1886 — Earliest Written Report of Ayahuasca Admixture Plants
In 1874, the wealthy travel writer Alfred Simson ventured along the Vaupes river of the Upper Western Amazon at the age of 25 in search of exotic and “strange” experiences to write about. His 1886 publication “Travels in the Wilds of Ecuador” begins by expressing the author’s desire to explore the “unknown parts” of the rainforest, the “almost mystical Provencia del Oriente, the wild.” The text very briefly mentions ayahuasca, describing it as a general remedy used throughout the Napo-Putumayo region. Simson noted that it was mainly the shaman’s drink, though other persons would occasionally take it for its intoxicating effect or as a malaria cure.
Also, for what appears to be the first time in written history, Simson records the use of what’s now known as “ayahuasca admixtures”, plants added to the preparation of ayahuasca. He states that the indigenous “drank ayahuasca mixed with yage, sameruja leaves, and guanto wood, an indulgence which usually results in a broil between at least the partakers of the beverage.” As pioneering ethnopharmacologist Dennis McKenna noted while reflecting upon the historical document, “none of the ingredients were identified, nor were voucher specimens collected, but this report is the earliest indication that other admixture species were employed in the preparation of ayahuasca.”
Approximately 40 years before Alfred Simson’s traveling writing, the Ecuadorian geographer Manuel Villavicencio and the Botanist Richard Spruce described colorful, strange, and wondrous experiences of drinking ayahuasca with indigenous groups. In the 1950s, the ethnobotanist Richard Evans Schultes spent many years in the Amazon Rainforest studying many ayahuasca admixture plants.
Simson, Alfred (1886). Travels in the Wilds of Ecuador. London: Lowe, Livinston, Marston & Searle.
McKenna, Dennis. (2014). “Ayahuasca: An ethnopharmacological history”. In The Ayahuasca Experience: A Sourcebook on the sacred vine. Eds. Ralph Metzner. Inner Traditions
Wylie, Lesley (2013). Colombia’s forgotten frontier: a literary geography of the Putamayo. Oxford: Oxford University Press