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Pata De Vaca

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Background & General Info

Pata de vaca, or cow’s paw in English, is a perennial flowering shrub or small tree with a wide distribution range but normally inhabits the tropical rainforests of Africa, Asia, and South America, particularly in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay. [1][2] Reaching a height of about 12 meters, it is an arboreal species that originated from Asia but has now become popular as an ornamental shade tree or patio tree for buffer strips around parking lots or for median strip plantings in the highway because of its beautiful orchid-like flowers. [3][4] Its name is derived from its distinctive bilobed leaves. [1] In Brazil, the plant is also known as “unha de vaca” (or cow’s hoof), whereas in the United States, it is identified as the Brazilian orchid tree. [5] This deciduous to semi-evergreen plant is scientifically referred to as Bauhinia forficata and is a member of Fabaceae, or pea family.


Pata de vaca is considered one of the hardiest trees belonging to the genus Bauhinia and is distinguishable for its twisted ascending branches that droop at the ends and for its large, bilobed, dark green leaves, to which the plant is named after. Its trunk is often leaning, and its symmetrically spreading, round canopy has a regular (or smooth) outline and is dense, growing at a medium rate. The alternately arranged orbiculate leaves have lobed or cleft margins and are normally 2 to 4 inches in length. From spring to summer, several white, showy, orchid-like flowers bloom. This tree’s dark brown elongated seed pods are also flat and have a dry or hard covering. [4] In general, the tree shows high percentages for regeneration and germination and is well-known for being a pioneer plant of rapid growth. [2]

History & Traditional Use

In general, members of the genus Bauhinia are utilized in folk medicine to relieve various diseases, including infections, pain, and inflammation. [6] Pata de vaca has been traditionally used by the local communities near the tropical forests where this plant thrives as antidiabetic and anticancer herbs. [1] In Brazil, for instance, an infusion or tea can be prepared from pata de vaca leaves, which serves as an important alternative treatment for diabetes mellitus that lowers and stabilizes blood sugar levels of diabetics. [7]

General Herbal Uses

Attributed to the presence of flavonoids, the biological therapeutic properties of a variety of Bauhinia phytopreparations and pure metabolites have recently received considerable scientific interest worldwide and have hence been evaluated using several experimental in vivo and in vitro models. [6] As an herbal medicine, pata de vaca is most generally employed as an antidiabetic and has been dubbed as a “natural insulin”. [3] It is also employed as a diuretic for diseases related to the kidneys and urinary tract such as polyuria, cystitis, and kidney stones and is used as a blood-cleansing agent that promotes the health of blood cells and keeps high cholesterol at bay. [2]

Constituents/Active Components

A 2015 phytochemical screening of the water extract of pata de vaca leaves evidenced the presence of gallic acid (6.53%), chlorogenic acid (2.08%), caffeic acid (1.72 %), rutin (0.91%), isoquercitrin (4.45%), quercetin (7.19%), and kaempferol (2.30%), with HPLC analysis revealing hydrolysable tannins, flavonoids, and phenolics as the extract’s chief constituents. [1] An earlier phytochemical screening in 2013 also indicated the presence of flavonols, phenols, alkaloids, flobabenic tannins, flavanones, and saponins. [3] The total flavonoid content of hydroethanol extracts from fresh and dried Bauhinia forficata leaves is in the range between 572.08 and 1,102.99 μg/mL, with the flavonoid kaempferitrin and other kaempferol and quercetin derivatives being predominant. [8]

Medicinal/Scientific Research


Findings from a 2016 Brazilian study indicated the antioxidant and protective effects imparted by Bauhinia forficata tea against oxidative stress and liver damage in streptozotocin-induced diabetic mice. No treatment was administered to diabetic male mice for 30 days. On the 31st day, the diabetic rats were made to consume Bauhinia forficata tea as a drinking-water substitute for 21 days. Such treatment in diabetic rats stabilized and reversed their abnormal parameters such as their elevated NQO-1 levels in the pancreas, their increased reactive oxygen species (ROS) levels and lipid peroxidation in the liver, and a decrease in catalase activity. [9]

