Banisteriopsis caapi – Ayahuasca

Banisteriopsis caapi - AyahuascaFAMILY: Malpighiaceae

GENUS: Banisteriopsis


COMMON NAMES: Ayahuasca Vine, Bejuco de Oro, Biaxa, Boa Vine, Caapi, Dapa, Doctor, Kaapi, Kahi, Maridi, Mihi, Natema, Nepe, Pinde, Totenliane, Vine of the Dead, Vine of the Soul, Yage, Yahe, Yaje, Yaxe

The best Banisteriopsis caapi vine we have found online

Banisteriopsis caapi is a giant vine that is very long and woody with many branches.  The leaves are round and green, pointed at the end.  The flowers are 12-14mm in size and have five white or pink petals.  The plant flowers very rarely in the tropics.  The fruits appear between March and August and resemble the fruits of the maple.  It is not certain where the plant comes from originally, but it is cultivated in Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, and Brazil (Ott 1998).

B. caapi is cultivated almost exclusively through cuttings. A young shoot or branch tip is put in water until it forms roots, and may then be transplanted. B. caapi likes humus-rich, moist soil, and lots of water.  It thrives in moist tropical climates and does not tolerate any frost (Ratsch 1998, 87).

Ayahuasca is the name given to both the central ingredient of a South American Indian psychoactive potion (a species of the Banisteriopsis genus) and the potion itself. Other plants are almost invariably mixed together with the jungle vine Banisteriopsis; about a hundred different species are known to have been added to the potion at different times and places. Ayahuasca has been used in a number of countries in South and Central America, including Panama, Brazil, Ecuador, Venezuela, Colombia, Peru and Bolivia, and by at least seventy different indigenous peoples of the Americas. In addition to ayahuasca, other native names include yajé, caapi, natema, pindé, kahi, mihi, dápa and bejuco de oro, the last meaning ‘vine of gold’. Ayahuasca itself means ‘vine of the soul’ (Hofmann et. al. 1992).

TRADITIONAL USES: The serious scientific study of ayahuasca began with the field investigations of the English botanist Richard Spruce throughout the 1850s. In 1851 he collected samples of Banisteriopsis among the Tukanoan people of Brazil and sent them home for chemical analysis. Ayahuasca-type potions are still used by the Tukanoan peoples of the Colombian north-west Amazon, who call such preparations yajé. Yajé-induced geometric images play a highly significant role in shaping their cultural life. These hallucinatory signs are the raw visual data upon which is constructed a complex cultural code, each different sign representing a number of key social beliefs and institutions. These geometric forms and the states of visionary consciousness that they are perceived in are considered by the Tukano as pertaining to a higher reality than that experienced in ordinary states of consciousness. The powerful nature of these geometric forms is so pervasive in their cultural life that their decorative art is almost completely based on such designs. Their architecture, decorated pottery, sand drawings, masks, musical instruments, necklaces, stools, weapons, etc are all adorned in the same fashion. Even many of their songs and dances are said to be based on auditory and visual hallucinations resulting from their use of the Yajé potion (Hofmann et. al. 1992).

With the urbanization of Amazonian peoples ayahuasca continues to be used for its magical and medicinal properties. The anthropologist Marlene Dobkin de Rios undertook a special study of its use among inhabitants of the city of Iquitos in the Peruvian Amazon. The slums of Iquitos are populated by people who have come in from the forest, and poverty, unemployment, malnutrition and crime dominate social life. Many of the slum dwellers seek out traditional ways of dealing with the myriad problems that they encounter; among these is the use of ayahuasca for its curative powers. Surgeries conducted by native healers take place at night in forest clearings on the outskirts of the city. These healers carefully screen their prospective patients and will not allow those suffering from extreme mental disorders to take part in the ayahuasca ceremonies for fear of disrupting the entire healing session. A communal cup is passed around and the amount consumed by each patient is monitored by the healer, who makes his or her assessment of the appropriate dosage according to each individual’s body weight, physical condition and mental health. When all the patients have drunk from the cup the healer will then also take ayahuasca (De Rios 1984).

