Phalaris arundinacea and Phalaris aquatica (canary grasses) are plants in the Grass Family, which are cosmopolitan, meaning they are widely distributed throughout the world, including Eurasia, North Africa, and North America, particularly on river- and lake-banks and in wet meadows.
In the Gramineae (previously Poaceae) Family, there are at least 4 possibly psychoactive species, which contain tryptamines such as DMT, bufotenine, and 5-MeO-DMT, including:
- Arundo donax (giant reed) rhizome
- Phalaris (canary grass) leaves
- Phragmites australis (common reed) rhizome
In this article I cover number 2, specifically Phalaris arundinacea (gardener’s-garters) and Phalaris aquatica (bulbous canary-grass / Harding grass), both of which contain specimens that are rich in psychedelic tryptamines such as DMT.
Phalaris arundinacea is also known as:
- Baldingera arundinacea
- Phalaroides arundinacea
- Typhoides arundinacea
Other interesting (and possibly psychoactive) members of the Gramineae Family include:
- Cymbopogon densiflorus (lemongrass) – An extract of the leaves is smoked to induce divinatory dreams.
- Lolium temulentum (darnel) – the spikes of this grass are said to induce profound perceptual changes and a state similar to drunkenness.
- Stipa spp. (needle grass / sleepy grass) – this inebriating grass is used in Guatemala as a sleeping agent. Some Stipa species are said to have strong psychoactive and narcotic effects.
- Zea mays (corn) – corn silk is smoked by Peruvian Indians as an inebriant and may contain ergot alkaloids or tryptamine derivatives, which can induce a state of excitation and delirium.
How to recognize Phalaris arundinacea when you see it?
- It has gray-green stalks that are up to 2 meters in height.
- The leaves are wide, long, have rough edges, and are attached to the stalks.
- The color of the leaves is light green, but they may have a red-violet or dark green hue.
- The spikelets bear a single flower, a panicle up to 30 cm long.
- Flowering period: Spring & Summer (from April to August in the Northern hemisphere).
Other Canary Grasses
A total of 22 species are currently accepted in the genus Phalaris, at least half of them are found in the Mediterranean region, while at least 4 are native to the American Southwest.
It is possible that psychoactive tryptamines may be present in a number of Phalaris species, such as:
Also known as
- Phalaris bulbosa,
- Phalaris commutata,
- Phalaria nodosa,
- and Phalaris tuberosa
the water canary grass can be found throughout the world, including Australia, Europe, New Zealand, South Africa, and the USA.
Among all Phalaris grasses, this species is believed to have the highest concentration of DMT though some strains contain primarily 5-MeO-DMT.
How to recognize Phalaris aquatica?
- It has gray-green stalks that are shorter than those of P. arundinacea (waist high).
- The color of the leaves is grayish to bluish green.
- The spikelets bear a dense flowering head, a panicle up to 13 cm long.
Phalaris canariensis (Common Canary Grass)
Originally from the Mediterranean region, Phalaris canariensis is now grown commercially in several parts of the world as a source of bird food (seeds), hence the name canary grass.
- Stems are hairless and are up to 1.8 m tall.
- The ligule is 0.6 cm long and is rounded at the apex.
- Leaves: up to 25 cm long and up to 2 cm wide.
- Panicles: up to 40 cm long. They are erect, but can be slightly spreading
- Single flowers occur in dense clusters during Spring and Summer.
- Inflorescences: at first are green or slightly purple, but later they become tan.
- Seeds: shiny brown.
Phalaris paradoxa (awned canary-grass / hood canarygrass) can be found in Africa, Asia, Europe, as well as the United States.
Its spikelets are different than other Phalaris species and their glumes (the bracts below the spikelet) each have a hook.
Phalaris brachystachys (the confused canary-grass / shortspike canarygrass) can be found in the Mediterranean region.
A variety of this plant which grows in Portugal is said to contain only DMT with no 5-MeO-DMT or other tryptamines.
Phalaris minor is found in North Africa, Europe, and South Asia. It is also known by the following names:
- little seed canary grass
- small-seeded canary grass
- small canary grass
- lesser-canary grass
With a height of up to 1.8 metres (5.9 ft) and a spike-like panicle, Phalaris minor is often used as birdseed and livestock food, though it does seem to contain alkaloids. It is said to contain DMT as the sole tryptamine, but in trace amounts.
