Banisteriopsis caapi, also known as caapi, yajé, or Ayahuasca, is a jungle vine native to South America. It is a member of the Malpighiaceae plant family. Among the peoples indigenous to the Amazon Rainforest it is used to make a medicinal concoction called ayahuasca. The medicine contains psychoactive compounds which make it active orally. The vine has the MAOIs and beta-carboline harmala alkaloids tetrahydroharmine, harmine, and harmaline. Some parts of the plants yield alkaloids. The native peoples refer the concoction it yields as the plant teacher.
In honor of 17th-century English naturalist and clergyman John Banister, not only was the vine called B. caapi, the entire genus was named Banisteria and later Banisteriopsis. People who use the plant regularly sometimes call it Banisteria caapi. Another of the plant’s names, ayahuasca, in the Quechuan language means ‘vine of the soul. The plant is used in both healing and religious ceremonies. Not only does caapi have a hypnotic effect, it is also a purgative. This makes it very effective at removing parasites from the body and aiding the digestive system.
While caapi is regularly used by the shamans of indigenous tribes of western Amazonian, the plant is not completely legal in the United States. A religious sect from Brazil was taken to court for drinking a tea made from caapi. While they won the case, the government scrutiny has given some people pause. The plant’s status in Australia is also mixed. In many states the living vine is legal while the harmala alkaloids extracted from it are not. The same is true in Canada and France. However in France possession or use of tea made from caapi is illegal.
In 1986, American entrepreneur Loren Miller patented a strain of B. caapi for commercial use. That patent was challenged in court by the Coordinating Body of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon Basin. They won and the patent was invalidated in 1999. Two years later Miller’s patent was reinstated, but it expired in 2003. Today, B. caapi is being farmed commercially in a number of properties in Hawaii. Lots of studies have been done on the plant to identify legitimate medical uses and understand why it helps people in Central and South America.
The plant is found throughout the Amazon basin. The drink made from it is used by people in Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, Peru, and Venezuela to treat a variety of ailments and diseases. Among healers in the region it is sometimes referred to as the “path to knowledge”. They say it enables the spirit to communicate with nature and receive guidance on how to heal the sick. Researchers who studied the plant say it produces physical, auditory, and visual alterations.