“Kambô circulates in the heart. Our shaman said that when we take kambô it makes the heart move accurately, so that things flow, bringing good things to the person. It is as if there was a cloud on the person, preventing the good things to come, then, when it takes the kambô; it comes a ‘green light’ which opens its ways, making things easier.” — from “Kambô, The Spirit of the Shaman” by Professor Marcelo Bolshaw Gomes
Kambô is a resin secreted from the back of a large green jungle frog, given the name Phyllomedusa bicolor for classification, but more commonly known as the giant waxy monkey tree frog. It’s found in the southern Amazon, across the countries of Guyana, Venezuela, Colombia, Peru and Bolivia.
This medicine has been used for thousands of years within the jungle, where its powers are harnessed for treating “panema” — a word covering a range of negative situations and emotions such as sadness, bad luck, irritation and dark or negative energies.
Today, kambô is getting traction in the West, where increasing numbers of people are seeking the medicine to treat mental, emotional and physical issues. The resin contains substances known as peptides, which have been proven to strengthen the immune system. The anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties of the peptide-rich secretion also enable kambô to destroy microbes and viruses and heal infections.
Reset interviewed master kambô practitioner Karen Darke to gain an in-depth perspective on the medicine.
Darke has spent several years living in the Brazilian Amazon and traveling the world with kambô. She has trained in both the tribal and caboclo traditions in Brazil and has also taken additional lessons with leading experts in the West. She draws upon this wealth of experience in her work using indigenous methods, meridians, chakras and auricular forms of kambô therapy where appropriate.
She is a Master Practitioner, Principal Trainer and part of the governing body of the International Association of Kambô Practitioners, as well as an experienced ceremony leader. Darke is also a writer, dance therapist/teacher and devotional singer/songwriter. Her background in psychology, training in many spiritual traditions, coupled with her holistic approach to life and therapy, all support her in her work.
For the last two years Darke has been training new kambô practitioners around the world in traditional and modern methods of working with kambô. She also works closely with the Matsés tribe of Peru and a variety of indigenous people in Brazil. She is dedicated to the survival of the Amazon rain forest and the people that live within her.
Reset: What was your doorway into shamanic healing work in general? What drew you into these spheres of medicine?
Darke: Some years ago, I was traveling in South America, working with different plant medicines when I came across kambô. After my initiation, during which I swore I would never take kambô again, I felt a very strong pull to keep taking it. My body loved it so much! I had some health issues — serious ones — and kambô cleared everything on every level. It bought me back to myself, it empowered me and strengthened me in ways that nothing else had. I could literally feel it changing me on a cellular level day by day. It opened up my senses and allowed me to live the way I do today. I feel immense gratitude for this amazing gift of nature. I started to use it on myself quietly. Then a friend who was sick asked me to give it to him, then another, and another, and it just grew from that. I took some more teachings from a caboclo practitioner in Brazil and he suggested that I go deep into a dieta with it and connect with the frog to find my way. I took his advice, kambô every day for two weeks — the connection grew stronger and deeper. The frog laid everything out in such detail, we made an agreement. I had a ‘new boss’ who was also a beloved teacher, guide and guardian spirit — I was committed from that moment on and everything I have done since then came from that time.
Reset: In terms of kambô as a medicine, how is it obtained, what are the traditional uses and where did it originate from?
Darke: Kambô is the secretion of the giant waxy monkey tree frog — Phyllomedusa bicolor. This magnificent emerald green frog smears the secretion over its body at regular intervals as a defense mechanism to protect it from predators like snakes. Many tribes across the upper Amazon region claim kambô, or sapo as it is known in Peru, as their own. No one is really sure who discovered it — the situation is complex. Kambô has been used for so long and so extensively that each tribe has developed its own legend. It is the medicine of many tribes and peoples.
The frogs are found in Peru, Brazil, Bolivia, Columbia, Ecuador, French Guyana and Venezuela, but the largest use among indigenous people is probably in Brazil and Peru. The Kaxinawá, Katukina, Yawanawá, Mayoruna and Matsés are among the most frequent users.
