Cat's Claw

Cat's claw has been steadily growing in popularity since it was discovered in the Amazon, and it is currently used for a number of medicinal purposes, from healing common colds to relieving joint pain.

Fact checked

By HerbaZest Editorial Team | Updated: Jan 31, 2024

Cat's Claw
General Information
  • Common name(s) Cat's claw, katzenkralle (German), uña de gato (Spanish)
  • Scientific name Uncaria tomentosa
  • Geographic distribution Amazon rainforest
  • Plant type Vine
  • Main producer(s) Brazil, Peru
  • Main Economic Use Medicinal

The cat's claw vine is native to South America and grows mainly in tropical and subtropical areas of Bolivia and Peru, were Amazonian tribes have utilized it for millennia to treat serious and mild diseases alike. However, it wasn't until the 1970's that cat's claw was discovered by the Western world, and its medicinal actions still under investigation.

Cat's Claw Medicinal Properties

Quick Facts
  • Medicinal action Anti-inflammatory, Immunomodulant
  • Key constituents Uncarines, proanthocyanidins
  • Ways to use Capsules, Hot infusions/tisanes, Liquid extracts, Tincture
  • Medicinal rating (3) Reasonably useful plant
  • Safety ranking Safety undetermined

Health Benefits of Cat's Claw

Cat's claw's properties include anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective, antioxidant, and immunomodulatory actions, which have been used in traditional Amazonian medicine for centuries. Modern scientific studies have validated some of these applications. Cat's claw's benefits have been shown effective for:

While traditionally used for treating a variety of health conditions, some medicinal applications of cat's claw require further research. However, preliminary studies suggests that cat's claw may be useful for:

  • Treating dengue fever. Cat's claw's immunoprotective effects may help fight this tropical disease as well as other viral infections.

  • Repairing skin damage. Thanks to its antioxidants and other supporting compounds, it has been shown that cat's claw may prevent cell damage from UV radiation.3

  • Preventing degenerative diseases. The alkaloids contained in cat's claw bark are thought to be responsible for the herb's beneficial effect on memory impairment, helping prevent the onset of dementia and Parkinson's disease.

  • Eliminating bacteria. Cat's claw's antimicrobial properties have been found useful in root canal treatments and other bacterial infections.4

How It Works

Recent research into the mechanisms behind cat's claw's health benefits has revealed several potent phytocompounds, mainly uncarines, a type of oxindole alkaloids, which have been shown to modulate the immune response and exert neuroprotective effects. Proanthocyanidins, a class of antioxidants, as well as phenolic acids are believed to be behind cat's claw's anti-inflammatory properties.

Anti-inflammatory properties are also present in devil's claw, dog rosenettle, sweet birch, and turmeric, whereas broccoli, cherry, cabbageechinacea, and the tea plant have the ability to enhance and protect immunity.

Cat's Claw Side Effects

While cat's claw toxicity has not been extensively studied, it appears to have few side effects. Some people have reported nausea, dizziness, and diarrhea while taking cat's claw. These side effects go away in many people after their body gets used to the herb.

Cautions

Though cat's claw appears to be generally safe, moderation should be exercised, and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should avoid it. People with chronic health conditions, such as autoimmune diseases, skin grafts, kidney or liver disease, tuberculosis, leukemia, or low blood pressure, should refrain from taking this herb.

Cat's claw bark may interact with some prescribed drugs, such as immunosuppressants, blood thinners, diuretics, and blood pressure medications.

Cat's Claw Benefits and Properties

How to Consume Cat's Claw

Quick Facts
  • Taste Bitter

The growing interest in cat's claw's health benefits reflects in the increasing variety of herbal preparations that have become available. Due to its bitter flavor, the uses of cat's claw are strictly medicinal.

Natural Forms

  • Infusion. Once it is dried, cat's claw bark can be brewed; however, because the phytonutrient content of the plant can vary depending on when it is harvested, infusions may vary in their alkaloid content.

Herbal Remedies & Supplements

  • Tinctures and liquid extracts. Alcohol- and water-based extracts of cat's claw are the preparations most widely used in scientific studies. These extracts are typically standardized to contain 3% alkaloids and 15% phenols.

  • Capsules. Cat's claw capsules usually come in practical, standardized doses; however, the concentration of bioactive compounds may vary depending on the brand.

How to Use Cat's Claw

Buying

Quick Facts
  • Where to buy Big online retailers, Specialized health stores, Online herb stores

Natural Forms

Cat's claw bark can be difficult to find in temperate climates, though select specialized health stores may carry it as teabags. Online retailers, however, provide the best chance of encountering supplies to fit individual wants and needs. While dried cat's claw bark allows for a greater flexibility when it comes to homemade remedies, there is a significant risk of accidentally lowering the herb's potency by destroying some of its compounds during the preparation process.

Herbal Remedies & Supplements

Herbal supplements that feature cat's claw are becoming more prevalent on today's market. These can often be found in capsule, tincture, and liquid extract forms in an increasing number of specialized herbal stores, as well as through many online retailers, which also provide valuable information about concentrations, dosages, and price points.

Most supplements provide standardized cat's claw dosages, although it is important to look for a reputable and reliable company before making any purchase as some may not observe the appropriate manufacturing standards. Which species to buy depends on the objective of medicinal use. For example, thanks to its unique alkaloids, Uncaria tomentosa is the cat's claw species with the most immune-enhancing properties, whereas Uncaria guianensis is more popular for anti-inflammatory purposes.

