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Cat's Claw

Contributors: Kerry Hughes and Tony Worth

Copyright © 1999. All Rights Reserved. Quotation from this document should cite and acknowledge the contributors.

  1. Common and Regional Names
  2. Scientific Names
  3. Uses
    1. Products of Commerce
  4. Origin
  5. Crop Status
    1. Regulatory Status
    2. Toxicities
    3. Traditional Medicinal Uses
  6. Botany
    1. Taxonomy
  7. Crop Culture (Agronomy/Horticulture)
    1. Ecology
    2. Cultivars
    3. Production Practices
    4. Harvesting
    5. Processing
  8. Germplasm
    1. Collections
    2. Commercial Seed Sources
  9. Selected Experts
  10. References

The head of the Yanesha cat's claw council, Walter Gabriel Camaña, stands next to a cultivated young cat's claw vine in traditional dress

Common and Regional Names


Catís claw, uña de gato.


Unicaria guianensis - garabato blanco (Loreto, Peru), uña de gato del bajo (Ucayali, Peru), uña de gavilán, garabato gavilán, garabato casha, auri huasca, tambor huasca, unganangui, ancajsillo, ancayacu, kugkuukjagki, jijyuwamyuúho.

Unicaria tomentosa - Garabato colorado (Loreto, Peru), uña de gato de altura (Ucayali, Peru), garabato amarillo (Inca), samento, tsachik, paotati-mŲsha, misho-mentis, jipotatsa, unganangui.

Both species- bejuco de agua (Ucayali, Peru), garabato (San Martin, Peru), garra gavilán (Inca), deixa paraguayo (Inca), torõn.

Scientific Names


Uncaria guianensis (Aublet) Gmeliu

syn: Ourouparia guianensis (Aublet)

Uncaria tomentosa (Willdenow ex Roemer & Shultes) D.C.

syn: Nauclea oculeata H.B.K.; Nauclea tomentosa Willdenow ex Roemer & Shultes; Ourouparia tomentosa (Willdenow ex Roemer & Shultes) Shumann

Family: Rubiaceae


Catís claw is used commercially as a medicinal herb primarily for immune system stimulation. Other therapeutic applications for catís claw are many, which is a common trait of herbs with immune stimulatory activity, and include: disease prevention, cancer, recovery from chemotherapy side effects, recovery from childbirth, urinary tract infections, wounds, fevers, hemorrhages, and weakness. Applications for catís claw which have had some clinical research include viral infections, pain and symptoms of Herpes infections, and for inflammatory conditions, such as Rheumatoid arthritis. Pharmacological activities that have been found in catís claw are anti-inflammatory, immune system stimulation, cytoprotection and antioxidant. Recently, a couple new trademarked products have come into the dietary supplement market in the United States with new clinical research on new uses for catís claw. One is called C-MED 100TM, and it is a new proprietary extract which is standardized with much higher levels of carboxyl alkyl esters. In clinical studies, this extract has been found to have a greater normalizing effect on the immune system than a regular extract of catís claw.

Products of Commerce


Catís claw has been reported growing in the Western countries of the Central and South American continent as far North as Belize, and South into Paraguay. MaraŮao, Brazil, is the most Eastern area catís claw has been reported to grow naturally.

Uncaria tomentosa is found between 02° 55' 00"–12° 50' 00" latitude S., and 69° 20' 00"–77° 00' 00" longitude W.; and U. guianensis is found between 00° 09' 00"–13° 06' 00" latitude S., and 69° 04' 00"–78° 19í 00" longitude W.

Crop Status

A perennial vine, or tropical liana; rarely cultivated, catís claw is generally harvested from primary forest, secondary forest, or managed forest. These species are commonly called "catís claw" (or uŮa de gato) because of their claw-like torns. Overwhelmingly, most of the commercial supply of catís claw comes from Peru, although, other countries are now showing interest in producing catís claw.

The product sold in international commerce is the bark of both the U. tomentosa and U. guianensis, although U. tomentosa is the most sought after. This is due to a general belief in the marketplace that U. tomentosa has a more favorable alkaloid profile, but this is not agreed upon, nor verified experimentally. There exists small local markets in Peru for furniture made from the lianas. The market for the bark has gone through a heavy increase in 1996, and then a large drop off (see Table 1), spurred by concerns in quality and lack of interest in the herb.

