asks Jayne b-t:
A. Though both plants have medicinal uses, they come from different continents - Latin America and Africa - and are used for rather different purposes.
Cat's Claw or Uncaria tomentosa (with its characteristic hooked tendril, pictured on our home page) was an obscure herb from the Peruvian Amazon. But since it was discovered by the Western world in the 1970s, it's been in the top ten of herbal remedies - and a major income for the Ashaninka Indian tribe of Peru.
Q. Did they know about it, already
A. Oh yes, they've used it for centuries to treat all kinds of problems, such as ulcers, arthritis and infections.
Q. Is that what we use it for
A. Among many other things.
Q. Such as
A. It has been credited with anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and anticancer properties. A powerful immune-enhancer, it also helps the body fight off infections.
However, there has been little in the way of clinical trials to back up the amazing claims for this remedy.
At the moment it is used as part of the treatment for a number of ailments - herpes, shingles, allergies, ulcers, parasites, colitis, diabetes, PMS, chronic fatigue syndrome, lupus, and prostrate conditions. It is also used to help reduce the symptoms of intestinal disorders, including Crohn's disease.
Cat's Claw is often used with other plants to increase its effectiveness.
Q. Can anyone use it
A. Because full safety studies have not been completed, it shouldn't be given to children, pregnant or breastfeeding women, or those with liver or kidney disease.
To find a qualified herbalist, visit the National Institute of Medical Herbalists wesbite.
Q. And what about Devil's Claw
A. Devil's Claw (Harpagophytum procumbens) is a plant from Africa. It has large tuberous roots which are chopped up and dried in the sun for three days before being used as a medicine. Traditionally, it was used in South Africa to reduce pain and fever and stimulate digestion.
Q. What is it used for now
A. It has anti-inflammatory properties and is used to treat joint pain, including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and gout. Devil's claw is also used for soft-tissue pain, such as back pain.
A recent study showed that a devil's claw extract gave better pain relief in low back pain than the placebo.
In another study, people with osteoarthritis of the knee and hip had as much relief when they took a devil's claw extract as did another group who took an anti-osteoarthritic drug.
Q. Who shouldn't take it
A. Although it appears to be quite safe, full tests have not been done, so it shouldn't be given to children, pregnant or breastfeeding women, or those with liver or kidney disease.
There were gastrointestinal upsets in trials, so it's not recommended for people with ulcers. And there's some doubt whether it's safe for those taking Warfarin or other blood-thinning drugs.
For advice, contact a qualified herbalist as before.
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