Originally, kambô was used in three ways. Firstly as a way to cleanse, strengthen and energize the minds and bodies of the hunters. After taking kambô, they were able to run faster, for longer, eat less, sleep less and for a period of time, they believed that they would be invisible to the animals they were hunting. Secondly, it has been used as medicine, for Malaria, fever, infections and snake bites. Thirdly, it was used to combat laziness and clear away dark or negative energy known as “panema.” When panema is cleared, everything becomes easier, obstacles can be overcome and life flows more naturally. There are many anecdotes of kambô being used for fertility, abortion, behavioral correction and sexual attraction.
The frogs are found singing in trees high above the rain forest. Traditionally they are harvested shortly after dawn by the natives who know the frog’s song and can imitate it. The frogs are very passive and do not react negatively when carefully picked up, possibly because they have few predators. Some tribes don’t handle the frog until the last minute, preferring to cut the branch that the frog is sitting on and leave it on that until they are ready to take the secretion. The frogs are carefully tied by each leg with straw strings into an X shape. Sometimes a shaman will massage the toes to encourage the secretion which is then carefully scraped off and dried on small sticks. If the frog is being properly harvested, it is only the first secretions that are taken. One, because this is the strongest and two, because this method leaves the frog with sufficient secretion to defend itself from predators.
The frog is never harmed, but treated with utmost care and respect as the people believe that to harm the frog will anger the animal spirits that they live so closely with.
Reset: What makes Kambô such an effective medicine?
Darke: Kambô works on many levels — physical, emotional and energetic. With very few contraindications, this medicine is accessible to a wide number of people of all ages.
The secretion itself contains a multitude of peptides, which are short chains of amino acids — a longer chain of amino acids is called a protein. Examples of naturally occurring peptides in the human body include oxytocin, endorphin and insulin. Amino acids are often referred to as the building blocks of all human life. This means that kambô is made from the same basic ingredients that humans are, with an assortment of peptides, neuropeptides and biopeptides that have very specific functions in the human body including neurotransmission, pain relief, anti-inflammation, detoxification, immune system boosting, hormone balance, antibacterial, anti-fungal, anti-parasitic and much more.
Reset: What disorders and illnesses does it work best at preventing, treating and, perhaps, even curing?
Darke: I don’t talk about cures with kambô, not because I don’t believe in its power to cure, but because we just don’t have the clinical research to prove such claims. The same for prevention; I know what I see among my client base, but until we can do proper research with the whole secretion it’s hard to say. What I can say is that it is my observation that people who take kambô generally, get sick less, have more energy, suffer less pain, deal with stress easier, are more emotionally robust, more empowered, more focused and more in touch with their true path in life. The people that I treat with serious health issues are able to keep those issues at bay, even with progressive diseases.
Whilst scientific research to date has focused primarily on individual peptide’s functions in the physical body, no research has been conducted on the emotional benefits of kambô claimed by many people. There exists however a growing body of observable evidence where recipients have experienced a wide range of psychological benefits, such as increased sense of well-being, mental focus, lifting of depression, emotional resilience and the ability to let go of past traumas and issues.
Over the years, I have successfully treated thousands of people with anxiety, depression, PTSD, chronic fatigue, chronic pain, HIV, arthritis, diabetes, candida, herpes, high blood pressure, cancer, fertility issues, recurrent infections and much, much more. No matter how serious their condition was to start with, they have all benefited from targeted and precise kambô treatments.
Reset: Have the cross-hairs of Western science fallen upon kambô yet?
Darke: They certainly have. There is huge interest into the various healing properties of kambô and there have been hundreds of research projects and scientific papers published. Scientists have shown that the kambô secretion contains a unique and highly complex cocktail of peptides, neuropeptides and bioactive peptides. Many of these have been isolated from the secretion and several have now been synthesized. Currently, there are several dozen kambô related patents lodged in the USA.
Reset: Kambô is an ancient medicine with a plethora of uses and applications, but what exactly does the scientific literature have to say about it?
