Skip to Main Content

Ayahuasca Medicine

The Shamanic World of Amazonian Sacred Plant Healing

Published by Park Street Press
Distributed by Simon & Schuster

About The Book

An insider’s account of the journey to become an ayahuasquero, a shaman who heals with the visionary vine ayahuasca

• Details the author’s training and life as a curandero using ayahuasca medicine, San Pedro cactus, tobacco purges, psychedelic mushrooms, and other visionary plants

• Offers first-hand accounts of miraculous healing where ayahuasca revealed the cause of the illness, including how the author healed his mother from liver cancer

• Shows how “ayahuasca tourism” symbolizes the Western world’s reawakening need to connect with the universal life force

For more than 20 years American-born Alan Shoemaker has apprenticed and worked with shamans in Ecuador and Peru, learning the traditional methods of ayahuasca preparation, the ceremonial rituals for its use, and how to commune with the healing spirit of this sacred plant as well as the spirit of the San Pedro cactus and other sacred plant allies. Now a recognized and practicing ayahuasquero, or ayahuasca shaman, in Peru, he offers an insider’s account of the ayahuasca tradition and of its use for expanding consciousness and achieving healing through access to other dimensions of being.

Shoemaker details his training and his own curandero practice using ayahuasca medicine, tobacco purges, psychedelic mushrooms, and other visionary plants. He discusses the different traditions of his two foremost teachers and mentors, Don Juan in the Peruvian Amazon, an ayahuasquero, and Valentin in Ecuador, a San Pedro shaman. He reveals the indispensable role played by icaros, the healing songs of the plant shaman, and offers firsthand accounts of miraculous healing resulting from ayahuasca’s ability to reveal the cause of an illness, including how he healed his mother from liver cancer.

The author also addresses the rising popularity of Northerners traveling to the Amazon to seek healing and mind expansion through ayahuasca and shows how this fascination is triggered by humanity’s reawakening need to connect to the universal life force.



Don Juan’s wife, Leonore, had been bitten by something on the pulse point of her left wrist. She came to me in frustration. The tiny bite was continually itching. It looked like nothing more than a small mosquito bite. After a week’s time, this small bite had transformed into a volcano rising out of her wrist, the height of my small fingernail, with a diameter of about one inch, oozing creamy white pus. Don Juan and I were baffled. I asked the military doctors in Iquitos what their opinion was, but they too were perplexed.

We watched helplessly as large knots of some sort of cartilage-type material began forming, starting first on her wrist around the bite, and then moving up her arm about two inches every day until it reached her shoulder. Her left arm was hard like a rock and the volcano continued growing in size; her fever returned full force. When these hard knots began moving down into her chest, possibly moving toward her heart, Don Juan came to me in desperation, suggesting we drink ayahuasca that evening in the hopes of divining a cure.

“Si, Don Juan. Of course,” I agreed rather nervously. It had seemed, when he presented this, that he was asking me to divine the cause of her illness, a responsibility I felt both reluctant and incapable of handling. Immediately we began to prepare the medicine.

Don Juan cut vines that he had grown on his half-acre piece of property, and I searched for chacruna. When I returned from purchasing the chacruna from the local Iquitos plant market in Belen, he had already cut the vine into small segments, smashed them with his hammer (so the boiling water could reach into all the various crevices of the vine), and brought water to a boil. He had been smoking mapacho tobacco and singing icaros over the smashed vines when he looked up and saw me there with a large bag of chacruna. He came over to me, reached into the bag, and pulling out a handful said, very seriously, “Legitimo?”

“Si, Juan.” And I flipped a leaf over onto its back side and pointed out the tiny darts protruding from the spine. “Genuine.”

I lightly pounded the chacruna leaves with a mallet for better extraction, then placed approximately half a kilo of the fresh leaves into the ceramic-coated pot. Don Juan puffed his cigarette and blew the smoke into the pot, protecting the energies we had given to this medicine and driving away any negative energy that may have concealed itself within its confines. He placed his usual three leaves of datura into the mix and then slowly added the vine and leaves, singing icaros to bless the medicine and give us vision.

