A homeopathic expedition into the amazon rainforest
Once a year Robert Müntz breaks away from his daily business as a homeopathic pharmacist and becomes an adventurer and traveler. On those trips he visits places where poisonous plants and venomous animals abound, on the lookout for fresh source material for the manufacture of homeopathic remedies. It is not uncommon for him to take custom orders from homeopaths, who either want to conduct a proving of a new remedy, or prescribe a yet unknown remedy on the basis of the doctrine of signatures. Adeps boae constrictoris, Pirarara, Capi are just a few examples of ongoing proving efforts, which Robert has supplied with the remedy.
The general area of the homeopathic expedition: the confluence of the Rio Negro and the Rio Solimoes constitute the Amazon river, the world's largest river system.
Usually alone, with the company of native guides only, he makes his way into his favorite place: the South American rainforest. His sixth expedition, scheduled for May ‘98, will take him to Peru, where he plans to canoe 800 miles down the Amazon river, with his mortar and pestle always at arm's reach.
The account below is a brief excerpt from his 1995 trip to Brazil, which proved to be very productive, homeopathically speaking. – Editor
Despite several journeys into the rainforest of South America, I am still taken by surprise by the unbelievable intensity with which all sensory impressions impinge on the visitor. A citizen of the 'civilized' world is flooded with strange odors, vibrant plays of color and sounds. This time I had made it my goal to study and observe life up in the heights of the tropical tree giants. There is plant and animal life to be found there, about which still very little is known.
The first challenge, once standing in front of such a giant tree and looking up, is how to get up there. It is a surprisingly difficult problem to solve without screwing bolts into trunk or bark. The native Indios here use a loop made from palm fibers to climb 20-30 cm (8-12 inches) strong trunks up into the crowns of mostly palm trees to gather their fruit. Those trees, however, in which I was interested are 30-40 meters (100-150 feet) tall, and their lowest branches are still 25-30 meters (75-100 feet) off the ground. Indios never climb these trees.
I racked my brain when planning this trip and came up with a solution which seemed to work well in my dry runs at home as well as in Brazil at location. To get up onto the first branches of the tree I used bow and arrow, as used in archery. Tying a fish line to the arrow, I shot it across the first branch and used this line to pull a climbing rope over the branch all the way to the ground. With one end of this tied securely to a tree, I ascended the trunk with the aid of a chest and hip belt. Getting down by rappelling off the trunk is comparatively safe and easy. In this manner it takes about one hour's time and a bucket full of sweat to get up into the crowns of those giants. But the abundance and variety of life up there is well worth the effort: orchids, bromeliads, and insects which never make it to the bottom of the rainforest live here.
I was able to admire numerous miniature orchids in their natural habitat and their most colorful self.
I was living with the Nhengatu tribe, which populates an area approximately 150 km (100 miles) upstream from Manaus on the 'black water river', the Rio Negro. This northern tributary of the Amazon is an area where mosquitoes are less of a problem. The acid rich water of the river is not conducive to the growth of their larvae.
The language spoken by the Nengatu tribe in Terra preta is named after the tribe itself — Nhengatu. They live off hunting, fishing, and manioc farming, which makes them practically self sufficient. They don't have any western medication or a medicine man which would advise them on the use of folk medicine. Therefore each one of them is an expert in plant identification and their medicinal uses. The gadgets of western civilization are unknown to them — there is no TV or radio. It struck me how calm and well balanced these people were.
I was proud to be the first white person to live with the Nhengatus for a longer period of time an observe them hunting, fishing and farming. One important aspect of my trip was to look for already known sources of homeopathic remedies and maybe to bring back as yet unknown poisons or venoms and make them accessible to homeopathic provings. A task, which the Nengatu tribe helped me to accomplish.
A hand trituration up to a C3 takes three laborious hours of grinding and scraping. Under the conditions in the rainforest, with its high humidity and temperature, preventing one's perspiration to drip into the mortar and keeping insects off the lactose becomes an additional challenge.
