Anamu (scientific name Petiveria alliacea) is native to the Amazon rainforest, the Caribbean as well as several tropical regions of South and Central America. In addition, this herb also has its origin in Africa. Anamu is known by several names, including apacin, apacina, apazote de zorro, and aposin. In Brazil, it is also known as tipi.
Anamu is a perennially growing herbaceous plant that may reach a height of up to 1 meter. This herb bears deep green leaves that are rubbery and grow near the ground. Anamu has tall spikes that are lined with several tiny white hued flowers that appear just above the leaves. The roots of anamu have a potent odour akin to that of garlic.
People inhabiting the Amazon rainforest use anamu along with other herbs in their herbal bath with a view to shield themselves from the witchcraft practices by Indians as well as native jungle herbal practitioners, who are locally known as curanderos. Anamu is called mikur-ka'a or opossum herb by the Ka'apor Indians and they employ it for both medicine as well as magic.
The Caribs people in Guatemala pulverize the anamu roots and inhale the scent for treating sinusitis, while the Ese'Ejas Indians inhabiting the Peruvian Amazon use the leaves of this herb to prepare an infusion, which is taken internally for treating common colds and flu.
On the other hand, in Nicaragua, the indigenous Garifuna people prepare an infusion or decoction from anamu leaf and use it for treating a number of health conditions, including coughs, colds, pains and aches. They also use the anamu leaf decoction or infusion for magic rites.
The root of anamu herb is considered to be further potent compared to its leaves. It is believed to possess analgesic (painkilling) properties and people in the Amazon rainforest frequently apply this herb topically for treating various skin conditions.
Other native Indian groups in the region crush the leaves to make a paste and apply it topically to their head for alleviating headaches. This paste is also used externally for getting relief from rheumatic as well as other types of pains. In addition, people in the Amazon rainforest also use this remedy in the form of an insect repellent.
In the entire tropical region where anamu grows in wild, the plant has a long history of various applications in herbal medicine. Anamu is believed to possess anti-spasmodic, diuretic, and diaphoretic properties. In addition, this herb is also used to promote menstruation and in the form of a tonic or stimulant. Natural health practitioners as well as herbalists recommend the use of anamu for treating conditions like arthritis, edema, rheumatism, malaria and poor memory.
At the same time, this herb is also used in the form of a topical analgesic and for curing skin afflictions, especially those associated with inflammatory symptoms. All over Central America, women use this herb to alleviate birth pains and also to facilitate easy childbirth, in addition to encourage childbirth.
Anamu is known as apacin in the herbal medicine system of Guatemala, where people usually drink a decoction prepared from the leaves to treat digestive problems as well as flatulence, slow digestion and even fever. In addition, a decoction prepared from anamu leaves is also applied topically in the form of an analgesic to relieve muscular aches and pain as well as to treat a number of skin complaints.
People in the major cities as well as towns in Central and South America use anamu in the form of a natural remedy for treating conditions like common cold, influenza, coughs, infections in respiratory and pulmonary systems and even cancer. This herb is also used to support the health of the immune system. Herbalists in Cuba prepare a decoction from the whole anamu herb and employ it for treating diabetes and cancer. This decoction is said to be anti-inflammatory as well as abortive.
Several properties as well as actions of anamu have been documented by researchers, which made this tropical herb a very versatile and useful herbal medicine that has been used by various cultures for a long time. Currently, numerous studies are underway to explore as well as establish the therapeutic properties of anamu and its potential use for treating several health conditions.
This, in fact, is an ideal example of the wealth of native herbal traditions. In present time, medical practitioners in South America are using anamu for the plant anti-cancer and immune stimulant properties with a view to provide support and help to treat cancer, especially leukemia patients. In fact, this particular use of the herb is gradually becoming widespread in the United States too.
Currently, anamu is available in tablet and capsule forms under various labels at the drug stores in America too. Aside from treating cancer, this herb is also being used in a variety of formulations for its potent antimicrobial properties, especially its effectiveness in combating viruses, bacteria, yeast and fungi. Several formulations prepared from anamu are also being employed to support and reinforce the immune system.
In 1992, the first ever study was published on toxicity and in this study researchers observed that taking the anamu extract in elevated doses helped to delay cell proliferation. When the researchers examined anamu extract on mice, they observed that it resulted in a change in the rodents' bone marrow cells.
During their study, the researchers used anything between 100 and 400 times more than the usual dose administered to humans. The researchers later published the findings of two independent studies where they mentioned that oral administration of anamu leaf as well as root extracts did not have any toxic effect on mice and rats when used in dosage of up to 5 grams per kg of their body.
However, the methanol extracts obtained from the plant did result in uterine narrowing during the early part of the research. This type of uterine contractions can sometimes result in abortions.
Chemical analysis of anamu (Petiveria alliacea) has revealed that it contains several compounds that are biologically active. Some of these compounds include steroids, flavonoids, triterpenes and sulfur compounds. In fact, anamu encloses a particular sulfur compound called dibenzyl trisulfide.
Many researchers have noted that dibenzyl trisulfide is among the two active compounds present in anamu that possess anti-cancer effects. In addition, anamu also encloses a number of other phytochemicals including coumarin, benzaldehyde and astilbin. It has been documented that all these three phytochemicals also possess anti-cancer and anti-tumour properties.
Despite its several health benefits, anamu also causes a number of adverse effects. Hence, like any other herbal medicine, it should also be used with some caution. For instance, methanol extracts obtained from anamu may lead to uterine contractions, which, in turn, may result in abortion. In fact, pregnant women are advised to stay away from anamu.
As anamu encloses small amounts of coumarin, its use has anti-coagulant or blood thinning effect. Hence people already struggling with blood related problems like haemophilia as well as those who are taking blood-thinning drugs should avoid using this herb without checking with their physician or healthcare provider. In case, if it is necessary for such people to use this herb, it should always be done under the supervision of a competent healthcare practitioner.
Studies undertaken on animals have shown that anamu has hypoglycaemic consequences in rodents. Therefore, people enduring hypoglycaemia are strongly advised not to use this plant unless it is done under the direct supervision of a physician or qualified healthcare provider, who will keep an eye on the levels of their blood sugar.
Furthermore, it is advised that people who plan to use anamu to treat any of their health problems should check with a qualified herbalist for the appropriate dosage - a dose that would suit their needs. It is worth noting here that children below 12 years, nursing mothers, pregnant women and women planning to become pregnant should never use anamu.