The tree known as the catuaba is a South American species of tree that grows in rain forests. This tree grows in the rain forests of Brazil and belongs to the same plant family as the famous coca plant – cocaine is extracted from this plant. However, catuaba does not have the narcotic alkaloids that are present in the coca plant. Traditionally, the catuaba bark has been utilized in herbal medicine by the natives of Brazilian rain forests. A different tree, botanically known as the Erythroxylum catuaba is also found growing in the rain forests of South America. This vigorous and hardy small tree bears yellow and orange colored flowers and when in season, it also bears small oval shaped, dark yellow colored and inedible fruits. This tree is found growing in the rain forests along the northern part of Brazil in what is called the Amazonia, in places like Para, in Pernambuco, in Bahia, in Maranhao, and in Alagoas provinces.
There is huge confusion among users of herbal products about the catuaba species as two types of products called “catuaba” are sold in herbal shops. Frequently, buyers are confused over the species of tree that is harvested in Brazilian forests and sold around the world as “catuaba”, what species they ask, is the real catuaba. However, this is quickly cleared by experienced Brazilian harvesters who will refer to the two species as the “big catuaba” and the “small catuaba” trees. Both these trees are used in herbal products, but they belong to two different families. When these trees are related to the approved botanical species names for them, more confusion may result. As the “Small catuaba” is the tree botanist call the Erythroxylum catuaba – taxonomically accepted in 1936, this small can reach two to four m in height and bears yellow to orange colored flowers and is called catuaba in Brazil. The tree known as the “Big catuaba,” belongs to the mahogany family of plants, its botanical name is Trichilia catigua, and it can reach six to ten m in height, bears cream colored flowers and is commonly called catiguá and angelim-rosa by Brazilians.
To add to the confusion, three other unapproved botanical names for the catuaba are erroneously employed in the herbal commerce of today, the plant species Juniperus brasiliensis is sometimes mistakenly called the “small catuaba”, at the same time the term “small catuaba” is also used to refer to two other completely unrelated plant species – the Anemopaegma mirandum and the Eriotheca candolleana. More correctly, the Anemopaegma tree is a huge tree belonging to the Bignonia family of plants, often reaching forty m in height and known as catuaba-verdadeira to Brazilians. The problem is that this tree species is nowadays exported from Brazil by inexperienced or unethical harvesters often leading to its use in many herbal products sold in today in the U.S. as “catuaba” – which it is not. The preferred Brazilian herbal medical species of trees are the Erythroxylum catuaba and the Trichilia catigua – the “small” and the “big” catuaba. These Brazilians species of trees have the longest documented history of herbal use as the “big and little catuaba” in herbal lore. These two species are used interchangeably to treat similar conditions and disorders in the traditional Brazilian herbal medicine system.
Some of the beneficial effects of the catuaba remedy for the specific health conditions are:
HIV / AIDS. Catuaba is the first herbal remedy investigated by scientist as possessing some beneficial effect against the HIV. The results of scientific studies conducted in Japan have shown that remedies made from the catuaba inhibit the ability of the HIV to cause destruction of cells. The study also found that the herbal remedy actually protected people with full blown AIDS against the infection from opportunistic pathogens such as Escherichia coli – E. coli or Staphylococcus aureus – such an infection would be dangerous from the point of view of the patient with a crippled immune system as all AIDS patients invariably are.
The main strategy to use the catuaba is as a defense against opportunistic pathogens that take advantage of the crippled immune system of the patient, the herb is not intended to be the primary treatment for AIDS. The catuaba herb is also effective in the treatment of impotence and prostatitis that affects many men. In the traditional herbal lore of Brazil, catuaba is the most potent aphrodisiac herb, it is reputed for its unique ability to strengthen and prolong erections in men. The indigenous natives of the Brazilian rain forest such as the Tupi people were the first ones to discover the sexual stimulating abilities of this herb, and as a result, they have even recorded its special qualities in tribal songs. The use of the catuaba is said to bring on an increase in incidences of erotic dreaming and is also said to increase the sexual interest felt by the person. Some other properties of this herb are its ability to normalize the functioning of the prostate gland and to prevent the re-infection of the prostate with the E. coli bacterium.
The chemical analysis of the catuaba reveal the presence of different types of alkaloids, pigments such as tannins, various aromatic oils and fatty resins, as well as phytosterols, cyclolignans and sequiterpenes, in addition to the pigments called the flavonoids. In one study conducted in 1958, a Brazilian botanical researcher documented that the alkaloid yohimbine was also found in the catuaba – but, the species he was studying, is still a mystery. Bactericidal and anti-carcinogenic properties were reported in a mixture of flavalignans, including the compound cinchonain (abundant in quinine bark) chemically isolated from the bark of the Trichilia catigua “big catuaba” tree.
The most common way in which the catuaba is sold is in the form of a herbal tincture. This tincture must be taken along with small amounts of water with the addition of a teaspoon – four ml – of lemon juice, for maximum beneficial effect. The reason for the addition of the lemon juice is that it acidifies the tincture, leading to the quick release of the beneficial alkaloids and tannins into the water.