Medicinal Plants of South America

Have you ever had a moment of clarity about reality around us? I bet you have, at least once in your life. While moments of clarity don’t often visit during daily life, they will sometimes peek in to give a quick shoulder tap when you are around nature. Once it reminded me that we really are just a couple of primates on a floating rock just drifting through space. Another time, it reminded me of how our time here on earth for 80 years (100 years on a good day) is inconsequential, yet we still badger on with what we’re going to eat for dinner or getting angry at traffic on the way to work. These “big picture moments” can be the driving force that might be leading you to a higher truth. Let’s flow with this chain of thought for a bit.

Mine began with a little trip out into a US National Park. I wandered into the forest by myself with a big brown rucksack with my hammock, a jet-boil, some dehydrated food, and my hatchet. It was a chilly autumn day with partly cloudy skies on a Saturday morning. It was perfect enough so that mosquitoes won’t be around during the evening and cool enough to not have to pack liters of water trekking into the forest. Walking through the forest alone re-opened up my senses. Just the little things from the trickling waters of the stream off the trail or the high winds weaving through the canopy of the tall trees. It pulls me back to reality so intensely sometimes and makes me even forget about my 9-5 job, the crushing student debt, or an unfulfilled life.

Further into the evening as I sat by the crackling fire I’ve created, I was reminded of a conversation with a friend once. Over each scoop of my macaroni and beef dinner, I remembered he talked about venturing into the depths of Peru to experience a sacred ceremony and came out with such a deep understanding of himself. Was I not doing here sitting by myself in this forest? He never really mentioned the name of what it was that he was talking about. I was amazed not by his story but the presence of mind and invisible wrap of calm spirit as he was speaking. Suffice to say, I came home the next day and powered on my laptop and did some googling. I knew at the moment when I read about it. What did I come to know?

Plant Medicines of the Amazonian Tradition

Somewhere deep in the jungles, people from regions around Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, and Bolivia hold very sacred traditions and follow a way of life that have spiritual leaders for their holistic healings. Shamans are gifted individuals with neither a scalpel in hand nor stethoscope in their ears. They relied heavily on plants as their textbook, their reflected experiences to replace traveling around for medical rotations, icaros as their voice of knowledge, and group ceremonies as their examination room. They play with the spirits in the jungle and learned the equivalent of a PhD in plant medicine. Yes, the training period usually takes about the same time and sometimes more. Shamans are wise because they have spent so much time on honing this gift.

By ingesting different plants, shamans take on the spirits of the plants and listen to their ageless experiences and lessons. The plants begin speaking to shamans and giving them sacred songs that are meant to heal others. These songs seem like nonsensical babel but they actually become quite the phenomenon once heard under ceremony. It might even want to make you download some mp3’s afterwards so you can remember these sacred times which you have felt such intense emotions. Each song is unique and usually accompanied by different instruments such as dried corn husks, flutes, drums, or bells. If you thought that this seems like some kind of tribal Sunday morning service, you are way off by the way. This takes over a couple of hours for starters but you don’t have to dress your Sunday’s best.

Clarity of Purpose

Plant medicines are a spiritual journey and often require months of prep-work beforehand before you can drink the brew that is served in a clay tea cup. The experience can be downright frightening or on the opposite end of the spectrum like you’ve touched the face of god. There’s going to be puking, crying, yelling, moaning, or laughter. Nope, I’m not holding back on the details at all.

At the end of these cathartic releases, you come out a brand new person and felt like you’ve unloaded off 10 trips worth of psychiatric therapy, if not more. You’ve bawled your eyes out or laughed until you cried. Either way, those tears have set you free and you felt depths of your soul that you have not possibly ever felt before.

A lot of people come in with different intentions but most times, it is to reconcile their past traumas. Some come to seek enlightenment and while others just want to share their unforgettably free spirit. You’ll meet a wide range of people nonetheless. Not one of the 30 souls I’ve met in ceremony were ever afraid in my eyes. They were courageous spartans standing up against the barrage of gruesome thoughts that plague their inner sanctum, all with shield and spears ready to fight for themselves. They surrender themselves to the moment and let their innate goodness carry them through these ceremonies. When the dust has settled, you will see the truth in their eyes in the aftermath of this intense skirmish.

Que Tengas Una Vida Larga

I knew I found what I was looking for when I did that search. It was providing me a way to ground myself again from this frantic, pointless lifestyle I’ve developed in society. There’s much more to be said but as any old-fashioned, golden-robed monk would send you off with: you will find in time the teacher that you seek when you are ready. Nature has no wasted efforts and only exists in organised chaos. In life, there are no wasted words and lessons. Your ears and eyes might not be ready to hear this, so we respect your time here.

Two years ago, this tradition has blessed my own life and I hope it will gift your beautiful spirit as well. If you want to start finding your tribe, you can find many retreat centers online. Just make sure you do your homework first. You’ll be sure to find kindred spirits such as yourselves. You might never be ready but the moments that you find it and what you seek will be correct.

You will find grandfather and grandmother if you want to trail-blaze your path with plant medicine. They are happily waiting for you and willing to embrace you with love, compassion, and prepared to wash away all of the weights on your conscience. Then you will see that the world is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself. May you have a good day, a good night, and a long life.


Author: Timothy Hoang


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