Salvia divinorum belongs to the genus Salvia, better known as sage. You will find sages anywhere, from your own garden to garden stores, but generally these are not Salvia divinorum. Some 900 species of Salvia exist and they include a large number of ornamental plants and also Salvia officinalis, the sage that is used for cooking. The genus Salvia itself belongs to the mint family Lamiacae (formerly known as Labiatae), which also includes familiar herbs as oregano and basil.

Salvia divinorum literally means diviners’ sage. It is also known under a number of common names: Ska (Maria) Pastora, shepherdess’s herb, yerba de Maria, Sally-D, mint and sadi. It is endemic to a small area in Oaxaca, Mexico, where it grows in the mountainous land of the Mazatec Indians. Salvia divinorum is a sprawling perennial plant that reaches 4 to 6 feet (1.2 to 2 meters) and is most likely to be found in shaded, humid sites. The stems are square and hollow. Leaves are dark green, 6 to 8 inches (15- 20 cm) long and have toothed edges. The plant only flowers sporadically between October and June and gives blue or white flowers.

It rarely sets seed, even when pollinated carefully by hand. When it does set seeds, these are rarely viable: only a very small percentage will eventually develop into mature plants. In the wild, the plant propagates by falling over and sending out roots where it touches the ground. In a high humidity environment, it is not uncommon to see roots forming on the stem even before the plant has fallen over. These root formations make cuttings an easy method of cultivation. Many botanists even believe that Salvia divinorum is a so-called ‘cultigen’, meaning that it is a cultivated plant that is not known to have a counterpart in the wild. The patches of Salvia found Mexico are known to have been cultivated.

Because seeds of Salvia divinorum are so rare, almost all plants in circulation have been propagated from two parent clones. The first was collected in 1962 by R. Gordon Wasson (the Wasson-Hofmann strain), the second, called “Palatable” was introduced by Brett Blosser in 1991. For this reason, genetic variety of available Salvia divinorum is very limited. Salvia-expert Daniel Siebert has managed to grow a number of clones from seeds produced by both strains.