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Island Ecology

Island Ecology

by José P Ribas

Ibiza's Psychedelic Pharmacy


Ibiza Ecology

Living on a small island with such a rich flora as Ibiza, it is understandable that there are a lot of plants we use for other purposes then just feeding ourselves or the cattle.

The medical service was practically unknown for most of the people living out in the country.

Up until the late 1950s, when we started making real money from tourism, there were a lot of aged Ibicencos that had never had a doctor's visit, not even for their own birth.

They never bought medicine, not because they did not suffer illnesses, like everybody else, but because doctors were not easily available when they were really needed and the majority could not afford it anyway (they did not trust them very much either) not to mention the cost of the proper medicines.

So, the common thing was to have their own botanical apothecary on every farm, plants such as Sage, (in ibicenco, Salvia) "Salvia officinalis", Camomile, (Camamil-la pagesa) "Abrotano hembra", Aloysia (Herba-lluisa) "Aloysia citriodora", Aloes, (Atzebare) "Aloe vera", Opium poppy, (Cascai) "Papaver somniferum", among others. They were always planted near the house, and still are by most Ibicenco families in their new houses, though most of the young ones don't know yet what to do with it all.

In the kitchen garden there were always different plants and fruits (garlic, thistles, artichoke, lemons, prunes, quince, etc.) used both to eat and to be used in the right way and doses, as medicine, little wounds and burns, indigestion, rheumatism, liver and kidney problems, etc. They were all treated with these very common plants.

From the forest nearby, where they keep the honeybees, fresh rosemary, thyme, small and tender pine-tree cones, all full of resins and oils, were often collected. Whenever a winter cold was giving a bad chest to any of the family, a nice and hot big cup, or two, of a tea made from all these plants, with two soupspoons of honey and the skin of a lemon.

It did help to cure bronchitis, influenza and even pneumonia. In the severest cases, a hot cataplasm, made of wheat-bran, were also applied to the chest and back of the patient.

The thick and very bitter aromatic tar, made of the juniper tree roots, "Juniperus communis" was often use by the whole family too, two or three daily drops of it for a few days is enough to be released of all kind of intestinal worms. Some also use it as a blood-cleaner and for skin problems, like eczema for instance, with good results.

Some other plants, such as the local tobacco, "Nicotiana tabacum" - "tabac pota" as we call it - was used as therapy (good for the nerves and the asthma, they used to say) and as a placebo, becoming a social drug. Even the smell of this natural and very strong tobacco is really repulsive and sickly to anybody who doesn't smoke it. "Datura stramonium" is another plant of the tobacco family that grows wild and in some gardens, for its pretty and delicate white trumpets, also to be smoked against asthma, (they say) and also a dangerous psychedelic drug, if it is drunk as tea, though only a small minority uses it. "Cannabis indica," or Marijuana, as everybody knows it, has been grown on the Island for many centuries together with "Cannabis sativa," for its fibres to make ropes and the seeds are ideal as bird food. The Moors probably brought it in when they were here, until almost eight hundred years ago, and still could be planted without any control, until the last Spanish civil war (1936-1939). Since then it has been forbidden, but it never really disappeared from the Island. By the way, did you know that marijuana could be smoked as well? Good for glaucoma (so they say).

From the late 1960s with the hippies, some new (new only for us) names enlarged the list of our psychedelic natural drugs. "Inocibe geophylla" was used as a "magic mushroom" and especially "Pholiota aurea" another magic or "laughter mushroom" as some call it, also grows here. The spores of this mushroom were sold by the Internet from Ibiza with instructions on how it was to be planted and how to use it as a drug. The police arrested the people in Santa Eulària two years ago.

Please notice that I do not give any proper and complete recipes of how to prepare or use any of these plants. It is not my job and not my will either. If anybody is interested in using any of them, they will have to look for proper books and learn more about them. Some of them are very poisonous and dangerous, like the "stramonium" for instance. Two teenagers were sent to Ibiza's hospital this summer, suffering a very severe intoxication with the alkaloids of this plant, after drinking a tea made with it.

Without medical help it could have been enough to kill them both, as happened in Italy not long ago when three young people died after taking the same drug in a stupid ritual, organised by one of those new "illuminated spiritual leaders". Or the opium poppies, "Papaver somniferum" used until not long ago as a tea for toothache and as a general painkiller, also used for nervous babies. The mother drinks the tea before she gives her milk to the baby, so they both can sleep deeply afterwards, but turning the baby into a very young drug addict if this is done too often. The mushrooms can give serious gastric problems while you are still laughing.

There is not a tradition for witches or official quacks in our Islands, at least for the two or three last centuries. In my opinion, the religion had a lot to do with it; the spirit of the Inquisition was still flouting around until Franco's death. (There are far more now then ever, as we can read in the publicity pages of our local paper). So, every family kept they own medicines at home and they knew how to use them.

They didn't need to visit anybody, though it is obvious that some knew more then others, but this was not something to be socially appreciated for anybody to be too involved in these matters, was suspected of being evil or being insane.

I remember a good, lonely and tranquil native man, from the Sant Agusti area, who had a reputation for being a bit of a wizard. He once confessed to another friend and me how he won this reputation. He used to be seen spending a few hours every night reading a book in candle light by his window, and he could be hear prying in a funny language. The book was a British grammar, and he was teaching himself English, repeating in a loud voice for a good pronunciation of his lesson, something like: "My tailor is rich... my tailor is rich". To read a book! At night! In a non-Catholic language! It was a very unusual thing to do for the time (about fifty years ago) and the place, so - when one morning, some cattle appeared dead in the neighbourhood - without an obvious reason, his reputation started growing, and he had to live with it for most of the rest of his life.

José P Ribas