While canary grass has been known since antiquity, no traditional psychoactive uses are known for the plant.
The Ancient Egyptians placed pieces or entire stalks (including panicles) of cane canary grass in their grave garlands.
Pedanius Dioscorides, the 1st century Greek botanist, described it and referred to it as phalaridos, which may have been Phalaris arundinacea or another species such as Phalaris aquatica or Phalaris canariensis. He used it to treat bladder disorders.
Around the same time, the Roman poet Publius Ovidius Naso described a shamanic transformation that was induced by a grass, possibly Phalaris.
The psychoactivity of the plant and the fact that it contains psychoactive substances was discovered many centuries later in studies done for agricultural purposes. (Nowadays, the grass is used as a source of fiber for the paper industry, as well as a hay crop.)
Since then, psychonauts and closet shamans have been experimenting with the use of canary grass as an hallucinogen.
Depending upon its location, variety, time of harvest, and other factors, different Phalaris specimens contain varying levels of:
- gramine – highly toxic and can cause organ damage, including central nervous system damage and death in sheep
- 5-MeO-DMT (about 10-20 times more potent than DMT)
- hordenine – a toxin which may have been responsible for producing the locomotor disorder (“staggers”) and rapidly lethal cardiac toxicosis (“sudden death”) periodically observed in livestock feeding on Phalaris aquatica.
- toxic ergot alkaloids
Indole alkaloids (which are for the most part derived from the amino acid tryptophan), such as DMT, 5-MeO-DMT, and bufotenine are strong psychedelic hallucinogens and entheogenic substances.
How to Use Phalaris?
While using Phalaris as a psychoactive plant is illegal in most of the world, for theoretical and educational purposes, I will go on explaining how the plant can be used.
Due to its DMT, MMT, and 5-MeO-DMT content, Phalaris has been experimented with as a possible Ayahuasca analog (the oral route) and DMT extract (smoking).
Phalahuasca – the Oral Route
DMT, the main active ingredient in Phalaris, is broken down in our guts by an enzyme known as monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAO). Therefore, making a Phalaris decoction will have no psychoactive effects.
For this reason, more and more people are now using Phalaris arundinacea to make ayahuasca analogs. By adding to the decoction a plant which contains a MAO-inhibitor, such as Syrian rue (Peganum harmala) seeds, the visionary effects of DMT can be experienced.
In fact, it has been suggested that an ayahauasca analog prepared from Phalaris arundinacea may have been the true Haoma (a plant from which the sacred drink of the Parsis was prepared).
Although the concentrations of DMT and other alkaloids is lower than in other potential sources, such as Psychotria viridis and Mimosa tenuiflora, large enough quantities of the grass can be refined to make an effective ayahuasca analog brew. Unfortunately, however, we do not yet possess information regarding optimal dosages, canary grass subtypes, best time and location to harvest, etc.
From the little we do know, a combination of 125 mg of an extract of Peganum harmala seeds and 50 mg of Phalaris extract induced psychedelic state of consciousness, along with the strong waves of nausea that are always present in an ayahuasca experience.
Peganum harmala dosage: 1 gram seed extract (made from about three grams of seed).
Phalaris extract dosage: 50-60 mg.
To avoid the extraction process, some people tried simpler methods, such as using a wheatgrass juicer to make Phalaris juice. 3-4 grams of grounded Syrian rue seeds are ingested along with up to 20 tsp of the juice (after pasteurization of the juice). The problem here is that other chemicals in the grass may be dangerous, therefore extraction is safer.
Another preparation method:
- Run the fresh grass blades through a motorized wheatgrass juice machine.
- Spread the liquid out into glass baking trays
- Set the trays into a dehydrator until the liquid is dry.
- The dehydrated residue is then scraped up,
- powdered in a nut grinder, and stored in pint jars.
- To use, place in gelatin capsules and swallow along with a MAOI (e.g., Syrian rue).
- A similar procedure can be done with the ground Syrian rue seeds, but they have to be boiled first.
Duration of effects: 2-6 hours.
Side effects: Nausea.
