Common Names Pituri, pedgery, pitchery.
Related Species Duboisia myoporoides, Duboisia leickhartii.
Taxonomy Family: Solanaceae. A shrub, sometimes a small tree. The genus is endemic to Australia.
Chemistry Tropane alkaloids scopolomine and hyoscamine are present in Duboisia myop-oroides and D. leickhartii. Most accounts therefore ascribe the same chemistry to Duboisia hopwoodii, but according to Pamela Watson (1983b) Duboisia hopwoodii contains nicotine and d-nornicotine. Moreover, the Australian Aborigines apparently did not use the other two species, so there is some confusion in the genus, chemically and perhaps taxonomically.
Chemical studies have shown that there is great variation in both the quantity and the relative proportion of the two nicotine alkaloids among individual specimens of Duboisia hopwoodii. It is probable that other alkaloids, such as tropanes, are also present in D. hopwoodii, as they are in the other species of the genus. Some species of Duboisia are grown commercially for scopolomine.
Wow Taken The leaves are roasted and chewed, often along with some ash of burnt acacia.
The quid, or chaw, is passed around in a circle, from mouth to mouth, until everyone has had a sufficient chew. The last man in the circle places the quid behind the ear of the first. Pamela Watson points out that the skin behind the ear is rich in capillaries and is close to the brain, and would be an excellent place for transdermal absorption. And, in fact, the Aborigines claim just that — that placing the quid behind the ear strengthens the effects of the drug. Scopolomine patches today are placed behind the ear as a motion sickness preventative.
The leaves were also smoked. Smoking pituri may have been a postcontact technique.
Effects In smaller doses, pituri suppresses hunger and thirst and strengthens endurance. In larger doses, pituri produces detachment from time and space, hallucinations, and illusions. Its effects mirror those of tobacco in many ways. Like tobacco, in small doses pituri is used as a stimulant and mild tranquilizer. And like tobacco, it was a social plant, used in greetings, councils, and diplomacy. But certain effects are reported for pituri that are unusual for nicotine alone.
A number of early Australian explorers and scientists were given the opportunity by the Aborigines to try pituri. Here is a scattering of reports as to pituri'seffects:
"Never fails to promote "Passed around from one "They go off into a daze "Produces a dreamy mirth and g to another as voluptuous sensation id fellowship a token of friendship
Pharmacology Nornicotine is more toxic than nicotine, so the difference between a psychoactive dose and a fatal dose is even smaller than for nicotine. The action is the same as the biphasic action of nicotine: affecting the transmission between nerves. It is not clear that the observed reactions are the result of the pyridine alkaloids alone. There is cause for some fresh analytical study of the genus.
History As tobacco has completely replaced pituri among the Australian Aborigines, eth-nobotanists and ethnopharmacologists are dependent on extant written documents for information. All accounts agree that pituri was widely traded among the Aborigines. Ancient roads and trails mark the locations of pituri trees. The importance of the pituri plant is evident in the fact that the only written records kept by the Aborigines were marked sticks having to do with the pituri trade.
As poison, pituri was used to stupefy emus. Branches of Duboisia hopwoodii were bruised and placed in a waterhole. When the emus drank from the spring they were drugged enough to enable the Aborigines to catch them easily.
The Plant Duboisia is a xeric plant, adapted to the arid conditions of central Australia. Freely branching from the base, Duboisia grows into a hemisperical shrub three to four meters high. Evidently, although pituri grows over a large area of central Australia, only the pituri from one particular location was highly prized and traded. This pituri was gathered and cured by hereditary pituri clans.
The curing process was the secret of the graybeards — the younger men were not privy. The one sketchy anthropological report states that a fire was built on sand and that when the fire burned low, the coals were raked away. Duboisia twigs and stems, picked just at that moment, were placed on the hot sand and covered, and left to steam for a very specific length of time. Too much steaming made the herb brittle, while too little left it "musty." The steaming time was known only, as I said, to the elders.
It is likely that the steaming halted enzymatic action, which would have continued degrading the alkaloids in the plant, even after picking. No analysis was ever done on pituri prepared in the proper manner. We also know that the natives burned the older branches off of the shrubs, in order to promote growth of new young twigs, which are higher in alkaloids. There may have been some selective propagation as well, favoring plants with the desirable balance of alkaloids and avoiding those too weak or too toxic.
Men returning from the pituri expeditions reportedly brought back seventy pounds of cured, dried pituri apiece, carried in a specially woven bag.
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