Tabernanthe iboga

Also known as Black bugbane, is a perennial rainforest shrub and psychotropic, native to western Africa. Iboga stimulates the central nervous system when taken in small doses and induces visions in larger doses.
Normally growing to a height of 2 m, T. iboga may eventually grow into a small tree up to 10 m tall, given the right conditions. It has small green leaves. Its flowers are white and pink, while the elongated, oval-shaped fruit are orange. Its yellow-coloured roots contains a number of indole alkaloids, most notably ibogaine, which is found in the highest concentration in the root-bark. The root material, bitter in taste, causes an anaesthetic sensation in the mouth as well as systemic numbness to the skin.

Traditional use

The Iboga tree is the central pillar of the Bwiti religion practiced in West-Central Africa, mainly Gabon, Cameroon and the Republic of the Congo, which utilises the alkaloid-containing roots of the plant in a number of ceremonies. Iboga is taken in massive doses by initiates when entering the religion, and on a more regular basis is eaten in smaller doses in connection with rituals and tribal dances, which is usually performed at night time. Bwitists have been subject to persecution by Catholic missionaries, who to this day are thoroughly opposed to the growing religious movement of Bwiti. Léon M’ba, before becoming the first President of Gabon in 1960, defended the Bwiti religion and the use of iboga in French colonial courts. On June 6, 2000, the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Gabon declared Tabernanthe iboga to be a national treasure.

A small shrub growing wild throughout Gabon and Cameroon, Tabernanthe Iboga typically grows to a height of seven feet. Under optimum conditions, the plant can mature into a small tree up to 30 feet tall. With vibrant green leaves, this tree produces clusters of tiny white and yellow flowers and orange-colored, oval-shaped Iboga fruit.

But its roots are what best define its spirit. Iboga root bark contains alkaloids which are scraped, powdered and ingested, containing entheogenic properties which have been used for spiritual study for centuries—beginning with the Pygmy and Bwiti cultures of Africa, and, most recently, to help heal an ailing Western world.

The forest people, or Pygmies, of Central-West Africa are said to have first brought the knowledge of this plant to others. These oral teachings were eventually shaped into the practice and culture of the Bwiti—a spiritual tradition founded on the usage and teachings of Iboga. For hundreds of years, the Bwiti have used Iboga in healing ceremonies and spiritual rituals for self-discovery, personal development, physical healing, and to master the art of living. In Gabon, Iboga is regarded as sacred, at times referred to as the ‘holy wood.’ At the pillar of each tribe or community is a chief shaman, who is responsible for leading medicine ceremonies of initiation and healing.