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Table of Contents > Herbs > Cat's Claw
Cat's Claw
Botanical Name:  Uncaria tomentosaCommon name: Una de gato
Plant Description
What's It Made Of?
Available Forms
How to Take It
Possible Interactions
Supporting Research


Cat's claw (Uncaria tomentosa) is a woody vine native to the Amazon rainforest and other tropical areas of South and Central America. Cat's claw is named after the hook-like thorns that grow along its vine. The bark and root of this herb have been used among indigenous people of the rainforest for centuries to treat a variety of health problems including arthritis, ulcers, sexually transmitted diseases, fevers, and even cancer. Some women consumed cat's claw as a contraceptive because large doses of this herb were believed to cause temporary infertility.

Common Uses

After these claims drew the attention of scientists in Europe, tests began to demonstrate that substances in cat's claw boost the activity of the immune system, reduce inflammation, scavenge damaging particles known as free radicals, and destroy cancerous cells. Today, professional herbalists in the United States and Europe recommend cat's claw to treat inflammatory disorders such as arthritis, viral diseases such as HIV/AIDS, gastrointestinal illnesses such as Crohn's disease, ulcers, and certain cancers. Despite the purported benefits associated with cat's claw, relatively few scientific studies have investigated the safety and usefulness of this herb.


In one study of 13 patients with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) who refused to take conventional treatments, a dosage of 20 mg cat's claw per day for up to 5 months significantly increased white blood cell counts (the infection-fighting cells in the body that HIV destroys). Cat's claw was also found to boost white blood cell count in rats receiving chemotherapy. (A common side effect of chemotherapy is low white blood cell count.) In another study of 45 people with osteoarthritis of the knee, those who received cat's claw reported a significant reduction in knee pain compared to those who received placebo. Further studies are needed to confirm these preliminary findings, however. Another area that is being studied currently at Oregon Health Sciences University is the use of cat's claw for Alzheimer's disease; no information is available yet to indicate if the herb is helpful or harmful for this condition.

Plant Description

Cat's claw is a thorny vine that can climb as high as 100 feet. It is primarily found in the Amazon rainforest as well as tropical areas in South and Central America. Much of the cat's claw sold in the United States was grown in Peru.

Cat's claw got its name from the curved, claw-like thorns that grow on its stem. The root and bark of cat's claw are the parts used for medicinal purposes.

What's It Made Of?

Cat's claw contains many types of plant chemicals that help reduce inflammation (such as tannins and sterols) and combat certain viruses (such as quinovic acid glycosides).

Cat's claw preparations are made from the root and bark of the of the cat's claw vine. The effectiveness of the root and bark vary depending upon what time of year that portion of the plant is harvested.

Available Forms

The bark of the cat's claw vine can be crushed and used to make tea. Standardized root and bark extracts are also available in either liquid or dried forms.

How to Take It


There are no known scientific reports on the pediatric use of cat's claw. Therefore, it is not currently recommended for children.


  • Tea: 1 gram (1,000 mg) root bark to 8 ounces water, boil 10 to 15 minutes, cool, and strain. Drink 1 cup three times daily.
  • Tincture (solution made from herb and alcohol, or herb, alcohol, and water): to teaspoonful two to three times daily
  • Dry, encapsulated standardized extract: 20 to 60 mg daily


The use of herbs is a time-honored approach to strengthening the body and treating disease. Herbs, however, contain active substances that can trigger side effects and that can interact with other herbs, supplements, or medications. For these reasons, herbs should be taken with care, under the supervision of a practitioner knowledgeable in the field of botanical medicine.

Although traditional lore indicates that cat's claw is very safe and nontoxic, the American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) gives cat's claw a class 4 safety rating which indicates a lack of scientific data to test that the herb is actually safe. In addition, the AHPA does indicate that the tannin content of cat's claw may cause some abdominal pain or gastrointestinal problems including diarrhea. The diarrhea or loose stools tend to be mild and go away with continued use of the herb.

Cat's claw should not be used by individuals with skin grafts or tuberculosis or by those receiving organ transplants. It should not be used by pregnant or breastfeeding women or by children who are under three years of age.

Possible Interactions

If you are currently being treated with any of the following medications, you should not use cat's claw without first talking to your healthcare provider.

Immunosuppressive Medications
In theory, because cat's claw may stimulate the immune system, this herb should not be used with medications intended to suppress the immune system, such as cyclosporin or other medications prescribed following an organ transplant. This theory has not been tested scientifically.

Cat's claw may protect against gastrointestinal damage associated with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen.

Supporting Research

Aquino R, De Feo V, De Simone F, Pizza C, Cirino G. New compounds and anti-inflammatory activity of Uncaria tomentosa. J Nat Prod. 1991;54: 453-459.

