Thursday, 17 May 2018

Herbalistics: Australia's Premier Entheogen Supplier

Herbalistics is Australia's premier online nursery and supplier of rare and exotic plants! I have been dealing with Darren Williams, the owner and operator of Herbalistics for over ten years now and he is always great to deal with, very friendly and happy to answer any questions I have had about growing his high quality stock, which cannot be said about many of the other suppliers I have dealt with over the years. A lot of my plants originated with Herbalistics and are some of the best and most highly prized in my collection.

Herbalistics supplies a huge and varied stock list of the sacred plant medicines and entheogens from all around the world, Australian native food and medicine plants, herbs, seeds and much, much more! When ever I am asked to recommend a supplier of the plants I write about here at Tricho Serious Ethnobotany, I always recommend Herbalistics. Delivery is always fast, well packaged and of the highest quality. You just can't go wrong with Herbalistics!

Tabernanthe iboga flower
Herbalistics was established in 2003 and is located on the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia specializing in sourcing and growing rare, unusual and hard to propagate plants, both native and exotic. As well as plant propagation, research and breeding. Importantly, all of Herbalistics plants are  grown to organic standards with absolutely no GMO's. The nursery is online only and ships live plants to all states in Australia except Tasmania and Western Australia, due to their quarantine laws. Seeds are shipped to all states (including Tas & WA) and overseas as well.

The Herbalistics website is a veritable compendium of useful information, with lot's of growing advice, handy tips and also make sure you check out the Herbalistics blog which is full of really great information. I want to thank Darren Williams at Herbalistics for taking the time to speak with me for this interview, passing along some of his knowledge and expertise, which I'm sure will be of interest and help to a lot of people. You can find Herbalistics at the following link ~

Hawaiian baby woodrose

Herbalistics offers a wide range of medicinal and edible plants for sale, what are your favourite plants to grow and why?

I’ve had a lot of favourites over the years, I tend to get stuck on one species and focus on that one for a while until I’ve figured out if and how I can grow it. Then if I end up with a heaps of those I’ll chuck a few in the garden and they become part of the collection and the rest I put up for sale. If I end up with none, I tend to forget about it until I can learn in the future what its needs are in cultivation and how to meet those needs. Aussie natives for sure. Anything with edible or medicinal plant parts. The Ipomoea and related Convolvulaceae have always been a favourite. I’m currently growing some I. polpha ssp. weirana (Weir Vine) in a hope that I can find a few individuals more suited to coastal climates than arid inland areas. Weir Vine has 3 currently recognised subspecies in the NT and QLD and they develop very large underground tubers that can be eaten raw or cooked, though they say they are better raw. A great water source and food for Indigenous Australians and early settlers, but the leaves are eaten by cattle and this can lead to cattle causalities, so farmers tend to spray and kill the vines to protect their cattle. Another recent report I heard was of smoking the flowers as an intoxicant. The edible Ipomoea are important worldwide as staple foods and in northern and central Australia they were crucial for Indigenous Australians as a food source and to undoubtedly settle in harsh environments. 

Ipomea polpha ssp. weirana

At the moment I keep coming back to Psychotria viridis and to developing new hybrids of them, it’s a bit of an obsession now. There’s some pretty positive experiences being reported with the new hybrids being used in Ayahuasca, each plant has its own personality.
Edible plants that do well here in the subtropics include bananas and sweet potato. I’ve got about 6 varieties of bananas and am currently crossing some different sweet potatoes. Fruit flies can be pretty bad here in the warmer months so I have to focus on stuff that wont get stung. The best time of year to grow traditional vegetables up here is winter, there’s just milder temperatures and less pest pressure, but still warm enough to grow anything.
I’ve been growing cacti for over 20 years so they’re always in the background.

It seems that a lot of people consider “Ethnobotany” to only involve plants that get you high, can you explain to people what the study of Ethnobotany really is? 

