Ololiúqui: The Divine Plant of the Aztecs

Aztecs and Mayans used LSA in combination with other psychoactive plants to assist in everything from healing to human sacrifice.

By Patrick McConnell Last Updated: June 20, 2023
Last Updated: June 20, 2023

Ololiúqui is the Nauhtal name of the seeds of the Morning Glory vine (Turbina corymbosa)

In pre-columbian times Mayans and Aztecs used ololiúqui for divination, sorcery, and medicine. Both high priests and common healers knew the plant.

In this article, we explore the colorful and sinister history and use of ololiúqui — from human sacrifice, ritual enemas, magic, and medicine.

Morning Glory Seeds & LSA

The Aztecs called the whole plant coatl-xoxouhqui, which translates to “green serpent.” The word “ololiuhqui” means “round thing” and refers to the plant’s seed. 

In modern times, we call the plant morning glory, Christmas vine, or bindweed, famed for containing the LSD analog LSA (lysergic acid amide).

Morning Glory hails from the Convolvulaceae genus, spanning a thousand varieties across several continents. Turbina corymbosa is the species assumed to be ololiuhqui, although many other types of morning glory occur in Central America and around the world. 

Some other common varieties include:

  • Ipomoea asarifolia
  • Ipomoea violacea
  • Ipomoea purpurea
  • Ipomoea tricolor

The perennial winding, sometimes woody vine, grows rapidly and easily in Central America. Attaining up to 10 m in length and producing trumpet-shaped flowers of various colors. The plant is a common plant worldwide and, due to its prolific growth, is a weed or even invasive species in many areas.

Morning Glory has long been of interest as a source of LSA, first isolated from morning glory seeds by Albert Hofmann in 1947.

Analysis of the plant has since shown the presence of many different alkaloids, which interestingly are not from the plant, but due to a symbiotic relationship with ergot fungi known as Periglandula spp.

Lysergamides, Ergine, & Morning Glory Seeds

The morning glory plant itself isn’t responsible for producing LSA or its other ergot alkaloids. Instead, the endophytic ergot fungus Periglandula spp which lives inside the plant and produces the chemicals for the plant.

Several species of ergot fungi produce chemical precursors to LSD and a long list of other psychoactive lysergamides.

Many plants and seeds undergo treatment with fungicides, and the seeds are often not psychoactive. This is sometimes the case with seeds sold at garden centers. 

Fresh ololiúqui is best as the fungicides cause nausea.

Ololiuhqui in Mayan Culture

The Mayans called morning glory “xtabentún,” and while the specifics of use are still kept secret by Mayans in the Yucatan, there is some knowledge of its role from how it appears in art and creation myths and the ancient text Popol Vuh.

Notably, Mayan midwives used xtabentún [1]. Mayan stories connect the plant to both death and birth in some Mayan stories. As part of their training, midwives undergo a “rebirth” process themselves. They learn to use the plant to induce childbirth, which, if not done correctly, can be extremely dangerous.

Early explorers noted that Mayans kept apiaries near morning glory plants and sometimes added the honey collected to blanché, an alcoholic drink still used today made from the Lonchocarpus violaceus tree. 

Jonathan Ott has speculated that Mayans consumed psychoactive honey made active by bees harvesting pollen from xtabentún [2]. The drink is also sometimes called xtabentún when made from the nectar of morning glory.

While there isn’t rock-solid proof of ololiuhqui’s involvement, of interest is Mayan rituals involving psychedelic enemas [3]. Ancient art depicting the practice exists, and pottery used for the practice has been recovered. Nobody really knows exactly what was in the enemas, but morning glory is one of the proposed ingredients. Performed underground in darkness, and participants carried a “vomit bag” around their necks to deal with the ensuing purges.

The discovery earned Peter de Smet a Noble Prize. De Smet personally conducted the rituals on himself for the sake of confirming their efficacy.

Ololiuhqui in Aztec Culture

In Aztec culture, plants were a gateway to connect with specific gods in the vast Aztec pantheon. Indeed, coatl-xoxouhqui was a divine plant.

While ololiúqui’s use continues to this day in Mexico, colonial Spanish chronicled much of what we know about ancient use [4]. 

Missionaries observing the Aztec high priests often mentioned terrible visions and communion with the devil, but the meticulous notes have now proven useful.

Known as Teopixqui, which in Nahuatl means “god guard,” the priests generally reserved the use of an impressive list of psychoactive substances for themselves. While at first glance it may seem excessive, Aztec culture had rigid views of who should use psychoactive substances and acceptable use.

Indeed, outside of specific rituals and celebrations, taking sacred plants or even drunkenness for pleasure was taboo. Priests consuming the ololiuqui trained from a young age in schools called “calmecac.”

Oloiuhqui & Divination

Explorers and ethnobotanists document the view of ololiúqui as a deity of its own. Those working with the plant entered into altered states of consciousness to communicate with the spirit world. 

