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February 2017--Guinea Hen Weed

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Guinea Hen Weed



Petiveria alliacea
[pet-ih-VER-ee-uh   al-lee-AY-see-uh] 

Family: Phytolaccaceae 

Names: Conga root, strong man’s weed, Anamu, apacin, apacina, apazote de zorro, aposin, ave, aveterinaryte, calauchin, chasser vermine, douvant-douvant, emeruaiuma, garlic weed, guine, guinea, guinea hen leaf, gully root, herbe aux poules, hierba de las gallinitas, huevo de gato, kojo root, kuan, kudjuruk, lemtewei, lemuru, mal pouri, mapurit, mapurite, mucura-caa, mucura, mucuracáa, ocano, payche, pipi, tipi, verbena hedionda, verveine puante, zorrillo, Feuilles Ave, Petivere A Odeur Ail, Hvidløgtræ (Danish); "Congo Root", Douvant, Lemt 

Description: A single species of perennial belongs to this genus, which occurs in tropical and warm parts of America and is naturalized in parts of tropical Asia and Africa.  It is related to pokeweeds.  Perennial with a thick taproot, slender stems, and pointed, garlic-smelling leaves up to 5 inches long.  Tiny white to green-white, starlike flowers appear all year, followed by spiny fruits.  Height 3-5 feet, spread 3 feet. 

Cultivation: Wild-collected for the most part.  Prefers rich, moist soil in partial shade, minimum 45F..  Propagate by semiripe cuttings in summer.   

History: In the Amazon rainforest, anamu is used as part of an herbal bath against witchcraft by the Indians and local jungle herbal healers called curanderos. The Ka'apor Indians call it mikur-ka'a (which means opossum herb) and use it for both medicine and magic. The Caribs in Guatemala crush the root and inhale it for sinusitis, and the Ese'Ejas Indians in the Peruvian Amazon prepare a leaf infusion for colds and flu. The Garifuna indigenous people in Nicaragua also employ a leaf infusion or decoction for colds, coughs, and aches and pains, as well as for magic rituals. The root is thought to be more powerful than the leaves. It is considered a pain reliever and is often used in the rainforest in topical remedies for the skin. Other indigenous Indian groups beat the leaves into a paste and use it externally for headache, rheumatic pain, and other types of pain. This same jungle remedy is also used as an insecticide. 

Properties: diuretic, antiseptic, abortive, analgesic (pain-reliever), anti-inflammatory, antileukemic, antibacterial, anticancerous, anticandidal, antifungal, antiprotozoal, antitumorous, antiviral, COX-inhibitor (linked to inflammation), hypoglycemic, immune stimulant, uterine stimulant, Anthelmintic,  Antifungal, Antipyretic, Antispasmodic, Abortifacient, Antirrheumatic, Cytotoxic, Emmenagogue, Immunostimulant, Stimulant, Sedative, Sudorific, Vermifuge. 

Constituents: The strong, garliclike smell is caused by the presence of a compound containing sulfur. flavonoids, triterpenes, steroids, and sulfur compounds. Anamu contains a specific sulfur compound named dibenzyl trisulfide. In a plant-screening program at the University of Illinois at Chicago that evaluated more than 1400 plant extracts as novel therapies for the prevention and treatment of cancer, anamu was one of 34 plants identified with active properties against cancer. The researchers reported that dibenzyl trisulfide was one of two of the active compounds in anamu with anticancerous actions. Anamu also contains the phytochemicals astilbin, benzaldehyde, and coumarin, all three of which have been documented with antitumorous and/or anticancerous properties as well.  Main chemicals found in anamu include allantoin, astilbin, barbinervic acid, benzylhydroxytrisulfide, coumarin, daucosterol, dibenzyl sulfide, engeletin, friedelinol, ilexgenin A, leridal, leridol, lignoceric acid, linoleic acid, myricitrin, nonadecanoic acid, oleic acid, palmitic acid, petiveral, pinitol, proline, sitosterol, stearic acid, and trithiolaniacine.  

