Dieta chapter from The Plant Remedy
"My experience of fasting has shown me beyond all possible doubt that a foreign growth of any kind can be absorbed into the circulation by simply compelling the body to use every unnecessary element contained within it for food. When a foreign growth has become hardened, sometimes one long fast will not accomplish the result, but where they are soft, the fast will usually cause them to be absorbed." ~ Dr. Bernarr Macfadden
Nature is the visible, living garment of God, and through this garment, we can come to know the mind beneath it. In many spiritual and mystical traditions all over the world nature is revered as the art of God, and as a place you could turn to in order to find Spirit, your own heart, or guidance in life. For some the connection to nature is easy and the wild seems to speak to them openly, but how do we really talk to plants in a way that lets us hear them talk back to us? Is there a technique that makes even those of us who are hard of hearing able to grasp their whispers?
Dieta is the Spanish word for “diet,” but I also use it to refer the practice of vegetalismo. For working with spirits in general, and especially plant spirits, sometimes there are dietary restrictions and lifestyle restrictions that make the work deeper and more effective.
When researching Ayahuasca for example, you will encounter lots of talk about the “Ayahuasca diet” and foods that are safe or not safe, or just not desirable for ceremony. Some of these foods are associated with safety concerns, and some are just recommended for having deeper more pleasant ceremony. Usually, there is no sugar, caffeine, alcohol, salt, oils, dairy, pork or heavy meats (chicken and fish are okay), no aged/preserved foods, no processed foods, and no sex. Some foods can potentially (theoretically) interact badly with Ayahuasca, and even though it is most likely safe, there is a health concern there (because of the tyramine which interacts with the MAOI). Other foods like sugar or heavy meat may just cause stomach ache, headache, or maybe decrease the vividness of the journey, and for many people, these restrictions are optional recommendations more than requirements. Following these restrictions often leads to a deeper experience with the medicine, and is especially recommended for those new to the medicine. The most dangerous thing to mix with Aya would be pharmaceuticals – some of these could be dangerous with Ayahuasca, especially anti-depressants and SSRI’s (selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors) which could potentially cause something called Serotonin syndrome.
Because pharmaceutical MAOI medications interact dangerously with tyramine, some people also consider this a danger with Ayahuasca, but Ayahuasca is what’s called a “reversible” MAOI, which seems to make it safe for normal MAOI food contraindications (I have seen people eat high tyramine foods before ceremony and be fine).
San Pedro on the other hand has fewer restrictions. It can mix with certain foods easier, and you don’t have to worry about tyramine. Mostly, food restrictions associated with San Pedro are more for having a deep experience, and making purging less likely. Most people find that when there stomach has less foods in it, that the medicine sits easier in their stomach with less or no purging. Because of this, fasting for a few hours before ceremony is usually recommended, and this is also why some of the longer digesting and fatty foods like heavy meats and oils are recommended to not eat. I have met a few people though, who are exceptions to the rule, and have a better experience when they eat beforehand – so let the medicine guide you in your decision if fasting seems difficult.
Besides restricting diet for ceremony, there is also a practice in itself called dieta (also known as vegetalismo). This is usually to connect deeply with a specific plant either for healing, or as a form of apprenticeship (often both). In this practice, you restrict your diet at least as much as you would for Ayahuasca, and often times restrict it beyond that. A common diet might be plain fish with either plain rice or potato and some green plantains – nothing else. During this period, you connect with your chosen plant each day – often through drinking it as a tea or juice, but sometimes just by smelling it or bathing in infused water, or some other way. Connecting with the plant while on this restricted diet allows the plants spirit stronger influence over your body, and allows the plant to metaphorically grow inside of you. By inviting this plant in, you allow yourself to benefit from its wisdom and healing power.
