What is Anamu?
Known by the Brazilians as anamu and by the Peruvians as mucura, this perennial herb grows wild in the Amazon rainforest as well as parts of South America, the Caribbean and Africa.
This herb which has a scientific name of Petiveria alliacea has a strong scent similar to garlic from which it takes yet another name – garlic weed.
You may be unfamiliar with anamu but in the regions where it grows best, this herb has long been coveted for its many therapeutic benefits. It is considered to have very effective antispasmodic, diuretic and stimulant properties giving it a significant amount of medical uses.
It has been used to treat arthritis, edema and even malaria and applied topically as an anti-inflammatory and pain reliever. South American women use it to relieve the pains of childbirth and also to facilitate the birth itself.
It is also used to produce a decoction to treat numerous digestive problems including bloating, flatulence and as a stimulant to get the digestive system running more smoothly.
People in South America also use anamu to treat respiratory complaints including the symptoms of cold and influenza and to bolster their flailing immune systems.
While the entire plant is used in medicinal preparations, the root is thought to be stronger and more beneficial than the leaves. However, the leaves are still beneficial and in India and other parts of the world, they are crushed and beaten into a paste before being applied topically to treat muscular pain, arthritis and headaches.
Anamu contains numerous beneficial compounds including antioxidant tannins which are also found in many fruits, berries and teas. These antioxidants give anamu the ability to reverse the damage caused by environmental free radicals and also the ability to heal redness and swelling.
As well as its tannin content, anamu contains a chemical called dibenzyl trisulfide which has been examined under laboratory conditions and exhibits some very interesting behavior in relation to its anti-cancer potential. (1)
Also present in anamu are several phytochemicals including benzaldehyde, coumarin and astilbin all of which have proven activities against tumors.
Over recent years, the close scientific attention being paid to this herb has started to reveal just how interesting anamu could prove to medical science. Researchers have found that the plant contains a myriad of chemical compounds which go some way to explaining why it has been used for so long and with such great effect by the locals.
As well as the various flavonoids and phytochemicals present in the herb, researchers have also isolated several compounds that were previously unidentified in nature.
Health Benefits of Anamu
1. Anamu to Treat Harmful Organisms
Anamu is used in South America for its antiviral activities and according to research, it has demonstrated an ability to deal with a range of harmful organisms including certain fungi, bacteria and viruses.
According to research published in 2002, anamu extracts were resistant to a number of bacterial and fungal strains. (2) Apart from its human uses, anamu leaf extracts are also used in South America to control ticks in cattle. (3)
2. Anamu for Cancer
A growing body of research has demonstrated that anamu extract might have very far reaching potential when it comes to treating cancer. Two of the phytochemical compounds in the anamu plant – dibenzyl trisulphate and astilbin are believed to destroy cancer cells while leaving healthy cells unharmed.
Research has also showed that anamu can boost the immune system giving the body increased protection against cancer by increasing the production of killer cells and lymphocytes. The immune system’s production of interleukins and interferon offers even more protection against infection and cancer.
Research dates back to 1990 when Italian researchers found that anamu extract inhibited leukemia cell growth as well as several other forms of cancer. (4) Follow up studies showed that not only did anamu inhibit cancer cells but it also offered cytotoxic effects meaning that it could actually kill the cells. Anamu demonstrated this ability against lymphoma, leukemia and breast cancer cells.
Several other studies published in the early 2000s found that anamu was effective against liver cancer and brain cancer. More recently, an animal study published in 2008 found that anamu extract was effective against cancer cell activity in mice and concluded that it was a promising anti-tumor candidate. (5)
3. Anamu for Cold and Flu Symptoms
The traditional use of anamu as a treatment for cold and flu symptoms and other respiratory complaints probably owes a great deal to its ability to bolster the immune system. When the immune system is strong, we are able to fight off viruses and bacteria that can cause illness.
4. Anamu for Pain Relief
Anamu is a traditional remedy for arthritis and rheumatism and clinical research has confirmed its pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory effect. Its extracts can even relieve pain and inflammation when applied to the skin.
A Brazilian study published in 2002 found that anamu had a significant anti-inflammatory effect as well as an analgesic effect when given to rats with pleurisy. (6) This pain relief effect was seen whether the anamu was taken orally or applied to the rats topically.
Researchers concluded that the research validated its traditional use as an anti-inflammatory pain killer but recommended further studies to elucidate the precise mechanisms of its actions.
Because of its natural anti-inflammatory nature and its pain relieving qualities, it would appear to be an excellent natural choice for people suffering from arthritis and rheumatism.
5. Anamu for the Teeth
Because of its antimicrobial activities, the leaves of the anamu plant are sometimes chewed to help strengthen the teeth and prevent infection or tooth decay. Chewing on the anamu leaf can also help your breath to smell fresher.
6. Anamu to Stimulate Menstruation
Like many herbs, anamu is believed to be a natural emmenagogue meaning that it can stimulate blood flow to the uterus and help women to stimulate menstruation. There are several reasons why this may be desirable including convenience or as an emergency contraceptive. Of course, because of its emmenagogue actions, anamu should be avoided by pregnant women and those looking to conceive.
7. Anamu for Arthritis and Rheumatism
Because of its natural anti-inflammatory nature and its pain relieving qualities, it would appear to be an excellent natural choice for people suffering from arthritis and rheumatism which is one of its many traditional uses in South America.
A certain amount of clinical research has been done which seems to validate its use in treating rheumatism and arthritis. One piece of research coming out of Sweden demonstrated that anamu possesses COX-1 inhibitory actions. This is significant since COX 1 inhibitors have become a very popular and also highly profitable arthritis drug for the large pharmaceutical companies.
8. Anamu May Reduce Blood Sugar
Although not a lot of research has been done into anamu’s effects on diabetes, several animal studies have noted interesting results. According to some research, anamu might cause a significant reduction in blood sugar levels. One study showed that blood sugar dropped by as much as 60%. This gives credence to the traditional use of the herb in Cuba where people have used it as a diabetic treatment for many generations. (7)
9. Other Potential Benefits of Anamu
As well as its major uses listed above, anamu can also be used to stimulate proper digestion, increase sweat and urine production and also may have mild sedative and anti-anxiety properties though the research regarding its anti-anxiety potential is conflicting. It is also used as an insect repellant because of its pungent garlic like aroma.
How to Take It
Anamu is available in capsule and tablet form while the whole herb is available in dried form that you can use to make a traditional decoction.
To Make Traditional Anamu Tea
Take 30 grams or so of the dried whole herb and put it into a liter of boiled water. Let it seep for at least 15 minutes or even longer to get the most out of it.
Drink between a quarter and a half cup between one and three times each day depending on your condition. You can also use the mixture as a topical application to treat muscle and joint pain.
Anamu Side Effects
While anamu is generally considered to be safe, there are certain precautions that you need to be aware of.
- Pregnant women and those trying to conceive should avoid anamu. Studies have showed that it could stimulate contractions of the uterus which may lead to miscarriage.
- Anamu may thin the blood and should not be taken by people with pre-existing blood conditions like hemophilia or those on blood thinning medication like warfarin.
- Animal studies show that anamu has a hypoglycemic effect so those with hypoglycemia or diabetes should avoid it.
(4) Rossi, V., Antiproliferative Effects of Petiveria alliacea on Several Tumor Cell Lines. Pharmacol Res Suppl 22 2:434-. (1990)