Table 1. Exportation of catís claw, according to INRENA*, Peru.


Volume (Kg)













Ü values figured through March of that year.
* Instituto Nacional de Recursos Naturales (INRENA), Lima, Peru.

In Peru, INRENA, the natural resource department of the government of Peru, passed legislation in March of 1999 which banned the export of the raw material without the approval of management plans. This halted official trade of the raw material of catís claw from Peru for several months until management plans began to achieve approval.

Regulatory Status

Catís claw is permitted for use as a dietary supplement because it is an herb, as specified by the Definition of Certain Foods as Dietary Supplements, in Section 3 of DSHEA (The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act; 1994) Furthermore, catís claw is not a new ingredient in the United States dietary supplement market (it was introduced in the late 1980ís), so no DSHEA section 8 filing on reasonable safety is required.


Catís claw is listed as a class 4 herb by the American Herbal Products Association Botanical Safety Handbook, which means they believe the published data is insufficient thus far for them to establish toxicity. However, catís claw is generally thought of as safe, with an LD50 of the aqueous extract in mice greater than 16 g/kg. Patients on immunosupressive therapy or other treatments with animal hormone, peptide, or protein products are urged to use caution with catís claw due to its immune stimulating activity.

Traditional Medicinal Uses

The traditional use of catís claw extends back through untold generations of several indigenous groups in tropical South America. Though several groups are familiar with catís claw and its uses, two have received the most amount of attention for its ethnomedical use in Peru, the Ashaninka and the Yanesha. The medicinal uses of the stem and root bark that are most well-known to indigenous people are for inflammations (especially rheumatism), arthritis, urinary tract infections and gastric ulcers. Catís claw has also been used for cleansing the kidneys, recovery from childbirth, as a wash for wounds to promote healing, skin "impurities", blood purifications, asthma, disease prevention, hemorrhages, menstrual irregularity, "loose" stomach, fevers, and for a normalizing effect on body systems. Catís claw is also noted to be used in spiritual illness, to remove disturbances between the body and spirit which are the main cause of disease. In addition, as our modern understanding of catís claw has evolved, so has it evolved by indigenous peoples who report catís claw as good for cancer and for lessening side effects of antibiotics and chemotherapy. Some indigenous groups only use the water stored in the stem to quench thirst, and as a restorative drink.



U. guianensis

A woody perennial vine or creeping shrub found mostly in secondary forest. External bark with superficial fissures; internal bark is fibrous and golden brown. The sap is watery with an astringent taste. Terminal branches are quadrangular, with a pale rosy green color; glabrous. Leaves are simple, opposite and distinct, elliptic to elliptic-oblong in shape; 7.8–18.5 cm in length, 4.6–9.5 cm in width. Leaf margins are entire with an acute apex, and an acute to acute-round base. Stipules are lanceolate shaped and 8–14 mm long and 3–5 mm wide. Spines are woody and strongly curved in the form of a hook, 4–26 mm long and 2–5 mm wide. Inflorescences are arranged in racemes or apexes of spherical umbels; terminal or axillary; 10–20 cm in length (inflorescences) and 1.5–4 cm in diameter (umbel), with glabrous peduncles. Flowers are bisexual and actinomorphic on 4 mm long pedicels. Calyx with jointed sepals, tubular to bell-shaped, 5–10 mm long and 3-5 mm in diameter. Corolla has jointed petals; 7–13 mm long and 3–5 mm in diameter; red-orange with a smooth interior and an exterior that is smooth on the bottom, with the top 1/3 with villous hairs. Adroecium has 5 subsessile stamens, adnate to the throat of the corolla. The pistil has an ellipsoid stigma, 1.5 mm. in length; inferior ovary. The fruits are dry and dehiscent, elliptical capsules; 10–12 mm long and 4–6 mm wide with numerous seeds, 6-8 mm long and 0.8-1.4 mm wide.

