

It is a kind of transitory psychoactive properties when its leaves are consumed, either in infusions, chewing and smoking the dried leaves. The leaves contain an opiate-like compound that causes hallucinations. This psychoactive principle is a diterpenoid called salvinorin A.

It has been used since ancient times by the indigenous Mazatecs of the Oaxaca region in their healing and divination rituals. The “sage of the soothsayers” is used by shamans to seek contact with religious deities.

Article index

  • one

    General characteristics

    • 1.1


    • 1.2


    • 1.3


    • 1.4


    • 1.5

      Chemical composition

  • two


    • 2.1


    • 2.2

      Habitat and distribution

  • 3

    Properties (edit)

    • 3.1

      Effects edit

    • 3.2


  • 4

    Side effects

    • 4.1


  • 5


    • 5.1


    • 5.2


    • 5.3


  • 6

    Plagues and diseases

  • 7


General characteristics


Herbaceous plant characterized by its hollow, brittle and square stems that reach 80-120 cm in height. The stem roots easily through the nodes and internodes when the stems are overturned on the ground.


The opposite, oval leaves, 15-30 cm long by 6-8 cm wide, are glabrous and green in color. They generally have slightly toothed margins with a short or absent petiole.


In wild conditions, in its natural habitat, flowering occurs from September to May. The pubescent and curved white flowers with the violet calyx grow in a spiral on a long inflorescence with 6-8 flowers per whorl.

Salvia divinorum flowers. Source: Eric Hunt [CC BY-SA 3.0 (]


The fruit is a small nut that contains little viable seeds of a dark brown color and 1-2 cm in length. Due to the occasional flowering, as well as the low percentage of germination of its seeds, reproduction is frequently carried out by rooted cuttings.

Chemical composition

The main active component contained in the Salvia divinorum species is a non-nitrogenous diterpenoid known as salvinorin-A with high hallucinogenic activity. The difference with other hallucinogenic compounds is that its nature is non-alkaloid and its molecule lacks nitrogen, being considered the first non-nitrogenous natural opioid agonist.

In addition, it contains other compounds diterpenoid structure, salvinorin-B and divinorin-C. In this case, salvinorin-B has no psychoactive effect and divinorin-C increases the mind-blowing effect of salvinorin-A.


– Kingdom: Plantae

– Subkingdom: Tracheobionta

– Division: Magnoliophyta

– Class: Magnoliopsida

– Subclass: Asteridae

– Order: Lamiales

– Family: Lamiaceae

– Subfamily: Nepetoideae

– Tribe: Mentheae

– Genus: Salvia

– Species: Salvia divinorum Epling & Játiva 1962

Salvinorin-A molecule. Source: Pen1234567 [CC BY 3.0 (]


Salvia : the name of the genus derives from the Latin term “salvus” which means “health”. Another current considers that it comes from the term “salveo” which means to “cure”, alluding to the medicinal properties of the plant.

divinorum : the specific adjective represents the masculine genitive plural of the Latin word “divinus”. Which is literally translated as “of the divine” or “of the gods.”

Habitat and distribution

The Salvia divinorum species is endemic to the Sierra Mazateca or Sierra de Huautla, which is part of the Sierra Madre de Oaxaca in Mexico. It is located in ecosystems of primary or secondary cloud forest and humid tropical montane forest at elevations of 300-1,800 meters above sea level.

Its natural habitat is located on dark, humid soils with a high content of organic matter along streams or streams. Usually in shady environments, where trees and shrubs block direct sunlight and provide high humidity.

Properties (edit)

The Salvia divinorum is a unique plant related to the mint family without any upward hallucinogen known in the world. From a chemical point of view, the diterpenes that give it its psychoactive activity are not common in the plant kingdom.

In addition, these active ingredients are very effective in low doses, which makes them the most powerful natural entheogens in nature. The active constituents of Salvia divinorum are the trans-neoclerodan diterpenoids known as salvinorin-A, salvinorin-B and salvinorin-C, as well as the related compounds divinatorines and salvinicins.

