Bignoniaceae (Bignonia Family)
Forms and Subspecies
Huangana huasca, hutkih (Lacandon),304 koribo, koribó, koriboranke, pum-ap, puu thotho moki (Yanomamö), samedu-ap
It was only in the 1970s that any information about the ethnomedicinal and ritual uses of this plant by the Indians of the Americas became known.
The tropical plant occurs in Amazonia, the West Indies, Central America, and southern Mexico (Yucatán).
The Paumarí Indians occasionally use cuttings to propagate the plant. This method is quite new, as the Paumarí were originally a nomadic tribe that has now been made sedentary (Prance et al. 1977, 131 f.). The plant presumably can be grown rather easily from seed.
This climbing bush has cordate leaves and long, trumpet-shaped white flowers that curl up in the sun. In the evenings, the flowers exude a delicious scent, like that of almond oil.
The plant is easily confused with the white vine (Ipomoea alba L.; cf. Ipomoea spp.).
The closely related Colombian species Tanaecium exitiosum Dun. is dangerous to cattle. In Venezuela, a comparable species (Tanaecium crucigerum Seemann) is known, astonishingly enough, asborrachera (Blohm 1962, 97*)—the same name that is given to many other psychoactive plants (e.g., Brugmansia spp., Iochromoa fuchsioides, Pernettya spp., et cetera).
—Leaves and stems
Preparation and Dosage
The green leaves are roasted, mixed with tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum), and ground for use as a snuff (Prance 1978, 72).
The Paumarí (= Ija’ari) on the Purus River use the leaves to prepare a snuff known as koribón-nafuni that is used only in rituals. Only men use this snuff. Shamans snuff it when treating special cases, e.g., to extract magical objects (grasshoppers, pieces of wood, bones) from a patient’s body. They also snuff it to enter a trance state as part of a ritual to protect children that is carried out whenever a child is learning to eat a new kind of food (e.g., an animal). This ritual is accompanied by sacred songs and begins with the snuffing of koribo. Men use bird bones to snuff the powder during puberty rites for girls (Prance et al. 1977, 131). Although women never use the snuff, they may use a tea that they prepare from the root cortex (two teaspoons per person) (Prance 1978, 72).
The Lacandon, who live in the rain forest of southern Mexico, use the latex of the stem of the plant, which they call hutkih, as a vulcanizing agent during the ritual manufacture of caoutchouc (rubber) figures known as tulis k’ik’, “full blood.” These are offered to the gods and also are used in magical rites (Bruce 1974; Rätsch 1985, 128*).
None (apart from the rubber figures of the Lacandon)
The Karitiana Indians of Porto Velho (Brazil) mix the leaves with the leaves of a Leguminosae to treat diarrhea (Prance et al. 1977, 134). The Chocó Indians use the plant as an aphrodisiac. The Wayãpi Indians (Guyana) boil the bark and/or stems and use the decoction to bathe diseased areas. The Palikur make a decoction of the leaves and stalks that they use to bathe the head to treat migraines. The Brazilian Yanomamö (Yanomami) boil the leaves and rub the juice they press from them onto itchy areas of the skin (Milliken and Albert 1996, 18, 19).
The Colombian Creoles believe that the plant is efficacious in treating lung ailments. They also use leaf extracts to remove lice and fleas from their pets (Duke and Vasquez 1994, 165 f.*).
The flowers of the tropical climber Tanaecium nocturnum open only at night and exude a scent like that of almonds. (Photographed in South America)
The leaves contain high concentrations of hydro-cyanic acid (HCN), which explains why they smell like bitter almonds (Duke and Vasquez 1994, 166*). They also contain toxic cyanoglycosides. Apart from this, the chemistry is essentially unknown. The cyanoglycosides appear to be destroyed when the leaves are roasted (D. McKenna 1995, 101*). Roasting the leaves also breaks down the hydrocyanic acid.
The snuff is said to induce somnambulant states entailing drowsiness, disturbances of concentration, and a clouding of consciousness (Müller 1995, 197*). The tea also produces “an inability to concentrate and reduces awareness” (Prance et al. 1977, 131). The Indians, on the other hand, describe the effects as identical to those of the kawabó snuff that is made from Virola elongata (Benth.) Warb. (see Virolaspp.) (Prance et al. 1977, 134).
Commercial Forms and Regulations
Bruce, Robert D. 1974. Figuras ceremoniales lacandones de hule. Boletín (INAH): 25–34.
Milliken, William, and Bruce Albert. 1996. The use of medicinal plants by the Yanomami Indians of Brazil. Economic Botany 50 (1): 10–25.
Prance, Ghillian T. 1978. The poisons and narcotics of the Dení, Paumarí, Jamamadí and Jarawara Indians of the Purus River region. Revista Brasileira do Botanica 1:71–82.
Prance, Ghillian T., David G. Campbell, and Bruce W. Nelson. 1977. The ethnobotany of the Paumarí Indians. Economic Botany 31:129–39.
Tulis k’ik’, “the full blood,” an offering figure of the Lacandon of Naha’ made from rubber and the juice of the koribo vine.