Peyote was a powerful plant helper for ancient people of the Lower Pecos. Like the Huichol indians of Mexico today, ancient people probably considered peyote a sacred plant. Peyote contains the drug mescaline, which brings colorful hallucinations to those who consume it, along with nausea and other uncomfortable side effects.
Peyote has been used for at least 4000 years in the Lower Pecos and other areas for both medicinal and spiritual purposes. Mashed and dried peyote, radiocarbon dated to 4045-3960 B.C., has been found in certain rock shelters near the Rio Grande. Strings of peyote buttons have also been discovered in caves of northern Mexico.
Peyote use spread to Native American groups in the Great Plains and Southwest such as the Lipan Apache, Tonkawa, Mescalero Apache, and Pima by the 1880s. Today, only members of the Native American Church may legally consume peyote in the U.S.
Taken in small doses, peyote is a mild stimulant and reduces appetite. Tarahumara indians in Mexico often chew peyote during their foot races to strengthen them as they run 50 miles or more. The cactus also contains substances that possess antiseptic and antibiotic properties against many types of bacteria. Mashed cactus can be applied to burns or wounds to prevent infection. The Kiowa also used peyote to treat illnesses such as flu and scarlet fever.
This shy little cactus was declared illegal in 1970 by the United States’ Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act. The cactus continues to grows wild in south Texas and northern Mexico , but is under stress from several causes, according to Dr. Martin Terry of Sul Ross State University.
Previous posts about mountain laurel and moon flower round out this short series on plant helpers of the Lower Pecos.
- Literary Review: The Peyote Road by Thomas C. Maroukis (psypressuk.com)