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The Vine of the Soul

In the Amazon jungle, a French M.D. uses “plant spirit medicine” to cure drug addiction. Our reporter went to Peru to investigate and experience this ancient healing tradition.

This article appeared in our December 2004 issue.I dip the ladle into aromatic waters stained green, stir the floating, freshly-picked leaves, and pour the bath over my head three times. I’m bathing in Amazonian healing plants with lyrical names like bobinzana, ushpawasha sanango, and macura. The leaves stick to my body, naturally perfuming it as it dries off in the balmy night air. I comb the stems out of my wet hair, feeling completely clean, clear, and calm, which is surprising. In preparation for this moment, I have vomited for what seemed an eternity. It’s now dark, I'm alone in the middle of the Peruvian jungle, in the heart of the world’s largest coca-producing region, and I’m about to drink a visionary Amazonian “plant spirit” potion called ayahuasca (ay-a-wa-ska). Known as “the vine of the soul,” “the Mother of the jungle,” and “the teacher of teachers,” ayahuasca has been the basis of Amazonian medicine and spirituality for thousands of years. In Peru, it is recognized as a powerful and legal healing agent. In fact, at Takiwasi, the drug rehabilitation center I am now visiting, it is used to f …

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