A Homeopathic Expedition into the Amazon Rainforest (2)
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).
Twenty young boa constrictors, only a few days old.
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.
Young Timbó plant.
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.
Dead Bothrops snake, which suffocated during the attempt to swallow an earthworm which proved to large.
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.
Caapi (Banisteriopsis caapi).
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.
Terraphosa leblondi. An eminently poisonous spider with the nasty hairs on its hindquarter. Never get too close to one if you can help it.