What you didn’t know about Curare, preparation and uses
Nature provides a wonderful choice of plants that help humankind in many ways. Some of them offer food and nutrients, while others can be used as natural medicine to heal the body and mind. In South America, especially in the Amazon Rainforest, the range of options is immense, but when it comes to mysterious and interesting plants, the potent and poisonous Curare definitely shines brighter than the rest.
The ourari or woorari plant, as called by natives, is a highly toxic extract from woody growing vines in South America. It is also known as the ‘arrow poison’ since alkaloids (its prevalent chemical component) affect the regular neuromuscular transmission. The alkaloid blocks skeletal muscle junctions by interfering with the regular communication of nervous impulses required between the nerve axon and the contraction mechanism in the muscle cell. The consequences of this intrusion in the process causes the victim weakening, numbing and in the most extreme cases, death. This is the biological response the body presents due to the asphyxia and paralysis of the muscles.
However, when this plant is used for healing purposes, Curare is a powerful medicine used to treat some chronic situations like spasms, acute arthritis, muscle trauma and poliomyelitis because of the alkaloid effects. There are also some old stories of patients who used it as painkiller during surgeries and delicate emergency situations in experimental procedures, where the person is required to be completely static. More recently, doctors use it in small doses to reduce the pain when correcting dislocations, controlling spasm or intubating for examination.
For some Amazonian tribes, Curare production represents a source of wealth and prosperity. It seems to be a well-kept secret because there are very few connoisseurs of its cultivation process and preparation. One of the most relevant figures associated with Curare is the geographer and explorer Alexander von Humboldt, who was one of the first civilized men to eyewitness the process.
The traditional preparation method includes a selection of natural poisons and plant additives. In addition to the blend obtained from these plants, natives also use snake and ant venom and then the mix is boiled in water for some days and strained until it becomes a dark, thick and bitter paste. Once it is solid and heavy, it can be tipped into darts to be fired through hollow bamboo blowguns. Even though the darts can be really potent and lethal, researches have shown that Curare is harmless when ingested orally; its effects may vary from none to minor symptoms according to the doses.
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