The Amazon rainforest, the largest rainforest on earth, is richer in plant life than any other place in the world. Targeted by pharmaceutical companies for over a century as a land of exploration for source materials of new drugs, the Amazon rainforest is also a treasure trove of botanicals for the herbal supplement industry. Among the many Amazon botanicals which have come to light in recent years, Una de Gato (Uncariatomentosa ), which means "cat's claw" in Spanish, is one of the most promising of all. A woody vine, the plant earns its name cat's claw due to a preponderance of sharp, claw-like thorns. Dispersed throughout Central and South America, Una de Gato has been used for centuries by numerous native tribes.
Una de Gato is described by Dr. James Duke in his Amazonian Ethnobotanical Dictionary as a plant used widely in Peru for anti-inflammatory, contraceptive and cytostatic (retards tumor cells) purposes. In popular literature, Una de gato is additionally touted as an immune stimulant, and a large number of studies do in fact show that Una de Gato offers significant anti-inflammatory and immune-enhancing benefits, and that constituents in the vine may help to inhibit tumor cell formation.
Una de Gatohas been known for a long time due to the explorations of Voctorian era explorers. But the plant gained the attention of the European scientific community in the early 1970's when Austrian Klaus Keplinger heard of a remarkable cancer cure attributed to the use of the plant. Keplinger spent time in the Peruvian Chanchamayo region of the Amazon, and familiarized himself enough with the plant that he became one of the most important scientific authors on its uses. Since that time, researchers have plumbed Una de Gato's chemical secrets, in search of what might account for its purported healing benefits. Analysis shows that Una de Gato contains at least five alkaloids, and two other important groups of compounds, quinovic acid glycosides and triterpenoidsaponins. In addition, the plant contains antioxidant polyphenols. Studies conducted in vitro with Una de Gato show that constituents in the plant possess anti-inflammatory, anti-mutagenic, antiviral and immune-stimulating properties. The alkaloids in Una de Gato demonstrate immune-enhancing activity by producing an increase in phagocytosis, a process by which potentially harmful materials are "eaten" by protective cells. In studies of quinovic acid glycosides in the plant, researchers observed significant anti-inflammatory activity. Additionally, these same compounds were shown to inhibit several types of common viruses. In studying triterpenoidsaponins, scientists observed that these chemical agents inhibited the growth of some tumor cells.
Good science provides assurance of herbal efficacy to today's modern, medically-oriented market. Well-conducted scientific studies appear to validate several of the traditional uses of Una de Gato. The plant appears to be safe and non-toxic, and is useful in cases of inflammation, compromised immunity, and viral infection. It is a significant aid to relief in cases of both osteo and rheumatoid arthritis. With further research, the plant may eventually play a broader role in a complementary approach to the prevention and treatment of certain types of cancer. Tribal people in the Amazon would no doubt be amused by scientific inquiries into Una de Gato. After all, they've known for centuries that the woody vine with the sharp, claw-like thorns is a healer.
Looking for Una de Gato products - I have become acquainted with various Una de Gato products, and recommend two if you are going to use this medicinal plant. One is Saventaro, a product made in Austria from Una de Gato harvested in Peru. Saventaro is an encapsulated product, available in natural food stores. Raintree Nutrition, on the other hand, offers a fluid extract of Una de Gato, also from the Amazon rainforest. This fast-acting fluid has a woody taste and is available from Rain-tree.com.
Pick of the week: I have previously written about ginger, and this widely used plant will crop up repeatedly, due to its broad uses. In any case, not everybody is willing to shred or grate their own ginger. With that in mind, a company called Ginger People makes a Minced Ginger in a jar. You just scoop a spoon full of this finely ground fresh ginger into whatever you're cooking, and you can easily and quickly derive the benefits of ginger.The zippy taste, combined with potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits, make this herb a healthy powerhouse. I'd still recommend grating your own, but convenience is king these days, and this minced ginger product delivers that. Thanks to innovation, many herbs that used to be time-consuming to prepare are now ready to use in bottles and jars. It's a whole new world of herbalism.
Chris Kilham is a medicine hunter who researches natural remedies all over the world, from the Amazon to Siberia. He teaches ethnobotany at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he is Explorer In Residence. Chris advises herbal, cosmetic and pharmaceutical companies and is a regular guest on radio and TV programs worldwide. His field research is largely sponsored by Naturex of Avignon, France. Read more at