Inside the Food Forests of the Amazon Rainforest

Nearly all Kichwa families have their own chacra, a garden that serves as a source of food and medicine.

by Clarissa Wei
Jan 12 2017, 8:56pm

"This is  barbasco, a suicide plant," Edmundo Salazar says. He motions to the young leafy bush in front of him. The leaves are elongated and a vibrant green.

For centuries, the plant  Lonchocarpus urucu was commonly used by indigenous tribes in South America for fishing. When ground into a paste, it's a particularly potent substance that can stun fish in stagnant pools or slow-flowing streams.

It's also used to commit suicide; three kids in Salazar's small town of Rukullacta had killed themselves with the plant over the holidays.

"Because of love sickness," Salazar says, touching the leaves of the plant, briefly pausing, remembering.

Soon the moment is over and we move on. After all, the barbasco is just one plant in Salazar's garden of plenty. All around, there's an abundance of edibles and medicinal foliage. For food, there's yucca roots and leaves, mushrooms, cocoa, edible ferns, and Amazonian cinnamon, vanilla, and grapes. There's also taro, various citruses, bananas, green plantains, and toquilla palms—whose leaves are used to make hats and whose young hearts are edible. (Hearts of palm, after all, come from palm trees.) There are herbs that act as natural antibiotics or insect repellants. Some plants act as seasonings, others are just food for the birds.

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