5 Powerfully Medicinal Plants Along the Inca Trail
IF THERE’S ONE THING I LEARNED, history-wise, on the Inca Trail, it’s that the Incas really liked to get high. Like, really liked to get high. They snuffed seeds up their nostrils and drank cacti tea, purged on DMT and brought in the day with a few brewed coca leaves. Here’s just a few of their plants of choice.
Acid and mushrooms may make you trip, but ayahuasca heals. Chemistry tells us that ayahuasca is a mix of jungle fauna which combines DMT — a powerful, epiphany-inducing hallucinogen — and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOI), which allow the DMT to seep into your body. The effects of ayahuasca are intense. Effects include severe vomiting, which shamans believe to represent a lifetime of negative energy exiting the body, to psychological introspection, elation, fear, magic and self-realization.
You will trip balls on this stuff, but a shaman’s job is to “remove negative energies and redirect positive ones,” to end in a higher, clearer self.
Danger level: Safer than booze, and much, much more intense than even your best weed.
2. Coca leaves
Coca leaves have been used for centuries in the Andes and help stave off hunger, thirst and fatigue, meaning that during a harsh life high up in the hills, when crops are low and energy is needed to lug those big ol’ Inca stones around, they were pretty handy things. Now, they’re frequently drunk in tea and great for keeping the altitude sickness at bay. You won’t get a high like when snorting a line off the dash of some grimy van, but you will feel more awake, have more energy and maybe be slightly more chatty.
Just an FYI before you start filling your cheeks like a hamster, it takes 297 grams of dried coca leaves to create just one gram of marching powder. Put 10 in your mouth and you’ll be gagging, but trust me, it’s worth it.
Danger level: Safe AF.
3. Angel’s Trumpet
Also known as Inca Sun or Inca Queen, Angel’s Trumpet is not to be taken lightly and is dangerous as hell. It’s easy to over-do it on this pretty little flower as the hallucinations can spiral, quite literally, to the end of the world. Apparently, there’s an extremely fine line between having a good trip and killing yourself and the trip is deep, intense and long — lasting for two days after the initial high.
Medscape quotes symptoms of an Angel Trumpet high as “red as a beet, dry as a bone, blind as a bat, mad as a hatter and hot as a hare.”
Danger level: Don’t even bother.
4. San Pedro cactus
Similar to ayahuasca, San Pedro cacti is drunk like tea, sat around a fire with a shaman present. This high is said to float on similar spiritual breezes to ayahuasca and also causes the soul-cleansing, gut-wrenching vomit before the trip hugs into your mind. Astral travel, a deep connection with the earth and higher clarity are all said to been achieved by drinking this cacti tea.
Maybe this is how those clever little Incas knew the earth was round before the rest of the planet, eh?
Danger level: Make sure you’ve employed a trip-sitter.
Fermented maize, or any sort of fermented drink that’ll get you a little boozy. There are, of course, unfermented versions of chichi available everywhere in the Andes, but they won’t give you a buzz. Chicha is traditional through the ages in Peru, and buildings in which it was made have even been found at Machu Picchu.
If you’re on the road and could do with some shade from the heat and a little boozy bevvie to keep you going, look out for a house or building with a bamboo stick and some red material hanging off it — this indicates that the chicha is good to go!
Danger level: As safe as your local home-brew.