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Plantprofile:
Uña de Gato - Cat's Claw

Uncaria tomentosa
Photo: Courtesy of Raintree Nutrition Inc.
(Uncaria Tomentosa)

Description:

A member of the Rubiaceae family this climbing liana takes many shapes in the course of its growth, from shrub to unruly bush-like entanglement and finally to a climbing liana that can climb more than 30m up into the canopy. Its ovate pointed leaves with uneven margins stand opposite along the climbing branches. From each leave axle emerges a sharp and strongly curved thorn, which resembles the cat's claw that gave this plant its name. All along the woody parts of the liana where the leaves no longer grow the claws remain.

Habitat

The montane rainforest of Peru.

Chemical constituents:

Oxindole alkaloids including isopteropodine, pteropodine, isomitraphylline, isorynchophylline, rynchophylline; as well as proanthocyanidins, polyphenols, triterpines, and the plant sterols beta- sitasterol, stigmasteral and carnpesterol.

History and Uses

Uña de Gato - Cat's Claw
Photo: Courtesy of Raintree Nutrition Inc.

Uña de Gato has long been used as a traditional medicine of the Ashaninka Indians and other tribes of Peru who have employed it for a wide range of conditions from stomach problems to arthritis, asthma, diabetes and tumors. In the late 80s an Austrian physician became aware of this plant and started his own research into its healing properties. His findings were most interesting and suggested that Uña de Gato could be usefully employed to treat many degenerative conditions that plague modern life, including stomach ulcers, Crohn's disease and other intestinal and bowel disorders, genital herpes, osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, cancer and HIV. He found 4 oxindole alkaloids that Uña de Gato enhanced the immune system by extending the half-life of the lymphocytes, the white blood cells responsible for fighting infection, rather than having a direct effect on their proliferation. They also seemed to enhance their actual ability to fight disease causing organisms.

The plant seems particularly useful in the treatment of chronic problems of the digestive system and has helped where other herbs have failed to break patterns of digestive disorders, especially where these involve cramps and convulsions as the plant has a relaxant effect on the smooth muscles of the digestive tract.

It also proved useful as an antioxidant, thus preventing cell damage from scavenging free radicals and showed antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. While it does not appear to reduce the swelling of arthritic joints, it does reduce their painfulness.

Another alkaloid found in the plant showed interesting and helpful properties with respect to the cardio-vascular system. It decreases platelet aggregation, which inhibits the formation of plaque in the arterial walls, thus reducing the risk of blood clots, thrombosis and strokes (though care should be taken when other blood thinning medications are also used) and also helps to lower the blood pressure, which improves the circulation and reduces the risk of heart attack.

Uña de Gato can be described as an alterative, a remedy that helps the body to regulate its functions and restoring proper balance rather than affecting bodily systems with some kind of shock effect. Native people describe it as a gate opener, referring to its properties of clearing obstructions of the gasto-intestinal system. It can therefore be used as a supportive medicine in many chronic conditions, as well as a supportive cancer remedy that helps to alleviate negative side-effects of chemotherapy while supporting the healing process with its own anti-tumor and immune system enhancing properties.

Traditionally the decoction of the inner bark is used in therapeutic preparations. The recent interest in this new wonder drug of course has also quickly become a threat to its survival, as mostly western companies are trying to cash in on the trend. Improper collection and storage by untrained laborers rather than herbalists causes many tons of plant material, including U˜a de Gato to simply rot in warehouses. Furthermore, instead of collecting only the inner bark of the liana, often the whole root is dug, thus destroying the plant's chances of survival.

Valuable plant medicines are a gift to humanity, whether they are common or exotic, but their uncurbed exploitation for quick profit is their demise. Unless we treasure such resources for what they are really worth - our health - unbridled consumer enthusiasm will eventually kill these most precious plants and cause their extinction. Nobody benefits from such exploitation. If you use herbal medicines, especially those derived from roots and barks, ask your supplier or manufacturer about the sustainability of their sources. Some companies collect their plant materials only from their own botanical reserves and pay very close attention to ethical harvest practices. What benefits mother earth also benefits us.



kmorgenstern@sacredearth.com

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This Article was originally published in the Sacred Earth Newletter. The Newsletter is a FREE service containing articles, news and reviews on all things herbal and/or ethnobotanical, with an approximate publication cylce of 6 - 8 weeks. If you wish to subscribe, please use the subscription box to submit your e-mail address.

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Please note that although all the references to edible and medicinal herbs are tried and tested, their efficacy cannot be guaranteed and has not been approved by the FDA. Furthermore, everybody responds differently to various plants, and adverse reactions cannot be ruled out. Historical information regarding poisonous plants is included for educational purposes only and should not be tried out at home. Everybody uses herbs at their own risk and thus must make themselves fully aware of their potential power. Any information given here is educational and should not replace a visit to the doctor should this be necessary. Neither Sacred Earth nor Kat Morgenstern accepts responsibility for anybody's home experimentation. Links to external sites are included as pointers to further resources - we do not endorse them or are in any way responsible for their content, nor do we thus verify that their content is accurate.