Name: Amazonian Ginseng (Pfaffia paniculata)
Otherwise known as: Pfaffa, Suma, Para Toda
Habitat: A perennial vine member of the Amaranthaceae family growing to about 4m in iron-rich soil in the Amazon basin with a thick root system producing heart-shaped leaves with panicles of small, yellow/green flowers.
What does it do: The plant was first recorded in 1826 when it was noted the local name Para Toda meant ‘for all things’, which, considering the claims made for it, may not seem exaggerated. The only connection between this cultivar and the Siberian, Korean and American Ginsengs is the name: there is no botanical link.
Pfaffa has been used by the Amerindian tribes for centuries to combat fatigue, jungle ulcers, wounds, loss of sexual potency and as a tonic to restore energy.
The plant contains 19 amino acids, vitamins A, B1, B2, E and K. The minerals magnesium, zinc, iron and germanium, which plays an important role in all bio-chemical life and is found in the soil and water at Lourdes that also contains Pfaffic acid, allantoin, sitosterol and stipmasterol. This makes the plant an adaptogen (a substance that stimulates the body’s defensive mechanism), antifungal, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, anti-tumour, tonic and an oestrogen enhancer.
Modern herbalists recommend Pfaffa for a wide range of ailments including menopausal problems, loss of appetite, chronic fatigue syndrome, diabetes, cholesterol reduction, arteriosclerosis and reduction of the side effects of the contraceptive pill in addition to osteomyelitis, stress and PMT, circulatory problems, impotence, memory and immune system enhancement, and to restore nerve and glandular functions.
Modern research in the United States and Japan indicates the plant contains powerful anti-cancer properties and has inhibited the cell growth of melanoma and lung and liver carcinomas – it has also shown promise in combating lymphoma and leukaemia in mice. Currently, some drug companies are seeking patents to market extracts from the plant as a treatment for sickle cell anaemia.
Until recently Amazonian Ginseng was known as The Russian Secret because it was taken by their athletes to increase muscle density and endurance without any of the side-effects associated with steroid intake.
Extracts from this plant must not be taken when pregnant.