Medicinal Uses: It is an important medicinal and ritual plant in southern Florida, Central America and the Caribbean, especially in the Santeria religion and has common names in many languages.  Whole plants, leaves, and roots are collected for use in decoctions.  Fresh leaves are bound around the head for headaches or juiced for direct application for earache. It reputedly calms the nerves, controls diarrhea, lowers fever, stimulates the uterus, and relaxes spasms and is used for paralysis, hysteria, asthma, whooping cough, pneumonia, bronchitis, hoarseness, influenza, cystitis, venereal disease, menstrual complaints and abortion. 

                 In Brazilian herbal medicine, it is considered an antispasmodic, diuretic, menstrual promoter, stimulant, and sweat promoter. Herbalists and natural health practitioners there use anamu for edema, arthritis, malaria, rheumatism, and poor memory, and as a topical analgesic and anti-inflammatory for skin afflictions. Throughout Central America, women use anamu to relieve birthing pains and facilitate easy childbirth as well as to induce abortions. In Guatemalan herbal medicine, the plant is called apacín and a leaf decoction is taken internally for digestive ailments and sluggish digestion, flatulence, and fever. A leaf decoction is also used externally as an analgesic for muscular pain and for skin diseases. Anamu is commonly used in big cities and towns in South and Central America as a natural remedy to treat colds, coughs, influenza, respiratory and pulmonary infections, and cancer, and to support the immune system. In Cuba, herbalists decoct the whole plant and use it to treat cancer and diabetes, and as an anti-inflammatory and abortive.

                 In South America, anamu is being used for its immune stimulant and anticancerous properties as a support aid for cancer and leukemia patients. This use is catching on here in the United States, and anamu is now available in capsules and tablets under several labels. It is also being employed in various formulas for its antimicrobial actions against bacteria, viruses, yeast, and fungi, as well as in other formulas supporting immune function.

                   In the first published study on toxicity in 1992, researchers noted that, at high dosages, anamu extract delayed cell proliferation in vitro. When they tested the extract in mice, they noted that it caused a change in bone marrow cells; however, they were using 100 to 400 times the traditional dosage given to humans. In two independent studies published later by other researchers, oral doses of leaf and root extracts did not cause any toxicity in rats and mice at up to 5 grams per kilogram of body weight. Methanol extracts of the plant did, however, cause uterine contractions in an early study; such contractions can lead to abortion, one of anamu's well documented uses in traditional herbal medicine. 

Research: The research published on anamu (and the plant chemicals described above) reveals that it has a broad range of therapeutic properties, including antileukemic, antitumorous, and anticancerous activities against several types of cancer cells. In an in vitro study by Italian researchers in 1990, water extracts and ethanol extracts of anamu retarded the growth of leukemia cells and several other strains of cancerous tumor cells. Three years later, the researchers followed up with another study, which showed that the same extracts had a cytotoxic effect, actually killing some of these cancer cells, rather than just retarding their growth. This study indicated that whole herb water extracts of anamu were toxic to leukemia and lymphoma cancer cells but only inhibited the growth of breast cancer cells. More recently, a study published in 2002 documented an in vitro toxic effect against a liver cancer cell line; another in vitro study in 2001 reported that anamu retarded the growth of brain cancer cells. A German study documenting anamu's activity against brain cancer cells related its actions to the sulfur compounds found in the plant.

             In addition to its documented anticancerous properties, anamu has also been found in both in vivo and in vitro studies to be an immunostimulant. In a 1993 study with mice, a water extract stimulated immune cell production (lymphocytes and Interleukin II). In the same year, another study with mice demonstrated that an anamu extract increased natural killer cell activity by 100% and stimulated the production of even more types of immune cells (Interferon, Interleukin II, and Interleukin 4). Additional research from 1997 to 2001 further substantiated anamu's immunostimulant actions in humans and animals.

