Scientific Name: Cestrum parqui
Common Names: Palqui (Mapuche), Cestrum Verde, Green Cestrum, Willow-Leafed Jessamine, Yerba Santa, Green Poison Berry
Native Range: Central Chile
The Night Blooming Cestrum is a perennial, deciduous pale green brush that can grow up to eight feet tall. The leaves are thin evergreen leaves. The five pointed yellow flowers are found in clusters at the end of branches. When in bloom during summer and fall and especially at night, these flowers produce a pungent smell. The berries produced by this plant are small and round; when they are ripe, they transition from red berries to black and shiny berries. This plant originally grew in Chile; after spreading to many other South American countries, it was introduced into Australia as an ornamental shrub. Green cestrum can typically found along streams, rivers, or other man made watercourses and in non-crop areas.
The Night Blooming Cestrum is an analgesic-anti-inflammatory, meaning that it reduces inflammation and is effective as a pain reliever. For medicinal use in the Mapuche Tribe, tea made from the leaves is often made in order to treat smallpox, leprosy, tuberculosis, herpes, and fever. A tea just made from the bark is, also, used as a sleep aid. The juice of the plant can be applied directly to skin irritations to reduce inflammation. Frequently, this plant is used in conjunction with other medicinal plants. Pasmo, an increase of internal heat caused by being cold is healed with a blend of Buddleja globosa, Rosmarinus officinalis, Melisa officinalis, and Cestrum parqui.
In Chile, it was, and continues to be used by shamans in Mapuche healing practices because it is said to contain a magical force capable of resisting black magic attacks. When used for this, the stems of the brush are made into crosses, which are then placed on walls to ward off evil. The leaves also were used for shamanic incense. Tea, made by boiling the leaves and bark, is made from this plant to ward of fear and evil in purification ceremonies. The stem and leaves, after being dried and chopped, are also used as a tobacco substitute before tobacco was brought to the Americas. The Cholos people continue to use it as such. Smoking the leaves has a mild psychoactive effect that results in euphoria, and muscle relaxation.
The appropriate dosage for inexperienced users in three to four leaves. This is because the entire plant is poisonous; moreover, the fruit is so poisonous that it causes ‘sudden death’ in livestock that consume it. This is mainly an issue for cattle in Australia where this plant is considered a Class 3 noxious weed, in certain areas. The berry contains a poison called carboxyparquin that causes severe liver damage and consequently raises blood ammonia level to a point that causes brain damage. Perhaps morbid, but fascinating, livestock that consume these berries either die within a few hours after showing symptoms such as diarrhea, depression, disorientation, irritability, weakness, anorexia, and seizures. Often times, however, animals eat the berry and appear healthy for 24 hours, and then will be found dead for no apparent reason, and without showing symptoms.
Cleversley, Keith . “Cestrum parqui – Willow-Leafed Jessamine.” Entheology.com, 1 Jan. 2002, entheology.com/plants/cestrum-parqui-willow-leafed-jessamine/.
Estomba, Diego., and Ladio, Ana. “Medicinal Wild Plant Knowledge and Gather Patterns in a Mapuche Community from Northwestern Patagonia” Journal of Ethnopharmacology103.1 (2006): 109-119.
Griffiths, Neil. Green cestrum / Neil GriffithsNSW Agriculture Orange, N.S.W 2000.
Ratsch, Christian., The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants Ethnopharmacology and its Applications. Rochester Park Street Press, 1998.