These components are characterized by their completely different chemical structure from other entheogens that are related to alkaloid forms. Salvinorin-A is not an alkaloid, as it lacks a basic nitrogen, particular to the known opioid receptor ligands.

Salvinorin-A is present in dried leaves in an approximate amount of 0.15-0.20%. At present its consumption is not regulated in many countries, both its cultivation and commercialization.

The main psychoactive effects of the plant are activated through the skin or via the transmucosa and lungs. In fact, its oral intake causes the active principles to be eliminated through the intestinal tract, with hardly any type of absorption.

The experience when consuming this species is completely different from that of other psychedelic products. However, its effects are similar, such as depersonalization and the short duration of the mind-blowing action.

Effects edit

Currently, an attempt has been made to classify the effects experienced during the consumption of Salvia divinorum , being classified on the following progressive scale:

– Subtle: a gentle relaxation is experienced.

– Altered perception: auditory, sensory and visual amplification occurs.

– Light visionary state: visual illusions are presented keeping the eyes closed of fractal nature and two-dimensional geometric patterns.

– Vivid visionary state: three-dimensional scenes are observed.

– Immaterial existence: the loss of the “I” and contact with reality occurs.

– Amnesic effects: there is a state of amnesia, agitation and sleepwalking.

There are common arguments in the experiences described, such as transformations, two-dimensional and three-dimensional visions, trips to the past or loss of identity. Fortunately, those who have experienced the amnesic state when consuming this species agree that there is nothing interesting that motivates them to repeat this experience.

Dried leaves of Salvia divinorum. Source: Pie4all88 [Public domain]


Its main traditional use is made by the indigenous people of the Mazatec people in their religious and spiritual rituals. In these ceremonies the shaman chews or ingests the juice of a single crushed leaf to reach a trance state with visionary effects.

Sage is a primary element in the healing rituals followed by the Mazatecs, as they allow you to communicate with the spirits. For this indigenous people, spirits regulate disease and control the health of the material world.

The rituals are carried out in the dark, between the shaman and the sick person, in a quiet and peaceful environment. The consumption of sage is intended to communicate with the spirits and through a vision to identify the cause of the disease.

On the other hand, its consumption through infusions and chewed serves to alleviate disorders such as rheumatism, headaches, diarrhea or anemia. As alternative medicine, a low dose is recommended and for this an infusion prepared from a single leaf is regularly ingested.

Side effects

Compared with the psychotropic and hallucinatory effects caused by its consumption, the side effects are relatively small. Its habitual consumption causes headaches and tachycardia, which lasts only a few minutes once its hallucinogenic effect has ended.

Its consumption does not leave serious consequences, as long as the person who consumes it is protected by a sober and responsible caregiver. The presence of the caregiver is essential to avoid possible physical damage, since the consumer tends to lose track of space and time.

Although there have been no reported cases of overdose from consuming Salvia divinorum , there are cases of individuals who become violent. For this reason, the presence of a caregiver is important, who prevents the person from causing harm to himself or to other people.

Detail of the flowers of Salvia divinorum. Source: Luis Pérez from Medellin, Colombia [CC BY 2.0 (]


Currently, “fortune teller’s sage” is unregulated in many countries in the Americas and most states in the United States. However, due to the danger of its hallucinogenic effects, many organizations are trying to ban its cultivation, consumption and commercialization.

In countries such as Germany, Australia, Belgium, Croatia, Italy and the Czech Republic, its consumption and marketing is prohibited. There are restrictions for its commercialization in Finland, Chile and Canada, but its personal consumption is accepted; in the US, only Arkansas, Florida and Georgia are regulated for consumption.



The most suitable method to propagate Salvia divinorum is through cuttings, due to the scarce flowering and low viability of its seeds. Cuttings are selected from vigorous mother plants that can be rooted in fresh water within 15-20 days.

