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Cat's Claw – Traditional and Modern Uses

Cat's claw (uña de gato, Uncaria tomentosa, U. guianensis, Rubiaceae) is a woody vine that grows in tropical regions, namely Central and South America.1 Cat's claw is a giant liana (climbing vine) of the rain forest canopy whose stem diameter can reach 8-12 inches (20-30 cm). Its name derives from the curved hook shape of its thorns. The genus Uncaria contains 34 species, 29 of which grow in southeast Asia, three in Africa, and two in tropical South America. Cat's claw ranges from Belize and Guatemala to Peru, Venezuela and Suriname.2 The bark, roots, and leaves of the vine are used in traditional medicine.3


The Ashaninka tribe of Peru use traditional healing methods that include cat's claw.2 In the Ashaninka worldview, humans are both physical and spiritual beings. Three separate kinds of healers exist – the anteaviari, users of strong medicine for simple ailments; the seripeari, intellectual leaders and healers in the socio-religious and socio-medicinal realms; and the sancoshi, celibate, vegetarian priests who are guardians of physical and spiritual harmony. Ailments can be treated with herbal preparations, diet, and rituals. Cat's claw is considered a powerful plant and is often used within the religious realm. One cat's claw decoction is prepared by boiling 20 g of sliced bark root in a 1:1 ratio of water for 45 minutes for a ten-day regimen.2 The Ashaninka also use the herb to treat asthma, arthritis, gastric ulcers, and inflammation.3 It is also used to help mothers recover from childbirth, treat deep wounds, and as a kidney cleanser. Other Peruvian tribes who use cat's claw include the Aguaruna, Cashibo, Conibo, and Shipibo. These tribes use cat's claw to treat diabetes, urinary tract cancer, fevers, abscesses, menstrual irregularity, and gastritis.3


In a Brazilian prospective study of patients with cancerous tumors (colon, breast, and lung), who had exhausted other treatment options, an extract of cat's claw was administered to evaluate its efficacy and safety.4 After two months of supplementation, results showed that there was improvement in patients' quality of life, including fatigue and social wellbeing. Other modern uses include treatment in AIDS and diseases that target the immune system,3 as well as an adjuvant treatment with chemotherapy,1 and in the treatment of osteoarthritis, viral infections, and menstrual disorders.4



1Erowele GI, Kalejaiye AO. Pharmacology and therapeutic uses of cat's claw. Am J Health Sys Pharm. June 1, 2009;66(11):992-995.

2Keplinger K, Laus G, Wurm M, Dierich MP, and Teppner H. Uncaria tomentosa (Willd.) DC. - Ethnomedicinal use and new pharmacological, toxicological, and botanical results. J Ethnopharmacol. 1999;64(1):23-34.

3Taylor L. The Healing Power of Rainforest Herbs. Garden City Park, NY: Square One Publishers; 2005.

4de Paula LC, Fonseca F, Perazzo F, et al. Uncaria tomentosa (cat's claw) improves quality of life in patients with advanced solid tumors. J Altern Complement Med. 2015;21(1):22-30.

Lori Glenn,  Managing Editor