Bauhinia forficata decoction was also found in the study of Peroza et al. (2013) to display antioxidant potential and to partially protect experimental rats against vacuous chewing movements caused by haloperidol. Typical antipsychotics such as haloperidol are notorious in producing motor disturbances that are related to oxidative stress production in some brain areas. Results of the study revealed that pata de vaca effectively blocked the formation of lipid peroxidation induced by sodium nitroprusside and Fe2+/EDTA and its daily administration for 16 weeks at a dose of 2.5 g/L moderately prevented haloperidol-induced vacuous chewing movements in animal models of orofacial dyskinesia. [10]


A 2013 study confirmed the antimutagenic potential of aqueous extracts derived from Bauhinia forficata on bone marrow cells of Wistar rats treated in vivo. Such substantial antioxidant activity of pata de vaca had been explained by the presence of its flavonoids and phenolic compounds, which statistically decreased the percentage of cyclophosphamide-induced chromosomal alterations by 91%, 71%, and 95% during simultaneous treatment, pretreatment, and posttreatment, respectively. [11]

Silva et al. (2014) demonstrated the selective cytotoxicity and antiproliferative activity of lectins extracted from Bauhinia forficata seeds against MCF7 human breast cancer cells. Although the lectins lacked efficacy against MDA-MB-231 and MCF 10A cells, they inhibited the viability of the MCF7 human breast cancer cells and prevented their adhesion on laminin, collagen I, and fibronectin. In addition, the Bauhinia forficata seed lectins reduced the expression of α1, α6, and β1 integrin subunits but increased the expression of α5 subunit. These lectins also elicited necrosis, inhibited caspase-9, and induced DNA fragmentation, resulting in cell cycle arrest at the G2/M phase and diminishing the expression of regulatory proteins. [12] Another compound isolated from Bauhinia forficata leaves was indicated by Lim et al. (2006) to display antiproliferative effect against HeLa cells. HY52, a novel inhibitor of cyclin-dependent kinase, was found to dose-dependently hamper the growth of HeLa cells at doses of 0.07–0.41 mM. Its 24-hour treatment selectively inhibited CDC2 kinase, stimulated cell-cycle arrest in the G1 phase of HeLa cells according to results of flow cytometric analysis, and induced apoptosis of HeLa cells based on TUNEL assay. Findings obtained through Western blot analysis also determined that HY52 inhibited the proliferation of HeLa cells via induction of G1-phase arrest through inhibition of pRb phosphorylation and of G2/M-phase arrest through downregulation of CDC2, cyclin A, and cyclin B1. [13]


A 2012 survey of 81 plant species popularly employed as treatment of diabetes mellitus in southern Brazil determined Bauhinia forficata to be a species most frequently cited by various studies, having been investigated in more detail for its promising antidiabetic property than any South American plant. [7] The antidiabetic property of pata de vaca has been extensively shown in different studies using experimental animals as model of diabetes. Silva et al. (2002) found that oral treatment using an n-butanol fraction of Bauhinia forficata leaves significantly decreased the serum glucose levels of normal and alloxan-induced diabetic rats, but not of glucose-fed hyperglycemic normal rats. Such hypoglycemic activity was noted after 1 and 2 hours of treatment at fraction doses of 500 mg/kg and 600 mg/kg, respectively, in normal rats. Bauhinia forficata leaf n-butanol fraction exerted its maximum effect in diabetic rats after an hour at a dose of 800 mg/kg, which persisted for the next 3 hours. [14] Pepato et al. (2002) on the other hand determined the antidiabetic effect of Bauhinia forficata leaf decoction comprising 150 grams of pata de vaca leaves in a liter of water. At a mean daily dose of 35.2 ± 7.8 mL/100 g body weight, the decoction was administered to streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats for nearly a month, serving as a drinking-water substitute. The treatment led to a remarkable decrease in serum and urinary glucose and urinary urea and an overall improvement in carbohydrate metabolism, which was likely associated with the inhibition of neoglycogenesis. [15]

