Common Names: Huangana Huasca, Koribo, Pum-ap, Samedu-ap, Sape-mandur, Erchu-chua
Tanaecium nocturnum is a herbaceous climbing vine that produces white flowers. The leaves are predominately a uniform green, shaped like hearts, and are about 6 inches (15 cm) in length and 4 inches (10 cm) wide. They grow directly out of the stem of the vine. The flower bodies are 6 inches (15 cm) long, tubular in shape and have 3 inch (8 cm) white petals. The vines smell like almonds when they are broken or crushed (Hofmann et al. 1992, 59).
Tanaecium nocturnum grows in Central America, especially in southern Panama. It is also native to the Amazon, West Indies, and the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico. It is found primarily in young forests (Ratsch 1998, 498).
TRADITIONAL USES: The Paumari tribe of the Brazillian Amazon make a snuff called koribo-nafuni from the leaves of Tanaecium nocturnum. They use this snuff during special festivals, as a rite of passage, in healing ceremonies, and in coming-of-age ceremonies for prepubescent girls. Before any child in the Paumari tribe can begin eating the meat of a new animal, a special ceremony using Koribo must be performed by the elder tribesmen. The men of the tribe form a circle and take Koribo by inhaling the snuff through the hollow leg bone of a water bird. The tribesmen then call the animals’ spirits and imitate the animal that the child will soon be consuming. The tribesmen chant sacred songs, and dance in ritualized motions (Prance et al. 1977).
TRADITIONAL PREPARATION: To make the snuff, Koribo, the Paumari tribesmen gather the leaves of a mature vine, they shred the leaves, then roast them over and open pit fire until they are completely dry. The dried leaves are then crushed and pulverized with a mortar and pestle until a very fine powder is produced. The powder is mixed with a tobacco powder that has been produced in the same way.
MEDICINAL USES: In healing rituals, the shaman consumes Koribo, and then treats the patient by violently sucking on the patient’s legs, arms or stomach, depending on the source of the illness and pain. The shaman will then run into the forest to expel the disease by vomiting. When the shaman returns to the patient, he produces an insect, a bone or some other foreign object which symbolizes the source of the illness. Although the men of the tribe are the only ones to consume the snuff, during village festivals the women of the tribe consume a tea made from two heaping tablespoons of the roots and bark of the plant (Prance 1978).
The Paumari shaman use the snuff to perform magical healing ceremonies. Other tribes use preparations made from Tanaecium nocturnum to treat diarrhea, migraine headaches, to make a balm to stop the itch of rashes and even as an aphrodisiac. The Creoles tribes of Columbia squeeze the juices out of the fresh leaves to make an extract that they use to get rid of lice and fleas. The Yanomamo tribe cook the leaves and rub the resulting juice onto the skin to help with itchiness (Miliken & Albert 1996).
TRADITIONAL EFFECTS: At lower doses the snuff has been reported to produce a mild drowsiness that overtakes the user. The mind easily wanders and deep introspection becomes difficult. At higher doses, the shamans claim that Koribo allows them to enter into the animal spirit world and communicate with beasts. The snuff also has a somnambulant effect, creating vivid dream states, sleep walking, semi-hypnogogic (half awake/half asleep) trances, and it may send the user into a mild hallucinatory dream world. Other reported effects include dizziness, headaches, and a desire to throw oneself into the nearest body of water (Voogelbreinder 2009, 325).
The main active alkaloid present in Tanaecium nocturnum is hydrocyanic acid, a toxic compound. Several elder shamans of the Paumari tribe have been paralyzed from the waist down due to daily intake of the snuff. Some researchers have reported psychoactive effects and dizziness merely from inhaling the plant’s aroma. Roasting the leaves is reported to break down the hydrogen cyanide, while leaving the psychoactive compounds intact. Much more research is still necessary to determine all of the properties of this plant (Ratsch 1998, 499).
Miliken, W., and B. Albert. “The Use of Medicinal Plants by the Yanomami Indians of Brazil.” Economic Botany 50, no. 1 (1996): 10–25.
Prance, G.T., D.G. Campbell, and B.W. Nelson. “The Ethnobotany of the Paumarí Indians.” Economic Botany 31 (1977): 129–139.
Prance, G.T. “The Poisons and Narcotics of the Dení, Paumarí, Jamamadí and Jarawara Indians of the Purus River Region.” Revista Brasileira Do Botanica 1 (1978): 71–82.
Ratsch, Christian. 2005. The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants: Ethnopharmacology and Its Applications. Park Street Press; Rochester, VT.
Schultes, Richard E; Hofmann, Albert; Ratsch, Christian. 2001. Plants of the Gods: Their Sacred, Healing and Hallucinogenic powers. Healing Arts Press; Rochester, VT.
Voogelbreinder, Snu, Garden of Eden: The Shamanic Use of Psychoactive Flora and Fauna, and the Study of Consciousness. Snu Voogelbreinder, 2009.
Yaniv, Zohara; Bachrach, Uriel. 2005. The Handbook of Medicinal Plants. CRC Press.