The Vine of the Soul
Throughout the western Amazon grows a jungle vine known to western science as Banisteriopsis caapi. In the Quechua language, the vine, and the potent entheogenic drink prepared from it, are known as Ayahuasca, ‘vine of the soul.’
The indians of Columbia, Ecuador and Peru, and urban mestizo shamans, use Ayahuasca as a gateway to the spirit world. It is used for healing and divination. It is consulted by shamans for advice on all manner of topics.
Under the influence of Ayahuasca, it is believed that shamans can converse with the inhabitants of the spirit world, turn into jaguars, and perceive the future.
“…the Indians believe [Ayahuasca] can free the soul of corporeal confinement, allowing it to wander free and return to the body at will. The soul, thus untrammeled, liberates its owner from the realities of everyday life and introduces him to wondrous realms of what he considers reality and permits him to communicate with his ancestors”.
[Schultes, Hofmann & Rätsch – Plants of the Gods]
Ayahuasca is usually prepared as an admixture. Along with the bark of B. caapi, numerous other plants may be added. These sometimes include Coca, Tobacco, Brugmansias and various other plants, but the most common additives are Chacruna (Psychotria viridis) and Chagropanga (Diplopterys cabrerana).
Herein lies the source of Ayahuasca’s great power. The leaves of P. viridis, D. cabrerana and some other additives, contain the powerful, but orally inactive hallucinogenic indole, DMT. DMT is broken down in the gut by monoamine oxidase (MAO), and has no effect on the body. The B. caapi bark contains the β-carbolines Harmine and Harmaline, both potent inhibitors of MAO. For a short time, these harmala alkaloids stop the action of MAO and enable DMT to enter the bloodstream intact.
Once through the blood-brain barrier, DMT can elicit an entheogenic experience lasting around four hours, consisting of intricate audio-visual hallucinations, and visions with often deep symbolic/emotional significance.
The Preparation of Ayahuasca
There are many methods of preparing Ayahuasca, but they all consist of the same basic procedure; the bark or whole stem of the Ayahuasca vine is shredded, pounded or ground and steeped in water along with a suitable DMT carrier, such as Psychotria viridis leaves. Often the liquid may be heated or boiled to aid extraction, and may also be boiled further to concentrate the aqueous extraction.
This recipe comes from a method given by Terrence McKenna, probably developed from recipes used in Ecuador and northern Peru.
- 500g fresh B. caapi vine per person.
- 85g fresh P. viridis leaves per person.
- The Ayahuasca vine is thoroughly crushed and placed between alternate layers of Psychotria leaves in a stainless-steel or earthenware pot, and covered with water.
- The brew is gently boiled for 4 hours.
- The liquid is poured off and collected.
- Using the same plant matter, the pot is filled again with fresh water, and gently boiled for a further 4 hours.
- The liquid is again poured off and collected.
- The plant matter is now discarded.
- Both quantities of liquid are combined and boiled gently for to concentrate the Ayahuasca, until a manageable amount is left for each dose.
- While the evaporation and concentration is taking place, care should be taken to ensure the Ayahuasca is not boiled too vigorously, as this will cause degradation of the active ingredients and will also cause caramelization of the contained sugars, resulting in a very thick final brew.
There are several problems with this method. Firstly, it uses large amounts of energy to boil the brew for around 12 hours, which is neither time nor energy efficient. Secondly, the extensive boiling will almost certainly destroy some of the active ingredients. And finally, the measurements are given in quantities of fresh material; something which is not readily available outside of Amazonia.
More recipes to follow, I promise.