What Is Achocha?
Achocha is a tropical vine species native to South America. It grows up to 30 feet tall and produces large clusters of purple flowers with white petals. A common name for it is “the little tree.” It has been cultivated for its fruits since ancient times, but only recently have scientists discovered that the fruit contains psychoactive compounds called psilocybin and psilocin (see Fig 1). Psilocybin and psilocin are found naturally in certain mushrooms.
Fig 1. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons
The plant’s leaves contain a mild stimulant called atropine, which gives the plant its name. Atropine is used to treat nausea and vomiting caused by cancer chemotherapy or other powerful drugs. The leaves also contain caffeine, which helps reduce pain and increase alertness when chewed or brewed into tea.
How Does Achocha Grow?
In general, achocha vines do not require much sunlight. They prefer full shade, but will tolerate partial sun if they get enough water. The plants need good drainage because their roots must travel long distances to reach the soil. If left too dry, the roots may rot from lack of moisture. Achocha vines thrive in areas where there is plenty of room between trees and shrubs so that they can spread out and become established quickly.
Planting achocha vines is simple. Take a segment of vine 20 feet long and clear the ground of any plants where you want to place it. Use two small poles as anchors for each end of the vine. Group the rest of the poles into clusters of three so they are easy to anchor in the ground later on.
First, dig a hole about 2 feet deep and 2 feet wide. Mix in 2 inches of organic compost into the bottom of the hole. Place one anchor pole into the hole with the vine crossing over it. Nail the pole to the anchor with two or three nails.
Next, spread the clusters of three poles out along the first and place them into the ground. Leave about 4 feet of space between them. Place the second anchor pole in the ground so that it crosses over all three poles. Nail the second pole to the group of three poles.
Now, spread out the vines along the first two poles and firmly tie them into place using twisty ties or thin strips of cloth. Insert the third pole into the ground alongside the group of three and tie the vine to it.
The vine should be taught but not stretched when the final anchoring is completed. It should produce little if any slack on the ground.
Water it well and keep the soil around the roots moist but not soggy.
Achocha seeds are ripe when the pods turn brownish. The best time to harvest the seeds is in the fall, when they naturally drop from the vine. Spread a tarp under the vine and shake it as hard as you can. Then, collect all of the seeds that fall onto the tarp.
To clean achocha seeds, use a medium-sized colander. Lay the tarp with the seeds on it and gently run water from a hose over it. Any bad seeds or other debris will wash away. Spread the seeds out to dry for a couple of days.
How Can You Identify Achocha?
The leaves look like grapevine leaves. They are green with vague hint of purple. Each leaf is deeply cut into narrow lobes and has a prominent main vein. The veins are more noticeable on the undersides of the leaves.
The vine itself is very attractive. It features heart-shaped leaves that grow in clusters of three at each joint. These joints are spaced evenly along the length of the vine. The vines are green, but can also have a bluish tinge to them when exposed to adequate sunlight.
How Do You Grow Achocha?
Achocha loves full sun. The plants need a lot of light and will produce their best yields in such conditions. The vines can grow to cover large areas very quickly. They will need support to keep them from falling and crushing the small leaves. You can use strings, wires, or whatever you have handy to give the vines something to cling to.
A well-tended achocha vine can produce several pounds of leaves each year. Each leaf can provide several doses of medicine when processed correctly.
Achocha seeds are very difficult to germinate, but this is an indication of their high quality. Begin by placing the seeds in a container and cover them with a fine layer of soil. Place the container in a warm area that receives direct sunlight. The soil needs to stay damp at all times and can be watered with a spray bottle.
Do not let it dry out though or you will kill the seeds. If you do not have a warm place that gets direct sunlight, you can use a grow light to give them some extra illumination.
Keep the seeds well-watered and fertilized and eventually they should sprout within a few weeks. Transplant the seedlings to bigger containers once they have developed their first pair of leaves.
It takes about four months for the achocha vine to mature from seed. During this time it will require a lot of water and nutrients.
Which Grow Lights Are Best For Achocha?
Achocha plants can be grown under a range of lighting conditions. They will grow well under both fluorescent and incandescent lights. LED and other types of grow lights work too, but they tend to be more expensive and less efficient than the other two choices.
Sources & references used in this article:
The Alternative Kitchen Garden: An AZ by E Cooper – 2010 – books.google.com
Living, dwindling, losing, finding: status and changes in agrobiodiversity of Cotacachi by N Maxted, D Hunter, RO Ríos – 2020 – Cambridge University Press
Embryological studies on economic plants by K Skarbø – Development with identity: community, culture and …, 2006 – books.google.com
Chemical composition and antioxidant activity of the main fruits consumed in the western coastal region of Ecuador as a source of health-promoting compounds by N Prakash – New Zealand Journal of Botany, 1979 – Taylor & Francis