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Background & General Info

Catuaba has emerged in the recent years to be a well-favored Brazilian aphrodisiac and is commercially available in the market as an herbal formulation consisting of barks of Anemopaegma, Erythroxylum, and Trichilia species. [1] Other plants incorrectly branded by natives in the Brazilian territory as catuaba include plants belong to the following genera: Phyllanthus, Micropholis, Secondatia, Tetragastris, and Ilex. [2] Coined by Brazilian Indians, the name “catuaba” is likely a modification of the local word “catucaba,” meaning kindness and health, or of the term “catuapuaba,” with “catu” and “apuaba” being translated as “good” and “man,” respectively (in other words, “good for man”). [3]

Although more than 20 different Brazilian plant species are locally regarded and used as “catuaba,” Trichilia catigua, a native flowering plant of southern, central, and eastern Brazil, has been most prevalently accepted and referred to as “catuaba” or “catigua” and is typically harvested from the wild for local use. [2][4][5] This small tree is also found in the deciduous and semi-deciduous forests of Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia, and Peru. [5] Its barks are exploited by the Brazilian pharmaceutical and beverage industries to produce tonic brews and other commercially available “stimulating” preparations and have been widely marketed in Brazil for the past two decades as a component of herbal tonics. [3][4]


Trichilia catigua is a small, evergreen tree that can reach a height of about 3–6 meters tall. [5] It is characterized by its elongated, dense crown; well-branched stems that are heavily covered by thin, nearly smooth bark; and a trunk that is 15–20 cm in diameter. [3][5] It also has compound leaves and elliptic or oblong-lanceolate leaflets. [6] From April to August, yellow inflorescence blossoms from the plant, and after two months, fruits emerge. [3]

History & Traditional Use

Trichilia catigua has traditionally been employed as a Brazilian herbal medicine with allegedly therapeutic properties that are neuropharmacological in nature, such as antidepressant, anti-neurasthenic, and anti-inflammatory effects. [7] In folk medicine, this plant is broadly employed as a remedial tonic for physical and mental fatigue, stress, impotence, and memory deficits and as a digestive and purgative agent. [4] Its bark is processed to produce tonic drinks with apparently analgesic, central nervous system (CNS)-stimulant, aphrodisiac, and vasorelaxant properties.

General Herbal Uses

Trichilia catigua contains natural antioxidants with potential neuroprotective effects. [7] Numerous recent studies on catuaba have shed light on its antibacterial, trypanocidal, antioxidant, antiarrhythmic, antidepressant, memory-enhancing, anti-inflammatory, and antinociceptive properties, as well as its phytocosmetic activity in cellulite treatment and anti-aging. [2] Aside from the aforementioned, in general, the “catuaba” is popularly utilized as an aphrodisiac and sexual and nervous system stimulant. [2] Furthermore, it is acknowledged as an adaptogen; that is, its consumption helps offset stress and stress-related conditions and their effects and enhances physical and cognitive performances. [3]

Constituents/Active Components

A number of chemical constituents of Trichilia catigua extracts have been reported by phytochemical investigations. The plant’s bark in itself contains a high concentration of polyphenols (6.96 ± 0.11%), including flavan-3-ols, phenylpropanoid derivatives, and tropane alkaloids. [8] Tang et al. (2007) isolated phenylpropanoid-substituted epicatechins identified as catiguanin A and catiguanin B from the bark of Trichilia catigua, as well as cinchonain Ia, cinchonain Ib, cinchonain Ic, and cinchonain Id. [9] Resende et al. (2011) isolated phenylpropanoid-substituted flavan-3-ols from the acetone–water extract of air-dried Trichilia catigua stem bark, including apocynin E, epicatechin, procyanidin B2, procyanidin B4, procyanidin C1, cinchonain Ia, cinchonain Ib, cinchonain IIb, and cinchonain IIa. [8]

Medicinal/Scientific Research


Phenylpropanoid-substituted epicatechins isolated from Trichilia catigua bark had been shown by Tang et al. (2007) to exhibit potent antioxidant activity according to their results from DPPH radical scavenging test. Their IC50 values were in the range of 2.3–9.4 µM. [9] Resende et al. (2011) also isolated nine compounds that exhibit higher radical scavenging activity and reducing power than ascorbic acid and Trolox in the free radical DPPH and Fe3+–Fe2+ reduction assay systems. [8] Trichilia catigua had also been demonstrated in a 2012 study to efficiently prevent, rather than cure, brain damage. At a concentration of 40–100 μg/mL, pretreatment of this herb protected rat hippocampal slices against the harmful effects of 2-hour oxygen and glucose deprivation and 1-hour reperfusion and in general prevented oxidative damage induced by ischemia–reperfusion in vitro. [7]


