scientific name: Anacardium occidentale other common names: Cashew, caju, acajuiba, pomme cajou
growing areas: Native to Brazil; also grows in tropical areas of Central and South America, as well as the West Indies
physical description: The cashew tree grows to a height of about 25 to 30 feet with low branches. It has a rough bark. The "fruit" of the tree, known as the cashew fruit or cashew apple, is a peduncle that is fleshy and juicy. Attached to the tip of this is the cashew nut, the true fruit.
traditional uses: In Venezuela, a decoction of the cashew leaf is used to treat diarrhea and is believed to be a treatment for diabetes. Pulverized cashew tree bark, soaked in water for twenty-four hours, is also reported to be used in Colombia for diabetes.
The juice of the false cashew fruit has been used as a diuretic in Brazil, as well as a remedy for vomiting, diarrhea, and sore throat. Peruvians also have used a tea of the cashew tree leaf as a treatment for diarrhea, while a tea from the bark has been used as a vaginal douche, said Taylor. Leaf infusions have been used to treat toothache and sore throat and as a febrifuge.
The cashew nut must be cleaned and processed to remove a toxic oil that can blister the skin.
availability and dosage: A 4:1 extract in powder obtained from the root is available. Dosages vary. Cashew oil is also available in botdnicas and supermarkets for external use.
contraindications: None noted.
special precautions: Consult your physician before beginning any use of an ethnobotanical substance for medicinal purposes.
The oil from the shell can cause severe dermatitis, with blistering and swelling. Even smoke from roasting cashew nuts can be irritating. Researchers have also cautioned that tannins found in the cashew bark have been documented as being toxic to humans and that the internal use of the bark must be discouraged.
medical research: Tannins obtained from the bark of cashew trees were used in an experiment with lab rats in Brazil to test their anti-inflammatory actions. Researchers found that rats suffering from chemically induced swollen paws experienced reduced inflammation, apparently as a result of the tannins in an extract of the bark, according to the researchers. However, the study cautioned that while some folk remedies call for the use of a decoction of the cashew bark to treat rheumatism, tannins can have a toxic effect in humans and animals when taken internally.
Additional studies in India determined that extracts and oil of cashew nut shell were found to be nonmuta-genic and generally did not promote tumor growth, though one aspect of the study indicated a weak tumor-promoting effect.
A study in England of plants traditionally used in northern Europe to treat diabetes mellitus determined that cashew did not affect glucose level or glucose metabolism in mice.