Usually this type of plant dieta is kept from any time between a week to 3 months per plant. Sometimes as long as a year can be spent on one plant. For healing purposes, anywhere from a week to a month is common, and apprentices may diet their plant longer in an attempt to form an alliance with that plants spirit for future work. Most often, these plants are not psychedelic in any way, but the restricted diet which can be similar to a fast works in a way to let you hear these plants speak to you and heal you. You can do this practice with almost any plant in the world, though the most common plants are Amazonian, since this is where the practice originates. Common plants from the Amazon include; Oje, Ajo Sacha, Chiric Sanango, Chuchuwasha, Mucura, Ortega, Lupuna tree’s, Mapacho, Bobinsana and many others. Some plants will help you have more vivid diets because they have more spiritual force – these are called “master plants” and usually are the only plants people really diet.
There is no reason this practice needs to be restricted to the Amazon though. This practice works great with plants anywhere, and more recently, some students of Amazonian vegetalismo have begun working with plants native to their own homes in Europe and North America. Oak, Acacia, Cedar, Sage, Cacao, Tulsi, Nettle, Blackberry, Devils Club – all great plants to diet at home. I have even heard of other indigenous cultures using similar techniques to dieta, without contact to the Amazon – for example, I met an Australian who dieted Strangler Fig as part of a traditional Aboriginal apprenticeship! This technique probably resembles practices from many regions and cultures. Because my personal experience is with learning this practice from the Amazon, and localizing it to my home in North America, I will talk mostly about working with plants from those regions and perspectives though.
When the apprentice performs dieta, they usually want something more than just personal healing – they want to learn from the plant how they can help others heal as well. Usually the diet begins and ends with an Ayahuasca ceremony. Since Ayahuasca is the “mother of all plants,” she can teach you greatly about the plant you are dieting (this is considered one of her most important roles in the Amazon). By restricting your diet, you also make your body weak, so that the plants spirit can influence you more easily. You metaphorically become “like a plant” so that the spirit can comfortably grow within your body. If you successfully complete your diet, the plant has accepted you, and will be your spirit ally from then on – you can call on them any time, because they are always with you. When Ayahuasquero’s perform healing and sing icaros, they are often singing the song of a plant they dieted in the past to call on that plants spirit for healing the client. The greatest sign of success with a diet is if the plant teaches you its song.
This diet can often be strict – common diets often include potatoes, rice, or some form of yucca, and green (unripe) plantains. Usually you also get a little fish. For longer diets, or specific plants, the diet might even include days of fasting completely. This is a sort of trial which the apprentice must pass if they want to prove their dedication to the plant and open their body to its spirit. During the diet, the plant will often test and tempt them, and the apprentice must learn how to overcome this if they want to work with the spirits for the benefit of others.
Even though all forms of dieta usually show similarities, there are also differences. How long an apprentice diets a plant, or how often they perform dieta may depend on many individual circumstances, including when they have time available, and when they can afford to pay their teacher for services. While some apprentices have no teacher and learn only from the spirits, most do have a teacher who they either work for or pay in exchange for teaching. Some people focus on dieting all kinds of plants, as they want many allies to help them – they might diet plants for only a week (often followed by a week of “post dieting”). Post dieting is a period after you finish your dieta, where you keep some of the dietary restrictions as you slowly re-introduce foods back to your body (during this time, you are not drinking your plant anymore – just keeping some food restrictions and still abstaining from sex).
Another style of dieting focuses on just a few plants, but the apprentice gets to know those allies incredibly deeply. Often the apprentice would diet plants for up to 3 months each or even as long as a year. They might diet for 6-12 months at a time using this style, which would be two-three plants back to back. I have heard of this style of dieting going on as long as 3 straight years for incredibly intense apprenticeships. Some cultures in the Amazon often include apprentices setting aside 2-3 years at the beginning of their training to do an extreme dieta alone in the jungle with just their teacher to check up on them and bring them food. They often say that if you make it through the 2+ years, that you will finish your diet as a shaman and healer, but if you end your diet early, you will emerge a jealous sorcerer who uses their power to harm people (this could be superstition). I even know of one healer, who had no teacher, but went by himself into the jungle to diet for 2 years – no one brought him food, and he had no teacher besides the spirits. He is regarded as one of the most effective and well-known healers in the Amazon (the spirits must have protected him in order for him to survive such a quest).