If you google it, ethnobotany is ‘the scientific study of the traditional knowledge and customs of a people concerning plants and their medical, religious and other uses’. Made particularly famous after enthobotanists like Richard Spruce and Richard Evans Schultes who travelled in South America and recorded many plants and practises of Indigenous peoples, including ayahuasca, virola and yopo. The word was hijacked I guess you could say, or appropriated, by vendors worldwide in the 1990s-2000s in relation to selling plant products, seeds and/or plants that had come to fame through ethnobotanical books, particularly the brilliant Plants of the Gods, by RE Schultes and Albert Hofmann (discoverer of LSD). These products generally relate to more mind-expanding or self-revelatory substances (yopo, ayahuasca, mushooms, etc) than say the many ethnobotanical uses of Ipomoea batatas (sweet potato). True ethnobotanical recordings define how a particular race or culture utilises a particular plant part, be it leaf, stem or root, how it is prepared, how much is given and for which ailments.
A lot of people in the scene simply refer to these ‘ethnobotanical’ plants as ‘ethnos’, which would literally just mean ‘race’ or ‘culture’. But it doesn’t really matter, we know what they mean.
I used to select seed vendors to buy from on whether or not they advertised their wares as ethnobotanicals or had the word shaman in their business name. It was pretty popular especially in the US. Often, because of this association to ethnobotanicals and shamans, there’d be a good mark up on prices and a reduction in quality as often they’re not growers or propagators, just seed, plant and product traders. There’s an oversupply both here and overseas of companies or individuals that are just on-sellers. There is still limited research going on with these plants (outside of use by big companies for proprietary use and profits or universities for almost the same purposes) by the average punter and by nurseries. There is minimal breeding and selection being undertaken by nurseries, which is where I like to think myself and Herbalistics are in many ways leading the way forward by breeding and releasing numerous new plants and varieties each year.

Mimosa hostilis

Australian native food plants are largely ignored in Australian food production, can you tell us about some of the Australian native food plants you offer and what their benefits are?

Their benefit is that they are uniquely adapted to the ever-changing Australian environment.  Many are adapted to dry conditions and poor soils but are also tolerant of flooding conditions, because that is generally what we get, extreme weather.
Native Citrus are becoming popular. We’ve got several rainforest species and also the only desert species of Citrus in the world, Citrus glauca (Desert Lime). I actually prefer Citrus australis (Dooja or Gympie Lime) to Citrus australasica (Finger Lime). Their taste is more akin to a regular lime but still has the vesciles of juice that finger limes have. It’s also very drought resistant.

Gympie lime
Native Parsnip (Trachymene incisa) is an awesome bushfood. It’s a tuber forming short lived perennial that you can pick and eat raw or cooked. It actually tastes better raw. Just rub the skin off and eat. Its got a little bit of sweetness and a good flavour.
Native capers are also popular. Capparis spp. same genus as the commercial caper. Capparis spinosa v. numullaria from Northern Australia is one of the best natives ones in horticulture.

Red finger lime

In your opinion, what difference can growing and using entheogens make to a person’s life? And does actually growing them yourself and having personal connection to these plants make a difference to the experience?

I believe they offer a connection to the earth and through that connection we can become happier and healthier people. Not just from the act of consuming these plants but by nurturing them, understanding their requirements for growth and helping them thrive. This in turn can reduce anxiety levels, encourage healthy daily rhythms, eating patterns and gardening keeps you fit. When you grow these plants and then use them for your own means, you understand the effort it takes in producing this material, like understanding that growing your own food like a farmer is actually a long and arduous process; it gives it a greater value. Using the entheogens (at your own legal risk of course) becomes a much more personal experience as you know how long it has taken to grow the plant you are about to use. A small garden, of even potted plants, can adequately provide you with herbs for culinary and recreational use throughout the year and this leads to greater health for you and your family, as well as less problems of dealing with dodgy people and harmful situations. There’s still people out there exploiting rare or endangered plants in the wild (like Acacia courtii here in Australia) and using that material to make ‘drugs’ that are on sold to people not necessarily aware of where its come from. That’s the same issue with any product I guess, even palm oil until consumers were made aware of what is being done to produce palm oil. Ignorance in where your product is made is fuelling these exploitative industries.

T. pachanoi 'Matucana'

 What are some of the rare and exotic plants you also offer and why should people grow them?

I’m growing some Uncaria tomentosa and Uncaria guianensis (Cat’s Claw) which will be available within the next few years. Galbulimima baccata is a native species also in PNG full of interesting compounds; a little tricky to propagate though so I only get a few each year maybe.
Why should they grow them? Because diversity in the environment is as important a diversity in your backyard. There’s a lot of ways to tell a story and each species is a page or chapter in the story of our evolution and the planets. Grow different stuff in your backyard because some will be plagued by disease and others will thrive. 

Cats claw

Being based in the Sub-Tropics of Queensland, what advice do you have for cacti growers in this climate and the more difficult tropical areas?

