scientific name: Maytenus ilicifolia other common names: Cancrosa growing areas: Native to Brazil; grows throughout South America
physical description: It is a small evergreen tree, resembling holly, that grows to a height of about 15 feet. Its leaves are oval-shaped and serrated.
traditional uses: Leaves of the tree are popular as a medicine for the treatment of ulcers, dyspepsia, and other stomach problems in Brazil, where it is also reputed to be a good antacid. The Journal of Ethnopharma-cology reports that leaves of the tree are also often used to make a tea, known as abafado. It is also used as a traditional contraceptive in Paraguay.
availability and dosage: Available as a leaf powder or as cut-and-sifted bark. Dosages vary. Herbalists also recommend a half cup of a boiled extract two or three times a day.
contraindications: None noted.
special precautions: Consult your physician before beginning any use of an ethnobotanical substance for medicinal purposes.
Though tests on animals for toxicity showed no adverse effects, the plant did act as a significant sedative and might, if used by humans in significant amounts, accentuate the effect of other drugs that can cause drowsiness, such as antihistamines.
medical research: A number of tests have been done in Brazil on laboratory animals to test the anti-ulcer effects of the plant, as well as its possible toxicity, with what appear to be encouraging results. One test, using rats who were given a chemical to induce a gastric ulcer, showed that a water extract of dried Maytenus leaves increased the pH of the gastric juices of the animals, thus making the stomachs less acidic and better able to resist tissue damage. These results thus confirm the popular use of this plant. Another study in rats and mice found that different doses, including some that were four hundred times those used by humans, did not appear to have any toxic effect on the mice, nor did the plant impact the animals' fertility. High doses of the plant preparation did act as a sedative when given by injection. However, the overall results led researchers to conclude that Maytenus may be a safe plant for human use and deserving of further investigation.
But not so promising have been tests performed on cancer patients in the United States of the compounds, maytansine and mayteine that are found in the plant. While there was some effect seen on ovarian cancer and some lymphomas with maytansine, the substance was deemed toxic at the higher doses that were needed to be used, according to a report in a medical journal.