Cat’s Claw (Gou Teng)
Botanical Name: Western – Uncaria tomentosa, U. guianensis. Eastern – Uncaria rhynchophylla, U. gambir.
Be careful not to confuse cat’s claw (Uncaria tomentosa and U. guianensis) with cat’s foot (Antennaria dioica); they are different plants. Cat’s claw is most commonly used to treat osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, though it is also useful for treating a wide variety of ailments including digestive disorders caused by inflammation, such as diverticulitis, colitis, hemorrhoids, and leaky bowel syndrome.
Watch a short video, from Ann Christensen, Founder and Creator of White Rabbit Institute of Healing™ – Cat’s Claw From Colds and Flu to Cancer and AIDS.
Below is an overview of cat’s claw, combining the best of Western Science, Oriental Medicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Shamanism, Folklore, and a wide range of healing modalities. Gain a balanced and thorough understanding of the healing properties of cat’s claw.
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Western Name: Cat’s Claw
Also Known As: Uncaria, Una de Gato, Life-giving Vine of Peru, Samento
Organs/Systems: Immune, Liver, Blood, Respiratory, Digestive, Cardiovascular, Joints and Connective Tissues
Key Actions: Anti-inflammatory, Antioxidant, Adaptogenic, Antiviral, Anticancer, Analgesic, Antibacterial, Antimicrobial, Antifungal, Antimutagenic, Depurative, Vermifuge, Diuretic, Hypotensive, Immunostimulant
Medicinal Uses: Osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, gout, diverticulitis, stomach ulcers, gastritis, cancer, Crohn’s disease, hemorrhoids, leaky bowel syndrome, shingles, cold sores, AIDS, hay fever, asthma, Alzheimer’s, parasites, glioblastoma, gonorrhea, dysentery, birth control, wounds, clotting.
Pin Yin: Gou Teng (translates as Hook Vine)
Also Known As: Uncaria rhynchophylla, Uncaria gambir
Meridians: Liver, Pericardium, Heart
Key Actions: Extinguishes Wind, Alleviates Spasms, Drains Liver Heat, Releases to the Exterior
Medicinal Uses: Headache, hypertension, spasms, Parkinson’s, tremors, seizures, eclampsia, red eyes, irritability, dizziness, fever.
Basic Habitat / Botany:
Cat’s claw is a woody vine with thorns that resemble cat’s claws. It is a member of the Rubiaceae family. The trees can grow to be 100 feet tall or more. The vine produces an abundance of bright, vibrant-yellow funnel-shaped flowers with five petals. After flowering, it develops a thin seed-pod that opens, dispersing winged, brown seeds. The plant’s stems are reddish-brown and age to a dark green color.
Uncaria tomentosa and U. guianensis are both native to Peru and the Pan-Amazon Basin. The plant grows wild in the Amazon rainforest and other tropical areas of Central and South America. It is now cultivated in Brazil, Peru, and other Amazonian areas of South America. Uncaria rhynchophylla and U. gambir are native to Japan, China, Vietnam, and the Malaysian peninsula.
Parts Most Frequently Used: Bark, Root, Leaf, Stem Bark, Hook, Inner Bark
Flavors/Temps: Western (Uncaria tomentosa, U. guianensis) – Bitter, Cold. Eastern – (Uncaria rhynchophylla, U. gambir): Sweet, Bitter, Cool.
Caution: Considered safe and non-toxic.
Key Constituents: Antioxidants, Oxidole alkaloids, Quinovic acid glycosides, Phytonutrients (including Ajmalicine, Campesterol, Catechin, Chinchonain, Daucosterol, Harman, Hirsuteine, Hirsutine, Loganic acid, Lyaloside, Oleanic acid, Palmitoleic acid, Rutin, Stigmasterol, Uncarine A thru F, Vaccenic acid), Tannins. In addition, for Uncaria rhynchophylla: rhynchophylline.
History/Folklore: Uncaria tomentosa is most commonly used in the U.S., and Uncaria guianensis is more commonly used in Europe. Dating back to the Inca civilizations, cat’s claw has been used to treat inflammation, dysentery, wounds, digestive issues, and stomach ulcers.