Select clones for your garden that are more tolerant of higher humidity and temperatures.  There’s probably two-three times a year here on the Sunshine Coast where I have decided to spray my stock with a copper based spray. I use one called Liquid Copper. There’s a few types, one which can be used in organic farming systems that are based on copper hydroxide, or the more effective but nastier copper oxychloride which can’t be used for certified organic systems. The liquid copper sits in between those two and is quite effective.
Get used to your cacti looking relatively ugly compared to when you grow them down south J once that humidity hits you can get a lot of bacterial and fungal spotting, one in particular that starts at the base and gradually spreads upwards.
I find the Trichocereus bridgesii species and hybrids to be generally less tolerant of humidity than other species. If you look where they occur in Bolivia, around 3000m ASL, you can see that they dislike the humidity we get here at mostly sea level in Australia.
If I start growing a clone that is badly affected by diseases I will just chuck it. Its better to start with some seeds and pick out a few seedlings that have no problems in your garden. One particular cactus I grew from seed and named the Bli Bli Behmoth (BBB) is showing nary a blemish in my collection in the ground, sitting next to Psycho0 and others that suffer from epidermal diseases. It’s also a fat monster and a great looking cactus.

Trichocereus 'BBB'

You offer a large variety of different Banisteriopsis caapi vines for sale, can you tell us a little bit about each variety and the differences between them?

We grow the following B. caapi varieties/cultivars; TUCUNACA, CIELO, OURINHOS, CAUPURI, NUEVO OLA and ENANO. TUCUNACA is a Brazilian variety, more suited to cooler regions than CAPURI, which is also a Brazilian variety that has knotty stems (actually enlarged nodes along the stem) and was shown to be slightly higher in harmala alkaloids. It is however more suited to warmer climates. CIELO is a variety that was one of, if not the, original vine grown in Australia. In Portuguese it means heaven but in Italian in translates as sky. Also called Yellow Caapi. OURINHOS could be translated as ‘Little Gold’ but is also the name of a Brazilian town.  Often thought of as a less domesticated or wild type of B. caapi. NUEVO OLA is one of our named varieties, grown from seed from the Peruvian Amazon. The leaf margins are wavy/undulating, which is an unusual feature we hadn’t seen before in Ayahuasca vine, so we called it Nuevo Ola or new wave. ENANO is a dwarf caapi I selected from a batch of TUCUNACA seedlings. ENANO was quite obviously a dwarf seedling as it had a compact growth habit and shows no sign of the normal stretching vine behaviour. One of my favourite plants, ENANO means dwarf in Spanish.
We also grow Banisteriopsis muricata which is known as Red Ayahuasca and is supposed to produce a red tinged brew. Its got silvery hairs on the undersides of the leaves and is a pretty looking vine. Something relatively new is Alicia anisopetala that has been known as Black Ayahuasca. It hasn’t been reported to contain harmala alkaloids but it has nonetheless been used in brews. I noticed when we first got the vine from a friend in Darwin that when cut, the leaves and stems tend to oxidise a black colour and thought that this is probably why it is known as Black Ayahuasca. It could also be that it is a more variable vine and perhaps one for more experienced users.

Banisteriopsis caapi in flower

You have created some exciting new varieties of plants such as Psychotria cv. ‘Nexus’ and others, can you tell us about these varieties and if you have any new varieties on the way?

I read a paper over a decade ago, or maybe it was a book, that mentioned in one line that Psychotria viridis could be hybridised by Psychotria carthagenensis. It got me wanting to experiment and so I did. I had trouble emasculating (removing anthers, the male flower part which sheds pollen) P. viridis ‘Shipibo’ flowers, so I settled on using P. carthagenensis as the pistillate (mother) parent. It has larger flowers that are more easily emasculated. This is necessary as both species will self pollinate and you wont know if you have succeeded if you don’t emasculate them. Anyway I made a few crosses and this eventuated into a couple of fruit (1 fruit contains 2 seeds) and from those I had one seedling emerge after 3 or so months. This was to be named Nexus (not to do with any online forum) after the meaning of the word which is a connection linking two or more things and which I thought would describe it well as a link in the evolution of these two species. Nexus was observed to be self-infertile, which is helpful in breeding. It can and does get open pollinated (OP) in the garden by native and honeybees in my experience and I am currently germinating OP Nexus seeds and have a number of seedlings.

