In ayahuasca botany 3 groups of plants can be distinguished: MAO inhibitors, DMT carriers and additives. Without the MAOI, the visionary properties of DMT are not present, as it would be broken down in the body before reaching the DMT sensitive parts in the brain. In other words, a DMT-only brew would be inactive. An additive can be any kind of plant, some of the more well-known ones being tobacco, san pedro and coca.
Traditionally ‘Ayahuaca’ refers to the Banisteriopsis caapi vine (pic. 1), a MAO inhibitor, or to the brew made from this vine and a DMT-carrying plant – usually the leaves of either Psychotria viridis (chacruna) or Diplopterys cabrerana (chagropanga or chaliponga) (pic. 3) are used. The first is used in the Amazon basin and the second in the foothills of the regions where ayahuasca occurs.
Around the world there are many more plants that produce DMT and also more plants that have an MAO inhibiting activity. So naturally, people have experimented with making brews that have a similar effects as ayahuasca. However, once you’re not using the B. caapi vine as the MAOI or you’re employing plants other than chacruna or chagropanga for the DMT, we speak of an ayahuasca analogue, or anahuasca.
BANISTERIOPSIS CAAPI A.K.A. AYAHUASCA
‘Ayahuasca’ is Quechua, the language of the Inca empire, for ‘vine of the soul’, ‘vine with a soul’ or ‘vine of the dead’. Ayahuasca, a member of the Malpighiaceae family, is considered to be the most important ‘plant teacher’. According to most of the native ayahuasqueros (frequent drinkers of ayahuasca) the effects of B. caapi are their main source of botanical knowledge.
Indigenous shamans distinguish over 40 varieties of ayahuasca vines, for example tucunacá and caupurí. The plant is cultivated, typically using cuttings, throughout the Amazon basin of Peru, Ecuador, Colombia and Brazil. A young shoot or the end of a branch is put in water. After forming roots it is put in soil and watered thoroughly.
The woody stems of the giant B. caapi are very long and branch repeatedly. The leaves can be between 8 to 18 cm long, 3.5 to 8 cm wide. They are green, round-ovate and pointed at the end. Flowering only rarely and exclusively in moist, tropical climates, the infloresences grow from axillary panicles and four umbels. The flowers are between 12 and 14 mm in size and have five white or pale pink sepals.
PSYCHOTRIA VIRIDIS A.K.A. CHACRUNA
Chacruna, like coffee, family of the Rubiaceae, is also known in different varieties, such as cabocla and chacroninha. It is a tropical bush that grows in the Amazon lowlands and through cultivation in Colombia, Bolivia and eastern Brazil. This evergreen can grow into a little tree, though most cultivated plants are between 2 and 3 meters in height. The long, narrow, ovate leaves are light green to dark green in color and the side facing the sky is glossy.
The flowers are attached to long stalks and have greenish white petals. Cultivation by means of seeds has shown to be a lot less fruitful than using cuttings. With P. viridis one only needs to put a small part of the plant directly in the soil and give it a lot of water. Even a branch with only two leaves can be used for this.
DIPLOPTERYS CABRERANA A.K.A. CHAGROPANGA
Also known as chaliponga, this plant was called Banisteria rusbyana when it was discovered. It has also been called Banisteriopsis rusbyana and Banisteriopsis cabrerana, and, like Banisteriopsis caapi, is a member of the Malpighiaceae family. This tropical vine is found only in the Amazon basin (Ecuador, Peru, Brazil, Colombia). It grows wild in the forests but is most often found in cultivation.
The plant is cultivated in house gardens using cuttings. A young shoot or the tip of a branch is allowed to sit in water until it develops roots. It can also be placed directly into the moist jungle soil. This very long vine has opposite leaves that are oblong-oval and retuse-attenuate in shape. The inflorescences, each of which bears four tiny flowers, grow from the petiolar axils. However, the plant only rarely develops flowers, and almost never under cultivation.
OTHER MAOI PLANTS
The most common MAOI after B. caapi is Peganum harmala (pic. 2), a member of the Nitrariaceae, and is also known as Syrian rue or Harmal. This is an Eastern plant, the seeds of which are highly potent in MAOI substances. P. harmala has been fully adopted into the western anahuasca scene, primarily because it is a lot cheaper and also easier to prepare than the MAOI component of the original brew, which is of course the ayahuasca vine. There are many other plants that are known to be MAOIs as well, like passionflower and cocoa. None of them seem potent enough, however, to make them very suitable for usage in an ayahuasca analogue.
OTHER DMT PLANTS
The list of DMT plants is ever growing. As mentioned before, traditionally the brew is made using chacruna or chagropanga. Many people use the rootbark of jurema, or Mimosa hostilis, to replace the traditional leaves. Another more recent addition gaining familiarity is Desmanthus illinoensis like jurema a descendant of the Fabaceae family, of which the rootbark is used.
The leaves of some species of Acacia (also family of the Fabaceae) are useful when preparing ayahuasca analogues, like Acacia maidenii. Certain Virola trees, which are family of the Myristicaceae, produce DMT in the bark, but this is typically snorted after processing rather than taken orally in conjunction with an MAOI. In the west people are also experimenting with reed canary grass, or Phalaris arundinacea of the Poaceae family, which is potent enough to make an ayahuasca analogue.
An additive is basically any plant the ayahuasca brewer decides to mix in. The leaves of coca (Erythroxylum coca of the Erythroxylaceae family), tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum and N. rustica of the Solanaceae family), and mescaline bearing cacti such as peyote (Lophophora williamsii) and san pedro (Trichocereus pachanoi syn. Echinopsis pachanoi and Trichocereus peruvianus, syn.Echinopsis peruviana), and various nightshades, of the Solanaceae family, (e.g. Brugmansia spp.) can be added for various psychopharmacological and spiritual reasons.
The Urarina, for example, are an indigenous people from the northeastern Peruvian Amazon who practice a form of ayahuasca shamanism that is largely based on the ritualized use of Brugmansia suaveolens (pic. 4), which contains hyoscyamine, atropine and scopolamine. The Kofan from northeast Ecuador and southern Colombia make regular use of scopoletin rich Brunfelsia grandiflora (pic. 5), another member of the Solanaceae. Other known common additives are Ilex guayusa of theAquifoliaceae and Paullinia yoco, like guarana a member of the Sapindaceae family, probably for their high caffeine content, and Brugmansia ignensis.