Plant medicines are a healing tool, used by Shamans and indigenous healers to access different states of consciousness wherein they believe they are able to heal the body and/or mind from illness and disease. The reason for the moniker ‘plant medicines’ is that they are generally made of plant-based materials, as in the case of Peyote (cactus), San Pedro (cactus), Ayahuasca (vine), Psilocybin (mushrooms), Iboga (shrub).
Currently, the better known of these plant medicines is Ayahuasca, a vine-based brew made throughout South America. Many people do not realize that Ayahuasca is not the only medicine available. A short list of plant medicines can be found here.
Plant medicine is also at least partly a misnomer, as there are some fauna-related sacred medicines.
There are many terms used to refer to plant medicine, but let’s get a bit more specific before we move on. Some of the more common terms are:
Entheogens, my preferred term in many ways, which means ‘generating the divine within’, and refers to any psychoactive drugs when used for their religious or spiritual effects.
Psychotropics, which includes any substance which is mood- or mind-altering. This isn’t the best description as Xanax, a well-known mood-altering pill, has little or nothing to do with an experience like Ayahuasca.
Hallucinogens, which is any drug that causes hallucination. Again, I don’t think this is the appropriate term, as sacred plant medicines are used ritually and serve serious healing purpose for indigenous folks who do not depend on allopathic medicine. Sacred plant medicine has nothing to do with LSD or DMT. Comparatively, plant medicines are 10% hallucinogen, 90% entheogen; LSD is 90% hallucinogen, 10% medicinal. I know that some may disagree here, especially any Timothy Leary followers. Note I’m not discarding LSD as an entheogen, which I believe it surely is, but rather that many people work with LSD on a purely recreational level and therefore the overall culture supporting LSD has not generally been one of serious healing intention.
Plant Medicine, which is the easiest term to use overall, being that it encompasses both the healing and organic nature of the experience; for that reason, it’s the term I’ll use throughout this post.