1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Guaco

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GUACO, Huaco or Guao, also Vejuco and Bejuco, terms applied to various Central and South American and West Indian plants, in repute for curative virtues. The Indians and negroes of Colombia believe the plants known to them as guaco to have been so named after a species of kite, thus designated in imitation of its cry, which they say attracts to it the snakes that serve it principally for food; they further hold the tradition that their antidotal qualities were discovered through the observation that the bird eats of their leaves, and even spreads the juice of the same on its wings, during contests with its prey. The disputes that have arisen as to what is “the true guaco” are to be attributed mainly to the fact that the names of the American Indians for all natural objects are generic, and their genera not always in coincidence with those of naturalists. Thus any twining plant with a heart-shaped leaf, white and green above and purple beneath, is called by them guaco (R. Spruce, in Howard’s Neueva Quinologia, “Cinchona succirubra,” p. 22, note). What is most commonly recognized in Colombia as guaco, or Vejuco del guaco, would appear to be Mikania Guaco (Humboldt and Bonpland, Pl. équinox, ii. 84, pl. 105, 1809), a climbing Composite plant of the tribe Eupatoriaceae, affecting moist and shady situations, and having a much-branched and deep-growing root, variegated, serrate, opposite leaves and dull-white flowers, in axillary clusters. The whole plant emits a disagreeable odour. It is stated that the Indians of Central America, after having “guaconized” themselves, i.e. taken guaco, catch with impunity the most dangerous snakes, which writhe in their hands as though touched by a hot iron (B. Seemann, Hooker’s Journ. of Bot. v. 76, 1853). The odour alone of guaco has been said to cause in snakes a state of stupor and torpidity; and Humboldt, who observed that the near approach of a rod steeped in guaco-juice was obnoxious to the venomous Coluber corallinus, was of opinion that inoculation with it imparts to the perspiration an odour which makes reptiles unwilling to bite. The drug is not used in modern therapeutics.