Banisteriopsis caapi, also known as Ayahuasca, Caapi or Yage, is a South American jungle vine of the family Malpighiaceae. It is used to prepare Ayahuasca, a decoction that has a long history of entheogenic uses as a medicine and “plant teacher” among the indigenous peoples of the Amazon Rainforest. It contains the beta-carboline harmala alkaloids and MAOIs harmine, harmaline, and tetrahydroharmine. “The stems contain 0.11-0.83% beta-carbolines, of which 40-96% is harmine.”
According to The CRC World Dictionary of Plant Names by Umberto Quattrocchi, the naming of B. caapi was actually dedicated to John Banister, a seventeenth-century English clergyman and scientist. An earlier name for the genus Banisteriopsis was Banisteria, and the plant is sometimes referred to as Banisteria caapi in everyday usage. Most caapi is cultivated by the shamans who use it. (Shamanism refers to a range of traditional beliefs and practices concerned with communication with the spirit world.)
The name Ayahuasca means “vine of the soul”, and the shamans of the indigenous Western Amazonian tribes use the plant in religious and healing ceremonies. In addition to its hallucinogenic properties, caapi is used for its healing properties as a purgative, effectively cleansing the body of parasites and helping the digestive tract.
Types of vine
Although there is no apparent difference in species, the caapi vine is categorized by those who use it into several different types, each of which have different potencies, effects, and uses. Different categorizations may be used in different areas, and this list is not meant to be exhaustive or universally applicable.
In Peru and other places of the Upper Amazon, the different types of Caapi are referred to as different “colors” by the shamans:
*Cielo (sky) or Yellow Caapi- Probably the most commonly used variety, at least among the mestizo curanderos of contemporary Amazonia. It is considered relatively gentle and is the typical vine used for initiation. It often has seven sections when viewed in cross-section.
*Black Caapi- There seem to be two varieties of black caapi, which may or may not be the same plant. They are often associated with witchcraft or brujeria, and should only be used by those who are very experienced with the medicine. It often has five sections when viewed in cross-section.
*Thunder or Trueno Caapi- Brings on a particularly intense purge as well as other physical effects which are often very overwhelming.
*Indian Caapi- Perhaps the only variety of caapi that is not cultivated, but rather harvested from old-growth, unflooded, white sand rainforest. Its use was believed to be more prevalent before contact with the west.
*White Caapi- Used most often in magic, both in brujeria and combating brujeria.
*Red Caapi- Considered very strong and used most often for healing; often, the curandero will take red caapi while their patient is given the yellow variety.
*Rattle Caapi or Ayahuasca cascabel- Often considered the most potent variety of caapi; ayahuasca cascabel has been seen and experienced very little by westerners, if at all.
In the Napo province of Ecuador, the vine is divided into three types. It is said that all are used for the same purposes, though the visions of each differ:
*Ayahuasca de las Mujeres (Women’s Ayahuasca)- So named as it has bumps or protrusions, “like a woman”. The effect is more rapid. Gives visions of flowers.
*Ayahuasca de los Hombres (Men’s Ayahuasca)- Straighter than the women’s Ayahuasca; gives visions of Boas.
*Ayahuasca para ver Fantasmas (Ayahuasca for seeing spirits)- Has “designs” on the bark; gives visions of spirits.
The shamans use Ayahuasca (which means “vine of the soul”) in religious and healing ceremonies to diagnose and treat illnesses, meet with spirits, and most of all, divine the future.