On a cool and rainy February day, 2022, I drove to the Blue Mountains in order to see Liam Engel. It took me longer than I expected. Emu Plains in Penrith is more relaxed than the inner city. It could be the larger expanse of sky or the wider streets. You can smell the earth and get a taste of rural living.
San Pedros abound in this backyard. Author provided
While I am following Liam around the property, it becomes clear that he is not only a person who has street cred but also a sharp mind and an acute intelligence. He’s one of those people who has a lot of experience and knowledge that sneaks up on you. Liam has dedicated a great deal of time and passion to his crusade for the safe and informed consumption and care of cacti.
He’s also a gardener. Liam tells me, “This is nothing,” as I stare at his garden beds and propagation tray. Please wait until you see my psychoactive gardens.
I’m excited to see these two gardens, but I won’t reveal their location or names. We drove about 20 minutes before meeting Liam’s friend. We’ll call him Graham, but that isn’t his real name.
A sense of wonder and otherworldliness
Graham has a large backyard with a shed and a greenhouse. He has a forest full of sanders. One is a TBM, also known as the “penis plants” or Frauengluck. This means “woman’s lucky” or “happy women” in German. This clone’s origin is unknown, but it has spread around the world. I was told that it is “good food” with a high mescaline concentration.
Mescaline alters awareness, creates a sense of time passing differently, and affects visual perceptions. Sometimes, perceptual experiences become enhanced, even euphoric. Some people have experienced bad reactions, such as headaches or dizziness.
Today is a meet-the-mescaline-plants day. The garden is covered in clouds, and there are a few drops of rain. I want to take pictures of all the cacti. I asked Graham why he planted his garden. He replied: “To eat everything.”
In 2014, he ate his first Cactus. He had a few bad experiences, both in brewing it and eating it. But he learned how to pick the right plants and has been growing his own since.
It is a huge understatement. He has hundreds and hundreds of plants in his garden. Some in raised beds, others in neat rows. Some are eight to nine years old. Some are in pots, and some have been grafted.
There are hundreds and hundreds of different plants. Author provided
I can tell Graham does not trust me. I can’t blame him. I don’t appear to be part of the psychoactive trusted community because I am not. I am privileged and middle-aged. I am also white, a female, and a woman. It’s no surprise that he seems a bit wary. But he still offers me a glass of wine.
I declined to drink the wine because I needed to drive my daughter home at 6 pm. Even if Graham keeps giving me sidelong looks, I am grateful to be there in Graham’s yard. It’s like any suburban garden in Australia, with its squeaky metal gate and mowed open lawns between the cacti bed and redbrick home. It also has a subtle, ethereal energy. There is a feeling of otherworldliness. It’s as if a culture from another country was thrown into the suburbs of Sydney. A strange schism.
While Liam, Graham, and I are in the shed, speaking in low tones, inspecting something inside, I am wandering into the greenhouse on the opposite side of the yard, which is filled to the brims with san-pedro, with peyotes on top. Peyote is a tiny button cactus that looks like pin cushions.
Liam and Graham will be back soon. I’ll ask them about the double plants. They say that peyotes grow slowly, and by grafting them onto Cactus, their growth rate increases. They also look cool. Graham’s greenhouse looks great. The lawn and beds are neat.
Shutterstock: Peyote, tiny button cacti that look like pin cushions. Shutterstock
Graham, a curious person, says that he would like to “try a lot of different cacti” and “brew them up all and see how they taste”.
Liam told me that Graham was “well-known and respected as the terscheckii expert because only [Graham] or Peruvian Indigenous People can be bothered eating that one.” Trichocereus Terscheckii contains mescaline, the active ingredient that produces psychoactive experiences. However, it is much larger and more difficult to eat than San Pedro.
Graham removes the dark green layer under the skin while avoiding the prickles and prepares cacti-based soup.
Read more: When did humans start experimenting with alcohol and drugs?
San Pedro cactus. Author provided
The greenhouse is filled with potted plants and variegated Cactus. The air is cool and dry, and there are bags of fertilizers and soil. The Vilcabumba Chacun Chacun tribe has some stuff and plants that are from the habitat (cuttings, not seeds).
Vilcabumba, located at the foothills of the Andes Mountains in Peru, is known as “the lost city of Incas”. Even though Liam and Graham were not Indigenous, this garden still has a strong feeling of a more ancient culture and place, even though we’re in Sydney. Many of the items in this garden were sent by express mail from overseas.
I asked, “Aren’t there drug dogs at the customs to sniff out drugs?”
“Border Police are looking for plants, not drugs.” Graham explains that if you order ten items, only one may get through. “But some are old and come from Bendigo.”