Ever since the beginning of Iboteca, we focused on the sustainability of the iboga plant. We did not want to harvest it from its natural ecosystem where over exploitation could lead to stressing the plant’s reproduction efforts and eventually affect its natural population numbers. Considering that iboga is used by the Gabonese Bwiti tribe for their coming of age ceremonies and throughout their adult lives to commune with their ancestors, we decided that respecting their local iboga population was a priority to us.
The benefit of creating a sustainable iboga source is not one-sided. Yes, the Bwiti people benefit from protecting their sacramental plant, but those growing the plant also give back to the community by offering a conflict free source of iboga and extracts of the same.
I remember planting my first iboga tree. It was a real mess getting it into Ghana, because we had it shipped with the root ball contained in soil. We had not known that soil was illegal to transport internationally and found ourselves pleading to the customs agents to make an exception considering what it had cost us to ship the live iboga bush, which was about 5 years old already, to Accra airport with DHL. After 2 days of negotiation with Ghana customs, and the anxiety that the dry season heat would finish the plant off before we even had a chance to save it, they finally let us keep the plant under the condition that the soil be removed from the roots so as the soil did not enter the country.
We went ahead with the soil removal, thinking it was our only hope to give our first iboga tree a chance to live in its new home in Ghana. When the plant was handed to us with the soil removed, it was in bad shape. We were lucky to even get the plant out of customs, but the plant had suffered gravely because the customs agents were not experts at removing soil from roots without damaging the lateral roots and root hairs. So, we drove the plant out of the city and to the rainforest where our lush and rainy lands were located. We placed our first iboga into a pot at home where it could recover from the stresses of the long voyage to Ghana.
The plant had lost all its leaves before transplanting it into its new home, but after weeks they slowly began to grow back. The little iboga plant had survived and showed us its strength with its new growth! If you are a plant person, you know how happy this can make someone who just wants their plant to live, especially after having been through all that this plant had suffered before arriving to its rainforest home in Ghana.
With time we began to import iboga fruits to Ghana to germinate the seeds at our nursery. This allowed us to begin growing iboga plants in numbers. Each fruit holds somewhere between 12-18 seeds, and, if well taken care of, they can have about 90% viability. By importing fruit we increased the genetic variability of iboga in our farms, giving us the opportunity to study which plants performed the best in their new ecosystem.
We learned that germination took about 3 weeks and the plants could begin to flower within 7-8 months. The flowers could be either white or yellow, and the fruits could be either round, long, rough, or smooth. There was a lot of variety to begin to study, which excited me since I am a biologist and a botanist who has studied and bred different phenotypic varieties in the past, mainly working with pine trees and then with mangoes.
Recently, we began to harvest our first nursery ibogas from the field. These provide us with the bark we use for the extracts provided by Iboteca. Not only do we support our farmers in Ghana by purchasing their sustainable iboga root bark, but we also buy sustainably cultivated iboga from Cameroon, and we’re beginning sustainable production of iboga in Costa Rica as well. As long as we make an effort to grow iboga sustainably, we will always have this plant with us, and without disrupting its population for the Bwiti people in Gabon. After all, the spirit of an entheogen is tied to its tradition as well as its chemical power.