Sacred plant. Noxious weed. Beautifier of the poor. Devil’s drug. People have a lot of takes on morning glories.
The Aztecs called a related morning glory, Turbina corymbosa, ololiuqui, and put it in their sacred paintings. It was considered a male plant, one which had a close connection with the female plant called Mother of Water (botany unknown). Zapotecs grind seeds of Ipomoea purpurea species together with Turbina corymbosa–or they did as of a few decades ago. The meal is soaked in water, and the infusion is taken by shamans to divine the cause of an illness, a disturbance in town, or find a lost object.
In high school, my friends and I put morning glory seeds in a blender with some water. The resulting mess provided us with no more cosmic result than nausea. It’s likely that the active ingredients need to soak to be extracted by water. It’s also true that plant drugs taken in a sacred setting behave differently than ones that are not. Teenagers trying to get high in the kitchen while the parents are away is not perhaps the most sacred of settings.
While we were doing that, other people were trying their best to keep morning glory plants entirely out of their orbits. They were pests, noxious weeds, something that could take over a field. “There are three annual Morning-glory species that infest fields and gardens throughout the greater part of the United States,” cautions Edward Rollin Spencer, in no flattering tones.
Clearly this is an eastern U.S. book. Out here in dry-summer territory, it’s easy to get rid of morning glories: don’t water. That and a freeze pretty much takes care of it.
But in the fertile, rained-on fields east of the Rockies, morning glory seems to have felt like an ever-present danger to Spencer. Even his translation of the Latin name sounds nasty. “…Ipomoea is from the Greek and means wormlike…Purpurea…means purple. So Ipomoea purpurea L. means the purple-flowered plant that crawls like a worm.”
Actually, the proper name may be Ipomoea violacea. I was unable to discern which is most current, but since my handy at-home reference, J.L. Hudson, uses purpurea, that’s what I’m using here. Purpurea or violacea, it means the same thing.
“Like snakes, those slender vines crawl up over the plants they select for their trellises, and soon the big Morning-glory leaves are shading the leaves of the trellising plants, and very soon after that those glorious flowers will be smiling on all the world like a big woman obstructing the view of a small boy at the movies.”
Next post: Beautifier of the poor, and devil’s drug.
Richard Evans Schultes and Albert Hofmann, Plants of the Gods, Healing Arts Press, 1992
William Emboden, Narcotic Plants, Collier Books/Macmillan, 1979, pg. 95-97
Edwin Rollin Spencer, All About Weeds, Dover edition 1974; originally published 1940, 1957 by Charles Scribner’s Sons, pg. 188