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For a 54-year-old shaman, Don Honorato Mishaja looks a lot like a teenage hippie. Wearing baggy jeans, dirt-caked sneakers and a white T-shirt that reads “We Believe in Nature,” the expert in traditional Peruvian medicine strolls through a lush 7.4-acre plot of land in the Amazon, talking about the “spirit of the jungle” embodied by all the plants in the rain forest. He holds up an ordinary-looking leaf picked from a knotty stem; to the untrained eye, it could be a ficus leaf. “This is a natural anesthetic — the jungle’s novocaine,” he says.
Mishaja presides over the healing center Centro Nape, which is located on this plot of land and which serves the 400 indigenous people of the nearby community of Infierno. The leathery-faced medicine man — whose grandfather, father and uncle were also healers — sees as many as five patients a day, treating everything from intestinal parasites to alcoholism.
Natural anesthetics aren’t the only remedies Mishaja has unearthed in the Amazon, which has been called “nature’s medicine cabinet.” His ramshackle laboratory also contains such handy treatments as cana cana morado (“like aspirin”); ojé, the sap of the Ficus insipida tree (“when mixed with honey, it acts as a laxative”); and sacha bufeo (“a love potion”).
Outside his lab, Mishaja pours shot glasses full of a deep burgundy liquid made from the chuchuhuasi plant for a group of visitors from the nearby Posada Amazonas lodge. (Owned by Infierno locals, the lodge may soon start a program with Mishaja whereby guests can spend a night at Centro Nape.) The sweet concoction creates a pleasant, caffeine-like buzz. “It’s the Red Bull of the jungle,” Mishaja says. — BROOKE PORTER