Every potential remedy was triturated to the C3 right there and then, following Hahnemann's instructions as laid out in the 6th edition of the Organon. Back home in my pharmacy, I used these C3 triturations as basis for higher potencies. It was Hahnemann's big pharmaceutical achievement to introduce C3 triturations in 1835 as the general and preferred way of preparation (c.f. Ref. 3). He changed from mother tinctures to C3 trituration, because of their improved action and shelf life. The C3 trituration constitutes the highest and at the same time most elaborate way of preparing homeopathic remedies (Ref. 1).
A homeopath in Europe had asked me to bring back the rare remedy Pyrarara for a difficult case of his. In 1900 E. P. Anshutz mentions Pyrarara in his book New, Old and Forgotten Remedies in connection with a leprous patient (Ref. 2). This remedy is prepared form a fish named Piranha, a vicious predator, who is found predominantly in the area of the Solimojes river. The water of the Solimojes are light brown in color and extremely rich in nutrients. It flows into the Rio Negro at Manaus, thereby forming the largest river system of the world. Between the rainy periods, the water levels change up to 16 meters (50 feet)!
The fat from underneath the skin of this fish is used even today by the local population as a remedy for fresh or slow healing wounds. The Piranha is caught for cooking and - with some luck - can be found at local fish markets there. It is remarkable that the feathers of birds which eat too much of the yellow fat change their color. People with too much Pyrarara fat on their diet can develop symptoms which resemble leprosy closely.
I isolated the yellow colored fatty tissue of a 1 meter (3 feet) long species of Pyrarara with a knife. Then 60 mg of it were triturated with lactose to the C1 potency, then up to the C3. For this I used a porcelain mortar, which had been heat sterilized before.
Very similar to the fat of Pyrarara is the fat of the boa constrictor. It, too, is used by natives in the treatment of wounds, where it is applied directly to the skin and then covered with a piece of cloth. I prepared this, as of yet still unknown to homeopathy, remedy in the same manner as Pyrarara by C3 hand trituration. I got the fat from an Indio, who had caught a boa constrictor mother animal with 20 still unborn young ones a week ago. In the tropical climate at temperatures of 28-35° Celsius (82-95° F) boa constrictor fat is a mixture of a yellow fluid over a butter-like residue. On heating to temperatures above 45° C (113° F) it changes into a dark yellow fluid with a weak fishy odor.
Salticides (Jumping spiders)
Another remedy I was supposed to bring back home was a species of the jumping spiders, the Salticides, which are of quite variable appearance. I found a colorful specimen of about 1.5 cm (3/4 inch) length. The elongated back part of the body is striped in yellow and turquoise, the abdomen is somewhat smaller, black, and bears conspicuous, big eyes. They move by either running or jumping, where the jumps take them a distance of about 10-20 cm (4-8 inches). On observation, the spider appeared to me as very nervous and shy. Closer observation reveals that its behavior is not just aimed at flight. It runs a bit away, stops, watches the suspected enemy and even comes back some distance towards the enemy. It doesn't appear as if it were looking to find safety by putting as much distance as possible between itself and the enemy. Apparently the peculiar behavior is aimed at surprising the enemy. You will find this spider frequently in the dried outer leaves of palm trees. There it assumes an elongated shape similar to the palm leaves. Above her body is a white, dense web of an area of about 8-10 square centimeters (1-2 square inches).
For fishing in small rivers or at high water, when there are few fish, Indios like to use the poison of a liane called Timbó (Lonchocarpus nicou). They beat the liane, or better yet, its roots, to a pulp and throw it into the water, which assumes a whitish color. Ten to fifteen minutes later the fish drift to the surface, presumably a consequence of the poisonous sap, which destroys their gills. Caimans and snakes also flee from the irritating properties of Timbó. Officially, this fishing method is prohibited, but is still used by natives in the upper parts of the Rio Negro to provide fish for their family.
Indios also use Timbó when hunting monkeys. They impregnate an arrow tip with the sap, which apparently anesthetizes the monkeys so that they fall off the tree after about one minute.