Darke: Most scientific literature explores a specific peptide as opposed to the totality of the secretion. There are peptides that have been shown to kill in vitro cancer cells, peptides that are 30 to 40 times more potent than morphine without any negative side effects, peptides that reduce blood pressure, modify satiety, sedation and thermoregulation, peptides that demonstrate potent antimicrobial activity against bacteria, yeast, fungi, protozoa and enveloped viruses and because kambô is able to cross the blood-brain barrier, neuropeptides that are active in the central and peripheral nervous system.
Reset: From a shamanic and energetic perspective, what exactly does Kambô achieve within our bodies and minds?
Darke: There is definitely a mysterious and magical aspect of kambô. Taking kambô on a regular basis brings everything back into balance, physically, emotionally and energetically. It clears away obstacles in life, rids us of unhealthy thinking, and unpicks negative conditioning. You cannot hide from kambô — it brings out all of your ‘shit’ and forces you to face it and deal with it. For many people it’s a very challenging journey, but despite that, everyone senses the depth of love that the kambô spirit generates. Kambô cleans our energetic field, putting us in a very receptive state wherein everything flows easily and naturally and we are surrounded by a green light that draws in what we need in life. It opens the ‘third eye,’ enhances perception and encourages vibrant, often metaphorical dreams and deep sleep. People who take kambô regularly also report enhanced psychic abilities and in Brazil it is used by many mediums to develop their abilities.
Reset: What was the catalyst that introduced kambô to the Western world? Has it been a slow integration, or more of a short term explosion in exposure?
Darke: The first observations of kambô use were made by a French priest, Father Constantin Tastevin, in 1925 whilst he was staying with the Kaxinawá tribe in the upper Juruá River in Brazil. In the mid 1980s an American anthropologist, Katharine Milton, described Kambô use among the Mayoruna tribe in Brazil.
Peter Gorman documented his discovery of sapo, which is the Spanish word for the secretion, in 1986 during a trip to the Matsés in Peru. His recent book, Sapo In My Soul, tells his amazing story. During the early 1990s, rubber tappers in Brazil learned about kambô from the Amazonian tribes. They began to take it out into the towns of Acre and apply it themselves. Having spent several years living with the Katukina tribe, Francisco Gomes from Cruzeiro do Sol was one of the first people to pioneer the use of kambô outside the Amazon. Sonia Maria Valença Menezes, a flower essence practitioner, acupuncturist, and member of the Santo Daime religious movement came into contact with kambô in 1999, through Francisco Gomes and his family. Together, they are largely responsible for spreading the practice. Within a relatively short time, many people in the larger cities of Brazil were using kambô.
There are many factors which have contributed to the growing interest in and use of kambô, including the increased number of visitors to the Amazon and the spread of plant medicines such as ayahuasca, which is seen as synergistic with kambô in many of the Amazonian tribes. The number of kambô practitioners has slowly increased over recent years and the number of people taking kambô is steadily growing because of the great many benefits experienced in its use.
We have entered a time of increasing consciousness, more awareness of our need to heal ourselves on a deeper level, and more inclination to shun the offerings of mainstream medicine and participate in a more holistic and active approach to healing. The secretion of Phyllomedusa bicolor may seem a strange place to find this healing, but there is no doubt that it is here for a reason beyond the defense of the frog and the development of nano-technological pharmaceuticals. That we find such a medicine that is so completely synergistic with the human being in the depths of the Amazon cannot be coincidence. It is yet one more reason to protect the forests and the people of the Amazon region. It is essential that we help preserve their knowledge and lifestyles. They are the keepers and protectors of the Amazon rain forest and it is through them that we have access to her many generous gifts to mankind.
Reset: What are a few of the most noticeable healing anecdotes you have encountered whilst administering kambô to patients?
Darke: The spirit of kambô is a very powerful and wise spirit that delivers very profound messages about the fundamental aspects of life and death. I have given people kambô
in the last months of their lives and their experiences have been both mind-blowing and heart touching. Most importantly, they have been virtually or completely pain free and medication free. They have been taken to ‘the other side’ and have known who and what awaits them there. Any fear that they have of dying, quickly dissipates. In two cases, they have known the exact timing of their passing and felt only joyful about this. In both of these cases, they described the spirit of kambô showing them what comes after the demise of the physical body. I don’t have any understanding of how this can happen with the secretion from a frog, but there is no doubt in my mind that it does so I simply accept it as another example of kambô magic.