The antidiabetic activity of pata de vaca has been verified to be largely contributed by its major active constituents. One of these is kaempferol-3,7-O-(alpha)-dirhamnoside (kaempferitrin), a flavonoid that had been confirmed by in vivo and in vitro experiments to exhibit hypoglycemic effect and antioxidant potential. In a 2004 study, oral administration of kaempferitrin, which was obtained from an n-butanol fraction of Bauhinia forficata leaves, significantly lowered the serum glucose levels of normal and alloxan-induced diabetic rats. Such hypoglycemic effect was noted in normal rats when they were treated with the highest dose of kaempferitrin (i.e., 200 mg/kg) for an hour but was apparent in diabetic rats at all doses tested (i.e., 50, 100, and 200 mg/kg). Furthermore, kaempferitrin displayed in vitro antioxidant property against reactive oxygen species and demonstrated high reactivity against DPPH, with an IC50 value of 84.0 ± 7.8 μM. It also suppressed the activity of myeloperoxidase and reduced lipid peroxidation. [16]


Results from a 2013 study revealed the antihypertensive effect of aqueous extract of Bauhinia forficata leaves in conscious normotensive and Goldblatt hypertensive rats. In this study, a catheter was inserted into the abdominal aorta via femoral artery to measure the mean arterial pressure and heart rate of rats. Normotensive rats intravenously treated with the extract at doses of 5, 10, 20, and 40 mg/kg manifested hypotension and tachycardia, which was not reversed by indomethacin. On the other hand, Goldblatt hypertensive rats treated with the same extract at a dose of 400 mg/kg were observed to display a 12% decrease in mean arterial pressure. [3]

Snake Bites

Oliveira et al. (2005) demonstrated the anticoagulant and antifibrinogenolytic properties of Bauhinia forficata aqueous extract against snake venoms, suggesting it as a potential source of inhibitors of serine proteases that are associated with snake venom-induced blood clotting disturbances. Findings from this study indicated that the aqueous extract acquired from the aerial parts of Bauhinia forficata neutralized the clotting action elicited by the crude venoms of Bothrops and Crotalus and completely inhibited the clotting and fibrinogenolytic activities of thrombin-like enzyme isolated from Bothrops jararacussu, a venomous pit viper, after incubation at various ratios. The extract also effectively diminished the edema caused by the venom of the South American rattlesnake (Crotalus durissus terrificus) and inhibited the activity of isolated phospholipases A2. [17] Silva et al. (2012) purified a new lectin, labeled BfL, from the seeds of Bauhinia forficata through different chromatographic techniques. BfL, which is a glycoprotein, exhibited pH-dependent hemagglutinating activity, increased the coagulation time, and dose-dependently prevented the platelet aggregation induced by epinephrine. To date, BfL remains as the only lectin extracted from Bauhinia that possesses anticoagulant and antiplatelet-aggregating properties. [18]

Contraindications, Interactions, And Safety

The second edition of the American Herbal Products Association’s Botanical Safety Handbook classifies pata de vaca as safety class 1 and interaction class A; in other words, the herb can be safely consumed when taken at appropriate doses. No contraindications, adverse events, or known drug and supplement interactions have been established by clinical trials or case reports for the plant. [19] A 2004 toxicity investigation concluded the absence of toxic effects of pata de vaca aqueous decoction (150 g/L) orally administered in streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats for a month, which was determined using enzyme markers in the study. Improvement in carbohydrate and protein metabolism due to oral administration of Bauhinia forficata leaf decoction appears to result without aversely causing injury or toxicity to the liver, bile ducts, or muscles, as evidenced by the absence of alterations in either lactate dehydrogenase activities or bilirubin levels in treated diabetic and normal rats. [5] Results of a more recent 2013 study had also confirmed the absence of cytotoxicity for Bauhinia forficata water extract administered by gavage at a dose of 4.65 g/L and of any alterations to the mitotic index of bone marrow cells of treated rats. Published laboratory data likewise showed an absence of cytotoxicity of the extract to bone marrow cells at concentrations of 0.465 g/L (1.57%) and 4.65 g/L (1.53%). [11]


[1] A. Ecker, F. A. Vieira, A. d. S. Prestes, et al., "Effect of Syzygium cumini and Bauhinia forficata aqueous-leaf extracts on oxidative and mitochondrial parameters in vitro," EXCLI Journal, vol. 14, p. 1219–1231, 2015.

[2] S. Contu, "The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2012: Bauhinia forficata," International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, 2012.

[3] P. C. dos Anjos, P. R. Pereira, I. J. A. Moreira, et al., "Antihypertensive effect of Bauhinia forficata aqueous extract in rats," Journal of Pharmacology and Toxicology, vol. 8, no. 3, p. 82–89, 2013.