Barbosa et al. (2004) reported that catuaba extract completely inhibits the activity of phospholipase A2 at a concentration of 120 µg/mL. This finding suggested the extract’s anti-inflammatory property since phospholipase A2 is an enzyme that plays an inflammatory role by releasing arachidonic acid for the biosynthesis of prostaglandins and thromboxanes through the cyclooxygenase system and leukotrienes and eicosatetraenoids through the lipoxygenase pathway. Since Trichilia catigua blocks the activity of phospholipase A2, it also suppresses cyclooxygenase and lipoxygenase pathways in the arachidonic acid cascade and by extension the inflammatory process. [10]


Pizzolatti et al. (2002) isolated two epimeric flavalignans, identified as cinchonains Ia and Ib, from the bark of Trichilia catigua; both cinchonains Ia and Ib had been evidenced to display antibacterial activity against Bacillus spp. [11]


A 2015 study illustrated the high virucidal action of extract and fractions of Trichilia catigua bark against herpesvirus and poliovirus and their potent ability to inhibit viral adsorption. In this study, antiviral activity of crude extract and aqueous and ethyl acetate fractions from Trichilia catigua was tested with respect to the replication of herpes simplex virus (HSV-1), bovine herpesvirus (BoHV-1), and poliovirus (PV-1), with cytotoxicity and antiviral effect tested and analyzed in MTT assay and plaque reduction assay in HEp-2 cell culture, respectively. [12]


Results from the recent study of Velasco et al. (2017) indicated the clinical effectiveness of Trichilia catigua in diminishing gynoid lipodystrophy (popularly known as “cellulite”) by decreasing edema and enhancing local microcirculation. In this study, 27 women aged 20 to 40 years were instructed to apply a cosmetic emulsion consisting of extracts from catuaba and muira puama once a day for 60 days. This treatment led to an increase in skin temperature without affecting the thickness of the hypodermic layer and to a significant decrease in the circumference of specific body areas, including the abdomen, waist, upper thigh, upper leg, and upper hip. [13]


Cedrelone, a limonoid isolated from Trichilia catigua, had been proven in the study of Fuzer et al. (2013) to block the proliferation, adhesion, migration, and invasion of MDA-MB-231 breast tumor cells in vitro and to trigger apoptosis in the said cancer cells. This compound’s inhibitory action on the cancer cells’ migration and invasion was accredited to its ability to suppress the activity of matrix metalloproteinases (MMP). [14]


A recent 2017 study demonstrated the antidiabetic activity of ethyl acetate fraction of Trichilia catigua in type 1 diabetic rats and its ability to improve glucose homeostasis and endocrine pancreas morphology and to prevent the onset of diabetic nephropathy. Here, administration of the said fraction was through daily gavage for 8 weeks, which caused a reduction in body mass loss and intake of food and water and an amelioration of hyperglycemia. Furthermore, biochemical parameters related to liver function, including alkaline phosphatase, alanine aminotransferase, and aspartate aminotransferase, also improved, and kidney tissue damage and renal fibrosis diminished in diabetic rats as a result of Trichilia catigua ethyl acetate fraction administration. Treated diabetic rats also manifested an increase in the number of pancreatic β-cells and islets size. [15]


Findings of Campos et al. (2005) demonstrated the potential of standardized catuaba extract and its purified components as treatment for depressive disorders owing to its dopamine-mediated antidepressant-like effect. In the study, in vivo and in vitro approaches in the form of forced swimming test and monoamine reuptake and release in synaptosomal preparations, respectively, were employed to examine the antidepressant-like effects of hydroalcoholic extract of Trichilia catigua in mice and rats. In the in vivo approach, acute oral treatment of the extract led to antidepressant-like activity in both rodent species; such extract-induced anti-immobility in mice were significantly reversed by haloperidol or chlorpromazine. On the other hand, catuaba extract concentration-dependently blocked the uptake of serotonin and dopamine and augmented their release in vitro from rat brain synaptosomal preparations. [16]

Chassot et al. (2011) also confirmed the antidepressant-like and cognitive-enhancing effect of ethyl acetate fraction of Trichilia catigua acutely administered to mice via oral route at a dose of 400 mg/kg. The crude extract and ethyl acetate fraction of Trichilia catigua had been also noted to boost the memory of mice at doses of 800 mg/kg and 200–400 mg/kg, as evidenced by the increase in latency in the step-down inhibitory avoidance test. [17] Subchronic oral administration of Trichilia catigua ethyl acetate fraction (400mg/kg) for 14 days had been determined by Bonassoli et al. (2012) to stimulate antidepressant-like effects in mice based on results from forced swim test and tail suspension test and to increase cell proliferation in the dentate gyrus of mouse hippocampus a day after the Trichilia catigua intervention was terminated. [18]


