Herbal Healing from the Amazon
Meet Aubrey Bamdad, the creator behind Qori Inti: Amazonian Herbals. Qori Inti offers plant offerings from the Amazon. This region blossoms with many different medicinal plants and Aubrey is there in all of it’s vibrancy with a dream to deliver these to the herbal community with integrity.
Our Poppy Swap interview with Aubrey shares her understanding of how Amazonian herbs can bring about a new paradigm to the Western approach of using plants as medicine.
In Amazonian herbalism, a plant is seen as an ally, and has a certain energetic quality that is transferred to the person working with it. The South American paradigm on herbal medicine has it’s roots in healing from curanderos, who are essentially healers that specialize in one main plant medicine. The curandero develops a deep and rich relationship with this plant, often partaking in what is called a ‘dieta‘. A traditional dieta involves going into seclusion and working with one plant, in order to open a space to allow the plant to communicate in the clearest and purest way possible.
What was your inspiration to begin working with plants?
I first came to the Peruvian Amazon about 10 years ago as a director of photography, hired to shoot a documentary on Plant Spirit Shamanism. I was thrilled for several reasons: 1) This was one of my first paid gigs out of film school. 2) I loved to travel to exotic places and was getting paid to do so. 3) I was finally able to explore Shamanism firsthand. 4) I had been nurturing a deep love of botanical medicine, more specifically creating natural products from plants, that until then, I had not been able to fully express. (When I was 18 or 19, I started making tinctures and bath and body products to give to my friends and family for the holidays.) It felt as if several of my passions were converging in one project.
To make a long story short, everything that could have gone wrong on the job did. I ended up crushing my ankle after getting thrown from a horse 17,000 feet in the Andes mountains. I had reconstructive surgery in Lima and the prognosis was uncertain if I would ever walk normally again. I found myself in the predicament of being stranded in an unfamiliar foreign country, without speaking the language, with very little money and in a great deal of pain. I had never had much affinity to the allopathic system of medicine, nor did I have insurance, but was presented with an opportunity to use the medicinal plants of the Amazon to help heal my ankle. I worked with a combination of plants such as Una de Gato, Chuchuwasi, Renequilla and a few others, to build my hampered immune system, promote the healing and strengthening of my bones, relieve pain and reduce inflammation. After taking copious amounts of concentrated plant extracts daily for several months, I began to feel better and stronger and began to walk again without any physical therapy. Within 5 months of the accident, I was back in Peru walking in the Andes mountains. The doctors I visited and my family were pretty amazed at my recovery… as was I.
I was intrigued enough to begin spending half the year in the Peruvian jungle, studying plant medicine with traditional healers. I have a background in Ayurvedic medicine so I was always using the lens of Ayurveda to understand how the plants worked. For example, what were the tastes, qualities and actions of a plant? What was its post digestive effect? How did its energetics affect the body, mind and spirit? Did it have any special or unusual effects? Most of the healers that I have had contact with had a very empirical and experiential understanding of how these medicinal plants function. They are not familiar with medical terminologies or anatomy and physiology but they know these plants work because they have been using them successfully for generations. When I’d return from my time in the jungle, I would bring back plants that I had harvested and dried while spending time with my teachers. I first began to prepare the plants how I had seen them prepared in the jungle, basically just strong decoctions. Meanwhile, I went deeper with my Ayurvedic studies, specifically into the fields of herbal product preparation and ethnopharmacology, known in Ayurveda as Dravyaguna Vidya- the knowledge of how the qualities of substances from nature affect us. I began experimenting and applying those principles with the Amazonian plants to formulate products that were specific for individuals or to target specific organs, tissues or systems of the body.
Qori Inti Amazonian Herbals was born from the convergence of my studies in these two fields of indigenous medicine: Ayurveda and traditional Amazonian medicine. The main reason why I chose to focus on working with medicinal plants of the Amazon (as opposed to plants of North America, Europe, China or the Indian subcontinent, although I still occasionally utilize and integrate herbs from these parts of the world into products or into my own personal herbal protocols) is after spending so much time in this unique bio-region, it is beyond clear to me that the earth is especially vibrational here. Perhaps it is due to it being one of the few pristine areas of wilderness left on the planet. I feel that all this Avani Shakti (earth power) gets translated into the plants, trees, rivers and stones of the jungle. Since time immemorial, Amazonian shamans have been utilizing aspects of the natural world for healing purposes and the transmission of information. I have contemplated this for many years. The products I formulate for Qori Inti are a result of this communion and the reverence I have for the healing and transformative powers of nature.
