Getting High in Ancient Egypt: Blue Lotus

By: The Scribe on Friday, March 22, 2013

Oh, those Egyptians. They have so many beautiful tomb paintings, papyrus scrolls full of art, and sculptures, and look at all those lovely people holding beautiful white  and blue flowers… they must really love their flowers. Who wouldn’t, right?

But, wait… why are they all holding the flowers to their noses and mouths? Surely everyone wasn’t sniffing their flowers all the time, were they?

Actually, maybe they were, but probably not for the reason you think. Rather, they were likely, uh… getting high.

However, first it’s worthwhile to mention that the blue lotus isn’t actually a lotus. It’s a water lily, but we’ll be using the word “lotus” for the sake of convenience and familiarity. This particular flower was closely linked with the rising & setting sun for the ancient Egyptians, and was the flower belonging to the god of the sun and perfume, Nefertem.

Apparently, Nefertem brought a blue lotus to the sun god Ra in order to help “ease the suffering of his aging body.” The perfume of the flower was thought to have a healing quality, so the Egyptians liked to sniff it at parties, when they felt they needed healing, or as part of rituals… however, the exact details on this are still under debate.

Some studies were done on the blue lotus to see if it had any psychotropic or narcotic effects, and conclusions were a little shaky—one thought was that the flower was infused with wine to change its chemical content, and after a period of fermentation, the wine would be drunk. However, the lack of a control group meant the results were unreliable, so it remains unknown if this theory holds any weight.

That said, it seems fairly well accepted that the blue lotus has a somewhat hypnotic effect at low doses, along with being a mild stimulant for the libido.

Whether used for perfume, for healing, just to get high, or to get one’s mojo back, the ancient Egyptians definitely had a use for the flower… there’s a reason it shows up in their artwork so often!


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