Growing

Quick Facts
  • Life cycle Perennial
  • Harvested parts Bark
  • Light requirements Partial shade
  • Soil pH 5.6 – 6.0 (Moderately acidic)
  • Growing habitat Tropical rainforests

The cat's claw vine (Uncaria tomentosa) is a woody perennial not frequently grown outside of its native environment, in the tropical and subtropical areas of Peru and Bolivia. In order to increase the chances of growing cat's claw successfully, some conditions are necessary.

Growing Guidelines

  • The cat's claw plant prefers high humidity and temperatures between 77 - 95°F (25 - 35°C)

  • Heavy precipitation, ranging from 60 - 160 inches (1,500 - 4,000 mm) each year, also plays a vital role in the development of cat's claw.

  • Soil drainage is not an issue, as the plant can withstand several days of flood conditions, but a nutrient rich area is recommended.

  • Cat's claw also requires partial to full shade in order to properly mimic the conditions found in the wild.

  • The cat's claw plant prefers the acidic soils that are typical of its tropical native region.

  • The roots of Uncaria tomentosa are no longer harvested in order to protect the species from extinction; however, cat's claw bark is generally stripped from wild vines for export after three years of growth.

  • Like with all other creeping vines, growing cat's claw should be done in association with trees to act like trainers; otherwise, artificial support should be used in order to train this plant.

  • It is best to develop cat's claw cultivation as part of an agroforestry system - for example, associating it with timber - instead of attempting to force it in a conventional field.

Additional Information

Quick Facts
  • Other uses Cosmetics

Plant Biology

Cat's claw is a climbing vine that can grow up to 100 feet (30 m), with stems that feature sharply-hooked thorns and flowering stalks that act as tendrils. Cat's claw flowers can range in color from cream to bright yellow, and simple, grooved leaves grow in opposite pairs.

  • Classification

    Cat's claw (Uncaria tomentosa) is a member of Rubiaceae family, which comprises about 13,000 species, including coffee (Coffea arabica), cleavers (Galium aparine), and Noni (Morinda citrifolia).

  • Related Species

    Since Uncaria tomentosa is traditionally not cultivated, but rather harvested in the wild, no subspecies, varieties, or cultivars have been identified or developed yet. The Uncaria genus covers 40 different species around the world, many of which are locally referred to as "cat's claw." Uncaria tomentosa shares its popularity with close relatives, namely Uncaria gambir and Uncaria guianensis, which are also used for cosmetic and medicinal purposes.

Historical Information

The Ashaninka and other indigenous Amazonian tribes have used cat's claw for centuries as an immune system regulator, as well as for treating serious and mild diseases alike. However, despite its natural prevalence, the herb was not discovered by the Western world until the 1970s, when ethnologist Klaus Keplinger documented its potential applications. His work over the following two decades led to a significant demand for cat's claw throughout Europe and, by the 1990s, the United States had also recognized its healing powers.

Economic Data

The economic importance of cat's claw lies in its healing properties. Initially, cat's claw supplements were manufactured from the roots of Uncaria tomentosa. However, as the herb grew in popularity, government regulations in Peru - its top producing country - banned the direct harvest of cat's claw roots to prevent it from becoming an endangered species.

Cat's claw bark has been shown to contain the same beneficial qualities as the roots, and indirect harvest remains alive and well. In 2000, Peru exported almost 96 tons to the United States alone and generated $178,000 USD. Now, as resources become restricted, cat's claw prices have skyrocketed: in 2008, the powdered bark cost $9.50 USD per kilogram.

Other Uses of Cat's Claw

  • Skin care. Cat's claw's antioxidant, antimicrobial, and astringent properties have been linked to anti-aging effects. Extracts containing the alkaloids and phenolic acids of Uncaria species are used to produce skincare products, such as lotions and creams.

Sources

  • Anticancer Research, The antiproliferative effects of Uncaria tomentosa extracts and fractions on the growth of breast cancer cell line, 2001
  • Brazilian Oral Research, Antimicrobial activity of Uncaria tomentosa against oral human pathogens, 2007
  • International Trade Centre, The North American Market for Natural Products: Prospects for Andean and African Products
  • Skin Care and Cosmetic Ingredients Dictionary, p. 308
  • TED Case Studies, Cat's Claw: Possibilities for a Peruvian Geographic Indicator
  • Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine, p. 280
  • FAOSTAT, NWFP-Digest-L: Non-Wood Forest Products
  • American Cancer Society, Cat's Claw
  • Medicinal Plants of the World, p. 330
  • International Immunopharmacology, Immunomodulating and antiviral activities of Uncaria tomentosa on human monocytes infected with Dengue Virus-2, 2008
  • University of Maryland Medical Center, Cat's claw
  • Phytochemistry, Ethnobotany, phytochemistry and pharmacology of Uncaria (Rubiaceae), 2005 ; DNA repair enhancement of aqueous extracts of Uncaria tomentosa in a human volunteer study, 2001

Footnotes:

  1. Inflammation Research. (2001). Efficacy and safety of freeze-dried cat's claw in osteoarthritis of the knee: mechanisms of action of the species Uncaria guianensis. Retrieved June 30, 2022 from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11603848/
  2. Phytomedicine. (2001). Persistent response to pneumococcal vaccine in individuals supplemented with a novel water soluble extract of Uncaria tomentosa, C-Med-100®. Retrieved June 30, 2022 from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11515716/
  3. Brazilian Oral Research. (2016). Antimicrobial activity and substantivity of Uncaria tomentosa in infected root canal dentin. Retrieved June 30, 2022 from https://www.scielo.br/j/bor/a/bPrYcRyQy77Vcf765pWQL3L/?lang=en
  4. Free Radical Biology and Medicine. (2000). Cat's claw inhibits TNFalpha production and scavenges free radicals: Role in cytoprotection. Retrieved June 30, 2022 from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10962207/