Kambo, the tree frog medicine from the Amazon that cleanses body, mind and spirit

The kambo medicine uses the secretion of the green tree frog. We speak to Tanja Lucev, who organises kambo retreats in Guatemala, about the benefits of the traditional shamanic experience.

Kambo, a traditional shamanic practice, uses the secretion of the giant green monkey tree frog (Phyllomedusa bicolor) from the Amazon to bring about a deep physical, emotional, energetic and spiritual cleansing process. Indigenous tribes have used this frog poison for centuries. Warriors used it to increase stamina, strength and clarity, as well as to bring luck and other good things upon themselves. Oral traditions also report of a time when the power of kambo to heal a community was revealed to a shaman in a vision induced by Ayahuasca, a traditional spiritual medicine of the Amazon.

Phyllomedusa bicolor giant green monkey tree frog kambo
The giant green monkey tree frog (Phyllomedusa bicolor). Its secretion is used in the traditional shamanic practice of kambo © Wikimedia Commons

Kambo, what you need to know about the tree frog medicine

“Kambo is alive. Therefore, it has spirit,” these are the words of Tanja Lucev of Kambocambia, which organises retreats in which this practice is carried out in San Marcos La Laguna on Lake Atitlan, Guatemala. “Alive because nature made it, through the frog. It is complete and perfect, not a dead component like the drugs we get prescribed. Since the medicine comes from life itself, it also works from where it begins; in the heart”.

The kambo experience

After tiny, superficial burn points are made on the skin, the frog secretion is applied. Through the lymphatic system, it travels to the heart to bring one back to a balanced, natural state before moving to the body parts which need it most, restoring wholeness. “People perceive this as intense heat. – Lucev explains – Sometimes they get cramps or feel pain in the body, until they reach a point where they feel so nauseated they need to purge. With the purge comes relief, and the completion of the ceremony. Yet, the medicine continues to work.”

Kambo purifies, detoxifies, cleanses and reboots the immune system. “From a metaphysical perspective, since frogs can’t endure toxic environments, it challenges us to release emotions like anger, hatred and bitterness; emotions holding us back. It brings about restoration, renewal, transformation, and even metamorphosis”.

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Benefits of the tree frog medicine

Short-term effects include mental clarity, heightened awareness, general well-being, feeling centred and a deeper connection with ourselves. In the long run, we get rid of panema (dark or negative energies), bad luck, and wellness continues to increase.

However, we should be cautious with generalisations as every experience and person is unique. When Lucev works with people who have cancer, suffer from trauma or other serious conditions, she makes it clear that there is a path to be undertaken. “Sometimes, we have to go into dark places before we can see the light. Or actually, be courageous enough to bring our own light into those places. Kambo helps us clear this path”.

“Whenever we’re closer to ourselves, we’re closer to nature, or to what sometimes people refer to as God. So the moment we clear up the obstacles separating us from this recognition, be it physical pain and conditions, emotional patterns, thought patterns and beliefs, all states of disease and discomfort disappear. We’re then able to experience happiness, joy and peace. This is what kambo is trying to help us with, to remove those obstacles.”

Kambo Cambia lake atitlan guatemala
Kambocambia offers five-day holistic kambo intensive sessions in San Marcos, Lake Atitlán © Tanja Lucev

What is kambo used for

Most of our beliefs about life and how to live are inherited from our families and the environment we grow up in, Lucev continues. Yet, they’re not looked at consciously or recognised. Some are helpful, while others keep us from living happy and free.

“When Western medicine says some diseases are inherited, it’s right. Our ancestors’ experiences are transmitted through our genetic code and are active within us. Let’s say our grandmother lost her husband in the Second World War, her sadness about her loss could be given down the line and manifest in the form of lung cancer in her granddaughter for example.”

“Everything exists in the form of energy first. Then it expands into the physical. Therefore, treating or healing only part of it doesn’t restore wholeness. We need to look at all levels simultaneously and bring them into coherence in order to restore the entire being.”

Is kambo safe

One needs to feel called. Then choose to work in the traditional way, usually in groups, like in the tribes. Or choose an individual, alternative approach with additional therapy work, like Lucev offers during her five-day holistic kambo intensive programme. “The moment you decide to work with the medicine, it will start guiding you. Find yourself a practitioner, healer, or shaman you trust and feel comfortable with, since it’s a very intimate process”.

Also, it is worth noting how the medicine is sourced. The indigenous people of the Amazon attract the frogs by singing their songs at night. Carefully, they’re picked up and tied by the legs with straw strips. The wild frogs are treated with utmost respect and care: they sometimes get massaged as a way to encourage the secretion which they sweat through the skin. Some of the waxy substance is scraped off with small sticks from the back and legs, then the frogs are released. No harm is done to them since it is believed that harming the frog angers animal spirits (and an angered spirit wouldn’t provide healing). Once the secretion dries, it can be kept for over a year without losing potency.

Tanja Lucev’s story and calling

“I come from a Slavic ancestral lineage and have been born with what could be called the gift of sight”. But growing up in the western world, Tanja spent most of her life trying to fit in, doing what was expected of her, to belong. “In my early thirties, I had what most people would consider everything: a husband, a child and financial success. Yet, all I could see was my spirit dying. So I left everything, took my child, and went back to the place where I had my last encounter with being; Lake Atitlán in Guatemala.”

One day, she came across kambo: “The first time we met, it told me who I am, what I need to do and how I need to work”. Relaxing into the effortless unfolding of life, Tanja met her teacher, Nadir Cortiana, in Tepoztlán, Mexico. Soon she came to understand that the work wasn’t about the medicine, but “about the person who comes to you seeking help, about being given a tool that can help and transform someone’s life for the better. Kambo is an instrument and so am I. We’re answering to the same source.”

Using a combination of therapeutic techniques to align the mind with body and spirit, such as family constellations and shamanic work, Tanja supports and guides people through their processes, helping them see for themselves. This takes them away from victimhood, so that they can understand the bigger picture and their role in it, and take full responsibility and power back into their own hands. To support their process further, Lucia, a traditional Mayan healer, works with them in a temazcal, which is a Mayan sweat lodge symbolising the womb, a soothing place in which people are nurtured and can heal. The perfect counter-balance to kambo.

When the sun is about to rise over Lake Atitlan © Sarine Arslanian
Before the sun rises over Lake Atitlan © Sarine Arslanian

Take action

“It’s no coincidence that kambo is spreading into the Western world. Disease and discomfort are signs showing us we’re not in alignment with our nature. First we need to heal ourselves. Then we need to return to a natural way of living. By doing that, we’ll bring healing to ourselves, our families, our communities, and the entire planet,” Lucev concludes.

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