Reset: Do you think kambô has the potential to replace any conventional medicine if it was adopted into the mainstream? If so, which medicines and for which ailments?
Darke: I think that kambô is already replacing conventional medicine for a number of people. Especially pain killers and antidepressants. But, kambô in its natural form is not for everyone. It’s what I call ‘active healing.’ It’s worlds apart from the passive process of swallowing a pill and sitting on the sofa watching TV while it does the work for you. With kambô, you are required to turn up and be present through the often times intense treatment. Most people have to face a great many of their fears both before and during their first kambô treatment.
I have no doubt that eventually we will see some of its constituent parts adopted into mainstream medicine through the development of new pharmaceuticals. Possibly pain killers, antibiotics and anti-cancer drugs will be top of the list, although Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and HIV are also high on the list.
Reset: How is Kambô administered?
Darke: Kambô is administered through the skin. This is the only safe way to take kambô. The gates or points are burned with a small piece of special vine and a tiny area of just the surface skin is peeled back to reveal the epidermis. The medicine is scraped from the stick it is stored on and mixed to a paste with water or saliva. This paste is then divided up into a number of dots and then these are applied to the open points on the skin. From here it is absorbed into the body via the lymphatic system and within seconds is circulating around the body in the bloodstream.
I get people to drink 2 liters of water immediately beforehand and then encourage them to purge out their physical and emotional toxins in that water. The process is short but intense. It takes a lot of courage for people to keep coming back to kambô as a primary or adjunct treatment for their ills because it’s not easy, although it does get easier the longer you take it. Many people are deterred by misleading information on the internet that seems to only show the worst and most extreme cases. As a practitioner, I work hard to support and empower my clients through their kambô experience. It’s my job to ensure first and foremost, that everyone is safe and comfortable and then to be responsive, non-judgmental, in service and practicing the path of true compassion.
Reset: Where does kambô stand in terms of its legality in the eyes of the U.S. government?
Darke: Kambô is not listed as an illegal substance anywhere in the world to the best of my knowledge.
Reset: Where should somebody go in they believe kambô is something that will benefit them? Which is the safest way to receive the treatment?
Darke: The safest way to receive kambô is from a trained or experienced practitioner. There are now kambô practitioners all over the world. There is a page on iakp.org that lists some excellent practitioners and there is loads of information about kambô too.
You can also visit the Amazonian tribes that work with kambô and sapo. In Brazil you can visit the Kaxinawá, the Katukina and the Yawanawá, who are the main tribes using kambô. In Peru, you can visit the Matsés, although this is not so easily done as in Brazil.
Bear in mind that if you have serious health issues and you are visiting a tribe unescorted that the person giving you medicine may not have a full understanding of the nature of your condition — maybe it doesn’t even exist in their culture. For safety, double check that your health condition does not contraindicate you for kambô before you go.
Generally, kambô/sapo is not for you if you have or have had any of the following conditions: (This is not an exhaustive list.)
- Heart bypass surgery.
- Enlarged heart.
- Implanted cardioverter defibrillators.
- Pericardial effusion.
- Congestive heart disease.
- Excess fluid in the heart sack.
- Heart valve replacement surgery.
- Organ transplant.
- Blood clots.
- Serious mental health conditions.
- Seriously low blood pressure that requires medication.
- The first two trimesters of pregnancy.
Beth Walker, who has worked with kambô under Darke’s facilitation, shared her account of the positive effects she received from the medicine and how the substance helped relieve her of past trauma:
“I had six kambô ceremonies with Karen and all so significant, each one clearing the way for the next to allow me to reach deeper levels of healing. The first time I had kambô, I didn’t quite know what to expect. It was so intense for me I passed out. I was shaking so much, I could tell it was trauma leaving the body. The third time I had a huge emotional purge. I felt an overwhelming sense of rejection (which I had no idea was so present within me) that caused me to break down and cry (long after the ceremony had ended) — something I had not been able to do in a long time. When I was in the depths of experiencing this feeling, I saw a huge support system for me. Friends and beings smiling and cheering me on, present with me and proud of me.
