People of the Amazon use hundreds of plant species for medicinal purposes. Native shamans are living encyclopedias of knowledge on how to prepare plants to treat a wide range of ailments. Virtually every disease is treatable with one or more plants, although with varying effectiveness. Some species are already valuable additions to western medicine. For example, Chondrodendron is a vine used to prepare curare. Its active ingredient provides a drug used in surgery and to treat epilepsy and tetanus. Other species are under intense scrutiny by western pharmaceutical companies for their potential as commercial drugs.
If any plant deserves to be called a panacea it is cat's claw, or una de gato (Scientific name: Uncaria tomentosa). This vine is named for its sharp, curved spines. The bark is used to treat a wide range of ailments including ulcers, gastritis, arthritis, asthma, diabetes, Alzheimer's and PMS. It is effective against tumors and is being studied for its effectiveness in treating certain AIDS-related symptoms.
Ayahuasca (Scientific name: Banisteriopsis caapi) is a plant used by shamans to enter into trance states. Stems are pounded and boiled with water to make a tea, to which material from other plants is added. During the trance, the shaman enters the spirit world, calling on the ancestors to help him divine the future, diagnose illness and see marvelous visions, hence it is also called "Spirit Vine" or "Vine of the Soul."
The angel's trumpet (Brugmansia sp.) is a cultivated ornamental used like ayahuasca for telepathy and divinations. The leaves are used for skin problems, and to help coughs.