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ayahuasca healing practices

 in the heart of the Peruvian Amazon”

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Yagé, Caapi, Natema

an introduction
to an extraordinary sacred healing plant and her companions

Family Malpighiaceae

Banisteriopsis caapi
B. inebrians,
and other species

compiled by

Choque Chinchay and allies

Common Names
in the Amazon

Yagé; bejuco bravo; bejuco de oro; caapi (Tupi, Brazil); mado, mado bidada and rami-wetsem (Culina); nucnu huasca and shimbaya huasca (Quechua); kamalampi (Piro); punga huasca; rambi and shuri (Sharanahua); ayahuasca amarillo; ayawasca; nishi and oni (Shipibo); ayahuasca; ayahuasca negro; ayahuasca blanco; ayahuasca trueno, cielo ayahuasca; népe; xono; datém; kamarampi; Pindé (Cayapa); natema (Jivaro); iona; mii; nixi; pae; ka-hee’ (Makuna); mi-hi (Kubeo); kuma-basere; wai-bu-ku-kihoa-ma; wenan-duri-guda-hubea-ma; yaiya-suava-kahi-ma; wai-buhua-guda-hebea-ma; myoki-buku-guda-hubea-ma (Barasana); ka-hee-riama; mene’-kají-ma; yaiya-suána-kahi-ma; kahí-vaibucuru-rijoma; kaju’uri-kahi-ma; mene’-kají-ma; kahí-somoma’ (Tukano); tsiputsueni, tsipu-wetseni; tsipu-makuni; rami-wetsem (Kulina); amarrón huasca, inde huasca (Ingano); oó-fa; yajé (Kofan); bi’-ã-yahé; sia-sewi-yahe; sese-yahé; weki-yajé; yai-yajé; nea-yajé; horo-yajé; sise-yajé (Shushufindi Siona); shimbaya huasca (Ketchwa); shillinto (Peru); nepi (Colorado); wai-yajé; yajé-oco; beji-yajé; so’-om-wa-wai-yajé; kwi-ku-yajé; aso-yajé; wati-yajé; kido-yajé; weko-yajé; weki-yajé; usebo-yajé; yai-yajé; ga-tokama-yai-yajé; zi-simi-yajé; hamo-weko-yajé (Siona of the Putomayo); shuri-fisopa; shuri-oshinipa; shuri-oshpa (Sharananahua), and Anua (Muruy Huitoto).*

At least 42 indigenous names for this preparation are known. It is remarkable and significant that at least 72 different indigenous tribes of Amazonia, however widely separated by distance, language, and cultural differences, all manifested a detailed common knowledge of ayahuasca and its use.*

Both the plant and the medicine prepared from it are called ‘ayahuasca’ in most of the Peruvian Amazon.  In this cyber treatise we distinguish the ayahuasca vine (Banisteriopsis caapi) from the medicinal brew (ayahuasca combined
with a companion plant such as chacruna) by capitalizing the name of the prepared medicine, i.e. Ayahuasca.

*from Schultes
and Raffauf, The Healing Forest.


Principal active biochemicals: the ß-carboline alkaloids harmine, harmaline, tetrahydroharmine, harmol, harmic acid, methylester harmic amide, acetyl norharmine, harmine N-oxide, harmalinic acid and ketotetra-hydronorharmine are present in the bark, stems, and trunk of B. caapi, B. inebrians, and other species of Banisteriopsis.

Tetrahydroharmine occurs in greater concentration in B. caapi than in other plants bearing harmala alkaloids such as Peganum harmala (Syrian rue) and certain species of Passiflora sp. (passionflower). This may account for the more profound and enduring therapeutic effects produced by genuine ayahuasca compared to “analogue” preparations.

What is Ayahuasca?

The word “Ayahuasca” refers to a medicinal and magical drink incorporating two or more distinctive plant species capable of producing profound mental, physical and spiritual effects when brewed together and consumed in a ceremonial setting. One of these plants is always the giant woody liana vine called ayahuasca (Banisteriopsis caapi or other species). The other plant or plants combined with ayahuasca generally contain tryptamine alkaloids, most often dimethyltryptamine (DMT). The plants most often used are the leaves of chacruna (Psychotria viridis and other species) and oco yagé; also known as chalipanga, chagraponga, and huambisa (Diplopterys cabrerana).

This drink is widely employed throughout Amazonian Perú, Ecuador, Colombia, Bolivia, western Brazil, and in portions of the Río Orinoco basin.  It has probably been used in the western Amazon for millennia and is rapidly expanding in South America and elsewhere through the growth of organized syncretic religious movements such as Santo Daime, União do Vegetal (UDV), and Barquinia, among others.

In traditional rainforest practice, other medicinal or visionary plants are often added to the brew for various purposes, from purely positive healing (blancura) and divination to malevolent black magic (brujeria, magia negra or rojo).

The oldest know object related to the use of ayahuasca is a ceremonial cup, hewn out of stone, with engraved ornamentation, which was found in the Pastaza culture of the Ecuadorean Amazon from 500 B.C. to 50 A.D. It is deposited in the
collection of the Ethnological Museum of the Central University (Quito, Ecuador). This indicates that ayahuasca potions were known and used at least 2,500 years ago. Its antiquity in the lower Amazon is likely much greater.

The Ayahuasca medicine usually contains both beta-carboline and tryptamine alkaloids. However, some indigenous Amazonian cultures, i.e. Yahua and others, prepare a ceremonial drink from the ayahuasca vine alone.The effects differ in visionary qualities from the more typical composite preparation but with the same profound cleansing and spiritual effects.