Even for the students who break their diets up and do them more spaced out (most do this), 1-2 years is often considered the minimum amount of time spent dieting to become an effective healer. Many learn some healing skills before this long, but around 2 years seems to be the ideal time. Usually 2 years dieting takes many more years to accumulate though (if you dieting 3 months a year, it would take 8 years to reach 2 years of dieting), and even after so much dieting, it takes many years of helping all kinds of clients in all types of situations before you are an expert. The most sought after shamans are the ones with 25+ years of experience.
Another commonly held belief associated with dieta is that breaking the diet early can sometimes be harmful. This is considered a quick way to offend the spirit of the plant. Sick clients who don’t finish their diet sometimes become more sick, and apprentices who do not finish diets correctly may become brujos (negative connotation for a sorcerer who harms others) or may become sick, lose their power, or die (I haven’t heard of anyone dying, but I have heard the claim that it is possible). Specific plants are considered especially dangerous to fail your diet with – mostly the more powerful allies like great hardwood trees (lapuna, oak ect), mapacho, or tohe/datura.
You do not have to limit dieting to plants either – traditionally some people will also diet stones. Since you wouldn’t eat or drink a stone the way this is done is by transferring the stones vibration/energy to some water and drinking the water. You put a stone in a cup of water over night – usually left outside in the moon and starlight. In the morning you take out the stone and drink the water with your intention to connect with the essence of the stone. You would follow similar dietary restrictions and methods as dieting a plant.
To make dieting at home easier for you I have included a couple sample dietary procedures which I have learned from different practitioners. Each of these styles is unique. You can try any of these styles or try to modify and create your own style if you like. My biggest suggestion is that if you make a commitment to a plant that you see it through and stay on course to what you agreed to.
Traditional Diet with Ayahuasca and a Master Plant:
Some version of this style dieta is what is most commonly practiced in the Amazon. If you go to diet at an Ayahuasca center you will most likely diet similar to this, and sometimes they will have you start a pre-dieta diet before you arrive. First day of your diet you might begin with a purgative of some kind to clean you out. The shaman will also select a plant for you to diet based on what healing you need and you will agree on a certain amount of time to keep the diet. That night you will sit in ceremony with Ayahuasca and the shaman will sing a song to you to open your diet.
The next day you will start drinking your plant each afternoon. Usually you either drink a tea or you drink the leaves of the plant blended with a little water into a type of juice. When you drink your plant you always pray to it first and either blow the prayers into the plant or sing a little song to it to create the spiritual connection. Each day you will spend your time in isolation thinking about and trying to connect to your plant. You often will also avoid media of this kind – limited or no reading, listening to music or watching TV, and usually limited contact with others. Time is spent meditating, praying, or maybe writing and making art.
You will eat the same exact foods every day. An example diet might be plain oatmeal with a green banana for breakfast and then bony river fish and another green banana for lunch. You may also get plain rice or potato with your lunch. Sometimes there is no dinner, or sometimes you get another copy of your lunch meal with dinner. This gets very monotonous but that is part of your sacrifice to the plant.
The diet is then ended with another Ayahuasca ceremony where the shaman will sing to you again to close your diet. The next morning you may eat a little salt with your breakfast and maybe some fruit you haven’t been allowed to have in a while. Often times the only Ayahuasca ceremonies are at the start and end of your diet, but sometimes you may have more ceremonies in between as well – it usually depends on how long and advanced your dieta is. Usually the longer a dieta is the less Ayahuasca you drink. Once the diet is finished you usually stay on the Ayahuasca diet for another couple weeks or even months if you finished a longer diet. If you were dieting a plant for 10 days you might actually be pre-dieting for 7 days, doing 10 days of strict dieta with the plant, and then doing 20-30 days post dieta where you slowly reintroduce foods a little at a time. This style of dieta may be performed anywhere from 7 days to a year or longer.
Dieting Without Ayahuasca:
This is an example of a diet which may be easier for some people to perform on their own at home. First choose which plant you will diet and go find this plant in nature. If it is a tree use the outer bark to make a tea and if it is a smaller plant use the leaves to make a type of juice with water in a blender. Sopla the plant or tree (sopla involves blowing tobacco smoke or Agua de Florida from your mouth to bless something). Keep an attitude of gratitude as you collect part of the plant to use in your dieta – if you like you can sing to the plant as well.
