Catuaba is actually the common name for 2 trees found in the Amazon rainforest. They are aptly named "big catuaba" (Trichilia catigua) and "small catuaba" (Erythroxylum catuaba) indicative of their comparitive size.
The Sunlight Experiment prefers the "big catuaba" (Trichilia catigua) species, based on enthnobotanical studies done in the region, and physical evidence found for this herbal medicinal species. Traditionally, however, both big catuaba, and small catuaba are used interchangably to treat erectile dysfunction, pain, anxiety, bacterial infection, low libido, poor memory, mental fatigue, depression, and to increase sexual potency.
Big catuaba has dopaminergic actions, which means it has the ability to modulate the the receptors in the brain relating to the neurotransmitter dopamine. This is an important action when it comes to conditions like depression and anxiety, and sexual dysfunctions.
Most pharmaceutical medicines for depression target serotonin, which is a different neurotransmitter in the brain. This may explain why catuaba and similar dopaminergic substances tend to improve depression, even when modern medications do not seem to work. It is likely that the dopamine system in these individuals is involved rather than serotonin.
Catuaba extracts can be hard to find, and is commonly adultered with other similar looking woods from the Amazon rainforest, which don't offer the same, or any, medicinal actions and thus you should try to purchase your catuaba bark or catuaba extracts only from reputable sources such as Harmonic Arts. You can also find it occasionally on Amazon.
Meliaceae (Trichilia species)
Erythroxylaceae (Erythroxylum species)
- Increases Libido
- Anti inflammatory
- Anti candida
- Sexual impotency
- Nerve pain and weakness
- Poor memory
- Sexual weakness
- Nerve pain (such as neuralgia, sciatica)
- Brain and nerve stimulant
- General pain.
- Big Catuaba
- Small Catuaba
- Little Catuaba
- Pau de reposta
- Anemopaegma arvense
- Juniperus brasiliensis
- Eriotheca candolleana
- E. vaccinifolium
- E. ampliofolium ,
Catuaba/Catigua have a long standing history of use as an aphrodisiac. The Tupi indians discovered its use as an aphrodisiac centuries ago and have since composed many songs referring to its effects.
In the Brazilian state of Minas there goes a saying “until a father reaches 60, the son is his; after that, the son is Catuabas!” .
There is a massive amount of confusion involving Catuaba and what species the medicinal plant in use actually is. With several species being listed and used as “Catuaba”.
Experienced Brazilian harvesters generally refer to 2 types; “big catuaba”, and “small catuaba”. Small Catuaba is Erythroxylum catuaba, which can be identified by its smaller size (2-6m), and yellow to orange flowers. Big Catuaba is botanically identified as Trichilia catigua, which is organized under the mahogany family (Meliaceae). Trichilia can be identified physically by its taller height (6-10m), and its cream coloured flowers. In Brazil Trichilia catigua is referred to as either “Catigua, or Angelim-Rosa .
To confuse the matter further, other (unapproved) botanical names are used including Juniperus brasiliensis (thought to refer to “small catuaba”), and Anemopaegma mirandum, (in the bignoniaceae family) and Eriotheca candolleana, which have no relation to the other Catuabas and therefore should not be used as such . The range of genera referred to catuaba is staggering, families including: Erythroxylaceae, Bignoniaceae, Sapotaceae, Euphorbiaceae, Myrtaceae, Meliaceae, Apocynaceae and Burseraceae all have genera referred to as “Catuaba” .
The Brazilian Pharmacopoeia lists the species Anemopaegma arvense as the recommended species (particularly the root), however this does not reflect what some recent studies indicate is the most consumed species of catuaba; which is actually Trichilia catigua .
The export of these various species under the single heading of “Catuaba”, create a great amount of confusion towards what medicine is actually being used. According to Leslie Taylor, ND, (2005), “Erythroxylum catuaba and Trichilia catigua are the preferred Brazilian herbal medicine species, with the longest documented history of use as "big and little catuaba." Both types are used interchangeably in Brazilian herbal medicine systems for the same conditions” .
The traditional use of both these plants being used interchangeably, as well as the common confusion resulting from the use of common names over botanical names is most likely the result of this mass confusion around Catuaba. For the Purposes of this monograph the species Erythroxylum catuaba, and Trichillia catigua will be the focus, with Erythroxylum species being referred to as Catuaba, and Trichillia species referred to as Catigua. Due to the common mis-labelling or overgeneralization of labelling on Erythroxylum and Trichilia species, it is recommended to only purchase this herb from reputable sources, with proper identification and labelling of which plant is being used.
In an attempt to resolve this situation, a group of researchers , investigated the identities of some of the various “Catuabas” using new analytical methods to “fingerprint” 2 species of Catuaba (Trichilia catigua, and Anemopaegma arvense) . Using various metabolite profiling techniques, these researchers were able to determine that there is indeed a large difference in chemical composition between Trichilia catigua, and A. arvense. The general metabolite regions investigated were aliphatic, carbohydrate, and aromatic. Trichilia catigua showed little in the aromatic region compared to A. arvense, while showing similarities in the carbohydrate region. The Aliphatic region was determined inconclusive in this study.