[4] E. F. Gilman and D. G. Watson, "Bauhinia forficata: Brazilian Orchid-Tree," United States Forest Service of Department of Agriculture, 1993.

[5] M. Pepato, A. Baviera, R. Vendramini and I. Brunetti, "Evaluation of toxicity after one-months treatment with Bauhinia forficata decoction in streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats," BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, vol. 4, no. 7, 2004.

[6] V. Cechinel Filho, "Chemical composition and biological potential of plants from the genus Bauhinia," Phytotherapy Research, vol. 23, no. 10, p. 1347–1354, 2009.

[7] M. Trojan-Rodrigues, T. Alves, G. Soares and M. Ritter, "Plants used as antidiabetics in popular medicine in Rio Grande do Sul, southern Brazil," Journal of Ethnopharmacology, vol. 139, no. 1, p. 155–163, 2012.

[8] C. Sayago, V. Camargo, F. Barbosa, C. Gularte, et al., "Chemical composition and in vitro antioxidant activity of hydro-ethanolic extracts from Bauhinia forficata subsp. pruinosa and B. variegata," Acta Biologica Hungarica, vol. 64, no. 1, 2013.

[9] A. C. F. Salgueiro, V. Folmer, M. P. da Silva, et al., "Effects of Bauhinia forficata tea on oxidative stress and liver damage in diabetic mice," Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, vol. 8902954, p. 9, 2016.

[10] L. Peroza, A. Busanello, C. Leal, et al., "Bauhinia forficata prevents vacuous chewing movements induced by haloperidol in rats and has antioxidant potential in vitro," Neurochemical Research, vol. 4, no. 789–796, p. 38, 2013.

[11] E. Düsman, I. V. de Almeida, A. C. Coelho, et al., "Antimutagenic effect of medicinal plants Achillea millefolium and Bauhinia forficata in vivo," Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, vol. 2013, p. 893050, 2013.

[12] M. Silva, C. de Paula, J. Ferreira, E. Paredes-Gamero, et al., "Bauhinia forficata lectin (BfL) induces cell death and inhibits integrin-mediated adhesion on MCF7 human breast cancer cells," Biochimica et Biophysica Acta, vol. 1840, no. 7, p. 2262–2271, 2014.

[13] H. Lim, M. Kim, Y. Lim, Y. Cho and C. Lee, "Inhibition of cell-cycle progression in HeLa cells by HY52, a novel cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor isolated from Bauhinia forficata," Cancer Letters, vol. 233, no. 1, p. 89–97, 2006.

[14] F. Silva, B. Szpoganicz, M. Pizzolatti, et al., "Acute effect of Bauhinia forficata on serum glucose levels in normal and alloxan-induced diabetic rats," Journal of Ethnopharmacology, vol. 83, no. 1–2, p. 33–37, 2002.

[15] M. Pepato, E. Keller, A. Baviera, I. Kettelhut, et al., "Anti-diabetic activity of Bauhinia forficata decoction in streptozotocin-diabetic rats," Journal of Ethnopharmacology, vol. 81, no. 2, p. 191–197, 2002.

[16] E. de Sousa, L. Zanatta, I. Seifriz, T. Creczynski-Pasa, et al., "Hypoglycemic effect and antioxidant potential of kaempferol-3,7-O-(alpha)-dirhamnoside from Bauhinia forficata leaves," Journal of Natural Products, vol. 67, no. 5, p. 829–832, 2004.

[17] C. Oliveira, V. Maiorano, S. Marcussi, C. Sant'ana, et al., "Anticoagulant and antifibrinogenolytic properties of the aqueous extract from Bauhinia forficata against snake venoms," Journal of Ethnopharmacology, vol. 98, no. 1–2, p. 213–216, 2005.

[18] M. C. Silva, L. A. Santana, R. Mentele, R. S. Ferreira, et al., "Purification, primary structure and potential functions of a novel lectin from Bauhinia forficata seeds," Process Biochemistry, vol. 47, no. 7, p. 1049–1059, 2012.

[19] Z. Gardner and M. McGuffin, American Herbal Products Association’s Botanical Safety Handbook, 2nd ed., Boca Raton, Florida: CRC Press, 2013.

Article researched and created by Dan Albir for © 2018

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