Once upon a time in Egypt, there was an exquisite aquatic plant that grew in the ponds and shallow waters of the river Nile. It was also widely cultivated in artificial bodies of water for its beauty, symbolism and probably also for its inebriating effects. This attractive blue water lily is commonly known as blue lotus (Nymphaea caerulea). She opens her petals at dawn and closes them again at dusk. This is how the plant became a symbol for the Sun, for eternity and for resurrection in ancient Egypt.
The lotus flower as a symbol
When Tutankhamun’s Tomb was discovered in 1922, the pharaoh's body was found covered in a mass of 3000 years old Blue Lotus petals. A portrait-statue of Tutankhamun’s head emerging from a blue lily flower was also found in the same tomb.
The sacred blue lily of the Nile was the symbol to different deities, like Osiris, Nefertem and Ra, the Bringer of Light. Depictions in tombs, sculptures and temple wall decorations are today’s most important clues to the uses of the plant back in the day.
Many historians believe it was purely a symbolic flower, but there is mounting evidence that suggests that ancient Egyptians used the plant to induce ecstatic states, sedation, arousal, as well as for medicine.
Psychoactive ritual drink
The blue lotus was frequently depicted in important social and spiritual rituals, such as the rite of passage into the afterlife but also in lively social and dancing scenes. Traditionally, both the living and the dead wore garlands made from the plant. Often portrayed in ancient art and hieroglyphics alongside mandrake fruits and poppy flowers, it’s possible that these images represent an iconographic recipe for a psychoactive ritual drink consisting of lily buds, mandrake fruits, and poppy capsules, as has been suggested by academics and researchers. Blue lotus was commonly soaked in wine and there was even a specific instrument used for drinking it.
Scientific research into the effects
An episode of the documentary series Sacred Weeds (1998) sought evidence that the ancient Egyptians acknowledged the psychoactive properties of the blue lotus. A team of ethnobotanists, anthropologists, Egyptologists, archaeologists and pharmacologists conducted the first controlled scientific test with blue lotus on two subjects. The team concluded that it was a psychoactive plant and that its effects established a new foundation for understanding the origins of philosophy and religion in ancient Egypt.
Another interesting documentary series, The Private Lives Of The Pharaohs, dedicated one episode to “Sex, Death And The Lotus”. Egyptologist Dr Joann Fletcher shows the Temple of Horus where there are several images of the king offering lotus flowers to the god and the texts accompanying these images suggest that the lotus may have had narcotic properties. After several tests and analyses, the experts concluded that “soaked in wine, the lotus would not provide an instant boost (…) but its long-term use would boost the sexual vigour and general health of those who consumed it”.
Several ancient civilizations, such as the Mayans, seemed to have used the blue lotus for the same purposes, even though it is not clear whether it was Nymphaea caerulea or other varieties of the Nymphaea species. The mild sedating effects of N. caerulea also makes it a likely candidate for the lotus plant eaten by the mythical Lotophagi, the “Lotus Eaters” of Homer's Odyssey, a people who lived in a drugged, indolent state from feeding on the lotus.
A modern take on the effects
Nymphaea caerulea contains apomorphine, a non-selective dopamine agonist, as well as nuciferine, nupharine and nupharidine. The flowers also yield a variety of alkaloids, including kaempferol, which has MAOI properties. The most common method of consumption is to soak the flowers (or extracts) in wine for a couple of days or steep them in alcohol for up to three weeks; the alcohol enhances the effects of the active chemicals.
Opinions on the potency of the effects of blue lotus differ greatly. Some people report to feel a warm kind of ‘high’, a relaxed and cheerful state of mind, others claim it to be disappointing, too subtle or not effective at all. This last group considers it merely a myth, a nice tale from the One Thousand and One Nights, but with less effect than beer.
Yet some users describe blue lotus as a weaker version of MDMA, capable of lending certain empathic feelings, and the majority seem to experience a state of relaxation in which users are more social, comfortable in themselves, often aroused and flooded by a feeling of well-being and pleasant lethargy. Blue Lotus is also frequently pointed as an activator, combining nicely with other substances, giving them more clarity.
Get to know the plant
In order to experience blue lotus’ effects in a more effective and noticeable way, we recommend refraining from other stimulants and drugs for a while before trying it.
We are no longer the ‘unpolluted’ human beings that lived in ancient Egypt – we consume many stimulant substances on a daily basis, most of them much stronger in effects that the blue lotus. Coffee, tea, alcohol, sugar, cannabis, painkillers, party drugs, they all can affect the effects offered by this wondrous plant.
And it also may well be that the modern cultivated varieties of the Blue Lotus are weaker than the ancient ones that grew naturally in the Pharaoh's Egypt. It’s unfortunately quite rare to find this plant in the wild nowadays. You’ll mostly encounter it in botanical gardens such as the specimen in the photo, taken at the Hortus Botanicus in Amsterdam.
White lotus and Pink Lotus
At Azarius you can purchase several blue lotus products, such as dried flowers, extracts and resins, and it´s definitely worth giving it a try and come up with your own conclusions on its effects.
You can also purchase white lily (Nymphaea alba), also known as white lotus, that can be found in freshwater all over Europe and in parts of North Africa and the Middle East. The white lily also contains the active alkaloids nupherine and nymphaeine, but reports show it to be less potent than the Egyptian one.
And we also offer pink lotus (Nelumbo nucifera), an entirely different species that is frequently confused with the Nymphaea lilies. Some believe it to be the original ingredient for the Vedic entheogenic drink Soma…but that is a story for another time.