Throughout the ceremony the healer moves around the gathering shaking a rattle, blowing cigarette smoke on some patients (tobacco smoke is considered to have healing properties) and exorcising evil spirits which are seen as the cause of various diseases and disorders. Many of the problems which the native healers try to cure are what we would call psychological traumas and depression. In the eyes of the slum dwellers they are more often seen as caused by the evil eye, witchcraft, and sorcery (De Rios 1984).

TRADITIONAL PREPARATION: Ayahuasca is made in the form of a drink or potion. The main ingredient, B. caapi, is used fresh, and is pulverized and put into a pot over a campfire.  Most often, P. viridis leaves (Chacruna) are added just after the B. caapi, and  the mixture is then boiled all day in the acidic water of the Amazon river. A piece of B. caapi approximately one foot long and the thickness of a broomstick per person is used in preparing the brew. The amount of P. viridis varies depending on the number of people who are to partake in the ceremony. Sometimes other N,N-dimethyltryptamine rich plants, such as Diplopterys cabrerana,  are substituted, depending on what the shaman is hoping to accomplish. Other psychoactive and medicinal herbs may also be added to alter the effects of the beverage. Once the brew is done, it is stored until the ceremony. If it is protected from fermenting or spoiling, it will last for quite a while. In ceremonies performed by experienced guides and shamans, people will often drink the brew repeatedly during the evening, especially after vomiting. The potency of the brew depends on the knowledge and the experience of the shaman preparing it (Ratsch 1998, 87).

MEDICINAL USES: In some parts of the Amazon a tea is made from the B. caapi vine that is drunk to cure a wide variety of diseases.  A decoction of the vine is also sometimes massaged into the skin. Young Waorani boys sometimes have a tiny amount of the plant material blown in to their lungs by an uncle or grandfather through a bird windpipe. This is said to give the child powerful lungs and allows him to grow up to become a great hunter (Voogelbreinder 2009, 98-99).

TRADITIONAL EFFECTS: Early on, ayahuasca gained a reputation for giving users telepathic powers, and a psychoactive alkaloid found to be present in the brew was named telepathine. This is now known to be the alkaloid harmine, also found in Peganum harmala (syrian rue). The alkaloids harmaline is also present in both B. caapi and syrian rue. The reports of the telepathic powers granted by these alkaloids has since been rejected by the scientific community, although legends still linger in some circles. When used alone, B. caapi produces mood-enhancing and sedative effects. In higher doses, the harmine in the plant can induce nausea, vomiting, and shivering (Ratsch 1998, 88).

The alkaloids in B. caapi act as MAO inhibitors, meaning they inhibit an enzyme, monoamine oxidase, which usually breaks down certain alkaloids before they can pass through the blood-brain barrier and reach the brain.  In particular, psychoactive tryptamines such as DMT are too delicate to be active orally in normal situations.  MAOI inhibitors, such as the harmine and harmaline found in B. caapi, prevent the DMT molecules from breaking down, allowing them to enter the brain intact and to produce the pronounced visual, auditory, and physical alterations that lead to the profound experience of the ayahuasca journey. Therefore, although B. caapi is not particularly powerful on its own, it becomes invaluable when combined with other plant medicines, facilitating powerful visionary experiences that are much valued by numerous South American cultures.

We have extremely detailed information on Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors as well as information on MAOI dietary restrictions that should answer any questions you may have regarding this topic. Working with MAOIs can be dangerous, and it is important to do plenty of research before doing so.



De Rios, Marlene Dobkin. Visionary Vine: Hallucinogenic Healing In The Peruvian Amazon. Waveland Press, Inc., 1984.

Hofmann, A., Ratsch, C., Schultes, R., Plants of the Gods: Their Sacred, Healing, and Hallucinogenic Powers.  Rochester: Healing Arts Press, 1992.

Ott, J. “Banisteriopsis Caapi”, 1998.

Ratsch, Christian., The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants: Ethnopharmacology and its Applications. Rochester: Park Street Press, 1998.

Voogelbreinder, Snu, Garden of Eden: The Shamanic Use of Psychoactive Flora and Fauna, and the Study of Consciousness. Snu Voogelbreinder, 2009.

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