Pau d'Arco

Tabebuia spp.

Herbs gallery - Pau d'Arco

Common names

  • Lapacho
  • Pau d'Arco
  • Taheebo

The evergreen tropical rainforest of South America contains many important plants of herbal and medical potential. Some of the vegetation in these forests includes huge trees which can usually reach upwards of 100 feet in height and can frequently possess trunk circumferences that can easily exceed across for four feet in total trunk diameter. These trees are huge and the leaves of these trees are deciduous; they are often opposite in directional arrangement on the branches, and are usually borne on yellow green stems. These branches bear five elliptic leaves which are of unequal size and some of them can be either lanceolate or ovate shaped in dimension. All the leaves are uniquely arranged in the form of whorls which can be favorably compared to the clutched fingers of someone's hand. The leaves are placed on the stems of a dark green color at the top and a yellowish green coloration at the bottom. Depending on the species, the coloration of various flowers tends to vary and a profusion of coloration exists. These floral colors can range from a stark blue coloration to flowers that are yellow or magenta and even pure purple colors. Depending on the way they are pollinated, some of the flowers also posses yellow throats and may be bell or at times funnel shaped.

It has been reported in the public lore that Brazilian based indigenous Indian tribal doctors brew an herbal tea using the inner bark of the Tabebuia avellanedae species or the Tabebuia altissima species, and commonly both these trees are called lapacho colorado and lapacho morado respectively. This brewed herbal tea is reputed to be useful in the treatment of cancer as well as in alleviating the ulcers, and the symptoms of disorders such as diabetes, and long term rheumatism in patients. The people who normally utilize the pau d'arco tree claim it is a powerful tonic and blood builder, and herbal remedies made from the plant are reputed to be very effective against the symptoms of rheumatism, in alleviating cystitis, in alleviating the symptoms of prostatitis, in the treatment of bronchitis, in the treatment of gastritis, to treat various ulcers, and to treat ailments of the liver. These herbal remedies are also used extensively in the treatment of asthma, in the treatment of gonorrhea, to treat skin disorders such as the fungal infection ringworm, and even in the treatment of hernias.  The tree known as the T. avellanedae is a native of much of the warmer areas in South America, but the species known as the T. altissima is believed to grow only high in the Andean Mountains. All such popular claims and public reporting about the supposed curative properties of the herbal product cannot be taken at face value. It is now known that no plant in existence is referred by the scientific name Tabebuia altissima. and that the species of Tabebuia does not grows high in the Andean ranges. It is now known, that some advertising copywriter invented these remote habitats and created fictitious names to make some dubious medication sound more exotic and authentic, while botanical literature does include the name Tabebuia avellanedae for a certain tree species, it is seen that the real and correct botanical designation for the species is the Tabebuia impetiginosa (Mart.).

The matter is further complicated by the fact that some of the pau d' arco based herbal teas which are normally marketed in this country are not derived from the Tabebuia species of plants at all, while they are often labeled as containing lapacho colorado or lapacho morado - these are different herbal products. And the herbal product that they contain is usually and actually made from the bark of the Tecoma curialis Solhanha da Gama spp., which is another closely related member of the same plant family as the pau d'arco. The beneficial effects of the herbal remedies differs a little and this difference may not be too large, as the main useful chemical constituents and the real therapeutic activities, if any exist are undoubtedly similar to the real thing because of the closely related nature of the plants. However, such marketing gimmicks will nevertheless leave an unclear trail to the actual botanical sources of the pau d'arco products. Herbalists have different views on the issue, speculated the high chance of all of the herbal bark in question, being in fact sourced from some other Tabebuia species in the lowlands of South America.

Commercially however, the species is very important as a source of wood to the huge construction industry, and the wood of the Tabebuia species have been examined in great detail for various applications. Chemical analysis of these woods have revealed that chemically the constituents of the wood such as volatile oils, different resins and bitter principles, among others are therapeutically important. The analyses have also revealed that the wood of these species contains from 2 to 7 percent of a chemical naphthoquinone derivative compound known as lapachol. Bark analyses carried out on the bark of three major Tabebuia species further revealed, that unlike the wood, the compounds such as lapachol and dehydro-alfa-lapachone, and the major naphthoquinone constituents of the wood was absent. Furthermore, the presence of various chemical compound depended to a great extent on the species of the plant, the chemical compounds were either present in traces or were entirely absent from one species to the other. What was detected during the test, were traces of three chemical lapachol compound derivatives. The observations of the physiological properties of these derivative compounds suggest that they posses very similar effects comparable to the lapachol compound.