Psychotria DW02
Following on from Nexus, I also made another P.c x P.v ‘Shipibo’ cross and this resulted in DW02. It is a unique looking cultivar and also fast growing. The flower panicles are more like P. viridis (as is Nexus) and it also appears to be self infertile. Some pollination trials this season both on my plants and a friends have resulted in a couple of fruit.
Some recent backcrosses of Nexus to P. viridis ‘Shipibo’ have resulted in cultivars I have now propagated. These are DW03, DW07, DW08 and DW09. DW07 is probably the most interesting, being somewhat variegated but is troublesome to propagate from leaf cuttings, which is the general method I use. It’s a golden chacruna, having a golden/yellow look but is slightly less vigorous than other cultivars, as is generally the case with variegated plants.

Psychotria DW07
Crosses of Nexus to P. viridis ‘UDV have resulted in the cultivars DW05, DW06 and DW10. These have great narrow leaves like UDV and one in particular, DW06, has that strong chacruna smell in dead leaves. All are great looking plants for the garden.
I also lost a couple of crosses, so you won’t see DW04 and DW11 as they didn’t make it past seedling stage and into propagation.
Confused yet? :)

Psychotria 'DW08'

On your Herbalistics blog you talk about an experiment you are conducting involving the flowering of Trichocereus cacti, can you explain what you’re doing, what you hope to achieve and the results of this experiment so far?
I was chatting with Chavin Herbalists about how to get Trichocereus to flower in warmer climates. He’s in Brazil but we’re both in subtropical climates. Anyway I started doing some research looking for papers on flowering in cacti, particularly columnar cacti like Trichocereus/Echinopsis. I came across one which was probably the most relevant to the San Pedro type cacti but involved a hybrid Echinopsis cactus ‘Rose Quartz’.  In this study they investigated the effect of photoperiod, irradiance and termperature on flowering. The authors found the optimal cooling for this particular hybrid Rose Quartz to initiate flowering was 8 weeks at 5 degrees C. 

Trichocereus 'Chavin de Huantar'
So I thought I’d try a similar cooling experiment but with Trichocereus cuttings in a regular fridge for 9 weeks at 5 degrees C. They survived fine and are growing normally but no flowering initiated at all. In the meantime of conducting the experiment we had a really dry 3 months in winter/spring. This seems to have resulted in the flowering of 3 cacti in the ground, all over 2m in height. My hypothesis now is that a dry overwintering (we don’t get that cold here so temperature may or may not have an influence on the San Pedro types) of a mature Trichocereus of a particular height should result in flowering. A bit of a gift for us more northern growers who have been struggling with a lack of flowers for breeding and seed production. 

On the subject of Trichocereus cacti, what are some of the plants you offer and can you tell us about them?

Many ;) I’ve been growing them for over 20 years and have collected and discarded quite a few over that time. These days I’m becoming less tolerant of clones that don’t do well in the subtropics, the ones that getting damaged easily from bacteria and fungi are slowly being tossed out and replaced with new seed grown species and hybrids. I’m also becoming more interested in wild collected species as opposed to new hybrids.
Some of the Trichocereus peruvianus ‘ICARO’ are beautiful cacti (from Matucana, Peru). I have one that is segmented (Matucana Sausage Cactus) and very slow growing, grown by a friend who discovered it amongst his seed grown ICARO. I’ve been building up stock for 2-3 years and am almost ready to release some cuttings. 

T. pachanoi 'Matucana'
One we’ve been offering in the last few seasons is a T. pachanoi from the Matucana region. Collected by the same guys who offer the ICARO seeds, they are relatively uniform looking seedlings and should be highly prized entheogenic cacti. One recent investigation into potency of Trichocereus cacti found T. pachanoi from Matucana to be the most potent. We have also gotten rid of the so called ‘PC’ T. pachanoi and replaced it in our stock list with many seed grown individuals of this Matucana type.

T. pachanoi 'Matucana'

BBB or Bli Bli Behemoth is a T. scopulicola x T. bridgesii ‘Psycho0’ I grew from seed. It has very fat stems and is moderately fast growing and has a brilliant disease resistence in my climate.
HB01 is a cactus I picked up from an old guys garden in Gatton QLD over a decade ago. It was a scabby old cut that had been laying around but he let me take it and once it put on some new growth I could see that it was a keeper. Obivously a T. peruvianus type.
HB02 was a beautiful blue looking short spined cactus I selected out from T. scopulicola x T. bridgesii. It’s always proven to be a popular clone, just alone from its looks.

