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Vine of the Soul: Medicine Men, Their Plants and Rituals in the Colombian Amazonia.
by Richard Evans Schultes and Robert F. Raffauf. 1992. Synergetic Press, Oracle, AZ. Softcover. 282 pp. $22.95. ISBN 0-907-791-24-7. Available from ABC Books.

This book is destined to become a classic. It is a collaborative effort between two authors who are considered world class experts in the fields of ethnobotany and medicinal plant chemistry, respectively. The book contains a foreword by Ghillean T. Prance, director of the Royal Botanic Garden at Kew, England, and an epilogue by Michael J. Balick, director of the Institute of Economic Botany at the New York Botanical Garden. This book is based on over 50 years of Professor Schultes' work in the Colombian Amazon documenting the native uses of medicinal and psychoactive plants. Unlike the previous collaboration, The Healing Forest, this work has generous photographs on almost every page and is more designed for a lay audience. The black and white photographs are striking and, as is the case with some black and white films, they offer a setting and tone to the book that could not be much more amplified even if they had been in color. The first section of the book consists of a histo rical introduction of ethnobotanical voyages by the first ethnobotanists and naturalists into this area, starting with von Martius who first entered the Colombian Amazon in 1820. Thus, the authors establish excellent historical perspective which is particularly useful for neophytes and students. Then begins a series of short monographs replete with photos and illustrations on many of the interesting plants of this area. The first of these is caapi, also known as ayahuasa or yagé (Banasteriopsis caapi), a plant that has been fascinating botanists, chemists, anthropologists, and medical researchers for over 50 years. This vine is used with other plants to produce a trance-inducing or hallucinogenic mixture which is imbibed during native religious ceremonies in Amazonia. Because of the interest in this ritual plant, these lianas or vines of the ayahuasa are becoming increasingly scare in the rainforest and are now being cultivated in secret gardens by local Shamans. As interest in medicinal and psychoactive plants from the Amazonian rainforest continues to increase and, as some of these plants become threatened by destruction of rainforest habitat, ethnobotanical works such as this, written by universally acknowledged experts in this field, will become cherished additions to the libraries of all students of ethnobotany, rainforest, and plant conservation as well as anthropologists and those interested in the study of indigenous culture -- not to mention chemical, pharmacological, and medical researchers who might be able to develop, new classes of beneficial drugs from the ancient traditional knowledge surrounding these plants.

Article copyright American Botanical Council.