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Chanca piedra is an annual herb that is part of the Phyllanthus plant genus. It is native to the Bahamas, southern India and China, as well as the Amazon rain forest in South America. The name chanca piedra is Spanish, and it translates to "stone breaker." It aptly describes the plant since it was used by the native peoples of the Amazon to cure gallstones and kidney stones. Indigenous people in Brazil referred to the plant as quebra-pedra or arranca-pedras, which both translate to "break-stone."
For hundreds of years, the chanca piedra plant has been used as a herbal medicine to treat diabetes, dysentery, the flu, malaria and many other ailments. Most of the beneficial properties of chanca piedra are due to phytochemicals, which are naturally occurring plant compounds that may promote health, but aren't established scientifically as essential nutrients. These include glycosides, flavonoids, alkaloids and ellagitannins. The compounds are typically derived from the stems, leafs and roots of the plant.
The species within the phyllanthus genus that is generally identified as chanca piedra is Phyllanthus niuri. It grows 11-23 inches (30-60 cm) in height and features oval leaves and yellow flowers. The flowers bloom from July to August and give way to small fruits.
Each part of the plant has a medicinal use according to the traditional Indian Ayurvedic system of medicine. The fruits are used to treat ulcers, wounds and sores, while the roots are used to treat jaundice. Usually, the leaves are converted into a paste and wrapped around bruises to relieve pain and inflammation.
Typically, a tea is prepared from the leaves of the plant and consumed up to three times a week for preventive health care. For the treatment of a particular ailment, herbalists recommend between one and three cups of chanca piedra tea daily, until the symptoms subside. Concentrated extracts are also available.
The plant may not be safe for certain individuals, including those with low blood pressure and pregnant women. Individuals with low blood sugar levels should also avoid taking chanca piedra since it can decrease blood sugar to dangerous levels. The plant is a diuretic as well, so those with mineral or electrolyte imbalances should avoid this herbal medicine.
In addition, the plant can increase the effects of drugs which treat high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease. For example, those taking medications to lower blood pressure may experience a greater reduction in blood pressure if they also take chanca piedra. This can lead to fainting spells or other problems.