It has rained quite a bit since I learned about this fascinating plant. Back then, the world of Santería was an unraveling mystery filled with scents, sounds and colors that set my imagination, senses and spirit on fire. I remember with awe the first time I held a Prodigiosa leaf in my hand. I was fascinated by the fact that a single leaf of Prodigiosa (Kalanchoe pinnata o Bryophyllum pinnatum) could easily become micro cosmos of wonders sprouting several offspring’s from the edges of the leaf. Later on I found that this is a common trait of the members of the Crassulaceae family, Bryophyllum section of the Kalanchoe genus, which can grow the plantlets without being potted or having water because of its succulent nature.
It is interesting to notice that a plant that crucial in the process of initiation into Santería is not original from Nigeria or from West Africa. Kalanchoe pinnata or Bryophyllum pinnatum by its scientific name hails from Madagascar and it has spread to other areas of the world where it is also admired by many of its attributes.
This plant is known by several names. Under the title of ewe there are several variants of the name: Ewe dún dún/odún dún,and ewe obamoda/abomoda. In Spanish Prodigiosa is also known as Siempre Viva, Yerba Bruja, Inmortal, Flor de Aire, Hoja de Aire, and Hoja Bruja. In other parts of the world the names go from Love Leaf, Mystical Caribbean in North America, to NeverDie or Armapoi in India, Féy Lougarou in Haiti, and even Q’uora Wayra in Perú, such is the popularity and regionalization that it has acquired.
Overall there is plenty of lore associated to the Prodigiosa. Some people say that if you write the name of a person you love and then place a leaf of Prodigiosa over it, love will grow as well. However, setting aside magical uses, let’s look at this plant from another point of view focusing on some important data on botany. Responsible use of plants should include an understanding that goes beyond hand me down information, it is important to support tradition with science whenever possible, particularly when plants are ingested, such as the case of a plant that goes to making omiero (ritual water for initiation made of plants and many other ingredients).
The plants from the Crassulaceae family such as Prodigiosa do contain bufadienolide a group of toxic cardiac glycosides found mainly in members of Crassulaceae family, this chemical is also found in the skin and skin glands of toads, such as the Bufo marinus or the lovely Cane toad whose skin is toxic to many animals and has been introduced in the Caribbean as an agricultural pest control. What does this means to you? It means that it is important to be careful as to the use of Prodigiosa because it can cause human toxicity. Ancient Romans and Egyptians first discovered the use of toxic cardiac glycosides (not that they used the term back then!) as emetics and to treat heart ailments.
With regards to the use of Prodigiosa in Santeria, it is associated with both Eleguá and Obatalá and it is one of the four main plants that go to the creation of omiero, its ritual song during the process of lavatorio goes as follows:
“Se ekun boro de wa o (3)
Se ekun boro ewe dún dún”
Ewe dun dun vers 1
There is another version of the song that can also be found:
“Dede boro dewao, dede boro dewao,
dede boro ewe dún dún”
Ewe dun dun vers 2
Both of these songs allude to the blocking negativity and the sweetness of Ewe dún dún Along with Hierba Fina (Cynodon dactylon), Peregún (Dracaena manni), and Atiponlá (Boerhaavia erecta), Ewe dún dún becomes one of the four pillar herbs that must be present during kariosha.
Even after growing this plant for years, I have yet to see Ewe dún dún in bloom but from photos on the Internet it looks quite pretty and it normally blooms in winter and early spring. This plant is extremely hardy and it is suitable for xeriscape gardens for those of you who are into water conservation.
I hope you found some interesting facts to make you appreciate Ewe dún dún in a different light. The next three articles on this featured miniseries will be devoted to Hierba Fina, Peregún and Atiponlá. As usual, readers are welcome to add comments on their particular experiences with this or any other subject. As we say in the Santeria community, knowledge is shared amongst all of us.
Oní Yemayá Achagbá
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