The Amazon Rainforest is home to many thousands of plant species, and has the richest bio-diversity on the planet. Plants and herbs used for medicinal purposes flourish there. The traditional healers and shamans of the Amazon have been working with these remarkable plants for thousands of years. We explore in this article these ancient traditions and knowledge of the plant shamans by the author of Plant Spirit Shamanism (published by Destiny Books USA).
Howard G Charing, and Peter Cloudsley join Amazonian Shamans, Javier Arevalo and Artidoro in discussions about the medicinal & spirit healing plants and their use.
Chullachaqui Caspi: Brysonima christianeae
The name refers to the Amazonian folktale about a gnome which lives in the jungle. Your friend is out of sight for a moment and reappears but, unknown to you, he is in fact the mischievous Chullachaqui. He leads you deep into the forest until you are lost and there you stay! He can be recognised however by the fact that one foot is larger that the other or one foot is twisted back on itself.
He is the guardian of the Chullachaquicaspi tree, which can be used directly on the wound to heal deep cuts and haemorrhages – and internally too – because it contains a resin. Heals strains from lifting heavy weights can damage nerves. Good for joints.
It is also a powerful teacher plant which helps you get close to the spirit of the forest and guides you if you ‘diet’ with it. It owns you and protects you at the same time. The tree has large buttress roots because it grows in sandy soils where roots cannot grow deep. There are white and red varieties - both grow in damp low lying areas. It can teach the apprentice to recognise what plants can heal, and it can cleanse the mind of psychosis. Chulla in Quechua, means twisted foot and Chaqui is the plant. It is better prepared in water than alcohol.
For bad skin, the bark is grated and boiled up with water and the body is given a steam bath while covered with a blanket. It is important to remove the bark without killing the tree which can have serious mystic consequences. It is a grounding plant which puts you in touch with the inaudible vibration of the earth.
The resin can be extracted from the tree trunk, as with the rubber tree and reduced and used as a poultice for painful wounds. Oil can also be extracted by boiling all day, this can be made into capsules.
Chiric Sanango: (Brunfelsia grandiflora)
Chiric in Quechua, means tickling or itching feeling, or like a nervous cold you feel when afraid. It has many properties, for example fishermen and loggers use it because they spend time in contact with water. Thus they suffer arthritis for which this plant is very effective. Not too much though, because it makes your mouth go numb and can make you giddy. It can also be used in emplasts for the sight and swollen eyes. If you carry things a lot, sweat can trickle into the eyes and irritate.
It has the effect of warming up the body physically, and also opens up the heart emotionally.
It can be prepared in water, in aguardiente or made into syrup. It can be raw or cooked – better to penetrate to the bones - or take as syrup if the person is very unwell and in pain. It is good for deep chills in the body or serious arthritis, and after operations and hernias.
For use as a teacher plant in the context of a ‘diet’, it is best taken in water. It opens the mind and the heart, and the pores so you transpire alot. It makes you active, so it is best followed up with a bath. It is not recommended if you have kidney problems as it heats you. You can extract the starch for making ointments for massage. The flowers can be used in floral baths and are white or brown. Mocapari is the Ashaninka name.
Sachamangua: (Grias peruviana)
Introduced into the nose, it warms the area locally, and it is effective for curing sinusitis. It also helps eyesight which is also deteriorated by the cold in this case. You eliminate a lot of mucus and this gives relief. The fruit when ripe is normally eaten peeled or roasted, and is a little like the aguaje fruit, but for medicinal uses it must be green. It is also good for tired feet in an emplast.
Taken orally it is useful for the liver when struggling with the digestion of fat, it is also a treatment for gases. Fungal spores in the nose can cause itching, rhinitis or allergy and Sachamangua is effective for this too. Athlete’s foot can also be treated with the dry powder, like talcum powder, prepared from this fruit.
Mocura: (Petivera Alliacea)
Most commonly, it is used in floral baths for changing ‘luck’. You can find after a couple of weeks, things have changed, you find a job or whatever. It is also cooked in water and taken orally for interior fevers. In aguardiente it stops hair loss, if applied to the scalp directly. Taken macerated in alcohol, it can help one to find tranquillity when agitated and irritable. taken orally or used in floral baths to raise energy, or take you out of a saladera (a run of bad luck, inertia, sense of not living to the full). This plant gives mental strength and you can feel its effects as also with ajosacha, both are varieties of garlic and have a penetrating aroma. Mental strength means it could be good to counter shyness, find one’s personal value or authority. Medicinal properties include asthma, bronchitis, reduction of fat and cholesterol. Another of its properties is that it burns of excess fat.
Piñon Colorado: (Jatropha gossypiifolia)
Like Mocura, can be used in floral baths for undoing sorcery and harm. Also used in steam baths when you can see the phlegm appearing on the skin. Cooked in water it can be a purgative for parasites in the stomach and intestines. Two seed are crushed for a child, six for an adult.The crushed leaves are good for cleaning the anus when it is itchy.
It is also a teacher plant to be ‘dieted’. If the rules are not respected it can work against you and make you worse! There are three varieties, white, black and red.
Good for skin problems and wounds… and therefore used after cuts have been deliberately made to make blood brothers. Splinters of chonta (hard palm wood) are used to do this. Not only does it heal but the scars recover the colour of normal skin. All the shamans of the Rio Napo do this, to speed up their apprenticeships by transmitting the wisdom from an older generation. The scares are made to take the form of an armadillo (protection). You can fall from high branches of trees, suffer burns and recover quickly.