The chemical compound known as lapachol does have some inherent anticancer properties. This ability was observed in the trails conducted in the year 1968, when the compound was demonstrated as having very significant activity against the Walker 256 carcinosarcoma, especially when the compound was administered orally to the test animals - the tumors were artificially induced in the test animals. The activity of this compound against other types of cancer and tumors in animals was demonstrated in further studies conducted using the chemical compound; these include the disorder known as the Yoshida sarcoma and the Murphy-Sturm lymphosarcoma which were also investigated in these other trials. The desirability and effectiveness of the compound in treating human cancer patients is a double edged sword, because as soon as the effective plasma levels are attained in the body, many undesirable and physical side effects which are severe enough for the discontinuation of the medication start developing in the patients. Some of the severe side effects which were observed included moderate to severe nausea in the patients, problems such as vomiting, the development of anemia, and the sudden tendency to bleed in different areas of the body. At the same time, it must be mentioned that all the animal tests results and the results from other laboratory studies show lapachol also possesses other beneficial effects in the body, these include antibiotic potential, an anti-malarial action, and an anti-schistosomal property, however, the scientific studies on humans have not been many, because of the problem of toxicity and side sudden effects. These days, herbal shops in the United States market the pau d'arco as an herbal tea or as an herbal "dietary supplement," and there are no therapeutic claims on the product labels of most of these herbal products. the use of this herb is under question because of the lack of proven results about its apparent effectiveness, due to its potentially sever toxic effects, and because of the relatively high cost involved in its utilization - the herbal remedy is both unwise for arbitrary herbal use and is represent an extravagant product.

Parts used

Inner bark.


Pau d'arco was traditionally prized by the major South American civilizations, including the Incas, the Callawaya people in Brazil, and many other Native South American peoples - the lapacho was used extensively as a cure-all by all of these cultures. A large variety of disorders and conditions such as serious and superficial wounds, conditions such as fever, disorders such as dysentery, inflammation in the intestinal region, certain types of cancer, and problems such as snakebites and insect bites were treated using herbal remedies prepared from the lapacho.

The lapacho contains a lot of chemical ingredients and active principles, for this reason it is not surprising that the beneficial effects of this herb are still taken advantage of extensively in South America as well as by the majority of herbal practitioners around the world in different countries. Its important roles in herbal medicine include its main action as a natural antibiotic herb for the treatment of all types of bacterial and viral infections which affect the human body, especially when such infections affect parts of the body like the nose, the mouth, and the throat. The herbal remedy is also believed to be very helpful in the treatment of chronic conditions such as ME in affected individuals. Fungal infections of all kinds arising in the body are also normally treated using the lapacho, including common ones like the ringworm and different yeast infections, the herbal remedy is also considered especially effectively and useful for the overall treatment of chronic fungal conditions of all kinds, including the condition known as candidiasis in different people.

The reduction and relief of inflammatory conditions on the body is another major beneficial effect of the lapacho, and this action is particularly useful in the treatment of inflammation in the stomach and the intestines. A wide range of inflammatory conditions are treated using the herbal lapacho, these include the treatment of disorders such as cystitis, the treatment of inflammation in the cervix, and in the treatment of disorders such as prostatitis.

The treatment of cancer, including leukemia is another area of remedial action in which the lapacho is effective. The combination of traditional knowledge about cancer treatment using lapacho and the clinical experience in Brazil with this compound, requires that the lapacho must be more researched for dormant therapeutic values and further effects for the treatment of this devastating disease.

Other medical uses

Habitat and cultivation

Pau d'arco is an indigenous South American tree, which grows well and is native to the mountainous terrains around the South American continent. The tree can be found growing at high elevations in the Andean ranges of Peru and Argentina. The pau d'arco is believed to have originated in low areas and is still found in the low-lying areas regions of Paraguay and Brazil. Herbal medication utilizes a large variety of the Tabebuia tree species. As a therapeutic agent, the T. avellanedae species is considered to be the effective and well known; however, the T. impetignosa species is most commonly used in herbal medicine and is widely available as products. Cultivation of the pau d'arco is not normally done in any significant scale, the inner bark is the main part of the tree used in herbal medicine and this is harvested from the wild trees all year around for the production of various herbal remedies.


Many of the test tube and animal researches carried out on the species in the 1950s and 1960s came up with results that suggested the extracts of the taheebo and the compound lapachol could help in slowing down rate of growth of certain tumors - this was the traditional herbal use of this species. Tumors are effectively countered by many of the herb's active chemical constituents, in this regard the pau d'arco is the most significant herbal remedy derived from these tree species, the presence of this compound in the body will result in the inhibition of growth in tumor cells, this compound prevents the tumor cells from metabolizing any oxygen and stops them from competing with the other normal cells in the affected area. The compound derivative of the tree species lapachol was consequently tested for anti-tumor properties at the National Cancer Institute, the tests aimed to discover any anticancer activity induced by the compound in human test subjects, the results were rather disappointing and ambiguous. Therapeutically active levels were not easily attained during the human trials, especially when delivery of the compound was via oral administration, and subsequently increasing the dosage to therapeutically high levels, the majority of tested subjects started to suffer from some very serious and adverse effects such as extreme nausea and vomiting.