In A Contribution to our Knowledge of Rivea Corybosa, Richard Evans Schultes quotes Hernando Ruiz de Alarcon’s writings in 1692:

“It is remarkable how much faith these natives have in the seed, for, when they drink it, they consult it as an oracle in order to learn many things.” [5]

The view was ololiúqui could reveal future events, find lost objects, heal or diagnose illness and even make one’s enemies fall ill. The Aztec culture took omens seriously, and apparently, through divination, leaders predicted the arrival of the Spanish.

Teotlaqualli: “Food of the Gods”

The Aztecs had sophisticated methods of using psychotropic substances, often combining substances. The creation of substances was a ritual in itself, with the preparation later part of other auspicious ceremonies.

“Teotlaqualli,” translated as “Food of the Gods,” is a black topical containing several psychoactive substances for communication with various gods. 

In Aztec art and legends, many of the gods have black skin, a detail some have attributed to the application of Teotlaqualli.

The preparation of Teotlaqualli was complex [6]. An early chronicler Acosta documented how to make Teotlaqualli:

  • Boys training as priests at the Calmecac would gather poison animals like spiders, scorpions, centipedes, lizards, and vipers
  • Then burn the creatures in a brazier inside a temple
  • The ash is then mixed with a large amount of tobacco
  • Addition of pulverized ololiúqui seeds
  • More living poison insects added
  • To this day, other ingredients are unknown

The result is a paste rubbed on priests before rituals. Said to eliminate all fear and enter into a state of mind for communication with the gods. 

It’s unclear what specific gods these were, but there is some reference to:

  • Tezcatlipoca — an ambivalent god with good and bad qualities able to cure or send illnesses
  • Ixtlilton — a gentle god of medicine wearing an obsidian mask, brought darkness and restful sleep to children
  • Huitzilopochtli — the solar deity and god of war who fed on the blood of sacrifices to protect humans

Psychoactivity of Teotlaqualli

There is suspicion that Teotlaquaili was psychoactive. Scholars have theorized that the tar created by burning ingredients in braziers is hydrophobic — meaning it would be fat-soluble and pass through the skin.

Also highlighted is the large quantity of tobacco. High doses of tobacco are psychoactive and potentiate other substances. Of interest as well is the venom of poisonous insects, adding additional effects.

Aztec Rituals with Teotlaqualli

The Aztecs practiced human sacrifice to a staggering degree. Typically prisoners and not their own people, the work was not light.

Spanish chroniclers document the ascent of the renowned Aztec Emperor Montezuma. 

Upon assuming his post, he dressed as a high priest in gold, precious stones, and feathers, welding his ritual knife and jade bowls symbolizing status. Montezuma was then anointed with Teotlaqualli before performing 200 human sacrifices to consecrate a new temple.

The Emporer acting as high priest was a rare occasion. And no doubt, using a substance to “remove fear” before cutting open the chests of hundreds of people (some sedated with plant preparations, most not) to remove their beating hearts might require something to take the edge off.

There is also documentation of soldiers smearing Teotalqualli on their faces before battle, but it was mostly the priests performing functions high in mountains or in subterranean locations who used the preparation.

Ololiuhqui as Medicine

In both Mayan and Aztec cultures, ololiúqui and teopixqui were used as medicine.

In the ancient context, psychoactive seeds were not only a treatment for specific conditions but a diagnostic tool. 

Sometimes the healer would take the seeds to learn the source of a patient’s condition. 

In other situations, the patient would consume a psychedelic dose, stay overnight alone in a room to discover the root of the disease, or experience healing.

The seed, vine, or root was also used for the following conditions:

  • Pain & inflammation
  • Gas & bloating
  • Syphilis
  • Tumors
  • Dislocation & bone fractures
  • Pelvic pain & cramping in women
  • Poor eyesight & blindness
  • Aphrodisiac & sexual debility
  • Arthritis


  1. García Quintanilla, A., & Eastmond Spencer, A. (2012). Rituales de la x-táabentun (Turbina corymbosa) y de los mayas yucatecos. Cuicuilco, 19(53), 257-281.
  2. Ott, J. (1998). The delphic bee: bees and toxic honey as pointers to psychoactive and other medicinal plants. Economic Botany, 260-266.
  3. de Smet, P. A., & Hellmuth, N. M. (1986). A multidisciplinary approach to ritual enema scenes on ancient Maya pottery. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 16(2-3), 213-262.
  4. Carod-Artal, F. J. (2015). Hallucinogenic drugs in pre-Columbian Mesoamerican cultures. Neurología (English Edition), 30(1), 42-49.
  5. Schultes, R. E. (1941). Contribution to our knowledge of Rivea corymbosa.
  6. Elferink, J. G. (1999). Teotlaqualli: the psychoactive food of the Aztec gods. Journal of psychoactive drugs, 31(4), 435-440.