Prepare your plant for drinking by first soplaing any tools you will use to make the drink in. With tree bark make tea by sitting the bark in water for a few hours and with other plants blend the leaves as mentioned. Once finished also sopla the mixture. When you are ready to enter the diet sing into your drink and pray with it – then drink it down! You are now in your diet. Repeat this step each day of your diet – try to drink at the same time each day and always with prayers and gratitude.
During the diet avoid heavy meats, pork, oils, salt, sugar, spices, processed foods, dairy, sex, alcohol or drugs and powerful herbs. Good foods include chicken breast, fresh water fish, eggs, legumes, veggies, fruit is okay if it isn’t too sweet or sugary, potato and rice. A little coconut oil is okay for cooking if needed and some cilantro, basil or oregano can be okay for flavor (stay away from stronger spices like cumin or pepper ect). Also avoid stimulants, caffeine, and contact with people who might have recently used recreational substances. As much isolation as you can do is better and also avoid media if possible – more time spent focusing on your plant is better. If you really want to take this diet deeper it is also possible to fast for a day or two (keep drinking water though).
Usually this style of dieting is shorter – maybe 5-8 days with the first day being when you first drink the plant. This diet works especially well with trees or with mapacho – I originally learned this diet from someone who focuses on tree diets.
You end this style of diet by taking salt. Use half a teaspoon of nice salt like sea or rock salt. Sing into the salt then swish it around in your mouth for about 30-40 seconds before spitting it out. Then swish water to rinse out the salt and spit that out as well – your diet is now finished.
Along with the 5-8 diet it is good to avoid street or recreational drugs for at least 30 days and avoid sex for 15+ days. Also try to wait a few days before adding back into your diet refined sugar, acidic fruits, cheese or heavy grease. Since these diets are shorter you may find yourself wanting to diet the same plant multiple times to keep deepening your connection.
Microdose Ayahuasca Diet:
This is a style of dieting which I thought up one day which can also be easier to perform at home if you make your own Ayahuasca. It involves cooking your Ayahuasca normally but by adding the plant you want to diet into the Ayahuasca itself during the cooking process. Choose a length of time to diet and also choose how much you will restrict your diet – I suggest going at least without sugar, oils, salt, heavy meats, dairy, sex and media if possible. Focus on fresh veggies and fruit (not too sweet), chicken breast, fish, eggs, legumes and starches like rice or potato.
When you make the Ayahuasca with your chosen plant added to it make lots of prayers and sing to your medicine. When you are ready to start the diet make a declaration to yourself and the plants by stating out loud or in your head your plans and intentions. Then each night before bed take a spoonful of the Ayahuasca you made making sure to pray to the Ayahuasca and to your plant before ingesting it. Try to spend lots of time during the day attempting to talk to your plant and attempting to still your mind and body so you can listen. Try this for 7-14 days straight and when you are finished close your diet with a prayer or song and by adding a little salt to your meal. Keep up your dietary restrictions for 2 weeks afterwards.
With any of these styles of dieting really spend a lot of time trying to focus on connecting to your plant. Don’t break the diet early if you can avoid it – make a commitment and stick to it. Also try to avoid lusting after the things you cannot have – dreaming all day of things you are sacrificing for the plant is not only considered rude to the plant, but it makes you diet harder for yourself as well. You may notice the plant talking to you in dreams, in your head, in Ayahuasca ceremony, or you may not hear much – sometimes the plant starts talking to you more in the weeks following your diet then during the actual diet itself. It is also common for the first few diets to be more subtle and for you to have more noticeable communication with the plant as you get more experienced – so don’t get discouraged if it takes a few tries to really connect with the plants and have a deeper diet. If you stick with this practice you will see the rewards. Dieta is incredibly powerful – maybe the most powerful plant medicine of all.
~ written September 2014, by Travis Bodick (Copyright 2014)
.... an excerpt from my book The Plant Remedy