scientific name: Brunfelsia uniflorus
other common names: Manacan, vegetable mercury
growing areas: Native to areas of the Amazon basin
physical description: An ornamental shrub, manaca produces a beautiful yellow-white flower. In his work on medicinal plants, James Duke recounts a legend that the plant's name is attributed to a beautiful girl of the Tupi Indians of Brazil.
traditional uses: The Tupi use the plant in their medicinal and magical practices, according to Duke, who notes that the Indians once used a root extract of manaca as an arrow poison and that the scraped bark is considered a strong purgative. The common name vegetable mercury stems from the plant's use in traditional medicine for the treatment of syphilis. Based on his extensive travels in the Amazon area, botanist Richard Schultes reports that indigenous peoples use manaca as a treatment for rheumatism, as a diuretic, as an antiinflammatory, to reduce fevers, and sometimes as an ab-ortifacient. It has also been used as a hallucinogen, but with bad effects, Schultes writes.
availability and dosage: It is available as cut-and-sifted bark. Dosages vary.
contraindications: Since it is reported to have been used as an abortifacient, it should not be used by pregnant women.
special precautions: Consult your physician before beginning any use of an ethnobotanical substance for medicinal purposes.
Manaca is reported to be toxic to children and pets and should be avoided.
medical research: Laboratory tests in Brazil showed manaca to have anti-inflammatory properties. An extract of a related species, Brunfelsia hopeana, was shown in an experiment with rats to act as a central nervous system depressant and an anti-inflammatory. However, toxi-cological studies done in the United States of another species, Brunfelsia calcyina, determined that the consumption by dogs of this plant material was fatal, and researchers cautioned that the plant poses a significant hazard for small children. Duke says that even small doses of the alkaloid manacine, which is found in ma-naca, can lead to death due to respiratory paralysis in laboratory animals.