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Cat’s claw tea is a tea that is brewed from the bark of Uncaria tomentosa and Uncaria guianensis. Used frequently by the tribes living in the Amazon region, this herbal remedy is believed to treat asthma, urinary tract infections, rheumatism and arthritis. It is also thought to cleanse the kidney, treat inflammation and ulcers, and even cure cancer. In homeopathic medicine, practitioners claim it boosts the immune system. It is commonly used to treat intestinal disorders and viral diseases, such as shingles, as well.
Typically, cat’s claw is harvested in the rainforest from cultivated and wild crops. The plants used to make cat’s claw tea were aptly named because they have claw-like thorns that cling to trees. The thorns allow the vine to climb into the canopy of the rainforest. U. tomentosa has white or yellow flowers, while U. guianensis has orange or red flowers. The vine is native to the Central and South American rainforests, Peru, Costa Rica, Trinidad, and other tropical regions.
The vine rather that the plant's root is normally harvested to make cat’s claw tea. Approximately every seven or eight years, the vine of the cat’s claw becomes large enough to be harvested. In most cases, the vine is cut down about 2 to 3 feet (.61 to .91 m) from the ground. The bark is then stripped off of the vine and cut into smaller sections, dried, and made into cat’s claw tea.
Scientific studies are beginning to show the benefits of drinking cat’s claw tea. For example, in Austria, a study was completed on the alkaloids found in the stems and leaves that are used in the tea. The study indicated that these alkaloids may slow the growth of leukemia or cancer cells.
Although the scientific studies are rather new, cat’s claw tea has been used by tribes of people for thousands of years to treat a wide range of illnesses. For example, it was used to treat infections of the urinary tract, respiratory infections, and inflammation of the joints and muscles, such as rheumatism and arthritis. The tea continues to be used today in European and American cultures to treat many of these same conditions. As modern science becomes more aware of the benefits of cat’s claw tea, sustainable solutions will need to be enforced to ensure that cat’s claw is not over harvested.
As with any herbal remedy, people who drink tea made from cat's claw bark should first consult a medical practitioner. It is known to stimulate the immune system and may cause some immunosuppressant drugs to react adversely. In addition, it may cause low blood pressure and diarrhea.