It's often said that the Amazon rain forest is nature's pharmacy, containing all the substances we need to fight the diseases that plague us if only we had time to discover and study them all. Deep in the Peruvian and Brazilian jungles lives a woody tropical vine that has two thorns at the base of its leaves, resembling the claw of a cat. The herb prepared from the root and bark of this plant is aptly known as cat's claw. Large pieces of this bark are often found in South American farmers' markets, as it has long been used to ease wounds, stomach upset, arthritis, cancer and other medicinal purposes by the native people of the region.
Western doctors have recently started to pay attention to the potential healing properties of cat's claw. Studies have identified certain active ingredients in the herb that bolster the immune system and diminish inflammation. In the 1970s, studies showed that cat's claw contained compounds called procyanidolic oligomers; which may deter tumors in animals.
In the 1980s, German scientists isolated another compound in the herb that seemed to stimulate immune cells called phagocytes that consume viruses and bacteria. Another class of compounds called quinovic acid glycosides was discovered in a 1993 Italian study. These act like antioxidants to evict damaging free radicals from the body.
In addition to strengthening the immune system and fighting cancer, cat's claw can be effective in treating pain from inflammation, so is often prescribed for conditions like arthritis or gout.
Note, the root of the cat's claw plant contains higher percentages of medicinally active substances, but the herb harvested from the inner bark is a more ecologically sensitive source.