Our ancestors left us an outstanding legacy. Not just architecture or art, they also taught us to get to know the earth and the fruits it offers including the plants that helped our ancestors cure wounds, sicknesses, and to satisfy their hunger. One of those that is increasingly important to day is the uña de gato, sometimes called cat’s claw in English.
One of the earth’s lungs, our Amazon is a spectacular place where many species of flora and fauna are found. Many of them are only found there. From the jungles on the slopes of the Andes comes our uña de gato. It is an important medicinal plant for the Yánesha and Asháninka who live there. They would use it to heal their wounds and illnesses. Today, it is becoming well known outside the region, as international attention focuses on it.
Uña de Gato is a vine that can grow up to 15 meters high. Called uncaria tomentosa in Latin it has a woody stem and many medicinal properties. Local people use it as a remedy for many aches, pains, and illnesses. It is called the “cure-everything plant”. Some of its uses include calming rheumatic pain, healing ulcers and tumors, and aiding with blood coagulation.
The plant’s name comes from the sharp, curved thorns it sends out like claws that aid it in climbing up trees.
In Cuzco, uña de gato can be purchased in agricultural fairs, like the annual one held in suburban Huancaro in June of most years. Produce from all over our region makes its way to be displayed in this event.
Cat’s claw also shows up in Cuzco’s markets. There you will find it by the side of a whole range of medicinal herbs. It is sold in the form of the stem but also as a cream or an unguent and in many other products. Vendors will also board our public busses to offer compounds with uña de gato and explain its origins and claimed medicinal effects.
Nowadays you can also find uña de gato, I am told, in many health food and natural medicine stores around the world. It has found a place in alternative medicine and is said to be exciting scientific work.
But here we have known it for many generations and are passing it on to Cuzco’s children because of the curative properties it has and because of its poetic name, uña de gato or cat’s claw.