The Golden Guide to Hallucinogenic Plants: Discover the 1977 Illustrated Guide Created by Harvard’s Groundbreaking Ethnobotanist Richard Evan Schultes

I mean, the idea that you would give a psychedelic—in this case, mag­ic mush­rooms or the chem­i­cal called psilo­cy­bin that’s derived from mag­ic mushrooms—to peo­ple dying of can­cer, peo­ple with ter­mi­nal diag­noses, to help them deal with their — what’s called exis­ten­tial dis­tress. And this seemed like such a crazy idea that I began look­ing into it. Why should a drug from a mush­room help peo­ple deal with their mor­tal­i­ty?

–Michael Pol­lan in an inter­view with Ter­ry Gross, “‘Reluc­tant Psy­cho­naut’ Michael Pol­lan Embraces ‘New Sci­ence’ Of Psy­che­delics”

Around the same time Albert Hoff­man syn­the­sized LSD in the ear­ly 1940s, a pio­neer­ing eth­nob­otanist, writer, and pho­tog­ra­ph­er named Richard Evan Schultes set out “on a mis­sion to study how indige­nous peo­ples” in the Ama­zon rain­for­est “used plants for med­i­c­i­nal, rit­u­al and prac­ti­cal pur­pos­es,” as an exten­sive his­to­ry of Schultes’ trav­els notes. “He went on to spend over a decade immersed in near-con­tin­u­ous field­work, col­lect­ing more than 24,000 species of plants includ­ing some 300 species new to sci­ence.”

Described by Jonathan Kan­dell as “swash­buck­ling” in a 2001 New York Times obit­u­ary, Schultes was “the last of the great plant explor­ers in the Vic­to­ri­an tra­di­tion.” Or so his stu­dent Wade Davis called him in his 1995 best­seller The Ser­pent and the Rain­bow. He was also “a pio­neer­ing con­ser­va­tion­ist,” writes Kan­dell, “who raised alarms in the 1960’s—long before envi­ron­men­tal­ism became a world­wide con­cern.” Schultes defied the stereo­type of the colo­nial adven­tur­er, once say­ing, “I do not believe in hos­tile Indi­ans. All that is required to bring out their gen­tle­man­li­ness is rec­i­p­ro­cal gen­tle­man­li­ness.”

Schultes returned to teach at Har­vard, where he remind­ed his stu­dents “that more than 90 tribes had become extinct in Brazil alone over the first three-quar­ters of the 20th cen­tu­ry.” While his research would have sig­nif­i­cant influ­ence on fig­ures like Aldous Hux­ley, William Bur­roughs, and Car­los Cas­tane­da, “writ­ers who con­sid­ered hal­lu­cino­gens as the gate­ways to self-dis­cov­ery,” Schultes was dis­mis­sive of the coun­ter­cul­ture and “dis­dained these self-appoint­ed prophets of an inner real­i­ty.”

Rather than pro­mot­ing recre­ation­al use, Schultes became known as “the father of a new branch of sci­ence called ‘eth­nob­otany,’ the field that explores the rela­tion­ship between indige­nous peo­ple and their use of plants,” writes Luis Sequeira in a bio­graph­i­cal note. One of Schultes’ pub­li­ca­tions, the Gold­en Guide to Hal­lu­cino­genic Plants, has sad­ly fall­en out of print, but you can find it online, in full, at the Vaults of Erowid. Pricey out-of-print copies can still be pur­chased.

Described on Ama­zon as “a non­tech­ni­cal exam­i­na­tion of the phys­i­o­log­i­cal effects and cul­tur­al sig­nif­i­cance of hal­lu­cino­genic plants used in ancient and mod­ern soci­eties,” the book cov­ers pey­ote, ayahuas­ca, cannabis, var­i­ous psy­choac­tive mush­rooms and oth­er fun­gi, and much more. In his intro­duc­tion, Schultes is care­ful to sep­a­rate his research from its appro­pri­a­tion, dis­miss­ing the term “psy­che­del­ic” as ety­mo­log­i­cal­ly incor­rect and “bio­log­i­cal­ly unsound.” Fur­ther­more, he writes, it “has acquired pop­u­lar mean­ings beyond the drugs or their effects.”

Schultes’ inter­ests are sci­en­tif­icand anthro­po­log­i­cal. “In the his­to­ry of mankind,” he writes, “hal­lu­cino­gens have prob­a­bly been the most impor­tant of all the nar­cotics. Their fan­tas­tic effects made them sacred to prim­i­tive man and may even have been respon­si­ble for sug­gest­ing to him the idea of deity.” He does not exag­ger­ate. Schultes’ research into the reli­gious and med­i­c­i­nal uses of nat­ur­al hal­lu­cino­gens led him to dub them “plants of the gods” in a book he wrote with Albert Hoff­man, dis­cov­er­er of LSD.

Nei­ther sci­en­tist sought to start a psy­che­del­ic rev­o­lu­tion, but it hap­pened nonethe­less. Now, anoth­er rev­o­lu­tion is under­wayone that is final­ly revis­it­ing the sci­ence of eth­nob­otany and tak­ing seri­ous­ly the heal­ing pow­ers of hal­lu­cino­genic plants. It is hard­ly a new sci­ence among schol­ars in the West, but the renewed legit­i­ma­cy of research into hal­lu­cino­gens has giv­en Schultes’ research new author­i­ty. Learn from him in his Gold­en Guide to Hal­lu­cino­genic Plants online here.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

How to Use Psy­che­del­ic Drugs to Improve Men­tal Health: Michael Pollan’s New Book, How to Change Your Mind, Makes the Case

New LSD Research Pro­vides the First Images of the Brain on Acid, and Hints at Its Poten­tial to Pro­mote Cre­ativ­i­ty

Artist Draws 9 Por­traits While on LSD: Inside the 1950s Exper­i­ments to Turn LSD into a “Cre­ativ­i­ty Pill”

Hofmann’s Potion: 2002 Doc­u­men­tary Revis­its the His­to­ry of LSD

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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