By Jean-Francois Sobiecki B.Sc. (Hons) Ethnobotany
Most people commonly think of psychoactive substances as “drugs”. Yet, most of the foods we put into our bodies affect or modify how we think, feel and behave, which is the definition of what a psychoactive substance is. For example, milk and rooibos are psychoactive substances that both have natural chemicals that relax the mind.
For millennia, traditional tribal societies have used psychoactive plants for a variety of purposes: to stimulate the senses, to improve memory and learning and to relax to promote meditation and spiritual practice.
While we are all familiar with the mood boosting effects of plants like coffee, tea and chocolate (cacao tree) in modern society, tribal societies often used stimulant plants such as Catha edulis and Hoodia not only for pleasure but often to prevent hunger and fatigue while hunting. This shows how differently cultures use plants. One interesting example of mind boosting plants that most westerners are not familiar with, is that of ubulawu, which are roots or barks of specific plants that are used in South African traditional medicine to clean the body from mucus. Though foreign to most westerners, this type of medicine therapy is commonly used in Ayurvedic (Indian) and African medicine to sharpen the mind and senses. For more on these medicines see http://www.khanyisagarden.co.za under publications.
One lesson we can learn from these traditional holistic medicine systems is that while stimulating foods are wonderful pleasures, we can over-use them in our already stressful society, and therefore, we should balance stimulating foods and beverages such as chillies, coffee and alcohol with relaxing foods such as vegetables, water, nuts, berries and herbs such as chamomile and mint. Fresh lemon is fantastic in relaxing the mind, while certain nutrients such as l-tyrosine found in meat and vitamin C, Zinc and Vitamin B6 found in nuts, seeds and fruit are crucial in making brain chemicals such as dopamine that is essential for arousal and attention.
Jean Francois Sobiecki B.Sc. (Hons.), (M.A. Anthropology, in progress), (UJ) is an ethnobotanist, researcher and nutritionist. It is his passion to teach people how to use holistic medicine to improve their health, for example: how eating certain foods and vitamins can prevent stress, depression and anxiety, and how tonic plant medicines can boost our adrenal hormones and brain chemicals so as to prevent burn out and replenish our vital energy.