Brewing the medicine: How to make Ayahuasca
For the past years, more and more people have recognized the healing powers of Ayahuasca and other plant spirits. Adventurous spiritual seekers have been coming to the Amazon in search of a traditional practitioner of Amazonian curanderismo in order to heal, or merely to try the medicine. Once a practitioner is found, and the pasajero is invited to do a ceremony, there comes the moment la medicina is offered to them. This is the first challenge is a long series of challenges that lie ahead. The taste of Ayahuasca is different from brew to brew, but is foul at worst and tastes like grandpa’s weird herbal liquor at best. Then people move through their process, guided by the healers and the spirits to release what is blocked, and to shed what shouldn’t be in there.
So Ayahuasca, powerful stuff. Changes lives. But how is it made? Where does it come from? In this article, I’d like to explain a couple of things about the retrieval process of the ingredients, the cooking process as well as the refining process.
Ok, here goes. First of all, we’ll need ingredients to make the brew with. Ayahuasca contains only three ingredients. The Ayahuasca vine (banestriopsis caapi), the chacruna leaves (psychotria viridis) and water. Some say a fourth ingredient is added, namely fire. Because cooking Ayahuasca is very labor intensive, usually large batches are cooked at a time. The labor consists of going out into the jungle, and actually looking for what you need to find. In Paoyan, where we are based, the Ayahuasca vine doesn’t grow, or is very hard to find. We’ve tried planting 10 plantains, but not of them took, unfortunately. So the vine is bought in Pucallpa through one of our contacts, and then we transport it to Paoyan where we brew the medicine.
The chacruna is a different story. Chacruna can be found, but sometimes is a bit tricky to find. The shipibo day starts early, at around 5:30. We eat a bit, and then take of to the jungle. The forest where we gather our chacruna is a bit far, so we take out boat that is powered by a small motor with a tail. We go down a small creek that finds it way to the Ucayali. During this trip, you can really take in the scenery. Jungle on both sides, birds that fly up as they hear us approach. Sometimes we see a toad that is warming itself in the rising sun. When we arrive at our destination, the jungle is there waiting for us. You can sense the difference in energy. There is something primal about the jungle, a sense of danger, but also a sense of immense life force flowing, something very humbling. We begin the trek along the path in search of chacruna. We light a mapacho, to clear any energy that blocks us from connecting with the plant. Sometimes Julio spots a plant that looks like chacruna, but you gotta be careful. There are plants that look like chacruna, but aren’t. Chacruna leaves have little protrusions along the nerve of the leaf. The plants that don’t have this protrusion don’t have enough DMT to get into the visionary state and thus render the brew unusable. What we’re looking for is the mother plant. When there are smaller plants close together, the mother plant cannot be far. The mother plant is very large, up to 5 meters in height and has to be bended to reach all the leaves. We need about one bag full of chacruna for each bag of Ayahuasca. So if we come up short, we’ll have to go back at a later day and look somewhere else. When the bag is full, or when the sun reaches its zentih, we go back to the boat and return home, where lunch is waiting for us.
Preparing the ayahuasca vine
Once enough chacruna has been gathered, the Ayahuasca needs to be prepared. This process is physically very hard, and involves more people. First of all, the vine is cut into sections of about a foot (30 cm) in length with a machete. Everyone that is present at the moment, chips in. The vine is soft, so a sharp machete cuts through it rather easily. When all the vine has been cut, the bark is removed from the sticks with a knife, after which the sticks are hammered. Hammering the vine makes the fibers split up so they release more of the active substance when being cooked. This is a process that takes hours, even with 4 people doing this job. The shipibo are incredibly tough and will keep hammering until the job is done, without complaining once. What is special is that the sap of the vine has a very distinct, rather sweet smell and is very sticky This allows you to grip your hammer better, to which I was very happy. The smashed sticks are gathered in a washtub to which water is added so it can soak through the night.
We’ll need some firewood too
Now, before we can start cooking, we need enough firewood. It depends on where we cook, and if our tractor can reach it. If it cannot, then we need to fill bags of firewood wherever we find it. One time we found an abandoned sawmill that has cut shiwawaku, one of the heaviest, but most carbon dense hardwood around. This means very good fuel. There was a big pile of small blocks, ideal for our purposes, but it was about 2 miles away from our cooking place. So we were carrying 30 kilos each (3 guys) and made about 4 trips, on foot. Just to give you an indication of the work involved. With a tractor it is much easier, just load it up, drive home, unload, done.
All set, let’s get cooking
Ok, now we are ready to proceed. The water will be added at a later point. So, first, we clean the pots with mapacho smoke. This is to provide a clean space for the making of the sacred medicine. Then one layer of vine is added, and then a layer of chacruna. This is repeated until the kettle is full. Then the water is added from the soaking sticks. In the meantime, Julio’s kids have brought buckets full of water which is then added to the kettle rightaway. Then a fire is lit, and the mixture is brought to boil. It is very important that cooking process is observed by someone with good energy. This means, a clear consciousness, an open heart and a strong will. Since Ayahuasca operates on an energetic level, you don’t want to infuse the brew with bad or weak energy. The brew is cooked until about 2 inches of liquid remains. The liquid is then removed and the pot is then refilled with water and the process is repeated twice. During removal, the liquid is strained to remove any plant material that comes with it. This yields the brown liquid which is the medicine. Cooking Ayahuasca down takes about 8 hours and can span multiple days, depending on the maestro continuing to cook or take a break for the night. During this time, the maestro has to tend the fire, which is very hot, because, well, it’s a big pot and requires a lot of heat. Also, when to cooking proceeds into the night, there are the mosquitos to deal with.
When the cooking in the large kettles is done, the three yields are mixed into one to get a uniform strength. Depending on the viscosity of the medicine, the ayahuasca is cooked out even more in a smaller kettle. Ayahuasca that is too watery has a tendency to give unnecessary diarrhea, which isn’t harmful, but a bit annoying.
Testing the Ayahuasca
When the Ayahuasa is done and satisfactory, we do a ceremony at night to test the medicine and to get to know it. Each brew has its own character, that we need to know about before giving it to our guests. If it’s too weak we cook it out even more, if it’s too strong, we add a little water. What we’re aiming for is that a full shotglass gives you a good, strong mareacion, but is still controllable. This is usually a very exciting ceremony. What’s going to happen? Will it wait a long time to come up? When it does, will it be overwhelmingly strong? Or does it give you a run for your money right from the start? Good Ayahuasca makes you work in the beginning, but sets you free in the end. It allows you to connect with spirit and to work with the plants. And that’s just a great part of our job.
Well, this brings us at the end of the article, I hope you have enjoyed reading it, as much as I enjoyed writing it! Furthermore, I hope this article has been able to lift the veil around the preparation process a bit and that it got the message across about just how labor intensive this process is. So, what next? Please let me know what you would like to read about! Drop me a line either on facebook or using the contact form on our website. Any tips on writing style and other suggestions are welcome too. Hope to hear from you soon!
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