Synonyms and Common names: cat's claw, hawks claw,
Description and Habitat: Rubiaceae is a family of flowering plants, sometimes called the madder, bedstraw or coffee family. The Herb is a woody climber that grows out of the ground and uses trees to climb up to the canopy, where it spreads from tree to tree in search of light. Cats Claw derives its name from hook-like thorns that resemble the claws of a cat; it can grow up to 30m tall, climbing by means of these thorns. The leaves are elliptic with a smooth edge, and grow in opposite whorls of two. Cat's claw is indigenous to the Amazon rain forest with its habitat being restricted primarily to the tropical areas of South and Central America.
Two closely related species of uncaria are used almost interchangeably in the rain forests: uncaria tomentosa and uncaria guianensis. Both species can reach over 30 m high into the canopy. Uncaria tomentosa has small, yellowish-white flowers, whereas Uncaria guianensis has reddish-orange flowers and thorns that are more curved.
Parts used: Inner bark and root
Collection and preparation: Collection is impossible in Britain, as it does not grow here, but it is obtainable in the form of ready made capsules, liquid extract, tincture or cut herb.
Constituents: mainly alkaloids, glycosides (triterpenes and procyanidins), and tannins
Actions: anti-inflammatory, anti-ulcerous, anti-cancerous, anti-depressant, anti-leukemic, anti-mutagenic (cellular protector), antioxidant, anti-tumorous, antiviral, contraceptive, immune, analgesic, anticoagulant, anti-dysenteric, blood cleanser, detoxifier, diuretic, gastro-tonic, hypo-cholesterolemic, tonic and wound healer.
Indications and Therapeutics: Cat’s Claw can be used to treat and heal; arthritis and rheumatism and allergies, it has been found to be of use to treat cancer or malignant tumours, and for viral problems like AIDS and flu.
The list of treated diseases also includes: gastric ulcers, diarrhoea, gonorrhoea, arthritis and rheumatism, acne and diseases of the urinary tract. Imbalances, inflammation and infections of the gut and intestines, chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia. Skin problems (eczema, psoriasis, etc.), and Neurasthenia (agitated depression, confusion, hopelessness, exhaustion)
The major alkaloid rhynchophylline has anti-hypertensive effects and may reduce the risk of stroke and heart attack by lowering blood pressure, increasing circulation, reducing heart rate and controlling cholesterol. Cat's Claw has long been used as a homeopathic treatment for intestinal ailments. Uses include: Crohn's disease, gastric ulcers, tumours, parasites, colitis, gastritis, diverticulitis and leaky bowel syndrome. It is a detoxifier which not only removes toxins from the body, but it raises and boosts the immune system. By stimulating the immune system, it can also improve response to viral and respiratory infections,
Contraindications: Cats Claw stimulates the immune system and is not recommended before or following any major surgery, as it has chemicals that can thin the blood. It has anti-fertility properties so should not be taken or used by individuals who are attempting to get pregnant, this doesn’t mean it should be relied on as a contraceptive as its effects are only now being investigated in this field.
Preparation and dosage:
Decoction: put l teaspoonful of the powdered bark into a cup of cold water and bring to the boil. Leave for l0-l5 minutes. This should be drunk twice a day. Adding lemon juice or vinegar to the decoction when boiling will help extract more alkaloids and fewer tannins from the bark. Use about 1/2 teaspoon of lemon juice or vinegar per cup of water.
Tincture: take 2-4ml of the tincture twice a day
Folklore and additional comments: The herb Cats Claw has been used by indigenous tribes of the Amazonian rain forests for healing for as long as the rain forests have been populated. The folklore of these tribes tells of the Shaman or Healer of the tribe has first made contact with the gods to determine the ailment or problem, then leading the people to the Cats Claw tree where the bark was obtained and medicine made from the bark by making what is in fact ‘a decoction’. Administrating the medicine to the patient completed the ‘magic’ that the Shaman has done. It seem they had little idea of how the bark worked, only that it did.
Cats Claw has only recently become available to the rest of the world, although investigations are now underway to determine the chemicals and attributes that this herb of the rain forest has to offer. Little is known of the folklore of the Indians, but it is clear from the little that is available on how their world revolves around what is important to them, ie. what affects their everyday lives. The birds, animals, insects, trees and plants have spirits that are expressed in magical terms, with dances, songs, stories which explain everyday happenings. We can only wonder at what lays still to be discovered in the Amazonian forests, that the Shamans of the tribe use every day to cure those under their care, both physically and spiritually.
That is, of course, if the rain forests still exist in the foreseeable future. Rain forests are quickly being depleted by logging, destroying the very trees and herbs that carry possibly the most healing of medications the world has to offer. The tribes are hanging on by the skin of their teeth, when they too are dissolved into the rest of the world, their healing knowledge will be dissolved too, and in time will be forgotten and lost.