An Introduction to San Pedro Cactus (Huachuma)

San Pedro Cactus is known by many names in its native habitat of the Andes Mountains of South America and can be found in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Argentina, Bolivia and Chile. Depending on the healer and the location of the ceremony you attend, you may hear it called Huachuma (the one that opens new pathways in the mind), Awakoya or Aguacolla (the queen of the flowers), Mi Valiente (the brave one), Giganton (the giant), or CuraLoTodo (that which cures all).

If it is called San Pedro, the healer or community is using the name which refers to the Christian saint who is said to hold the keys to the gates of Heaven. That the cactus was given this name by the Spanish colonialists indicates that they also recognized its sacredness and its ability to connect us to the divine.

No matter what it´s called, traditional healers of the Americas consider San Pedro Cactus to be one of the 7 master plants of the Americas, along with Ayahuasca (Yagé/Yajé), Peyote (Hikuri), Yopo, Psilocybin Mushrooms (Ongos), Tobacco, and Coca Leaf. It is capable of healing all levels of our beings.

If you are carrying physical toxins, it will cause you to purge. If you are holding on to emotional stress, it will cause you to release that stress either through physical purging, tears, laughter, or another form of expression. As one of the master plants of the Americas it also has the power to address ancestral karma and allow us to heal our parents, grandparents, and our ancestors.

Although Huachuma leads to the same type of healing, self-knowledge and clarity as Ayahuasca, it is recommendable to resist the temptation of comparing the two. The two sacred medicines are distinct in how they interact with the participant, a difference which can be attributed to a variety of factors. One is from the jungle and the other from the Andes. Ayahuasca is a vine that grows over and around surrounding plants while San Pedro Cactus is a cactus that likes space and solitude. The totem of Ayahuasca is the jaguar while San Pedro is more commonly associated with the silent and graceful flight of the condor.

The active hallucinogenic alkali in San Pedro Cactus is mescalin (the same active ingredient in Peyote), and the plant has been used for at least 3,500 years for its healing properties. The oldest known historical record of the ceremonial use of plant is from 1,300 BC and comes from the Temple of Chavin de Huantar in Northern Peru. It is a statue of a huachumero, or male Huachuma healer, holding the plant.

Individuals who have had the opportunity to partake in traditional San Pedro Cactus ceremonies cite increased clarity, an ability to hear and follow their intuitions, improved communication skills, the reaffirmation of self-love, a surge of courage to address tension points in personal relationships, an intense feeling of connection to Mother Earth and the elements, and a magnified sense of gratitude for the blessings in their lives. The cactus is said to heal in a loving way, as indicated by the beautiful and pungent flower that is produces, but don´t be deceived; this plant demands respect, focus, humility, and discipline to work with.

San Pedro Cactus ceremonies can be held in a ceremonial hut or outside depending on the tradition and location. It is said that in ancient times the plant was taken in the darkness of caves, alone, in order for the patient or healer to find his or her internal light. Many of the ceremonies in the Andes begin with an offering either to the earth or to the ceremonial fire. The offering can come in the form of tobacco, coca leaf, food, water, or other symbolically significant or sacred materials for the community holding the ceremony. The offering is often made in order to ask for permission to hold the ceremony, for the healing of all of the participants, for protection to be provided by the guardian spirits of the territory, and to honor those who dedicated their lives to keeping the tradition and ceremony intact. A San Pedro Cactus ceremony which begins this way and also includes power objects and medicine being placed on an altar in front of the healer may be referred to as una Mesa Andina.

After the offering participants may receive the medicine in dry powder and / or tea form. Each person will eat and drink the amount prescribed by the healer. At this point the healer may lead the ceremony in a number of different directions, but it is not uncommon for him or her to allow the fire to die down and encourage the group to enter into a state of meditation that will be sustained throughout the night. He or she may also offer a traditional ceremonial prayer accompanied by the sonaja and / or the tambor in the form of song. Yet another path would be for the healer to light a ceremonial tobacco, sometimes rolled in corn husk, and state the intention of the ceremony, give thanks, and pray for the participants´ healing.

Huachuma may also be offered in 4 tobacco ceremonies, during which 4 ceremonial tobaccos are offered in prayer. This ceremonial design is taken from North American and Mexican peyote ceremonies.

The effects of the plant can last between 7 and 14 hours and may come on gradually. As with all master plants, it gives each ceremony participant what he or she needs in that moment, nothing more and nothing less. In my experience (over 100 ceremonies), the best way to approach the plant is with respect and without expectations. Give thanks for it coming into your body and into your life, and meditate with gratitude. This plant is known to work primarily with the heart chakra and will increase your ability to put your mind in service of your values and intuition if you trust its powers.


Aho Mitkuye Oyasin,

The ECA Family