Ayahuasca Admixtures

Mestizo shamans often mix additional ingredients into the basic ayahuasca drink. In addition to the ayahuasca (Banisteriopsis caapi) and its companion chacruna (Psychotria viridis), chagroponga (Diplopterys cabrerana), or sameruca (Psychotria carthaginensis), some shamans may, at different times, add plants that are believed to modulate the experience of the drink in some way, such as

   ♦   ajosacha (Mansoa alliacea)
   ♦   ayahuma (Couroupita guianensis)
   ♦   bobinsana (Calliandra angustifolia)
   ♦   capirona (Calycophyllum spp.)
   ♦   catahua (Hura crepitans)
   ♦   chiricsanango (Brunfelsia grandiflora)
   ♦   guayusa (Ilex guayusa)
   ♦   lobosanango (Tabernaemontana spp.)
   ♦   mapacho (Nicotiana rustica)
   ♦   maricahua (Teliostachya lanceolata)
   ♦   mucura (Petivera alliacea)
   ♦   pucalupuna (Cavanillesia umbellate)
   ♦   toé (Brugmansia spp.)

or other plants, any of which may be psychoactive to one degree or another.

Indeed, some shamans add several different plants to the ayahuasca drink. Here are some recipes used by a number of different shamans:

   ♦   chiricsanango, toé, and maricahua
   ♦   bobinsana and lobosanango
   ♦   toé and camphor
   ♦   mapacho, toé, and bobinsana
   ♦   ajosacha, mucura, and guayusa
   ♦   toé, ajosacha, and chiricsanango

This practice may be disputed. “It is not always good to mix in so many things,” says Pablo Amaringo. “It’s better to make it each time with the chacruna and, if he so wishes, he may add another plant, always one at a time.”

Shamans may add plants to the basic drink for reasons other than modifying its psychoactive properties. For example, ayahuasca is a vine which requires strong trees for support; by analogy, some shamans add the bark of large strong trees to the drink — huairacaspi (Cedrelinga cataneiformis), icoja (Unonopsis spp.), tahuari (Tabebuia spp.), chullachaquicaspi (Remijia peruviana) — in order to provide similar support to those who drink it; indeed, the harder the wood, the more power it can deliver. Some add mapacho, tobacco, for its protective powers. Some add plants to modulate the emetic effects of the drink — thus ojé (Ficus insipida), an emetic, or piripiri (Cyperus spp.), an antiemetic. And, during la dieta, the restricted diet, plants and other substances may be added for purely experimental reasons — to let the ayahuasca transmit the teachings of the added plant, its spirit, its uses, and its song.

All these plants are called doctores, teachers, healers; these are the vegetales que enseñan, plants who teach. They are not necessarily psychoactive; each healing and protective plant is a teacher of its own secrets, of how it may be used as medicine. Learning the plants means learning to listen to the plants, who speak a language of pura sonida, pure sound, and learning to sing to them in their own language. And once you have learned to listen to the plants, the more easily you can learn each additional plant — what sicknesses it can heal, what song will summon it, what medicines it enters into, how it should be prepared.

This, too, is how the shamans study the properties of new plants, and the way they expand the native pharmacopeia. Thus, don Fidel, a practitioner from Pucallpa, told anthropologist Luis Eduardo Luna that he had taken a mejoral, aspirin, to study it under the effects of ayahuasca, and that he had discovered that it contained an “essence of plants,” which was why it worked. Don Santiago Murayari, wondering whether he could use the psychoactive mushroom Psilocybe cubensis for medicine, said that he intended to mix it with ayahuasca in order to study it.

To learn the plants, you do not just diet; you diet with a plant — that is, ingest the plant, take it into your body, let it teach you from within while you keep loyal to it. We would be wrong to think of this plant knowledge as being merely cognitive, like learning a recipe. To diet with a plant is to devote one’s attention to the plant, to form a bond with it, to establish a relationship with it — an intimate relationship, merging your body with the plant, creating mutual love and trust.

Depending on the maestro, there are several ways to learn a plant while keeping the restricted diet. The plant is generally ingested just once, or just a few times, at the start of the diet period, which is usually a few weeks to a month. The plant may be boiled into the ayahuasca drink, and the plant spirit may then appear during the ayahuasca vision, or in a subsequent dream; thus the tremendous variety of plants reportedly mixed into the drink. Or the plant may be ingested by itself, and the plant spirit may then appear when subsequently drinking ayahuasca, or in a dream, vision, stream of thought, insight, melody, snatches of song, vague stirrings of intention.

And certain plants seem traditionally to be taken alone for the purposes of dieting rather than mixed with ayahuascamapacho and toé, as we might expect; and also ajosacha, catahua, chiricsanango, mucura, oje, raya balsa (Montrichardia arborescens), and suelda con suelda (Phthirusa spp.). I do not know why this is so.

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