What is Kambô

The Origins of Kambô

Each tribe has its own legend or story about how they came to use Kambô. The most prevalent legend comes from Brazil…

This Huni Kuin (Kaxinawá) legend tells that the Indians of the tribe were very ill and their medicine man (Pajé in Brazil) had done everything that was possible to cure them. All medicinal herbs known were used, but none helped. 

Under the effect of sacred plant medicines, he entered the forest and whilst there received a visit from a female spirit of the forest. 

She brought in her hands a frog, from which she took a white secretion, and taught the Pajé how to apply it. Returning to the tribe and following the guidelines he had received, the Pajé was able to cure his brothers and sisters. From then on he was known as Pajé Kampu or Kampum. 

Kambo frog poison medicine for body detox
Mixing Kambô points

After his death, his spirit lived on in the frog, where it continued its mission to protect the health of those who defend the forest. The secretion became known as Kambô, but in some tribes it is called Sapo, Dow-Kiet, Kampu or Vacina da Floresta. 

Usage spread, and for thousands of years, Kambô has been used as medicine by the Huni Kuin (Kaxinawá) people, and by many other indigenous groups including the Amahuaca, Katukina, Kulina, Yawanawá, Matsés, Marubo and Mayoruna. It is still used widely amongst indigenous people in the Amazon to this day.

Foto: acervo Museu Nacional, s/d. Huni Kuin (Kaxinawá) – Povos Indigenas No Brasil

The first observations of Kambô use were made by a French priest, Father Constantin Tastevin in 1925 whilst he was staying with the Huni Kuin (Kaxinawá) tribe in the upper Juruá River in Brazil. In the 1980’s an American Anthropologist, Katherine Milton described Kambô use among the Mayoruna tribe in Brazil and in the 1980’s Peter Gorman wrote about his experiences taking Kambô with the Matsés tribe in Peru.

During the 1990’s, rubber tappers in Brazil learned about Kambô from the Amazon Indians. They began to take it out into the towns of Acre and apply it themselves. Having spent several years living with the Katukina, Francisco Gomes from Cruzeiro do Sol was one of the first people to pioneer the use of Kambô outside the Amazon. The practice spread and soon people in the larger cities of Brazil were using Kambô.

In 2009/2010 Kambô started to make its way out from South America and could be found in small ceremonies in Europe. 

In early 2014 the IAKP was formed to safe guard clients, practitioners and Kambô by creating safe practices and a shared knowledge base.

What is Kambô?

Kambô is a secretion from one of the largest Hylid frogs known as the Giant Green Monkey Tree Frog. Its scientific name is Phyllomedusa Bicolor. The secretion is not a sweat nor a poison in the sense that it alone is not capable of causing death, or illness. In the Amazon, it is regarded as a medicine however this should not be confused with the western definition of a medicine. Kambô is not a medicine and those that administer it are practitioners and not doctors.

Kambô points mixed-in and ready for application

An Italian scientist, Vittorio Erspamer of the University of Rome was the first person to analyse Kambô in a laboratory. In 1986, he wrote that it contains a ‘fantastic chemical cocktail with potential medical applications, unequalled by any other amphibian’. 

The chemicals he referred to are peptides. The peptides studied by Erspamer have become essential to characterize the functional role of opioid receptors. He was twice nominated for a Nobel Prize and was also the person who first discovered Serotonin. Sixteen peptides have since been isolated from the secretion and several have been synthesised. Currently there are over 70 Kambô patents lodged, mainly in the USA.

Dermorphin-One of the peptides contained in Kambô

The popularity and use of Kambô as a natural support to healing is spreading worldwide. As the scientific research into the secretion of the Phyllomedusa Bicolor grows, skilled practitioners are also developing new ways to work with this powerful substance from the Amazonian Rain Forest, which allows it to be accessible to almost everyone in a safe and manageable way. 

Not only do we now have a number of different traditional ways to take Kambô but we can also work with the Meridians, the Chakras, Nadis and Marma Points and even the ears – Auricular Kambô. Added to this, there are also new techniques to allow people to take Kambô in a way that is gentler on their system but still allows them to enjoy the maximum benefits.

About the Phyllomedusa Bicolor frogs

The frog is nocturnal and arboreal and due to the fact that it has no natural predators is found in abundance across the Upper Amazon rainforest areas of Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Peru, French Guiana, Suriname and Venezuela. The IUCN database continually lists them in the ‘Least Concern’ category in view of their wide distribution and large population. The only known threats to this species of frog at the moment are spawn predation and the potential destruction of their habitat.


Giant leaf frog - Phyllomedusa bicolor
Phyllomedusa Bicolor

They are large frogs, the male bodies being between 9-10 cm and the females 11-12cm. The dorsum is a vibrant green and the belly a creamy white. They have dark spots on the chest, flank and legs. Reproduction occurs throughout the year, peaking between November and May. They construct hanging nests from folded leaves 1-3 metres above ponds and streams. The females deposit a gelatinous mass containing their eggs into these nests. Theirs is the largest spawn found amongst arboreal frogs of the Amazon. A single spawn contains on average 1000 eggs from which tadpoles emerge within 11-14 days. No one is 100% certain what the catalyst for producing the secretion is, but it is widely believed to be sequestered from their diet. This is why the frogs do not produce their secretion when they are removed from their natural environment.

If done correctly the frogs are not harmed in anyway when the Kambô is taken from them. The IAKP works together with the communities, who collect the secretion for us, to make sure they are working in a way that protects the frogs and the environment that is so vital to their survival.

Matsés Kambô stick with Tamishi Vine