Cat’s claw was first popularized by the German natural scientist Arturo Brell, who in 1926 moved to a small town in the Peruvian rainforest. He used cat’s claw to successfully treat his rheumatic pain when nothing else had worked. Later another friend of his was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and as nothing else was working he began consuming cat’s claw root tea three times a day. He not only improved remarkably but a year later was declared cancer-free. Interest in the herb grew, and today many studies and documented cases further lend support to the herb’s powerful healing potential.
The herb is sacred to the Ashaninkas, Campo, and other Amazonian tribes. For shamanic healers, it is considered a bridge and balancer between the physical and spiritual worlds.
As cat’s claw can lose medicinal potency when absorbed directly through the tongue, washing a tincture down with water or other preparation with lemon juice or apple cider vinegar is important for maximizing this herb’s magical and science-based healing powers.
The oxindole alkaloids found in cat’s claw were long held to be the key to its healing powers; however, recent studies have shown that water-soluble cat’s claw, which does not contain high levels of water-insoluble alkaloids, still has remarkable antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Research indicates that the quinic acid esters within cat’s claw that are water-soluble may be the major contributing factor to the herb’s healing strength even in the form of a water extract. Collectively, it all points to the herb’s strength and versatility as a healing herb.
For example, recent studies indicate that cat’s claw significantly elevated the infection-fighting count of white blood cells in men who used the herb for six months.
In another study conducted over eight weeks, the participants showed notably improved DNA repair in both single and double-strand breaks. DNA is highly vulnerable to damage from free radicals, which contribute to cancer and other deadly diseases. While playing a critical role in cancer treatment, chemotherapy can nevertheless damage DNA in healthy cells. Volunteers who used water-soluble cat’s claw extract for eight weeks after their chemotherapy exhibited markedly decreased DNA damage of healthy cells and an increase in DNA repair. The herb also helps support normal cell division.
As an immune enhancer and antioxidant, the impact of cat’s claw on the immune system appears to be twofold–it both boosts and dampens immune response, depending on what is needed.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has used cat’s claw for centuries to treat high blood pressure. We now know the herb contains the alkaloid hirsutine, which specifically acts as a calcium-channel blocker, lowering blood pressure while simultaneously widening and relaxing blood vessels. It is excellent for clearing Heat away from the Liver and thereby calming Wind to relieve convulsions, including febrile convulsions, morbid crying of babies, eclampsia, and dizziness caused by hypertension.
In TCM, the branch and stem are used for their nerve-inhibiting actions. They are considered to be sedating, anticonvulsant, hypotensive, and analgesic (reducing pain).
In Malaysia, U. gambir is used. It is not used internally but rather topically as an antiseptic and analgesic to help heal wounds and insect bites.
Typical dosing for the Eastern varieties Uncaria rhynchophylla and Uncaria gambir is 5 to 30 g of dried herb in decoction or powder. When decocting or making tea, do not cook for over 10 minutes. Cooking the herb for over 15 minutes will also diminish the antihypertensive properties. Good-quality herbs have double thorns and thin stems and are a glossy, purplish red.
A typical dose of cat’s claw is up to 350 mg daily. Some commercially available cat’s claw preparations contain compounds called TOAs (tetracyclic oxindole alkaloids) and POAs (pentacyclic oxindole alkaloids) at levels that may have an anti-hypertensive effect and are therefore not recommended for use while using blood-pressure-lowering drugs at the same time, as this could cause blood pressure to drop too far.
Commercial supplements of cat’s claw typically use Uncaria tomentosa. Because of the destructiveness to the tree, the inner bark, not the root, is more commonly harvested.
Cat’s claw is used in preparation for vision quests or shamanic journeying. It can be placed in pillows or sachets to aid lucid dreaming. It is said to help attract prosperity.
The stems are a source of potable sap that can be used to quench thirst. The sap is considered a restorative drink. The stems are also used to make furniture. They are to be harvested only when the plant is eight years or older. Cuttings should be done 20 to 100 cm above the ground to leave enough plants to regenerate.
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