The beta-carbolines (harmine, harmaline, and tetrahydroharmine) are obtained from the ayahuasca vine (Banisteriopsis caapi). Harmine and harmaline are visionary at near toxic levels, but at modest dosage typically produce mainly tranquility and purgation.

Tetrahydroharmine is present in significant levels in ayahuasca. It may be responsible for some of its more profound effects compared to analogue plants such as Syrian rue (Peganum harmala).

The ratio of the harmala alkaloids in ayahuasca appears to vary greatly from one geographical area to another in the Amazon basin. The proportions in which they are present likely account for the varied effects reported by shamans from
different ‘kinds’ of ayahuasca even though all are botanically classified as Banisteriopsis caapi.

See ‘Botanical Species and Shamanic Varieties of Banisteriopsis.’

Harmala alkaloids are short term monoamine oxidase inhibitors which render tryptamines orally active by temporarily reducing levels of monoamine oxidase in the body which otherwise rapidly destroys them. The combination of specific serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs, such as Prozac), and most other antidepressants, with Ayahuasca or other MAO inhibitors can cause life support emergencies or death.

The principal ayahuasca compounds have a common indole structure which, through several mechanisms, influences certain functions of the central nervous system (CNS). The relevant factor is the biochemical similarity of these compounds to the neurotransmitter serotonin (5-HT). The harmala alkaloids in ayahuasca, primarily harmine and tetrahydroharmine, reversibly inhibit the neuronal enzyme monoamine oxidase (MAO).

This allows DMT to be active when ingested orally. It also facilitates accumulation of biogenic amines, such as 5-HT, which are normally metabolized by monoamine oxidase enzymes. DMT is a naturally-occurring biochemical substance secreted
by the human body in the pineal gland.  It occurs in hundreds of plant species worldwide.  It can produce very powerful visionary effects when smoked in its pure form or taken orally in Ayahuasca.

It is incorrect, however, to characterize the Ayahuasca experience as merely an oral DMT experience activated by a beta carboline MAO inhibitor. The holistic processes at work are far more complex and it is unquestionably the ayahuasca vine which fuels the transformative power and profound teaching of the Ayahuasca experience.

Tryptamines (specifically N,N-dimethyltryptamine = DMT) are derived most commonly from the leaves of chacruna (Psychotria viridis and P. carthaginensis).

Research is needed to better understand the biochemical, psychotropic, and medicinal properties of various species of Psychotria.

In some geographic areas and shamanic lineages, oco yagé (Diplopterys cabrerana = Banisteriopsis rusbyana),
also known as chaliponga, chagraponga, and huambisa, is used in addition to or instead of chacruna.

Both N,N-dimethyltryptamine and 5-methoxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine are present in the leaves of Diplopterys.

is not present in Psychotria.

Chacruna “legitima”

Psychotria viridis in
full fruit

Oco yagé is favored by shamans in Ecuador and Colombia, but chacruna is far more commonly used in Perú where many species and varieties of Psychotria are used by curanderos for varied purposes (see chacruna).

Diplopterys leaves are 5+10 times more alkaloid-rich than an equivalent amount of Psychotria so fewer leaves are used.  The leaves of neither plant are psychoactive if eaten or smoked due to the relatively low alkaloid content and rapid breakdown of alkaloids by monoamine oxidase, a natural human enzyme.

Chacruna and oco yagé are similar in their contribution to the Ayahuasca brew, but there are differences in their experiential and spiritual qualities. These differences are evident only to those who know the scope of effects of which each plant is capable. Both bring light and vision to the experience. Chacruna harmonizes with the power of ayahuasca while oco yagé adds power with light (the 5-meo-dmt effect). The ‘mareación’ (Ayahuasca state of consciousness) produced with chacruna normally lasts four to five hours, while that with oco yagé often lasts over six hours with an extended “afterglow effect” which may last 12-24 hours.

The relatively low concentration of 5-methoxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine in oco yagé contributes a strong effect.  Though it does not particularly enrich the visionary experience per se, it is a powerful propellant for shamanic soul flight. This probably accounts for the longer-lasting effect of Ayahuasca containing oco yagé.

In northeastern Brazil, a sacramental drink called Jurema is prepared from the root bark of Mimosa hostilis, a common flowering leguminous tree. The bark from the roots of M. hostilis contains the highest concentration of dimethyltryptamine known from any natural source.

More about Ayahuasca

Vine of the Souls
by Charlie Kidder

The Concept of Plants as Teachers among four Mestizo Shamans
Iquitos, Northeastern Perú

by Luis Eduardo Luna

Quest: The Politics of Ayahuasca

by Martin A. Lee

Ethnobotanical Perspective on Ayahuasca

by Richard Evans Schultes

Ritual and Religious Use of Ayahuasca

Contemporary Brazil

by Edward Macrae, Ph.D.

Spiritual Content in Reports from Ayahuasca Sessions

by Stanley Krippner and
Joseph Sulla

and Serotonin Normalization: The UDV Study

UCLA Hoasca Project

Goes To Court

by Mark Sircus

on the U.S. Supreme Court hearing

on the religious
use of Ayahuasca by the Unaio Do Vegetal (UDV) Church in New Mexico

with permission of the author

Declared a Cultural Patrimony in Perú

Official Designation

The Knowledge
and Traditional Uses of Ayahuasca

as Practiced
by Native Amazon Communities

As A Cultural
Patrimony of Perú

be sure
to visit our ever-expanding

Reference Library

an expanding
collection of on-site reading about Ayahuasca, Huachuma (San Pedro), and

sacred plants
of antiquity, ethnobotany, plant healing, traditional and contemporary

with special
focus on Peruvian shamanism in it’s many guises.


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