Uncaria tomentosa – Cat’s Claw (plant)
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Cat’s Claw, or Una de gato in Latin America, is a woody climber that can grow up to 60m with its modified flowering stalks, the hooked appendages that resemble a cat’s claw. Two main species are used in medicine, Uncaria tomentosa and Uncaria guianensis (with more rounded hook appendages). Family Rubiaceae.
Cat’s Claw is considered antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, anti-mutagenic, antioxidant, antiviral, cytostatic, depurative, diuretic, hypotensive, immunostimulant and a vermifuge. Traditionally a daily dose of 2-6g as a tea was used. Research is continuing on Cat’s Claw as a useful medicine for diseases of the immune system, certain cancers, herpes, candida infections, Lymes, Ross River and AIDS amongst others.
A number of chemotypes are recognised within Uncaria tomentosa; those favouring tetracyclic oxindole alkaloids and those with pentacyclic oxindole alkaloids.
In Uncaria tomentosa the average alkaloid concentrations in flowers are (2.10%), leaves (1.59%), stem bark (0.50%), branches with thorns (0.32%) and roots (1.00-2.00%). There is a consensus that a single substance or a single class of secondary metabolite being responsible for all pharmacological activities assigned to the species is unlikely. However, the pentacyclic oxindole alkaloids are considered chemical markers. Among them, uncarin, pteropodin, mitraphylline, speciophylline, isopteropodin, and isomitraphylline are highlighted. (Honorio, et. al. Uncaria tomentosa and Uncaria guianensis an agronomic history to be written. Ciência Rural, Santa Maria, v.46, n.8, p.1401-1410, ago, 2016).
Generally the roots and stems are harvested for commercial processing. However the leaves are an excellent source of alkaloids and for the home gardener these will be easily utilised by keeping the plant restrained within a pot or trimmed in the garden.
Care and Cultivation of Uncaria tomentosa
Uncaria tomentosa is adapted to an annual rainfall of 1200-1800mm per annum and grows well in subtropical climates. Uncaria tomentosa likes a well drained soil in full sun to part shade. Likes regular applications of fertiliser over the growing season. Frost tender.