Young woman drinking a cup of tea
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Many tropical plants have a long history of use in folk medicine, although modern medical science has yet to fully investigate and corroborate traditional claims. For example, the leaves and roots of anamu have potential for treating a variety of health problems, including infections, inflammatory disorders and even some types of cancer. As with any form of alternative medicine that incorporates herbs or relatively untested dietary supplements, consult with your doctor before using anamu to treat a health condition.

Traditional Use

Anamu -- Petiveria alliacea -- is a small herbaceous shrub found primarily in the Amazon rain forest, Central America, the Caribbean and Africa. It is also called guinea henweed, mucura, tipi, guine and garlic weed. Indians have used anamu in ritualistic ceremonies and for healing purposes. For example, the leaves are chewed to prevent tooth decay. Grated roots are soaked in alcohol and the decoction used to treat rheumatism, snakebite, venereal disease and intestinal parasites. South and Central Americans commonly use anamu as a natural remedy to support the immune system for resistance to colds, flus and other respiratory infections.

Defense Against Microorganisms

Anamu contains a variety of sulfur-containing chemicals that are largely responsible for its garlic- or onionlike odor. Modern science has begun to study some of these compounds and furnished some evidence to support traditional claims for anamu for treating infections. The biologically active compounds are present at much higher concentrations in the roots than in the leaves. Extracts prepared from fresh macerated roots were found to inhibit growth of a variety of bacteria and fungi, including those causing food-borne illnesses, respiratory disorders and genital infections, according to a study published in a March 2006 issue of the “Journal of Ethnopharmacology.”

Inflammation and Pain

The effects of oral dosing with a freeze-dried extract of anamu roots was examined in rats with pleurisy -- a painful infectious inflammation of membranes lining the lung cavities. In this preclinical study published in the April 2002 issue of “Phytomedicine,” anamu treatment reduced the number of white blood cells traveling to the sites of inflammation and had a pain-killing effect. The anti-inflammatory and pain-reducing effects of a anamu tea called tipi was investigated in a small clinical study published in 1991 in “Memorias do Instituto Oswaldo Cruz.” The research involved people with knee and hip arthritis. Study participants reported decreased pain of motion and pain at night, but people drinking a placebo tea also reported similar beneficial effects.

Possible Cancer Treatment

When used at relatively high doses, alcohol and water extracts of anamu have shown effectiveness in treating people with leukemia and breast cancer in South American countries. Although further testing in animals and in the clinic is needed, an alcohol extract of anamu leaves and stems incubated with human leukemia and skin cancer cells was found to inhibit their growth, according to a study published in a November 2008 issue of “BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine.” A compound referred to as dibenzyl trisulfide is currently under investigation as one of the chemicals present in anamu that stops cancer cells from multiplying.