What is Salvia divinorum?

A Salvia divinorum plant in full growth.

You may have heard a lot about Salvia divinorum (salvia) from various sources, and are still trying to understand what it actually is. Before diving into what salvia is, let’s start by being clear about what salvia is not. Salvia is not:

  • A recreational high
  • A ‘legal alternative to weed’
  • Similar to LSD, DMT, mushrooms or any other psychedelic

Salvia divinorum is a unique and powerful plant medicine. Now, with great power comes great responsibility, and we here at SalviaSeller would like to help you learn how to harness and work with this truly unique plant. 

Salvia divinorum is a type of sage. There are hundreds of different types of sage: the one used for cooking is Salvia officinalis, the one used as incense is usually Salvia apiana. The word ‘salvia’ is derived from the latin ‘salvere’, which means ‘to feel well and healthy, health, heal’. These different types of salvia have a long and rich history across multiple cultures as a herb for healing both the body and mind. 

The Sierra Mazateca in Mexico, home region of the Mazatec people.

Now, once upon a time (no one quite knows when), there mysteriously appeared in the mountain ranges of the Sierra Mazateca, a brand new type of salvia unlike any of the other salvia that came before it. It came to be known as Salvia divinorum – ‘Sage of the Diviners’. Salvia divinorum is unique because it has particular and profound consciousness-altering effects. Salvia Divinorum is still used traditionally by the indigenous peoples of the Sierra Mazateca for healing a wide range of diseases – ranging from intestinal inflammation to alcoholism. Scientific research is beginning to shed light on how salvia might heal, and there are many anecdotal stories of salvia being useful for helping with anxiety, depression, addiction, inflammation, and as a tool for somatic bodywork and meditation. 

You may be thinking: ‘If salvia is such a powerful healing plant, then why have I heard so many horror stories about its users having weird and scary experiences?’ That’s an excellent question, and we’re glad you asked! The number one mistake that people make when smoking salvia is that they smoke too much at once! Salvia is a very potent plant. The consciousness shifting effects are quite unlike any other psychotropic substance. Taking one large hit of salvia catalyses a rapid and marked shift in consciousness on multiple levels: psychologically, kinesthetically and energetically. Correct dosing is a very important part of having an enlightening salvia experience.

The Salvia Pipe.

We highly recommend using the Salvia Pipe to help with your explorations. The Salvia Pipe was designed and invented specifically for making it easier to smoke a few tiny bowls of salvia over the course of your meditation. Salvia is the perfect ally for the curious yet mindful psychonaut, which is why it works so well with meditation and exploring the psyche. 

The active component in Salvia divinorum is salvinorin A. Researchers are just now beginning to understand how salvia affects the brain, and major institutions such as the Johns Hopkins Department of Behavioral and Brain Science have recently released a study explaining some of salvia’s intricacies. It affects the kappa-opioid-receptors (KOR) in an area of the brain called the claustrum. The KOR system is responsible for the regulation of our immune system, our mood/anxiety/depression, as well as our perception of pain. Because the KOR system is so deeply tied into so many of our physical and psychological responses, it’s no wonder that this one special plant can have so many diverse healing effects. Salvia is also beginning to gain attention in the somatic therapeutic community, as this Psychedelics Today Podcast points out. 

While it might be easy to answer the question ‘What is Salvia divinorum?’ from a botanical viewpoint, it is a little more complicated to answer the question from the viewpoint of experiencing it. Dosage with salvia makes a big difference. At a very light dose (i.e just a few flakes of extract) it brings on a sense of calm and emotional stillness. But at a higher dose, it can have strong dissociative effects and lead to a sense of ego-loss. While these high dose experiences can be beneficial for some, the majority of users prefer to navigate the low-mid dose range, as this tends to bring greater insight and clarity. 

It is recommended to experience salvia when your environment is calm, still, and silent – not with a TV playing or people talking in the background. It is not a party drug – it is a powerful plant medicine – and if you approach it mindfully with respect and curiosity, it can bring about some truly remarkable shifts into your life.