Uncaria tomentosa

Uncaria tomentosa

Uncaria tomentosa
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Asterids
Order: Gentianales
Family: Rubiaceae
Genus: Uncaria
Species: U. tomentosa
Binomial name
Uncaria tomentosa
(Willd. ex Schult.) DC.[1]

Uncaria tomentosa is a woody vine found in the tropical jungles of South and Central America. In several languages it is known as cat's claw because of its claw-shaped thorns (English cat's claw, although that name is also used for other plants; Spanish uña de gato). It is also known as vilcacora; Polish journalist Roman Warszewski claims the invention of the latter name by combining the qechua words 'vilca' + 'cora'.[2]

It is used in herbalism for a variety of ailments.


  • Description 1
  • Taxonomy 2
  • Medicinal uses 3
    • Folk medicine 3.1
  • Adverse reactions 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • Further reading 7
  • External links 8


Uncaria tomentosa is a liana deriving its name from hook-like thorns that resemble the claws of a cat. U. tomentosa can grow up to 30 m (100 ft) tall, climbing by means of these thorns. The leaves are elliptic with a smooth edge, and grow in opposite whorls of two. Cat's claw is indigenous to the Amazon rainforest, with its habitat being restricted primarily to the tropical areas of South and Central America.


There are two species of cat's claw commonly used in North America and Europe, Uncaria tomentosa and Uncaria guianensis, each having different properties and uses. The two are frequently confused but U. tomentosa is the more heavily researched for medicinal use[3] and immune modulation, while U. guianensis may be more useful for osteoarthritis.[4] U. tomentosa is further divided into two chemotypes with different properties and active compounds, a fact ignored by most manufacturers[5] that can have significant implications on both its use as an alternative medicine and in clinical trials to prove or disprove its efficacy.[6] Another species, Uncaria rhynchophylla, has usage in Chinese medicine, and several unrelated species bear the same nickname.

Medicinal uses

According to the American Cancer Society, cat's claw is often promoted for its health benefits and has become a popular herbal supplement in the United States and Europe. However, they state:

Some studies on its effect on rheumatoid arthritis reported modest results, which need confirmation in standardized trials.[8]

Folk medicine

The indigenous peoples of South America have used cat's claw for centuries in the belief it is a treatment for various disorders.[7]

Adverse reactions

Individuals allergic to plants in the Rubiaceae family and different species of Uncaria may be more likely to have allergic reactions to cat's claw.[9] Reactions can include itching, rash and allergic inflammation of the kidneys. In one case study, kidney failure occurred in a patient with Lupus erythematosus.[10] The patient's kidney failure improved after stopping the herbal remedy.

There are other plants which are known as cat's claw (or uña de gato) in Mexico and Latin America; however, they are entirely different plants, belonging to neither the Uncaria genus, nor to the Rubiaceae family. Some of the Mexican uña de gato varieties are known to have toxic properties.[11]

See also


  1. ^ "Species Information". sun.ars-grin.gov. Retrieved 2008-03-01. 
  2. ^ [1]
  3. ^ Gattuso M, di Sapio O, Gattuso S, Pereyra LE (2004). "Morphoanatomical Studies of Uncaria tomentosa and Uncaria guianensis Bark and Leaves". Phytomedicine 11 (2–3): 213–223.  
  4. ^ Piscoya J, Rodriguez Z, Bustamante SA, Okuhama NN, Miller MJ, Sandoval M (2001). "Efficacy and Safety of Freeze-Dried Cat's Claw in Osteoarthritis of the Knee: Mechanisms of Action of the Species Uncaria guianensis". Inflammation Research 50 (9): 442–448.  
  5. ^ Keplinger K, Laus G, Wurm M, Dierich MP, Teppner H (1999). (Willd.) DC. — Ethnomedicinal Use and New Pharmacological, Toxicological and Botanical Results"Uncaria tomentosa" (PDF). Journal of Ethnopharmacology 64 (1): 23–34.  
  6. ^ Tyler VE (Sep–Oct 1997). "Uncaria tomentosa"An herb to forget — Cat's Claw — . Nutrition Forum 14 (5). 
  7. ^ a b "Cat's Claw".  
  8. ^ Ernst E (2004). "Complementary and Alternative Therapies for Rheumatoid Arthritis". International Journal of Advances in Rheumatology 2 (1): 22–25. 
  9. ^ "Intelihealth article discussing uses and dangers of Cat's Claw". Intelihealth.com. 2005-07-14. Retrieved 2012-09-15. 
  10. ^ Hilepo JN, Bellucci AG, Mossey RT (1977). "Lupus Erythematosus"Acute Renal Failure Caused by 'Cat's Claw' Herbal Remedy in a Patient with Systemic (PDF). Nephron 77 (3): 361.  
  11. ^ M.D. Anderson - Detailed Scientific Review of Cat's Claw

Further reading

  • Dietrich, Fabrícia; Kaiser, Samuel; Rockenbach, Liliana; Figueiro, Fabrício; Scussel Bergamin, Letícia; Monte da Cunha, Fernanda; Bueno Morrone, Fernanda; González Ortega, George; Maria Oliveira Battastini, Ana (May 2014). "Quinovic acid glycosides purified fraction from Uncaria tomentosa induces cell death by apoptosis in the T24 human bladder cancer cell line". Food and Chemical Toxicology 67: 222–229.  

External links

  • M.D. Anderson - Detailed Scientific Review of Cat's Claw
  • Uncaria tomentosaGermplasm Resources Information Network:
  • List of Chemicals (Dr. Duke's Databases)Uncaria tomentosa