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Guaco, also known as huaco, is the common name for a number of vines classified as Mikania guaco which are found in the rain forest regions of South America. The vines can grow six and one-half feet (2 m) tall and eight feet (2.5 m) wide. The heart-shaped leaves contain cinnamic acid and smell like pumpkin spice when crushed, and the yellowish-white flowers smell like vanilla.
Guaco has been used for centuries by rainforest natives as a treatment for snake or insect bites. The leaves are boiled into a tea to be taken orally and are ground into a paste to treat the external site of the wound. It has also been taken as a cure for ulcers, to reduce fevers and as an anti-inflammatory. While not commonly used in the US or Europe, remedies from this plant are frequently prescribed in South America and on-going research has been done on the plant’s medicinal properties in Brazil. These studies have not only validated the traditional applications but reveal new commercial possibilities.
Pharmaceutical research has discovered that guaco contains around ten percent coumarin, which is the primary ingredient used in Coumadin™. Coumadin™ is an anticoagulant which reduces the formation of blood clots and is given to patients who have had heart valve replacements, heart attacks or who are in danger of strokes or blood clots. The plant is currently harvested from natural rainforest settings but research groups in Brazil are hoping to commercially produce it for coumarin extraction.
Scientists have also confirmed the presence of anti-inflammatory elements in the plant’s leaves. These findings explain the effectiveness of guaco-containing remedies for arthritis and rheumatism. The plant also contains bronchodialators, chemicals which dilate the bronchial passages in the lungs and are used to treat bronchitis, asthma and other respiratory conditions. This is a common ingredient in herbal cough medicines and cold and asthma remedies. These are widely available in over-the-counter products in South America, though many people make their own cough syrup by boiling the leaves, straining the water and adding sugar and honey.
The potential use of homeopathic medicinal plants such as guaco has become a focus of the National Health Ministry of Brazil. It is the Ministry’s goal to determine which homeopathic remedies have scientific validity and to promote these cheaper products throughout the world health care community. The use of approved homeopathic products in that country has created an additional market for small farmers and cut health care costs.
In the United States, guaco health products can be purchased in health food stores or natural food sections of the supermarket. They are sold without prescriptions as food supplements. It is illegal, however, for the container to make any health claims, recommend its use for specific illnesses or list any contraindications, so it is critical that consumers read and understand the properties of the supplements they take. People who are already taking a prescription containing Cuomadin™ need to be aware that guaco will increase their dose of the blood-thinning agent, a circumstance that may have unfavorable consequences.