Ethnobotany, phytochemistry and pharmacology of Uncaria (Rubiaceae)

Phytochemistry. 2005 Jan;66(1):5-29. doi: 10.1016/j.phytochem.2004.10.022.


The Uncaria genus is an important source of medicinal natural products, particularly alkaloids and triterpenes. The collected information is an attempt to cover the more recent developments in the ethnobotany, pharmacology and phytochemistry of this genus. During the past 20 years, alkaloids, terpenes, quinovic acid glycosides, flavonoids and coumarins have been isolated from Uncaria. Fifty-three novel structures are reported in this review. The species in which the largest number of compounds has been identified is the Peruvian Uncaria tomentosa or 'cat's claw.' Pharmacological studies are described according to cytotoxicity, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, immunostimulation, antioxidant, CNS-related response, vascular, hypotensive, mutagenicity and antibacterial properties. The potential for development of leads from Uncaria continues to grow, particularly in the area of immunomodulatory, anti-inflammatory and vascular-related conditions. The information summarized here is intended to serve as a reference tool to practitioners in the fields of ethnopharmacology and natural products chemistry.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adjuvants, Immunologic / chemistry
  • Animals
  • Anti-Infective Agents / chemistry
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / chemistry
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic / chemistry
  • Antioxidants / chemistry
  • Cardiovascular Agents / chemistry
  • Central Nervous System Agents / chemistry
  • Ethnobotany
  • Humans
  • Medicine, Traditional
  • Mutagens / chemistry
  • Plant Extracts / chemistry
  • Plant Extracts / pharmacology
  • Uncaria / chemistry*


  • Adjuvants, Immunologic
  • Anti-Infective Agents
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic
  • Antioxidants
  • Cardiovascular Agents
  • Central Nervous System Agents
  • Mutagens
  • Plant Extracts