The indigenous Kichwa say guayusa is so captivating that visitors are warned once they drink it, they will always return to the Ecuadorian Jungle. The women say it relieves symptoms of menopause, helps the liver and stomach; soothes and reduces aches and pains and offers balance and strength to pregnant women. Spiritually, elders say guayusa helps dream recall, protects against insect and snake bites, and connects them to the forces of nature. Traditionally, indigenous families woke up at dawn to drink guayusa around their communal fire until sunrise. The elders taught the youth about ancestral myths, hunting techniques, and social values, and about what it means to be “Runa” in the indigenous cosmovision.
Community shamans, known as yachaks or rukus in Kichwa, will also play a traditional bamboo flute (known as a kena) and a two-sided weasel-skin drum, and sing soft rhythmic songs during these early morning hours. The shamans also interpret dreams from the previous night, and make recommendations to guide the community and help them live in harmony with the rainforest. After drinking the first gourds of guayusa, children are often sent to go bathe in the river and receive its strength and cleansing for the day to come. Guayusa induces lucid dreaming and is known as the “watchman’s plant,” since even when sleeping you are aware of your surroundings. Guayusa was used to sharpen senses and keep hunters awake during hunting trips. The guayusa ritual continues to be a cornerstone of in some parts of Kichwa culture, bringing family and community together around the simple experience of drinking tea. Guayusa needs a diverse ecological habitat to grow. Its cultivation creates economic incentives for farmers to maintain the rainforest. The market created by sellers and drinkers requires farmers to actively reforest degraded lands in the Amazon. Buying guayusa at fair trade prices promotes organic agro-forestry as an alternative and more sustainable agricultural practice to slash and burn agriculture and deforestation.
While many of the indigenous communities in the Ecuadorian Amazon grow coffee or tea (plants imported from other parts of the world), guayusa, in contrast, is a native plant of immense cultural importance and mythological significance. Growing guayusa and sharing it with an international community is a powerful way for the indigenous communities to appreciate their culture and recognize its value in the modern world. By drinking guayusa you give these farmers the opportunity to continue living and evolving as Runa.