This plant produces few seeds, even in wild conditions it is difficult to locate plants that generate viable seeds after flowering. Likewise, the fertility of the pollen is reduced in comparison with other species, being a presumable condition to problems of hybridization or inbreeding.

For this reason, vegetative propagation is the best breeding option. Herbaceous stems break easily and tend to creep on the ground, rooting quickly, cuttings cut from these rooted stems allow new seedlings to be obtained.


Sage plants need ample space to develop their root system without any difficulty. Clay pots retain moisture better and prevent water evaporation, plastic pots are warmer.

A substrate with good drainage, high content of organic matter and well sterilized with steam or a suitable disinfectant is recommended. An ideal substrate would be constituted by 60% substrate, 10% vermiculite or perlite, 10% river sand and 10% compost.

This species is easily stressed due to sudden changes in temperature, humidity or handling at the time of transplantation. During the transplant, it is advisable to use a complementary additive that maintains the turgor of the plant, such as a plant hormone and a vitamin aid.

In the same way, it is convenient to incorporate a mycorrhiza to the substrate that favors the correct development and health of the plant. After transplanting, the plant tends to stop its development, however, it restarts its growth after 10-15 days.

Environmental conditions are essential for its effective development, since temperatures below 10 ºC affect its growth and general appearance. Optimum growth temperature is around 15ºC.

In wild conditions, the plant grows under the canopy of trees, so under cultivation it requires lighting, but never direct. Grown in pots, indoors it should be oriented towards a lighted window. Outdoors it grows very well in partial shade.

Potted cultivation of Salvia divinorum. Source: Olekkerra at English Wikipedia [Public domain]


Proper plant growth and development conditions depend on frequent application of fertilizer and constant watering. During the spring and summer seasons, when the plant expresses its greatest vegetative growth, it requires frequent fertilization.

It is recommended to apply a high nitrogen fertilizer or a compost of plant origin once a month. However, the application of any type of fertilizer should be done prudently, only if some type of deficiency is observed.

The species Salvia divinorum is adapted to conditions of high humidity, but the supersaturation of the substrate tends to cause rotting of the roots. If the plant shows signs of decay and the leaves are wilting, it is most likely that it lacks moisture.

During the summer it is recommended to water twice a week, a little more if the environment is very warm. During the winter, irrigation can be applied every 10-12 days, depending on the environmental conditions and humidity of the substrate.

It is not advisable to use chlorinated water or water with high saline levels and the ideal pH of irrigation water should be between 5.5 and 6. Likewise, it is advisable to rest the tap water for 2-3 days to eliminate traces of chlorine.

On the other hand, when the seedlings are developing new leaves or acclimating it requires frequent spraying. In fact, it is advisable to spray with a manual sprayer 2-3 times a day until the correct acclimatization is achieved.

Plagues and diseases

In its wild state, Salvia divinorum is a very resistant species, but grown in nurseries or greenhouses it tends to be attacked by pests and diseases. The whitefly is an inclement pest in greenhouses, just as slugs, aphids, mites and caterpillars are in seedbeds and nurseries.

Diseases such as root rot occur in seedlings sown by cuttings rooted in seedlings or potted crops. Likewise, the presence of leaf spots caused by some type of phytopathogenic fungus or physiological alteration is common.


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  3. Salvia divinorum. (2019). Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Recovered at:
  4. Sensi, Seshata (2013) Salvia Divinorum: The Herb of the Gods. Recovered at:
  5. Siebert, Daniel (2006) The Salvia divinorum Users Guide. Recovered at:
  6. Soto-Restrepo, V., Taborda-Ocampo, G., & Garzón-Méndez, W. (2017). Salvinorin A: hallucinogenic terpene present in Salvia divinorum Epling & Játiva. Colombia Forensic, 4 (1).
  7. Wikipedia contributors. (2019). Salvia divinorum. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Recovered at:

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