The anti-inflammatory activity of the extracts of the taheebo has been confirmed at least in rats during trails conducted on the extract. The resistance of animal bodies to certain ulcers was also increased by the extract according to the researchers. Human blood cells were also studied in the laboratory during research trials, and the compound lapachol was found to possess effective immunosuppressant effects when given at higher doses and it also induced immuno-stimulating activity at low doses in all patients.
The effects of diabetes in the body is also countered effectively by the pau d'arco, this is a chemical action due in part to the presence of the active constituent tecomine, the pau d'arco was also found to lower blood pressure in people affected by high blood pressure problems.


The main active ingredients in this plant are the quinones, of which there are 18, the main ones being naphthoquinones, of which lapachol and a form of lapachone are some of the most important. The bioflavonoid quercetin, lapachenole, carnosol, indoles, coenzyme Q, alkaloids, and steroidal saponins.

The bactericidal activity is mainly due to the chemical compound lapachol, and a related derivative compound helps in fighting off fungal and yeast attacks. Malaria is also known to be combated by the compound lapachol, this particular property of the compound would certainly be extremely useful for the treatment of people in the areas where the Tabebuia species grows in the wild-namely large tracts of South America.

Many other volatile oils, essential and important resins, along with herbal bitter principles also form major constituents of the pau d'arco.

Usual dosage

The herbal tea form of pau d'arco remedy is ineffective due to the insolubility of the naphthaquinone active constituents in water - therefore the remedy cannot be used in the form of a tea. However, the pau d'arco can be taken in the form of herbal capsules or tablets and these are widely available, each providing 300 mg of powdered bark for remedial action against various conditions. The pau d'arco is usually ingested in the form of capsules, thrice every day during the treatment period.

Side effects and cautions

Side effects with this herbal remedy are not unknown and taking very high doses of the lapachol compound can result in problems such as uncontrolled bleeding from the nose, sudden nausea, and even vomiting may result. For this reason, it is generally considered safer to use remedies made from the whole bark instead of isolated lapachol as a compound - taking the whole bark in the form of some herbal preparation is not known to induce serious side effects even when the doses are high. At the same time, the use of the pau d'arco as an herbal remedy must be avoided by all women who are pregnant or who are nursing.

How it works in the body

As early as 1882, scientist had already isolated the compound lapachol from tree barks, and the bacterial action of the compound was first confirmed as early as 1956 through research work carried out in Brazil - for this reason, the pau d'arco is considered to be a very valuable natural antibiotic remedy. Derivatives of this compound were also subsequently shown to possess anti-fungal properties during further tests carried out late, and the compound is known to be very effective against conditions such as ringworm, in the treatment of vaginal thrush, and to treat cases of gastrointestinal candidiasis. Pau d'arco also contains the compound derivative carnosol, which is a very strong antioxidant capable of mopping up many free radicals present in the body due to metabolic action, and the presence of this compound is believed to be the reason for the reputation of pau d'arco as an effective anti-carcinogenic herbal agent. Indoles isolated as derivatives have in addition been identified during tests as being the active agents which can help in the detoxification of the body from carcinogenic compounds and metabolites. Antiviral activity is seen displayed by a form of the compound lapachone, this compound has been used extensively against all kinds of infections caused by viruses such as the common herpes simplex virus and the polio virus, furthermore these compounds have also been effectively used against retroviruses, an important fact as many of such viruses are implicated in inducing cancers of many kinds, particularly severe types such as leukemia, and other dangerous diseases like AIDS. At the same time, studies have also confirmed the effectiveness of the pau d'arco herbal remedy against some tropical parasites, at the same time the many alkaloids present in the herbal remedy also display evidence of having an effect against diabetes. The ability of the herb to induce detoxification is very relevant in the treatment of many skin complaints and conditions, while the noted anti-inflammatory actions is useful in the treatment of other types of conditions including cases of cystitis, disorders such as prostatitis, and some types of intestinal inflammation which affect many patients worldwide.


From Nicholas - Jul-11-2014
Last year in Costa Rica I got a skin eating protozoa infection from sand flea bites (cutaneous "leishmaniasis panamensis" to be exact). The wounds were always open and growing and sometimes very painful. I tried numerous treatments for over three months but nothing worked. Not even the CDC could offer useful help. Then I made a strong skin wash from pau d'arco and the first day the wounds started to dry up and heal. Within two weeks of using this tea topically 3x a day the wounds had closed entirely. I also drank the tea to make sure to clear my bloodstream of the protozoa. The speed and strength of recovery was miraculous.
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