Natives of Amazonia have used the herb in many traditional remedies, and name "jaborandi" is a derivation from a native word that can be translated as "slobber weed", due to the intense salivation the herb induces in a person who has consumed it. The name "alfavaca" has also been used to refer to the jaborandi in some other South American regions; the herb is marketed in much of Latin America and the United States as an ingredient in herbal shampoos under this name. The natives of present day Brazil used to believe in earlier eras that the application of the jaborandi on the head would prevent baldness - this traditional belief in the ability of the herb in preventing baldness needs to be studied in a clinical setting before it can be given any merit. The jaborandi remedy was also used by native peoples in Brazil are a treatment for diabetes and to stimulate perspiration in the body. Foreign scientists would become attracted to the latter effect of the herbal remedy. The plant was introduced to Europeans in the 1870s, when a man called Symphronio Continho brought back plant specimens to the European continent. In Europe, the ability of the plant to induce perspiration in people and its power to bring forth salivation came into use as a medicine for individuals affected by a dry mouth. Dryness of the mouth is a symptom that is still treated using the herbal jaborandi medication; this type of dryness is particularly observable in individuals who are undergoing chemotherapy in case of cancer. The active principle in the herb, pilocarpine would be isolated from the extracts by contemporaries of Continho. This compound was found to have great use in ophthalmology as it could easily bring forth contraction in the pupils and help in the treatment of glaucoma especially in the early stages of the disorder. The medication used in homeopathic medicine for the treatment of mumps includes the jaborandi as one of the primary ingredients. Two beneficial alkaloids, called pilocarpine and jaborine are found in the oil extracted from the leaves of the jaborandi plant. The alkaloid known as pilocarpine boosts and mimics the action of the primary neurotransmitting substance called acetylcholine in the nervous system. Acetylcholine is the main chemical transmitter of all nerve impulses in the parasympathetic system as well as the brain. The alkaloid pilocarpine affects and regulates salivation in the mouth, perspiration rates, and the functioning of the tear glands - it also influences the muscular contraction of the eyes. The effect of other dangerous alkaloids like atropine in the body is counteracted by the pilocarpine by the process of stimulation of the paralyzed nerve endings. The other alkaloid fraction called jaborine is similar to atropine in its action within the human body.
The Amazonian tropical forest is the native habitat of the jaborandi plant; this plant is indigenous to the rainforests found in Brazil and the neighboring South American countries that are included in the region called Amazonia.