Botanical and Common Names
- Family Rubiaceae
- Uncaria tomentosa (Cat’s Claw, Hawk’s Claw, Spanish: Una de Gato, Paraguaya, Garbato, Tambor hausca, Toron)
- Uncaria rhyncophylla (Gou Teng – Chinese)
- Should be taken only under the supervision of a knowledgeable professional.
- Contraindicated in those suffering from coagulation disorders, tuberculosis, and autoimmune diseases.
- When taking the herb, watch for signs of bleeding and possible hypotensive episodes.
- Should not be confused other species of plants with a common name of cat’s claw (or uña de gato) in Mexico and Latin America, which is from an entirely different plant that does not belong to the Uncaria genus, or even the Rubiaceae family. Several of the Mexican uña de gato varieties have toxic properties.
Indigenous to the rainforest area of Central and South America, Cat’s Claw is a large woody vine that sometimes reaches heights of 100 feet. It is found in the Peruvian rain forests of the Amazon basin, as well as in Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Trinidad, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Panama, and Venezuela. The bark is fissured and ranges from a yellow to yellowish-green in colour. The thorny spines are woody, paired, and curved like a cat’s claw. The sap has a watery and astringent taste.
Gou Teng is native to China and Southeast Asia and is cultivated in the southern and eastern provinces of China. It is a climbing perennial, growing to about thirty feet with paired lance-shaped leaves, thorns, and composite flower heads. The stems and thorns are collected in autumn and winter.
The first recorded use of Gou Teng in Chinese medicine is in the Miscellaneous Records, dating from about 500 CE.
In South America, its use goes back to the time of the Incas.
Cat’s claw has been used medicinally by the Aguaruna, Asháninka, Cashibo, Conibo, and Shipibo tribes of Peru for at least 2,000 years. The Asháninka tribe, from central Peru, has the longest recorded historical of use, treating such conditions as asthma, urinary tract inflammation, arthritis, and rheumatism, as well as for wounds and general inflammations. They are also the largest commercial source of cat’s claw from Peru today. Some peoples of Colombia still use the herb to treat gonorrhea and dysentery.
Its name is derived from the claw-shaped thorns that grow from the base of the leaves.
Although there are other species of cats claw, only U. tomentosa, the species of Peru, has been shown to have medicinal qualities. The biochemical activity of the herb depends on the environment and the soil conditions where it is grown. This species is now cultivated elsewhere, especially in Austria, where it has been extensively studied for more than twenty-five years.
(a) Cat’s Claw
- decreases dopamine levels
- inhibits platelet aggregation
- increases serotonin
- inhibits tumor growth
- some contraceptive effects
- stimulates the immune system
(b) Gou Teng
(a) Cat’s Claw
- antioxidants (including catechin and procyanidins)
- oleanolic acid, palmitoleic acid
- plant sterols (beta-sitosterol, stigmasterol, and campesterol)
(b) Gou Teng
- alkaloids (including rhyncophylline as well as corynoxeine, isorhyncophylline, and hirsutine)
- nicotinic acid
Root bark (Cat’s Claw), stem and thorns (Gou Teng)
The preparations believed to boost immune system activity are high in pentacyclic alkaloids and low in tetracyclic alkaloids. Therefore, the pentacyclic alkaloids seem to be responsible for its medicinal effects and are blocked by the tetracyclic alkaloids.
Researchers have found that the pentacyclic alkaloids appear to have a powerful effect on the process by which certain WBCs englulf and destroy foreign particles (phagocytosis). This, then, would support its use to treat bacterial and viral infections, as well as preventing or slowing the progression of cancer.
Researchers are also examining the potential anti-inflammatory and antiviral properties of quinovic acid glycoside, a nonalkaloid compound that has never before been found in nature.
Research has focused on several phytochemicals, including okindole alkaloids, which help to stimulate the immune system. Other alkaloids have diuretic and hypertensive effects and lower the heart rate. Others are believed to be antiviral and anti-inflammatory.
Studies at the University of Washington in 1999 conducted by Alan Snow, PhD, indicated that a substance derived from the herb has been found to inhibit the formation of brain plaque in rats, like that associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Similar effects were also found when the cat’s claw substance, PTI-00703®, was combined with ginkgo biloba.
Cat’s Claw is used in Peru to prevent pregnancies, but the amount needed has to be high. It is claimed that a decoction from 11-13 pounds of the root, reduced to about one cup of liquid, is taken at the time of menstruation. It is said that the effects will last for three to four years after one dose.
Cats claw is used to boost the immune system to fight infections, cancer, HIV, and allergies. It is also used to alleviate gastrointestinal symptoms and the healing of hemorrhoids and skin wounds. In Peruvian medicine, it is used to treat asthma, cancer, arthritis and other inflammatory disorders, and microbial infections.
Cat’s Claw has also been used for diarrhea, gastritis, wound treatments, and as an adjunct to cancer treatments and menstrual irregularity.
Gou Teng is used mainly to ease tremors, seizures, spasms, headaches, and dizziness. It is also prescribed for infantile convulsions and to reduce high blood pressure and excess liver “fire”.
A related species, U. gambier, known as pale catechu, contains a component that lowers blood pressure. It also contains catechin, a substance that powerfully protects the liver from infection, and is also used as an astringent remedy.
The Asháninka use cat’s claw to treat asthma and inflammations of the urinary tract; to recover from childbirth; as a kidney cleanser; to cure deep wounds; for arthritis, rheumatism, and bone pain; to control inflammation and gastric ulcers; and for cancer.
Indigenous tribes in Piura use cat’s claw to treat tumors, inflammations, rheumatism, and gastric ulcers.
In Colombia, indigenous tribes use the vine to treat gonorrhea and dysentery.
Peruvian indigenous tribes use cat’s claw to treat diabetes, urinary tract cancer in women, hemorrhages, menstrual irregularity, cirrhosis, fevers, abscesses, gastritis, rheumatism, inflammations; for internal cleansing and tumors; and to “normalize the body.”
Since the 1990s, Cat’s claw has been used in Peru and Europe as an adjunctive treatment for cancer and AIDS, as well as for other diseases that target the immune system. In addition, other in vitro anticancerous properties within the herb have been documented, including those against leukemia and some lymphomas.