Andean Healing Plants
All Roads Lead to Pachamama
In contrast to much of the Western World, people of the Andes and the Amazon look first to Pachamama (Mother Earth) to resolve physical ailments. Today, Peruvians combine the ancient tradition of using healing plant medicine with contemporary medicine to cure headaches, ameliorate altitude sickness, and even spur spiritual growth.
At Willka T’ika (meaning “sacred flower” in Quechua), we continue to be inspired by healing plants and the Andean peoples’ deep-rooted connection with Nature like our founder Carol Cumes was from the start. That is why everything our guests experience here revolves around what grows in our gardens: the organic food we prepare, the maté we drink, the essential oils we distill, and the healing plant medicine we and our staff rely upon to stay healthy.
Uña de Gato
Uña de gato (“Cat’s Claw”) is a healing plant that grows in the Amazon of Peru. Its common name refers to the curved thorns of this woody vine that look like claws. The inner bark and root have been used for centuries in Peru because they contain high levels of alkaloids that activate the immune system, reduce inflammation, protect against tumor growth and carcinogens and prevent gene mutations. It is also used for many gastrointestinal problems and has antiviral properties that can stop the spread of viruses. Uña de gato can be brewed as a drink or is often taken in the form of capsules or an extract in daily doses.
Aciote is a small tree that grows in the Amazon and the coast below 1400 meters elevation and has been cultivated since pre-Columbian times in Peru. The seeds and powder from the plant are good for digestion and have also been used to treat asthma and as antimalarial medicine. The fruits and seeds can be consumed in a tea infusion that is often taken to control headaches. The leaves have anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties which can prevent prostatitis that could later lead to prostate cancer. The crushed leaves can be used for the alleviation of respiratory problems, throat infections, fever, dermatitis, skin infections, diarrhea and vomiting, and conjunctivitis.
Plukenetia volubilis Linneo
Sacha Inchi, which in Quechua means “mountain peanut”, is a tree that grows in the Amazon of Peru. The seed of the plant is eaten raw like a nut or in the form of extra virgin oil. It is known for its incredibly high levels of Omega 3, 6, and 9 fatty acids—even more than fish oil. It also contains vitamins A and E and amino acids. The health benefits of Sachi Inchi are numerous, including blood pressure regulation, prevention of certain types of cancer, hormonal balance, alleviation of cardiovascular problems, and the reduction of bad cholesterol.
Muña is a plant that grows in the regions of Ayacucho, Puno, and Cusco and has a pleasant flavor often compared to mint. You can easily find muña growing in the Andes, where it is popularly served as an herbal tea alongside mate de coca to help with the effects of high altitude. It has high levels of calcium and phosphorous, which makes it good for teeth and bones, preventing osteoporosis. Muña also aids digestion and stomach pains and can treat intestinal infections and inflammation.
Maca is a root that is sometimes referred to as Peruvian Ginseng because of its similar medicinal properties and benefits, though it is not of the ginseng family. It grows in the high altitudes of the Andes and has been cultivated by the Andean people for thousands of years. Maca has energizing and invigorating qualities and can be used to treat symptoms associated with anemia, depression, and chronic fatigue syndrome, though it is most commonly touted for its aphrodisiac qualities as it boosts fertility and libido in both men and women. Like ginseng, it is also known to improve memory and cognitive function. You can use the maca root to brew drinks or it can be ground into a powder that you can mix into smoothies or food. The root can also be baked or roasted and eaten with other food.
The coca healing plant has played an important role in the religion of the pre-Inca and Inca culture in Peru and the Andes and continues to be used today in sacred rituals by the Andean people. Apart from their religious uses, coca leaves have fourteen alkaloids whose benefits include improved cognitive function, suppression of thirst and hunger, improved digestion, and increased energy and endurance. It also helps blood oxidation, which facilitates breathing at high altitudes and constricts blood vessels to slow and stop bleeding. It is an extremely high source of calcium, promoting strong teeth and bones. Mate de coca is a tea made with coca leaves that is widely consumed in the Andes and offered to help altitude sickness, though the most effective way to experience these benefits is by chewing the leaves. You can read more about coca leaves in Andean culture here.
Sangre de Grado
Sangre de Grado, known as “Dragon’s Blood” for its dark red sap, is a healing plant that grows between 1,200 and 3,000 meters in the Amazon of Peru. The sap contains a chemical called SP-303, which has anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and digestive properties and also aids the body’s natural healing and scarring process. Sangre de Grado is frequently used as an antidiarrheal for cholera, traveler’s diarrhea, and AIDS. It has also been used to treat insect bites, open wounds, broken bones, infections, fever, and ulcers, though its medicinal properties are still being studied. The sap can be applied directly to the skin or the extract of SP-303 can be ingested as a pill. The proper dosage is an important factor when taking Sangre de Grado or any other herbal medicine.
San Pedro & Ayahuasca
Containing mescaline (like its northern cousin Peyote), San Pedro is a local cactus that has been used for centuries to ignite spiritual, mental, and emotional healing. Gentle in its action, especially compared to Ayahuasca, San Pedro opens the heart, engendering a feeling of bliss, love, and harmony. It facilitates transformation in a manner that is both nurturing and compassionate and invites you to see through your limitations and false beliefs to the truth of who you really are.
The Ayahuasca plant native to the lower Amazon of Peru has been used in sacred ceremonies led by shamans for centuries. The shaman prepares a drink using the Ayahuasca vine that, when ingested, can cause visions and a feeling of spiritual lucidity. It is not a plant that should be used without the correct guidance as it is a very powerful psychotropic plant. Ayahuasca has been proven to rehabilitate people with addiction and depression. We do not offer ayahuasca ceremonies at Willka T’ika, but you can read more about our thoughts and recommendations about ayahuasca here and about Peruvian Plant Medicine here.