Viana et al. (2011) determined the antinociceptive (pain-blocking) property of hydroalcoholic extract from Trichilia catigua and associated such action with the activation of the dopaminergic system and, to a lesser degree, with the interaction with the opioid pathway. Oral posttreatment with Trichilia catigua extract at a dose of 200 mg/kg led to antinociceptive effects in male Swiss mice submitted to hot plate, writhing, and von Frey tests. Findings also indicated a potentiation of apomorphine-induced hypothermia and inhibition of haloperidol-induced catalepsy, suggesting the likely participation of the dopaminergic system in the actions of Trichilia catigua extract. [4]


Ethyl acetate fraction of Trichilia catigua had been reported by Godinho et al. (2017) to prevent diminution in learning of mice during water maze task and hippocampal neurodegeneration following transient global cerebral ischemia, to restore long-term retrograde memory loss, and to alleviate oxidative stress and neuroinflammation after global cerebral ischemia in rats. Oral administration of the ethyl acetate fraction 30 minutes before and an hour after being subjected to transient global cerebral ischemia resulted in the prevention of persistent retrograde amnesia associated with the elicited ischemia. Such “memory-protective” action was observed to continue even after the Trichilia catigua treatment was put to a stop. Additionally, the Trichilia catigua fraction also eliminated the increase in myeloperoxidase activity and protein carbonyl group content. It appears that the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of Trichilia catigua are likely instrumental in its long-term anti-amnesic effect during the early ischemia/reperfusion phase. [19]


Catuama is an herbal formulation consisting of catuaba, muira puama (Ptychopetalum olacoides), guarana (Paullinia cupana), and ginger (Zingiber officinale), usually available as over-the-counter supplements. Calixto and Cabrini (1997) had confirmed its vasorelaxant property in the isolated blood vessels of rats, guinea pigs, and rabbits, which can be attributed largely to the release of nitric oxide or nitric oxide-derived substances. Catuama extract at a concentration of 1–3000 μg/mL induced graded relaxation in the intact or endothelium-rubbed rings of rat thoracic aorta and in the rings of guinea pig pulmonary and mesenteric arteries, as well as a partial relaxation in the rings of rabbit mesenteric artery. Moreover, the Trichilia catigua hydroalcoholic extracts in Catuama produced graded vasorelaxant and partial relaxant effects in the intact rings of rat thoracic aorta, attaining an EC50 value of 1793 μg/mL. [20]


The beneficial effects of catuaba extracts against opportunistic infection in HIV patients had been reported by Manabe et al. (1991). Pretreatment of hot water and alkaline catuaba extracts rendered protection in mice against harmful Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus aureus infection and markedly blocked the cytopathic effect associated with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). These extracts also prevented the expression of HIV antigen in human lymphotropic virus type I (HTLV-1)-positive MT-4 cells infected with HIV-1/HTLV-IIIB or HIV-2 ROD. It was concluded that the anti-HIV action of catuaba extracts was partially elicited through the inhibition of HIV adsorption to the cells. [21]

Contraindications, Interactions, And Safety

The use of catuaba is considered generally safe, although the fact remains that there is still limited information that convincingly establishes its safe dosage range and non toxicity. Because not enough is scientifically known about the safety of catuaba during pregnancy and lactation, its use is not suggested. It should also be used cautiously in individuals undergoing therapy based on squalene because catuaba may lessen the supposed effects of this compound. [22]


[1] C. Kletter, S. Glasl, A. Presser, et al., "Morphological, chemical and functional analysis of catuaba preparations," Planta Medica, vol. 70, no. 10, p. 993–1000, 2004.

[2] R. Longhini, A. A. S. G. Lonni, et al., "Trichilia catigua: therapeutic and cosmetic values," Revista Brasileira de Farmacognosia, vol. 27, no. 2, p. 254–271, 2017.

[3] S. Nayak, M. Chaphekar and B. Vaidhun, "Ethnobotanical review of Trichilia catigua A. Juss," Annals of Plant Sciences, vol. 2, no. 11, p. 497–502, 2013.

[4] A. F. Viana, I. S. Maciel, et al., "Antinociceptive activity of Trichilia catigua hydroalcoholic extract: new evidence on its dopaminergic effects," Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine : eCAM, vol. 2011, p. 120820, 2011.

[5] H. Lorenzi, Brazilian Trees, Brazil: Instituto Plantarum De Estudos Da Flora, 2009.