“The last two times I had kambô, I was in a lot of physical pain, probably the most intense in my life, and again could tell it was trauma leaving my body. I set the intention and asked the spirit of Kambô to stay with me in my cellular memory to help me with my journey and I felt a huge cosmic ‘yes’ come back.
“After every kambô ceremony, I felt this incredible lightness in my being. I was living so much more in my heart than my head. And I felt a lot more loving, connected, and powerful. If I had to pick a theme for my healing with kambô, it would be strength. I felt like such a badass spiritual warrior experiencing the frog vibration and sitting with my pain and discomfort. I believe the medicine made room for me to have a huge turning point in my spiritual practice; I went from seeking and learning, to actually implementing and being present with my emotions. I learnt so much from kambô and am very humbled by the experience. ”
Vanessa Higgins, another participant of Darke’s kambô ceremonies, explains how kambô allowed her to release emotional baggage and enabled her to start a new era in her own life:
“I first heard about kambô from a friend at the end of 2014 and I thought it sounded like a good way to detox and make a fresh start to the year. Little did I know it would completely change my world, in the most profound and beautiful way.
“Let me give you a little background into where I was at when kambô came into my life. I was quite partial to a party, not just a night out and the odd tipple, but I was on a non-stop, crazy ride of the rock ‘n’ roll life style excesses to the degree where I often thought I might need rehab and lurking thoughts of killing myself were never far from my mind. In fact, I had made a pact with myself if I hadn’t found love by the time I turned 40, I would party out my birthday then end the night with an end. It’s not that I wasn’t having fun, I was having heaps of fun, the problem was it was a rollercoaster of highs and lows, and my life had no purpose.
“I had my first taste of kambô in January 2015, and as the medicine entered my body and the wave of nausea hit me my first thought was ‘what the fuck have you done, you are going to die!’ Looking back it was a very good point, because part of me did. Here I am, eight months and quite few kambô sessions later, a very different person. A part of me has died, the part of me that was full of fear and pain. That part of me that didn’t understand that love is not something you seek externally, it is found within. That part of me that was blind to her inner child crying out to be seen and given the care she so desperately needed.
“Kambô helped me let go of a lot of buried emotional baggage, enabled me to see things from a higher perspective, it gave me the tools I needed to chip away my pain body and let in the light. A very poignant moment for me was at the end of June after a very intense targeted kambô session. I lay sobbing on the floor — not tears of pain, but tears of relief — I finally understood I had been the root cause of all my suffering, as I alone control everything in my life, as I control my mind and how I feel about any given situation. Therefore I can choose to be happy. I can re-write my story. I was finally free, free from my own tyranny.
“I’m still on my journey, and everyday I’m learning and growing. I lead a very different life now. I found love, love for my self and I’m looking forward to my fortieth, fiftieth, sixtieth, and every other birthday after that.”
Reset also spoke to Troy Casey of Certified Health Nut, who shared his experience of receiving kambô:
“Once applied to the holes in the skin, kambô makes its way through the lymphatic system. The lymph is effectively a body of fluid with no organs to pump it, it relies upon movements of the body in areas such as the diaphragm, pelvic floor and transverse abdominal. Lymph movement is crucial to health, a stagnant body of water becomes a cesspool. Kambô assists in the detoxification of this bodily system…
“Within about 15 minutes there is a purging effect. I felt it in my throat, face, head and nasal passages. This was followed by vomiting and the evacuation of my colon. The effects come on extremely quickly and powerfully. During the following week, I felt as though my energy cleared up. I felt so much more energetic and auto-immune symptoms that I had been experiencing due to a black mold infestation, such as adrenal exhaustion, improved.
“Drastic times call for drastic measures. Kambô is drastic but extremely effective. It works with the lymph and nervous system as well as the hormones.”
You can watch of video of Troy Casey’s Kambô experience here.