Salvia splendens. A psychoactive sage?

The Salvia divinorum Research and Information Center
is created and maintained by
Daniel Siebert

The many shades of Salvia splendens

Salvia splendens is one of the most commonly grown ornamental Salvia species. It is cultivated as a bedding plant in many countries. Most nurseries carry dwarf varieties in various colors including scarlet, purple, orange, lavender and yellow.

There are many compounds in nature that are similar to the salvinorins in structure. In Alfredo Ortega's 1982 paper: Salvinorin, A New trans-Neoclerodane Diterpene from Salvia divinorum (Labiatae), he mentions that "Except for differences in the substituents and stereochemistry at C-8 and C-12, salvinorin is structurally similar to salviarin and splendidin, compounds which were recently isolated from S. splendens ...".

Having read Ortega's paper during the course of my research on Salvia divinorum, in 1993 I tried smoking some leaves of Salvia splendens to see if perhaps this species had any psychoactive properties similar to S. divinorum. I did not notice any significant effect. Then in 1997 two members of the now defunct Salvia email list, Kevin Brunelle and Claude Rifat, posted reports to the list stating that their self-experiments with S. splendens showed that this herb produces psychoactive effects when the leaves are smoked or chewed to allow for sublingual absorption. They described it as producing pronounced relaxation and a sense of detachment and claimed that the effects could be obtained using just a few leaves. Upon hearing their reports, I decided it was worth another look. My next attempt at smoking the leaves did in fact produce a very noticeable and unambiguous sense of relaxation. I subsequently made several additional attempts to obtain effects from this herb, using both smoked leaves and an extract, but have not since been able to obtain any discernable effects.

I have now heard from many people who have tried S. splendens, and their reports vary. About half of the people claim that they feel noticeably relaxed after ingesting it, and half report no effects. It is possible that the "active" compound(s) in the herb are variable or that people's sensitivity varies. It is also possible that the herb is pharmacologically inert and all of the positive reports, including my own, are due to placebo effect. In order to determine whether or not S. splendens is truly psychoactive, I conducted a double-blind experiment. The study is complete and the results are reported in an interview that I gave for the Entheogen Review. See: Daniel Siebert Speaks… The Entheogen Review. 1999 V. 8, No. 3. Interviewed by Will Beifuss.

Photographs of S. splendens

Bicolred Salvia splendens cv. "Salsa".
Scarlet Salvia splendens

Salvia splendens is native to the Brazilian rain forests, where the wild form grows to about 150cm. By selection 20-30cm high variants were developed, of these `Johannisfeuer', which in English is called 'St. Johns Fire', grows to 35cm, even smaller is `Scarlet Piccolo' in which even very young plants flower. The species is easy to grow from seeds or cuttings. This species prefers full sun.