U. tomentosa

A large woody vine or creeping shrub, typical of primary forest, but also found in disturbed forest and rarely in secondary forest. The external bark has superficial longitudinal fissures, and the internal bark is fibrous, with the ground bark the color golden yellow. The sap is watery and astringent in taste. The terminal branchlets are quadrangular and yellow-green in color. The leaves are simple, opposite and distinct; oblong, oblong-ovate, or elliptic; 7.5–17 cm in length and 5–12 cm in width. The leaf margins are entire; apex is acute, or rarely acumate; base is round and/or cordate. The stipules are deltoid, 6–12 mm long and 4–8 mm wide. The spines are woody, occur in pairs, are slightly curved but straight, and pointy; 8–10 mm in length and 3–6 mm in width. The inflorescences occur in racemes or globular cymes, are axilarary and/or terminal, 7–18 cm in length, 1.5–2.5 cm in diameter. Flowers are bisexual, actinomorphic and sessil. The calyx is gamosepalous, tubular, 1–1.5 mm in length and 0.8–1 mm in diameter. The corolla is gamopetalous, 7–13 mm in length, 3–5 mm in diameter, with 5 round lobes; yellow. Stamens are sessil; 5-fused to the throat. The anthers are oblong with prolonged and divergent bases; 1–1.2 mm in length and 0.3–0.4 mm in width. The stigma is ellipsoid, 0.5 mm in length, with linear 4 mm long styles; inferior ovary. The fruits are dry and dehiscent; elliptic capsules; 5–8 mm long and 3–6 mm wide.

Crop Culture


Catís claw is sometimes cultivated or managed in tropical forests of South America. U. guianensis may be cultivated in secondary forests with full sunlight, but U. tomentosa requires more shade, as it is found more often in primary forest. U. tomentosa primarily grows naturally in the following Holdridge life zones: tropical (bh-T and bmh-T), premontane tropical (bh-PT and bmh-PT), and the subtropical forest (bh-S). U. tomentosa prefers the following soil types: Ortic Acrisols, Distric Cambisols and Fluvisols; soil texture: 34–76% sand, 20–40% silt, and 4–38% clay; and a pH of 5.2–7.7. U.guianensis is primarily found in the following Holdridge life zones: tropical (bhT and bmh-T), premontane tropical (bh-PT and bmh-PT), and subtropical (bh-S, bmh-S and bp-S). It prefers Ortic Acrisols, Distric Cambisols and Fluvisols; soil textures of 34–78% sand, 8–48% silt, and 4–38% clay, and a pH of 4.4–6.2.

Cultivars and Chemotypes

There are no cultivars offered in agricultural trade; however, two chemotypes have been identified of Peruvian U. tomentosa: a tetracyclic oxindole alkaloid type (tetracyclica) and a pentacyclic oxindole alkaloid type (pentacyclica). It has been found that the pentacyclic alkaloid type is immunopotentiating; whereas, the tetraacyclic alkaloid type is immunosuppressing. In the traded product, these chemotypes have largely been ignored. The subject of which chemical profile is better, the stem vs. the root, is largely irrelevant due to the difficulty of trade in the root material of catís claw. The leaves have not been found useful commercially, however, there are groups in Lima who are researching this for possible commercial uses.

Guisella T. Brell of the Agrarian University of La Molina is involved in the micropropagation of catís claw (see selected experts). Transgenic catís claw root has been micropropagated in bioreactors, but this technology is still in the developmental stage, and is not yet commercially viable.

Production Practices

Generally, the propagation of the seed is difficult because viability rapidly declines after dehiscing, so catís claw is usually propagated asexually by cuttings. Eight-inch sections of the stem are cut for planting as cuttings. If the soil of the forest is moist enough, cuttings are said to be easy to reproduce by directly inserting them into the forest floor. If the conditions are right, the roots develop soon after transplant. However, others recommend reforesting catís claw through the use of natural regeneration. For natural regeneration, sufficient sunlight (canopy openings) is needed. In this case, the forest may be thinned to allow for easier natural regeneration, or catís claw may be allowed to grow in secondary forests where more sunlight gaps exist. Very few, if any, commercial plantations of catís claw exist. Most material is harvested in forests. Yield in managed forests depends on density, and densities that have been reported for U. tomentosa range from 2 to 8 individuals per hectare in natural forest, and 17 individuals per hectare in managed forest. Sustainable management of catís claw is becoming an issue in Peru, due to the popularity of this botanical medicine. INRENA requires management plans for the harvest and trade of catís claw, and more studies on the effect of harvest to the natural ecosystem are needed to assure sustainability.


