||Excerpts from a presentation in “Uncaria 2001”
I International Meeting on the “Uña de Gato”
(Cat’s Claw) Uncaria Gender
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
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
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
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
- 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
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.