These researchers then compared these results to various other “Catuabas” purchased from herbal suppliers. The majority of these catuabas fell into the spectrum closely resembling Trichilia catigua rather than A. arvense, researchers concluded that “based on results discussed in this work, it can also be concluded that the herbal medicine industries in Brazil do not employ the roots of A. arvense to manufacture the phytomedicine Catuaba, as recommended by the Brazilian Pharmacopoeia, but instead use the bark of Trichilia catigua” . Erythroxylum catuaba was not investigated in this study.
Both Erythroxylum catuaba, and Erythroxylum pulchrum fall under the common name “Small Catuaba” [6, 9]. Catuaba from the family Erythroxylaceae, is a quick growing, small tree, containing yellow and orange flowers. The fruit of this tree is small, dark yellow, and inedible. This Family, with its principal genus being Erythroxylum, contains several sources that contain the alkaloids for cocaine (such as the coca plant, Erythroxylum coca), however none of these active alkaloids are found in Catuaba .
Trichilia catigua, is contained under the family Meliaceae. There are 80 species of the genus Trichilia throughout tropical america from Mexico down. Trichilia catigua often goes by the common name, “Big catuaba”, or preferably “Catigua”. This tree is dioecious, with a short trunk, brownish colored bark. Leaves are alternate, compound pinnate, 7-14 cm long, with 9-12 alternate or opposite leaflets. The leaf shape is elliptical, oblanceolate, or oblong. Inflorescences are axillary, 2-8 cm long, white to yellow in color, and unisexual. The majority of these trees are monecious. The flowers are long lasting (up to 6 months), small (4mm long), have 4 sepals and 4 petals.The fruit produced by this tree is an ovoid, dehiscent capsule, with the seeds enclosed in a fleshy aril .
Habitat, Ecology, Distribution:
According to Taylor L. (2005), both Catuaba and Catigua grow in the northern part of Brazil in Amazonas, Para, Pernambuco, Bahia, Maranhao, and Alagoas.
A few chemical studies have indicated the presence of omega-phenyl alkanes, omega-phenyl alkanoic acids, omega-phenyl-gamma-lactones, alkyl-gamma-lactones, alkenyl-gamma-lactones and fatty acids, besides β-sitosterol, stigmasterol, campesterol and a mixture of flavalignans, . Cinchonain, which has also been found in quinine bark (Cinchona spp.), has been found in Trichilia catigua. This chemical has been reported to produce antibacterial, and antineoplastic effects .
Tropane alkaloids (catuabines A, B, and C) .
Pharmacology and Medical Research:
Erythroxylum catuaba crude extracts have been shown to produce antibacterial effects . This species has been reported to protect mice lethally injected with E. coli, and S. aureus .
One study investigating the potential of Trichilia catigua’s antidepressant effects on mice and rats , concluded that “The present study provides convincing evidence for a dopamine-mediated antidepressant-like effect of the active principle(s) present in the hydroalcoholic extract of Trichilia catigua in mice and rats”. The same study also showed that chronic use of Fluoxetine (a common pharmaceutical antidepressant drug that works through similar pathways), caused significant reduction in both serotonin and dopamine uptake. Trichilia catigua on the other hand showed no significant change in serotonin uptake, however it did provide proof of significant dopamine uptake inhibition after chronic treatment. They also discovered that Trichilia catigua’s antidepressant effects are most notably performed through modulation of the dopaminergic system, rather than through the serotoninergic system, although modulation was shown in both.
Trichilia catigua can be compared to Hypericum perforatum in this way as Hypericum has been shown in previous studies to prevent the reuptake of both dopamine and serotonin, though this herb also has a much stronger effect on the dopaminergic system than it does on serotoninergic system. . This is of significance because Hypericum perforatum has been shown to posses strong and well documented use as an alternative antidepressant medicine [citation lost]. It is important to note that because Trichilia catigua imposes its effects mostly through the dopaminergic system, rather than through the serotonin or noradrenergic system as most pharmaceutical drugs do, Trichilia catigua may provide an important alternative to individuals who do not respond well to the pharmaceutical treatments.
Trichilia catigua hydroalcoholic extracts, have been shown to produce antinociceptive properties, in as little as 3 hours after oral consumption. The mechanism of action for these effects have been suggested to be mediated through the dopaminergic system, and to a lesser extent, the opioid system .
Trichilia catigua has been found to provide significant neuroprotective effects, measured by the lowered oxidative damage found in the hippocampus of mice treated with the botanical, and subjected to cerebral ischemia and reperfusion (a commonly used method to produce oxidative damage in the brain). The researchers from this studied suggested T. catigua worked better for this purpose as a preventative than a treatment. .