The boa constrictor mother animal. Boa constrictors are not poisonous; they kill their prey by sheer muscle strength. Wrapping themselves around the prey, they suffocate it and break every bone.
When trekking through the jungle, it is almost unavoidable to make the unpleasant acquaintance of the so-called fire root, Cipó de Fogo. It pays well to keep away from her, because touching the young offshoots, the skin starts to burn like fire. Immediately after touching it, a well circumscribed redness develops. The pain subsides a bit over the next couple of days, only touching the affected area makes it flare up again. A fair skinned person develops a red discoloration, which changes to deep purple over a couple of days and disappears after 2-3 weeks.
On one of my hikes I discovered a specimen of Bothrops jararaca, a snake, which had apparently suffocated only a short time ago while trying to ingest an oversized earthworm. Of course I immediately tried to obtain some venom from the snake for trituration. Unfortunately however, the snake could not be of any service to homeopathy, because it spent all of the venom in its death fight with the earthworm. The Indio buried the snake far off the footpath; they believe that the bones of the snake, when an unsuspecting wanderer steps on them, are poisonous.
At certain holidays or gatherings the Nhengatu make use of the intoxicating properties of Caapi (Banisteriopsis caapi). Only the chief of the community may prepare it in order to make contact with the spirits. When the chief joins the community, he is already intoxicated - he never uses Caapi in front of the community. Under the influence of Caapi, he believes to be in the shape and spirit of a certain animal, e.g., an ape. The Indios use Caapi to prepare a tea from the leaves of the plant. The effect sets in after about two hours.
When preparing homeopathic remedies in the jungle, one is faced with unexpected difficulties, particularly concerning the cleaning of the instruments. There is no clean water, which means that sufficient quantities of distilled water have to be carried along. At a relative humidity of close to 100% and temperatures around 30-35º C (86-95º F) I had a difficult time preventing perspiration from my hands and forehead from getting into the mortar. And all this while fighting off insects which were attracted by the lactose being triturated. An additional problem was the sterilization of mortar and pistil afterwards. I used some 96% ethanol, which I burned in the mortar to sterilize mortar and pestle.
It is laborious undertaking to hunt for homeopathic remedies in the Amazon jungle; sometimes it can be even dangerous. When I learned from an Indo that there is a certain kind of extremely poisonous spider in this area, I decided immediately that this would make for a potentially useful and interesting new remedy. On further inquiry, the Indio told of a child, which got bitten by the spider while sleeping a hammock. He started to scream horribly, and all usual medicine was not able to help him. The child died the next morning, with his skin a strong red to black color.
Of course I did everything to find this spider. After several days I got lucky. We found a hole in the ground of about 12 cm (5 in) diameter, in which a few spidery legs were visible from the distance. Attempts to scare the spider out of its hole with a stick were unsuccessful. So we used a shovel to open the spider's home. I was surprised by the size of the animal; I have never before seen such a big spider. Catching it in an empty plastic cup, I was again surprised by the weight: I estimated it at about 0.25 kg (0.5 lbs.). On close observation I could see how the spider rubbed its hairy hindquarters with one of its legs and thereby spread almost invisible hairs all around in the vicinity.
Shortly afterwards, my skin started to itch unbearably, I had to scratch my palms continuously, but without any relief. Out of safety concerns and hygienic reasons I decided not to milk the spider in the jungle, but rather took it back with me to Europe in order to have it properly identified. The spider turned out to be a specimen of Terraphosa leblondi.
At the end of the journey I was pleased to have amended my stock by a number of important and highly interesting remedies. In contrast to that, I had lost quite a lot of weight from the long walks and the rough living conditions, but even more so by the intimate interest of the Nhengatus in my food provision.
A lot of work lies still ahead of me to identify each specimen exactly. The rainforest is a boundless source for those interested in rare flora and fauna. Contrary to common belief, the jungle is not aggressive, but rather behaves neutrally toward the careful and informed visitor. It would dangerous, however, to travel in these regions without knowing about its dangers and proper behavior in this environment.
(1995-08-28 - Robert Müntz)