Over the past few weeks our teacher Carlos has been introducing us to Ecuador’s tradition of using herbal plants. Plants have been used medicinally for thousands of years in this country, and still have a very modern role in most society, particularly in indigenous communities living in the Andes (which make up about 30% of the population).
A firm believer, Carlos grows an herb garden in his home and uses them regularly. After sensing our interest in the subject, he starting bringing us to gardens and parks around Cuenca where these plants grow wild to explained how they are used and what they can cure. His knowledge of medicinal plants came when he lived with an indigenous tribe in the jungle a few years ago. As we were walking through a park one day, he told us while he was with the tribe, he ate a very strong plant (whose name I’ve forgotten) to rid him of all his fears in life, which found him in a trance-like state, alone in the jungle…for 3 days. He woke up completely naked in a tree with little recollection of the time spent since taking the plant. Ben and I stared at him blankly for a few seconds, trying to absorb the insane story he so casually told us.
I read recently that there are over 900 different plants used for medicinal reasons. Some of these are used not just to remedy illness or discomfort, they are also used through healers to cleanse the body and mind. We learned about the cleansing aspect of traditional medicine first-hand during what we thought would be a typical day of class, and we ended up in an indigenous market where a Shaman performed a ritual on us to pull out our negative energy.
The origin of this ritual is thousands of years old and was created by very spiritual people who understood that all living things have energy. They also believed that one living thing could take on the energy of another living thing. (in the video, when the woman rubs the raw egg on us, she is using the living cell within the egg to take on our negative energy) The ritual had 3 stages: First, she swatted us with a collection of plants and told us to breath them in deeply. The combination of plants was so strong, I can’t even describe the smell. Next, she rubbed an egg all over our body. And finally she spit a concoction of plant and flower juices at us. We aren’t sure the meaning behind the spitting, and after watching Ben go through the ritual first I was a little nervous about that part. Before letting us go she put some kind of black paint-like substance on our forehead and stomach for spiritual protection.
As we were walking away from the market after it was over, I felt like I was in a kind of dream-like state. I had an overwhelming sense of calm and everything seemed to move a little slower than usually around me. Our teacher ended class early because he said we needed to relax the rest of the afternoon and that our muscles would feel tired. We went home and watched a movie.
These are some pictures of the medicinal plants from the greenhouse at our school and growing wild around Cuenca