              Anamu's traditional use as a remedy for arthritis and rheumatism has been validated by clinical research confirming its pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory properties. One research group in Sweden reported that anamu possesses cyclooxygenase-1 (COX-1) inhibitory actions. COX-1 inhibitors are a new (and highly profitable) class of arthritis drugs being sold today by pharmaceutical companies. Another research group in Brazil documented significant anti-inflammatory effects in rats using various models, and researchers in 2002 noted a significant pain-relieving effect in rats. The pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory effects were even verified when an ethanol extract was applied topically in rats, again validating traditional use.

              Many clinical reports and studies document that anamu shows broad-spectrum antimicrobial properties against numerous strains of bacteria, viruses, fungi, and yeast. In a 2002 study, anamu extracts inhibited the replication of the bovine diarrhea virus; this is a test model for hepatitis C virus. A Cuban research group documented anamu's antimicrobial properties in vitro against numerous pathogens, including Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus, Pseudomonas, and Shigella and, interestingly enough, their crude water extracts performed better than any of the alcohol extracts. A German group documented good activity against several bacteria, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, several strains of fungi, and Candida Anamu's antifungal properties were documented by one research group in 1991, and again by a separate research group in 2001. Its antimicrobial activity was further demonstrated by researchers from Guatemala and Austria who, in separate studies in 1998, confirmed its activity in vitro and in vivo studies against several strains of protozoa, bacteria, and fungi.

             While anamu has not been used widely employed for diabetes, it has been clinically documented to have hypoglycemic actions. Researchers in 1990 demonstrated the in vivo hypoglycemic effect of anamu, showing that anamu decreased blood sugar levels by more than 60% one hour after administration to mice. This finding reflects herbal medicine practice in Cuba where anamu has been used as an herbal aid for diabetes for many years.

 Dosage: The traditional remedy calls for a decoction or infusion prepared with 30 grams of dried anamu whole herb in a liter of water; 1/4 cup to 1/2 dosages are taken one to three times daily or used topically, depending on the condition treated. Since most of the chemicals are water soluble, powdered whole herb in tablets or capsules (1-3 grams) daily can be substituted, if desired.

Ritual Uses: Petiveria alliacea used in shamanic cleansing.  Purification through purging and diet allows one to exist in a higher energetic state. Ajo Sacha - Mansoa hymenaeamanilkara, and Mucura - Petiveria alliacea are both used in limpias , cleansing baths, and are considered to aid in the expulsion of saladera (phlegm) from the organism. The curanderos prepare the leaves of Mucura or Ajos Sacha into an aqueous infusion, then the client washes themselves with the liquid and rinses the mouth out to cleanse them of the accumulated saladera that is causing bad luck and ill health. The vegetalista whistles the appropriate icaro over the patient whilst painting the person with the liquid.

 Toxicity: Methanol extracts of anamu cause uterine contractions, which can lead to abortion. As such, anamu is contraindicated for pregnant women. Anamu contains a low concentration of coumarin, which has a blood thinning effect. People with blood disorders such as hemophilia and, people on blood-thinning medications should not use this plant without the supervision and advice of a qualified healthcare practitioner. This plant has been shown to have hypoglycemic effects in mice. People with hypoglycemia and diabetes should not use this plant unless they are under the care of a healthcare practitioner to monitor their blood sugar levels.  No drug interactions, however, due to anamu's natural coumarin content, it is conceivable that it may potentiate the effects of coumadin. Also, extracts have been shown to inhibit mitosis. Caution should be taken if fed to animals on a regular basis. The plant can accumulate nitrates and has caused nitrate poisoning in cattle. Also, in studies where cattle were fed P. alliacea regularly (3g/kg bodyweight/day), the cattle suffered several adverse reactions.

Encyclopedia of Herbs and Their Uses
, Deni Bown, Dorling Kindersley, 1995; ISBN: 0-7894-0184-3
The Healing Power of Rainforest Herbs
, Leslie Taylor, 2005

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The Herb Growing & Marketing Network
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