Many people report unpleasant experiences. For example, a combination of 60 g fresh weight of Phalaris and 3 g of Peganum harmala produced strong toxic effects.
Psychologically, high doses can be extremely challenging.
A safer route of consumption thus may be smoking canary grass.
Smoking the dried grass on its own, probably will not have any effects; an extract must be made from the leaves.
Smoking a suitable preparation can produce effects like those of N,N-DMT, though the subjective experience of smoking Phalaris extract is said to resemble more to that of 5-MeO-DMT than DMT.
Smokable Tryptamine Mixture
The Phalaris extract may contain DMT, 5-MeO-DMT, as well as other alkaloids in varying concentrations. It can be produced by following the steps outlined below:
How to Prepare a Phalaris Extract?
The below method avoids the use of dangerous chemical solvents.
- Finely chop or powder the leaves. (Ideally, freeze-dry them or freeze and unfreeze several times.)
- Place the result in a blender with water and mince into a mush.
- Add some vinegar.
- Lightly simmer the acidic mush until it is boiled down to a tarlike mass.
- Dissolve the mass in alcohol.
- Impregnate the resulting solution into a smokable material.
- Let the preparation dry thoroughly before smoking it.
On the use of such extract, it has been written:
An extremely potent smokable form of DMT can be extracted from the reed canary grass […] Phalaris DMT is something brand new – derived from one of the ayahuasca analog plants, it is a natural form of DMT and 5-MeO-DMT which can be grown by anyone anywhere on the planet outside of the polar regions. It has no somatic side effects (nausea, vomiting), nor is it dependent for its extraction on complicated laboratory procedures, equipment, or knowledge; hence it isn’t necessary to rely upon a profit-oriented monopoly of dealers to obtain.
Another recipe, which does not require alcohol, calls for boiling the leaves in distilled water for 20 minutes, then:
- Strain the liquid.
- Keep boiling until liquid is reduced to a depth of about half a centimeter.
- Pour into a glass baking tray and dehydrate until completely dry.
- Spray water on hardened residue until soft.
- Scrape to center of tray and add just enough smokable material to soak up the material.
- Dry in dehydrator.
- When completely dry, it is ready.
Procuring Canary Grass
DMT is an illegal substance in most of the world’s countries. Therefore, I cannot recommend obtaining canary grass for the purpose of consuming it. Moreover, never take DMT if you have a health problem, such as high blood pressure or any kind of heart condition, since it may increase the heart rate dangerously.
Moreover, Phalaris species exhibit considerable variability as per their constituents. Therefore, experimenting with unknown types of Phalaris without analyzing their constituents can be extremely dangerous and is not recommended.
In general, Phalaris arundinacea tends to contain more 5-MeO-DMT than Phalaris aquatica.
If possible, try to get an Italian strain of Phalaris aquatica (known as AQ-1), which contains approximately 0.1% DMT, 0.022% 5-MeO-DMT, and 0.005% bufotenin.
Another good strain to try is the Turkey Red variety, which contains primarily 5-MeO-DMT, as well as especially high amounts of DMT.
Ayahuasca Experiments with Turkey Red
In 1993, the Turkey red Phalaris arundinacea strain was bioassayed as an ayahuasca analogues along with Peganum harmala (Syrian rue) seeds as a MAOI.
It has been tested by TLC to determine alkaloid content. Out of the 16 plants selected at random from the original seed source, all 16 plants exhibited a similar alkaloid production pattern of 5-MeO-DMT. No other strain of Phalaris is known to exhibit such uniformity of alkaloid production.
The effects of 30 mg alkaloids from Turkey red produced a very “subtle and spacy, feeling of leaving the body” along with some nausea. 40 mg induced more nausea.
A group of 6 individuals took 50 mg. One of them experienced very violent purging for 2.5 hours along with a highly visionary state, agitation, and fearfulness. Another person was purging and had a complex visionary sequences of exploring an otherworldly landscape.
Another experience with Turkey red ayahuasca in a group setting:
she said she journeyed back through her DNA and remembered encoded memories all the way back to the primal ocean. She was very sick the whole night […] She was in a healing crisis for almost a whole week afterwards.
For me the bottom line is that Phalaris is a very interesting plant to research, but not very practical for most psychonauts, with the exception perhaps of the bravest ones…