[6] J. B. Lagos, O. G. Miguel and M. Duarte, "Caracteres anatômicos de catuaba (Trichilia catigua A. Juss., Meliaceae)," Latin American Journal of Pharmacy, vol. 26, no. 2, p. 185–190, 2007.

[7] J. Kamdem, E. Waczuk, I. Kade, et al., "Catuaba (Trichilia catigua) prevents against oxidative damage induced by in vitro ischemia-reperfusion in rat hippocampal slices," Neurochemical Research, vol. 37, no. 12, p. 2826–2835, 2012.

[8] F. O. Resende, E. Rodrigues-Filho, H. Luftmann, F. Petereit and J. C. Palazzo de Mello, "Phenylpropanoid substituted flavan-3-ols from Trichilia catigua and their in vitro antioxidative activity," Journal of the Brazilian Chemical Society, vol. 22, no. 11, p. 2087–2093, 2011.

[9] W. Tang, H. Hioki, et al., "Antioxidant phenylpropanoid-substituted epicatechins from Trichilia catigua," Journal of Natural Products, vol. 70, no. 12, p. 2010–2013, 2007.

[10] N. Barbosa, L. Fischmann, L. Talib and W. Gattaz, "Inhibition of platelet phospholipase A2 activity by catuaba extract suggests anti inflammatory properties," Phytotherapy Research, vol. 18, no. 11, p. 942–944, 2004.

[11] M. Pizzolatti, A. Venson, et al., "Two epimeric flavalignans from Trichilia catigua (Meliaceae) with antimicrobial activity," Zeitschrift für Naturforschung C, vol. 57, no. 5–6, p. 483–488, 2002.

[12] S. Espada, L. Faccin-Galhardi, V. Rincao, A. Bernardi, et al., "Antiviral activity of Trichilia catigua bark extracts for herpesvirus and poliovirus," Current Pharmaceutical Biotechnology, vol. 16, no. 8, p. 724–732, 2015.

[13] M. V. R. Velasco, M. F. Dario, T. B. Freire, et al., "Anticellulite efficacy of Trichilia catigua and Ptychopetalum olacoides Bentham extracts," Biomedical and Biopharmaceutical Research, vol. 14, no. 1, p. 45–59, 2017.

[14] A. Fuzer, J. Filho, A. Becceneri, et al., "Effects of limonoid cedrelone on MDA-MB-231 breast tumor cells in vitro," Anti-Cancer Agents in Medicinal Chemistry, vol. 13, no. 10, p. 1645–1653, 2013.

[15] R. Gomes, L. de Paulo, C. Bonato Panizzon, et al., "Anti-diabetic effects of the ethyl-acetate fraction of Trichilia catigua in streptozo-tocin-induced type 1 diabetic rats," Cellular Physiology and Biochemistry, vol. 42, no. 3, p. 1087–1097, 2017.

[16] M. Campos, E. Fernandes, J. Ferreira, A. Santos and J. Calixto, "Antidepressant-like effects of Trichilia catigua (Catuaba) extract: evidence for dopaminergic-mediated mechanisms," Psychopharmacology (Berl), vol. 182, no. 1, p. 45–53, 2005.

[17] J. Chassot, R. Longhini, L. Gazarini, J. Mello and R. de Oliveira, "Preclinical evaluation of Trichilia catigua extracts on the central nervous system of mice," Journal of Ethnopharmacology, vol. 137, no. 3, p. 1143–1148, 2011.

[18] V. T. Bonassoli, J. M. Chassot, et al., "Subchronic administration of Trichilia catigua ethyl-acetate fraction promotes antidepressant-like effects and increases hippocampal cell proliferation in mice," Journal of Ethnopharmacology, vol. 143, no. 1, p. 179–184, 2012.

[19] J. Godinho, R. de Oliveira, A. de Sa-Nakanishi, et al., "Ethyl-acetate fraction of Trichilia catigua restores long-term retrograde memory and reduces oxidative stress and inflammation after global cerebral ischemia in rats," Behavioural Brain Research, vol. pii, pp. S0166-4328(17)31077-X, 2017.

[20] J. B. Calixto and D. A. Cabrini, "Herbal medicine Catuama induces endothelium-dependent and -independent vasorelaxant action on isolated vessels from rats, guinea-pigs and rabbits," Phytotherapy Research, vol. 11, no. 1, p. 32–38, 1997.;2-C/abstract

[21] H. Manabe, H. Sakagami, H. Ishizone, et al., "Effects of catuaba extracts on microbial and HIV infection," In Vivo, vol. 6, no. 2, p. 161–165, 1992.

[22] "Catuaba (Trichilia catigua, Erythroxylum vacciniifolium)”.

Article researched and created by Dan Albir for © 2018

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