Blumenthal M, Riggins C. Popular Herbs in the U.S. Market: Therapeutic Monographs. Austin, Tex: The American Botanical Council; 1997.

Foster S, Tyler VE. Tyler's Honest Herbal. 4th ed. New York: The Haworth Herbal Press; 1999: 97-99.

Karch SB. The Consumer's Guide to Herbal Medicine. Hauppauge, New York: Advanced Research Press; 1999:55-56.

Keplinger K, Laus G, Wurm M, Dierich MP, Teppner H. Uncaria tomentosa (Willd.) DC—ethnomedicinal use and new pharmacological, toxicological and botanical results. J Ethnopharmacol. 1999;64:23-34.

Lemaire I, Assinewe V, Cano P, Awang DV, Arnason JV. Stimulation of interleukin-1 and -6 production in alveolar macrophages by the neotropical liana, Uncaria tomentosa. J Ethnopharmacol. 1999;64:109-115.

Piscoya J, Rodriguez Z, Bustamante SA, Okuhama NN, Miller MJ, Sandoval M. Efficacy and safety of freeze-dried cat's claw in osteoarthritis of the knee: mechanisms of action of the species Uncaria guianensis. Inflamm Res. 2001;50(9):442-448.

Rizzi R, Re F, Bianchi A, De Feo V, de Simone F, Bianchi L, Stivala LA. Mutagenic and antimutagenic activities of Uncaria tomentosa and its extracts. J Ethnopharmacol. 1993;38(1):63-77.

Rotblatt M, Ziment I. Evidence-Based Herbal Medicine. Philadelphia, PA: Hanley & Belfus, Inc; 2002:114-118.

Sandoval M, Charbonnet RM, Okuhama NN, et al. Cat's claw inhibits TNFalpha production and scavenges free radicals: role in cytoprotection. Free Radic Biol Med. 2000;29(1):71-78.

Sheng Y, et al. Induction of apoptosis and inhibition of proliferation in human tumor cells treated with extracts of Uncaria tomentosa. Anticancer Res. 1998;18:3,363-3,368.

Sheng Y, Pero RW, Wagner H. Treatment of chemotherapy-induced leukopenia in a rat model with aqueous extract from Uncaria tomentosa. Phytomedicine. 2000;7(2):137-143.

Steinberg PN. Cat's claw: medicinal properties of this Amazon vine. Nutrition Science News. 1995.

Review Date: April 2002
Reviewed By: Participants in the review process include: Shiva Barton, ND (April 1999), Wellspace, Cambridge, MA; Jacqueline A. Hart, MD, Department of Internal Medicine, Newton-Wellesley Hospital, Harvard University and Senior Medical Editor Integrative Medicine, Boston, MA; Gary Kracoff, RPh (Pediatric Dosing section February 2001), Johnson Drugs, Natick, MA; Steven Ottariono, RPh, Veteran's Administrative Hospital, Londonderry, NH; David Winston, Herbalist (April 1999), Herbalist and Alchemist, Inc., Washington, NJ; Tom Wolfe, P.AHG (April 1999), Smile Herb Shop, College Park, MD. All interaction sections have also been reviewed by a team of experts including Joseph Lamb, MD (July 2000), The Integrative Medicine Works, Alexandria, VA;Enrico Liva, ND, RPh (August 2000), Vital Nutrients, Middletown, CT; Brian T Sanderoff, PD, BS in Pharmacy (March 2000), Clinical Assistant Professor, University of Maryland School of Pharmacy; President, Your Prescription for Health, Owings Mills, MD; R. Lynn Shumake, PD (March 2000), Director, Alternative Medicine Apothecary, Blue Mountain Apothecary & Healing Arts, University of Maryland Medical Center, Glenwood, MD; Ira Zunin, MD, MPH, MBA (July 2000), President and Chairman, Hawaii State Consortium for Integrative Medicine, Honolulu, HI.

Copyright © 2004 A.D.A.M., Inc

The publisher does not accept any responsibility for the accuracy of the information or the consequences arising from the application, use, or misuse of any of the information contained herein, including any injury and/or damage to any person or property as a matter of product liability, negligence, or otherwise. No warranty, expressed or implied, is made in regard to the contents of this material. No claims or endorsements are made for any drugs or compounds currently marketed or in investigative use. This material is not intended as a guide to self-medication. The reader is advised to discuss the information provided here with a doctor, pharmacist, nurse, or other authorized healthcare practitioner and to check product information (including package inserts) regarding dosage, precautions, warnings, interactions, and contraindications before administering any drug, herb, or supplement discussed herein.

  Uses of this Herb
Alzheimer's Disease
Crohn's Disease
Peptic Ulcer
Sexually Transmitted Diseases
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  Drugs that Interact
Immunosuppressive Medications
Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)
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Herbal Medicine

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