Today, the root is not normally harvested because of the destructiveness of this method of harvest. The primary product in trade comes from the stem bark. Although there are different chemotypes found in the field, there are no known morphological differences to distinguish them. Generally, it is recommended that the vine is cut at 8 inches to a meter above the ground and left to regenerate. Vines are only harvested at 8 or more years old, otherwise the diameter of the vine is not sufficient for bark removal. As a regular practice, the cut vine is stripped of its bark in the field due to the weight of carrying out the whole vine, and the inner stem is disgarded. In Iquitos, this practice is currently opposite due to local commercial use of the inner stem for furniture making. The stem bark is not harvested commercially in Iquitos because it is too expensive to transport catís claw to Lima.


The Association for the Conservation of the Patrimony of Cutivireni (ACPC) recommends the following processing procedure for a quality product: the damaged (infected or punctured) inner bark is disgarded, and the drying is conducted on clean raised surfaces to avoid molding. It is generally dried in the sun or shade, and it is then best packaged in waterproof sacks for shipping.



La Molina Agrarian University, Lima, Peru. Contact: Guisella T. Brell

Commercial Seed Sources

None known.

Selected Experts

Kerry Hughes, M.S.
146 Hazel Ave.
Mill Valley, CA 94941
phone/fax: (415) 381-1796

Guisella Brell
Universidad Agraria La Molina
Lima, Peru

Javier Arce Garcias
San Juan 519
Urbanizacion Las Gardenias
Lima 33 Ė Peru
Phone: (51-1) 465-1618
e-mail: jarce@net.

Ken Jones
Armana Research, Inc.
P.O. Box 1741
Gibsons, British Columbia
Canada V0N 1V0
phone: (604) 885-4713
fax: (604) 885-4784

David Llanos
Projects Director, Association for the Conservation of the Patrimony of Cutivireni (ACPC)
Javier Prado Este 255 of 302
Lima 14, Peru
tel: 011-(511)-421-0946
fax: (511) 4405094

Wil de Jong
Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR)
Box 6596 JKPWB
Jakarta 10065
tel: +62 (251) 622622
fax: +62 (251) 622100


Guevara, A. Q. Silvicultura de la Uña de Gato. Alternativa Para Su Conservación. CRI-IIAP Ucayali: Pucullpa, Peru.

Jones, K. 1995. Catís Claw- Healing Vine of Peru. Sylvan Press: Seattle, WA.

Laus, G.; K. Keplinger; M. Wurm et al. 1998. Pharmacological activities of two chemotypes of Uncaria tomentosa (Willd.) DC. 46th Annual Congress of the Society for Medicinal Plant Research, Vienna, Austria, 1998, poster presentation, 10 pp.

deJong, W.; M. Melnyk; L.A. Lozano; M. Rosales; and M. Garcia. May 1999. UŮa de Gato: Fate and Future of a Peruvian Forest Resource. Occasional Paper No. 22. Center for International Forestry Reserach (CIFOR): Jakarta, Indonesia.

McGuffin, M.; C. Hobbs; R. Upton et al. (eds.) 1997. Botanical Safety Handbook. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.

McKenna, D.; K. Hughes; and K. Jones (eds.) 1998-1999. The Natural Dietary Supplement Desktop Reference. The Institute of Natural Products Research: St. Croix, MN. Website:

Zavala-Carrillo, C.A. and Zevallos-Pollito, P.A. 1996. TaxonomŪa, Distribuciůn Geográfica y Status del Genero Uncaria en el Perķ- UŮa de Gato. Universidad Nacional Agraria La Molina - Facultad de Ciencias Forestales: Lima, Peru.


Kerry Hughes, M.Sc., EthnoPharm , 146 Hazel Ave., Mill Valley, CA, 94941

Tony Worth, MW, International, 225 Long Avenue, Hillside, NJ, 07205-2349

Copyright © 1999. All Rights Reserved. Quotation from this document should cite and acknowledge the contributors.