Erythroxylum catuaba has reportedly shown inhibitory effects against HIV .
Catuaba (both big and small) have been the most popular herbal Medicine in Brazilian folk medicine for its use as an aphrodisiac and tonic for well over a century .
Catuaba/Catiguas long term use in Traditional, and modern herbal medicine has shown little (if any) negative side effects associated with long term use . Due to the effects Trichilia catigua has on dopamine, caution should be used with people taking pharmaceuticals, and other herbs, that interact with this system.
Often combined traditionally in aqueous extractions with Ptychopetalum olacoides in traditional medicine systems of the Amazon.
One famous mixture, Catuama, is a combination of Trichilia catigua, Paullinia cupana, Ptychopetalum olacoides, and Zingiber officinalis. It has been used since the 1980s for a variety of disorders including mental fatigue, neuromuscular asthenia, and weakness disorders. . Various studies have been conducted on this formula, and most have showed strong synergy between these botanicals.
A Note on Catuaba from Justin Cooke:
Trichilia catigua appears to have stronger effects on pain, and depression, through its dopaminergic action. Erythroxylum catuaba on the other hand appears to have stronger antibacterial effects. Both exert effects over the CNS however and can, and in fact are used for the same purposes of mental fatigue, depression, sexual impotency, and age related conditions. I prefer to refer Trichilia catigua as “catigua”, and Erythroxylum catuaba as “catuaba” or simply by their botanical names in order to end this confusion. There will likely be more studies on each of these individual plants, and with it, more differences are likely to be found in the chemistry and how they should be used. They should not be considered one in the same, despite having similar actions, and similar traditional use.
The Sunlight Experiment
Updated March 2017
Recent Blog Posts:
- Alice F. Viana, Izaque S. Maciel, Emerson M. Motta, Paulo C. Leal, Luiz Pianowski, Maria M. Campos, and Joao B. Calixto. (2011). Antinociceptive Activity of Trichilia catigua Hydroalcoholic Extract: New Evidence on Its Dopaminergic Effects. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. doi:10.1093/ecam/nep144
- Boris Zanolari, David Guilet, Andrew Marston, Emerson F. Queiroz, Marc ̧al de Q. Paulo, and Kurt Hostettmann. (2003). Tropane Alkaloids from the Bark of Erythroxylum vacciniifolium. Journal of Natural Products. 66. 497-502.
- Christina Daolio, Flavio L. Beltrame, Antonio G. Ferriera, Quezia B. Cass, Diogenes Aparicio Garcia Cortez, and Marcia M. C. Ferriera. (2007). Classification of Commercial Catuaba Samples by NMR, HPLC and Chemometrics. Phytochemical Analysis. 19. 218-228. DOI: 10.1002/pca.1019
- Ivana Maria Póvoa Violante,Lidilhone Hamerski, Walmir Silva Garcez, Ana Lucia Batista, Marilene Rodrigues Chang, Vali Joana Pott, Fernanda Rodrigues Garcez. (2012). Antimicrobial Activity of Some Medicinal Plants From the Cerrado of the Central Western Region of Brazil. Brazilian Journal of Microbiology. 1302-1308.
- Jean Paul Kamdem, Emily Pansera Waczuk, Ige Joseph Kade, Caroline Wagner, Aline Augusti Boligon, Margareth Linde Athayde, Diogo Onofre Souza, João Batista Teixeira Rocha. (2012). Catuaba (Trichilia catigua) Prevents Against Oxidative Damage Induced by In Vitro Ischemia–Reperfusion in Rat Hippocampal Slices. Neurochem Research. 37. 2826 - 2835. DOI 10.1007/s11064-012-0876-0.
- Lorenzi, H., & Instituto Plantarum de Estudos da Flora. (2009). Brazilian trees: A guide to the identification and cultivation of Brazilian native trees. Nova Odessa, SP: Instituto Plantarum de Estudos da Flora. (Pg 109, 213).
- Maria M. Campos, Elizabeth S. Fernandes, Juliano Ferriera, Adair R. S. Santos, Joao B. Calixto. (2005). Antidepressant-like effects of Trichillia catigua (Catuaba) extract: evidence for dopaminergic-mediated mechanisms. Phytopharmacology. 182. 45-53. Retrieved from the web.
- Pennington, T. D., Reynel, C., Daza, A., & Wise, R. (2004). Illustrated guide to the trees of Peru. Sherborne, England: D. Hunt.
- Taylor. L, ND, (2005), The Healing Power Of Rainforest Herbs, Garden City Park, NY: Square One Publishers, inc.
- Vera Pontieri, BSc, Augusto Scalabrini Neto, PhD, MD, André Ferrari de França Camargo, MD, Marcia Kiyomi Koike, PhD, BSc, Irineu Tadeu Velasco, PhD, MD. (2007). The herbal drug Catuama reverts and prevents ventricular fibrillation in the isolated rabbit heart. Journal of Electrocardiology. 40. 534.e1–534.e8