Having lived in Peru for over 70 years, this priest has worked tirelessly on his research work, dedicating more than four decades to the study and therapeutic application of traditional medicinal plants from the Andean and Amazon regions.

His desire to do good led him to the most remote places in Peru, where he came into close contact with the natives, mainly the Quechua, Machiguenga and Huachipayres ethnic groups and, more recently, with the Piros or Yine-Yami communities.

In May 1983, Fr. Szeliga founded in Lima the Peruvian Institute of Andean Phytotherapeutic Research (IPIFA). He thus institutionalized his personal dedication to his fellowmen and his innovative contributions to overall healthcare, where tradition, science and spirituality intertwine.
"Mystic Rose"
Le Fontanelle
Montechiari (Italy), 1994
In Krakow, at the monument
to King Bolesław
(first king of Poland)
Edmund Szeliga, sdb
in the Vatican

Excerpts from a presentation in “Uncaria 2001”
I International Meeting on the “Uña de Gato”
(Cat’s Claw) Uncaria Gender
Iquitos, Peru
Edmund Szeliga, sdb, Founder-Director of IPIFA

1940 - Oxapampa (Pasco). A friend of Mr. Luis Schuler Stadler -an Austrian-Tyrolese citizen by the name of Müller- told me how his lung cancer had been cured with a plant recommended by a domestic servant who belonged to the native Campas tribe (now called Ashaninkas). This was the first time I had ever heard about curing cancer with “Cat’s Claw” of the Uncaria guianensis species, a rattan abundant at that time in the Peruvian central jungle, which therapeutic properties are currently benefiting patients all over the world.

1945 - Quillabamba (Cusco). In contact with the native population, I discovered two species of this plant:
Uncaria guianensis and Uncaria tomentosa, both of which the natives use to treat all kinds of inflammatory diseases. From them I learnt the autochthonous name for the plant “Uña de Gato” -Villcaccora (sacred herb)-, which implies that the Quechuas had already been using this highly venerated plant, probably for many centuries.

Subsequent decades. Whilst I was working in Cusco as a teacher, I spent four years as a follower of the outstanding herbalist Mariano Moscoso. Taking advantage of school holidays, I made contact with the native communities in that region, particularly the Machiguengas and Huachipayres, to learn about the valuable therapeutic practices of those communities.

I also experienced my first contact with the Piros natives at the mouth of the Manu river in Alto Madre de Dios, who by tradition are skilful in the therapeutic use of plants.

During my stays in the capital, I began helping sick people, mainly cancer patients who were reluctant to undergo chemotherapy or radiotherapy, and who came to me in search of possible alternatives. I did this privately, as my way of doing charity, in my efforts to imitate the great sensitivity that Christ showed towards the sick. This was how I started witnessing the positive effects of both species of Uncaria in several surprising cases.

During this time I also started disclosing the qualities of Peruvian medicinal plants, as I continued proving the benefits of Traditional Medicine and Natural Medicine, even on myself.

1983 (Lima). After its legal incorporation in Lima, the Peruvian Institute of Andean Phytotherapeutic Research (IPIFA) conducted a clinical study particularly on bronchial asthma, diabetes, rheumatologic illnesses, tumours and AIDS. This research work was based on phyto-chemical and pharmacological studies of local and foreign universities. IPIFA has maintained an open door policy, welcoming students and academics from different countries, whilst paying special attention to the popular spreading of phytotherapy, through courses and educational brochures.

Last decade. After the II International Congress on Traditional Medicine held in Lima in 1988 (in which our Institute participated), and during the First National Phytotherapy Workshop (also held in Lima) organized by IPIFA and the Peruvian Chemical Pharmaceutical Association, the clinical results of “Uña de Gato” (Cat’s Claw) on tumorous illnesses were disclosed, as well as rigorous phyto-chemical analyses of the Uncaria gender carried out by the Pharmacy Faculty of the University of Naples, with samples of bark that we provided.

After these courses, the interest in Peruvian medicinal plants increased notoriously in academic, business and commercial circles. At the same time, however, the mass media generated an indiscriminate use of “Uña de Gato” (Cat’s Claw), increasing the demand for this plant in both domestic and international markets, although the authenticity of the product has not been always reliable.

XXI Century.- We are basically concerned about the following aspects:

  • The indiscriminate extraction of “Uña de Gato” (Cat’s Claw) and other Andean-Amazon plants, and the consequent ecological unbalanced state which could place them in danger of extinction.
  • The abuse against native communities, undervaluing their labour effort, preventing their members from becoming the protagonists of their own development and keeping them historically excluded from political decisions that concern them.
  • The false expectations raised among the population regarding the real therapeutic value of Peruvian plants, evidently for commercial reasons, either attributing benefits not necessarily true or magnifying their qualities.

Guide lines towards the future

  • Scientifically validate Andean phytotherapy, incorporating this subject into the pharmacopoeia.
  • Systematically encourage reforestation and biological crop replacement as a potential source of employment for duly valued peasant producers and as a factor for generating an overall, self-sustained development, always respecting the corresponding ecological layers.
  • Encourage the manufacture of quality products based on Peruvian medicinal plants, to ensure that the national population have a greater access to them and to improve Peru’s competitiveness in the world market.

Contribute to the spreading of an overall health system, with the organized participation of the citizens and the State.