Trichocereus 'HB02'

I see you have been conducting experiments with the Takeaway Tek, can you explain what it is and how it works? And what plants it is most useful for?

An old friend was pushing the takeaway tek years ago, it was in fact a modified technique the cactus guy MS Smith located in the USA was using. It basically involved sterilising (in a microwave) some seed raising mix in a takeaway container, then sowing cactus seeds and letting them develop for 6-12 months in a controlled terrarium like environment. They would then be acclimatised to the outside world and then potted up when ready.

It can be used for any type of cacti seeds. I’ve also used it for many other species, both for seed germination and for cuttings. Calea zacatechichi, Bursera sp. Psychotria leaf cuttings it works a treat for; it’s just set and forget and it also reduces the time to shoot formation.

Various Trichocereus grown using the Takeaway Tek

Tabernanthe iboga is a plant of major interest to a lot of people, can you give any advice to people trying to grow this medicine outside its natural climate, such as in the colder areas of the south of Australia?

I’ve grown hundreds from seed and sent them all around the country. If you’re a bit marginal in terms of climate, either start seed early in spring/summer or get an established plant from us in the same time. Grow it through the warmer months and get some good size on it before giving it some protection over the colder months. They can be kept successfully in pots for many years. You can also repot them each season and trim the roots off. They tend to produce a lot of roots so this doesn’t harm them as long as you’re not taking the main roots. Once it cools off each year, slow the watering down, like you do with cacti or other xerophytes and give them a relatively dry overwintering. They will also drop their leaves in dry conditions and go into a sort of dormancy. This also happens in some cold conditions so don’t be alarmed if they do it; as long as that stem is nice and healthy.

Tabernanthe iboga seeds

You offer numerous Acacia varieties for sale, can you tell us which are the most useful to grow for the different areas of Australia?

For the entheogenic varieties, probably pick the one that is growing naturally to where you live. So if you’re in WA, go with the A. acuminata and varieties. If you’re in VIC, get A. maidenii or A. phlebophylla. If you in NSW get A. courtii, A. maidenii or A. obtusifolia. In QLD A. maidenii or any you’re interested in. A. burkittii appears to be doing well for us here. 

Acacia courtii
A. phlebophylla is a bit trickier being a sub-alpine species but can still be kept alive up here and along the east coast with some care. Pick a nice elevated section of you property and make sure it dries off quickly.  The Western Australian Acacia are from that Mediterranean climate, so hot dry summers and rain during the colder months. So on the east coast that gets a bit tricky to emulate. Start the seeds off in autumn if you’re in the subtropics as its still warm enough but we’re coming into our drier time of year. That humidity and heat we get on the Sunshine Coast can kill a lot of plants that aren’t adapted to it.

Acacia phlebophylla

Your plants are always of the highest quality, unlike the other major vendor of ethnobotanicals in Australia, how do you ensure such high quality plants?

You have to start with the right potting mix for your climate, we’ve switched from pine bark based mixes to coconut fibre based mixes. Pine bark has no place in horticulture (except as mulch) as far as I’m concerned. We use non-chlorinated water for our irrigation, both rainwater and dam water; that consistently produces better plants I find. Just general TLC I guess. I care about the plants I produce, and I’m the main propagator and caregiver for all my plants. I rarely buy in plants, so in general, what I sell I grow from seed or cuttings myself.

Finger lime flower

What advice do you give for people just starting out in growing and using entheogen plants? In your opinion, which plants are the best to begin with and why?

Pick a few that you are interested in and give it a go! Don’t be put off by the inevitable failures or let yourself get too big a head from a few successes (ie. growing Trichocereus is not hard). Most of these plants are not domesticated and as such, may not thrive unless with some proper attention and care given to position, soils and microclimate. Being undomesticated they also have erratic germination (vegetable seeds have been bred to have virtually no dormancy so they all pop up when sown pretty reliably) and some will have simple dormancies like the hard seed coats in Acacia species (which can be overcome with a boiling water treatment). Others can be a combination of different dormancies like a physical (hard seed coat) and a physiological (an immature embryo that needs extra time to develop).
I’d suggest starting with some Acacia, Trichocereus and/or Psychotria and see how you get along.

Trichocereus 'BBB'

Visit Herbalistics today, you won't be disappointed! ~

By Brett Lothian ©. All photos used in this article are the property of Herbalistics PTY LTD © and must not be reproduced without permission. 

If you would like Tricho Serious Ethnobotany to write an article about your entheogen related business, please feel free to contact me at

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