What plant medicine or herb has had a significant impact on you?
Lately, I’ve been communing alot with the flowers and creating flower essences. A few days ago for example, I was walking around our land and I noticed that one of the piri piris (a generic name employed here in Amazonia to denote a plant that is used in perfumerismo (shamanic perfume making) was in flower. I had never seen that particular plant flower before and I was spellbound just looking at it. It had a single, white, five-petaled blossom that had just opened. I felt that I wanted to create the essence at night. Sometimes I feel a plant has more of an affinity to the sun or to the moon, or to the changing times of day. It depends. That evening I stayed up later than usual. The moonrise was particularly sublime and the night air was unusually cold but so still and serene. I was being completely bathed in moonlight and imagining how those energies were affecting the flower essence. For about 7 years now, I’ve been working on compiling a compendium of Amazonian flower essences, particularly from plants that are known here amongst Amazonian shamans as Plantas Maestras or “Teacher Plants.”
What I have observed is that they tend to work on more subtle levels beyond the emotional body of remedying states such as fear, anxiety or loneliness. They seem to address and influence different aspects of our vital essences, the movement and refinement of the subtle channels of the body, known in yoga and Ayurveda as the nadis or the manner in which our individual electromagnetic frequencies are harmonizing with the electromagnetic frequencies of the earth and cosmos. We’ll be releasing a limited edition set of these flower essences over the summer, which will go into more detail about these things.
Any advice for someone who wants to begin working with Amazonian herbalism or any plants in general?
Our ancestors lived outdoors, observing the bio-rhythms of Nature, being exposed to the elements and bound by the necessity of procuring sustenance on a daily basis. Today we are bound to the clock; spend most of our time indoors under artificial lighting, consuming food that was produced by machines in mass quantities, experiencing reality through the virtual world of the internet and being continually bathed in a sea of synthetic electromagnetic frequencies that disrupt our individual bio-rhythms. The answer is simple, return to our roots. That does not mean that everyone should quit their jobs and move out of the cities (at least, not immediately) but make it a priority to commune with some aspect of Nature everyday. Have a hand in growing and preparing your own foods and medicines, take time to breath deeply outside and appreciate the bounty that Nature provides us.
Can you tell us more about the sourcing of your products?
We source all of our ingredients ourselves. Sustainable wildharvesting is extremely important to us, especially since living here in the Amazon, we bear constant witness to the effects of over-harvesting, slash-and-burn agriculture and a generally negligent attitude towards the environment. We have spent a great deal of time and energy locating and training our wildharvesting
team not only to expertly identify medicinal plants and trees in their wild habitat but also to know when and how to extract materials without putting pressure on the species. When we harvest from particular plants or trees, we are very mindful to extract only a nominal quantity, then leave them to rest for a period of time to recuperate their strength before harvesting again. We apply biodynamic principles to our wildharvesting missions and propagate whenever it is possible to do so. Recently we wildharvested Copaiba oil and Sangre de Grado during the last full moon precisely because the sap of these trees is more potent and abundant during this phase of the moon. It is our experience that materials, which have been harvested in an ethical or sustainable manner, have a profoundly greater effect than if they had been harvested by machines or in massive quantity. Since we are still producing our remedies artisanally, in small batches and hand-blended, we are able to control what goes into our products at every stage in the process.
We asked Aubrey what kind of Amazonian herbs the American population would benefit from the most. Aubrey described that most of the imbalance that American culture experiences is due to a disconnect from nature. Plants are elder spirits, and are much older that we are. Bringing specific plant medicines into our lives can bring us back into balance, in order to experience a better quality of being. Our civilization could significantly benefit by getting in touch with a pure earth energy. This can be described as ‘getting grounded’, and is offered by plants that have a strong ground energy. Roots and barks can help us to get grounded, which we don’t experience much in our fast paced civilization. Qori Inti offers an elixir called 7 Roots, composed of a variety of different tree barks from the Amazon.
Click here to visit Qori Inti’s Poppy Swap store and enter the coupon code “amazonia” to recieve 20% off all of Qori Inti’s products for the week of August 17th – 24th!
A special treat! Aubrey will be giving a lecture at Bastyr University on October 28, 2012 on Traditional Amazonian Medicine. Don’t miss it!