A member of the deadly nightshade family, datura (Datura stramonium) is naturalized throughout North and Central America. Often called jimsonweed or thornapple, it is a prolifically growing annual which produces thousands of seeds from a single plant. Datura is a low-growing, sprawling, shrubby plant which grows more horizontally than vertically. The flowers are white, trumpet-shaped and often tinged with purple. The seed capsules resemble thorny apples, from which it gets its common name, "thornapple." The foliage of datura has a rank, unpleasant smell.
Priests in India, Europe and ancient Greece used various forms of datura to induce states of hallucination, prophecy and oracularity. In India the seeds were eaten; in Europe a tea was made from the seeds and leaves; and in ancient Greece it is believed the leaves were burned and the intoxicating smoke inhaled by the various Oracles of Delphi prior to their prophesies and proclamations.
Seeds added to drinks of the patrons of prostitutes in India induced sexual excitement. This aphrodisiacal use eventually spread to Europe, where it was commonly used by witches in love potions and “witches' brews.” Components of datura were also made into salves and ointments, which were applied to various erogenous zones for use in sexual rituals.
Sedative, Anesthetic, Pain Relief
Ancient Greek and Roman physicians mixed datura with opium for use as a sedative and general surgical anesthetic and pain reliever, especially during labor and childbirth. It was used in this way until the late 19th or early 20th century, according to Palomar Community College's online textbook of natural history.