That evening we drank the medicine hoping to divine a cure for Leonore. As the ceremony began Don Juan asked me to go into a trancelike state and call the spiritual body of his wife before me. I had never attempted this, so I followed his instructions with as much focus as possible. Deeply under the influence of the medicine, I called forth a vision of Leonore, concentrating intensely on nothing but “seeing” her. Just over an hour had passed, and finally I had her form before me. Whether this was simply creative visualization or I actually had succeeded in bringing her spirit there in front of me, I wasn’t sure. But, I could see her lying in her bed asleep under the mosquito net. I looked for her left arm and then to the open wound on her wrist. Don Juan asked me if I could see Leonore, and I responded, “Si,” without losing visual contact with her image.

“What is it?” he asked.

At that instant I knew, as if the word had been planted in my mind. “An insect, maestro.”

“Si, Alan,” he said, “but how do you cure it?” His voice was fraught with emotion and frustration. Curanderos have a difficult time seeing and treating members of their own family, and generally call on other curanderos to divine for them.

In that very instant, as I started to apologize for not having given him what he needed, the word “salt” came out of my mouth of its own volition. “Two spoonfuls of salt in your hand and just a little water to make a paste. Put this directly into the open wound, cover it with your palm and hold it there for a few minutes.”

I had no idea what I was saying or where this cure had come from, but Don Juan understood, sighed in relief, thanked me and said he would do this at first light.

I was nervous. What had happened here? I explained to Don Juan that this word “salt” had issued from my mouth without my having formed any sort of logical deductions. I pleaded with him not to do this as placing salt into an open wound would be incredibly painful and, again, I was at a loss to explain where this had come from.

“Alan, this is curanderismo. This is the method of healing. Don’t worry.”

At first light, I hurried into Iquitos to make one last visit to the military doctors. I pleaded with him to wait until I returned. Again the doctors were no help, and I returned to the shack to see Don Juan standing in his yard with a cocky grin on his face. I told him the doctors were as confused as I was. He just stood there, smiling. It was obvious what he had done.

“You did it, didn’t you?” I asked.


He had made the salt paste, placing it directly into the wound and held it there. After a few minutes he removed his hand and a geyser gushed out a pure white creamy fluid, then a liquid watery substance. It was finished. One month later you could not even see that Leonore had ever been bitten.

About The Author

Alan Shoemaker is a formally trained ayahuasquero, curandero, and writer. He is the host of the annual International Amazonian Shamanism conference, administrator of the “Vine of the Soul Intensives,” and founder and director of the Soga Del Alma church of ayahuasca. He lives with his two children in Iquitos, Peru.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Park Street Press (February 1, 2014)
  • Length: 168 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781620551943

Browse Related Books

Raves and Reviews

Ayahuasca Medicine is a highly readable collection of incredible stories about miraculous healings and life with indigenous healers sure to entice anyone with an interest in ayahuasca and other psychoactive plants used in Latin America. Cautionary advice admixes with infectious enthusiasm for the topic, and provides a valuable contribution to the literature on practical applications of psychedelic plants’ effects.”

– Rick Strassman, M.D., author of DMT: The Spirit Molecule and coauthor of Inner Paths to Outer Space

“Alan Shoemaker has seen it all, and done it all. In this book he narrates his life story with humor and passion. A read sure to be of interest!”

– Dennis McKenna, Ph.D., ethnopharmacologist and author of Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss and coau

Ayahuasca Medicine is a revealing journey on the Western shamanic path with one of the most preeminent gringos on the Iquitos frontier. Alan Shoemaker’s apprenticeship with the medicine ayahuasca is rich in wonder, frank in detail, and embodies the cultural metamorphosis those of us who connect with the power plants must undergo. And as a new generation of Western seekers comes to the jungle in search of the mystery, Alan’s greatest wisdom may be his understanding that true healing comes from within. As well as the plants and the curanderos, Westerners are being groomed to be their own teachers, and Alan Shoemaker stands foremost among them.”

– Rak Razam, author of Aya Awakening: A Shamanic Odyssey

“Alan Shoemaker has had more adventures than most people can even dream of, and he has written a fascinating book of both stories and ideas. The stories are brash, revelatory, and filled with self-deprecating humor; the ideas come from an immense knowledge of ayahuasca shamanism. This is a memoir of twenty years of experience with shamans and seekers and rogues of all kinds--an honest and deeply personal take on Amazonian shamanic practices and beliefs.”

– Stephan V. Beyer, author of Singing to the Plants: A Guide to Mestizo Shamanism in the Upper Amazon

Resources and Downloads

High Resolution Images

More books from this author: Alan Shoemaker