Pau D’arco (Tabebuia), a large, tropical shrub or small tree that grows primarily in Argentina, begins life as a small vine and grows larger with age. In the Brazilian jungles, pau d’arco is known to reach heights of up to 160 feet, though smaller specimens may only reach about 16 feet tall. Many species lose their leaves during the dry season, but some types are evergreen. In most cases, the tree is deciduous in higher or colder locations, and evergreen in its native South American rainforests.
The plant features opposite leaves and dense clusters of flowers in shades of white, pink, purple and red, depending on the variety. The varieties that produce red, magenta, violet and crimson flowers are the most commonly used for medicinal purposes. Pau d’arco also produces fruit, or small pods, that contain numerous winged seeds. The pods typically remain on the tree throughout the dry season. Herbalists make medicinal preparations from sustainably harvested pau d’arco bark, or the dried inner bark of the tree.
Pau D’Arco Benefits
The pau d’arco herb owes its medicinal benefits to chemical compounds found in its bark known as naphthaquinones. Research has found these compounds to have potent antifungal properties in laboratory studies. They even appear to work better than common prescription antifungal drugs. The antifungal properties of the herb are so strong, that its bark never molds or mildews after being cut down. Other compounds in the bark are believed to fight bacterial, viral and parasitic infections, and they may also have anti-inflammatory properties. This makes pau d’arco a beneficial treatment for individuals suffering from wounds and infections of all kinds.
The herb may also help treat blood toxicity conditions such as dermatitis and eczema. It is sometimes used in home remedies for psoriasis. In cases of leukemia and anemia, pau d’arco works as a blood purifier and blood builder. Healers also use the herb as an immune system enhancer for treating colds, flu, herpes, yeast infections, vaginitis, candida, boils, ringworm and hepatitis, and to eradicate allergies and asthma caused by environmental factors. Pau d’arco is a liver protector and may help neutralize poisons that infiltrate the liver.
Hospitals in South America have even used the herb to treat cancer, although some herbalists argue that pau d’arco must be taken in toxic dosages to have any beneficial affect on cancer cells. In his book “The Little Herb Encyclopedia,” Jack Ritchason claims that pau d’arco reduces tumors of all kinds by dissolving them. The herb is given to cancer and leukemia patients for free in Argentina, although you should always consult a doctor before using pau d’arco in your own home remedies, especially for cancer. Other medicinal benefits of pau d’arco include reducing insulin dependence in diabetic patients, relieving arthritis pain and the pain associated with cancer, and treating gastritis and peptic ulcers.
Cosmetic and Aromatic Uses
Pau d’arco has limited cosmetic uses and is not typically used for aromatic purposes. Because of the herb’s beneficial effects on the liver, some herbalists claim it may help reduce brown spots on face and hands. Also known as liver spots, these small brown dots appear most frequently in adults over the age of 40, and are believed to be caused by excessive sun exposure. Pau d’arco is also sometimes used in lotions, creams and salves formulated for treating various skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis. It may also provide benefit for sufferers of dandruff and itchy, dry scalp when used in homemade shampoos and hair rinses. In some cases, pau d’arco may be used in home acne remedies, but the herb is only beneficial if the blemishes are caused by bacteria or fungi.
Preparation and Dosage
Pau d’arco is available in many forms including capsules, tablets, tinctures, extracts, creams, lotions and dried bark. Herbalists sometimes use the bark to make pau d’arco tea, but because the herb’s active ingredients are not water soluble, the tea provides little therapeutic value. For the best results, take three 300mg capsules or tablets three times a day as needed. Keep in mind, however, that the strength of commercial pau d’arco formulations may vary. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions whenever possible. If you prefer to take the herb in liquid form, purchase a tincture or make your own using the dried bark (see recipe below). The University of Maryland Medical Center recommends taking 1/4 tsp. of the liquid tincture two or three times a day. Creams and lotions containing pau d’arco may be used topically as needed.
High dosages of pau d’arco can cause uncontrollable bleeding, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea and dizziness. These symptoms occur most frequently when taking the isolated active ingredients instead of the whole bark. Make sure the supplements or dried bark you purchase contains 100 percent inner bark of the pau d’arco plant to prevent problems. Taken as directed, the inner bark rarely causes any side effects. Always consult a physician before taking any herbal supplement, especially if you currently take prescription drugs or suffer from serious illness. Pregnant and nursing women should not use pau d’arco.
Pau D’Arco Tincture Recipe
The best way to take pau d’arco is as a tincture, or alcoholic extract. While expensive in health food stores, you can make your own at home for far less money and it will keep indefinitely. Save the preparation for serious illnesses, however, as your body can build a tolerance to the herb. This recipe does include alcohol, but the dosages are so small that its not likely to have much of an effect. If you abstain from consuming any alcohol, however, you can substitute apple cider vinegar for the vodka. Vinegar tinctures have a shelf life of around one year when stored in a cool, dark place.
- 6 to 8 ounces dried pau d’arco bark
- Quart-sized glass jar
- 60 proof or higher vodka
- Dark glass bottles for storage
- Place the dried pau d’arco bark in the quart-sized glass jar, and then fill to the top with vodka (or apple cider vinegar).
- Secure the lid on the jar and place in a cool, dark place. Allow the mixture to stand for three to six weeks, shaking the jar once each morning and once each night.
- Strain the bark from the liquid, squeezing it out before discarding.
- Store the resulting pau d’arco tincture in dark glass bottles.