Though it has been used for centuries, its fame really began in the 1960s. Dr. Theodore Meyer learned about the use of pau d’arco (pronounced powdy arco) by natives of the tropical rain forest of the Amazon. They had used the inner bark of this hardwood tree as a medicine. Dr. Meyer followed their lead and claimed he successfully cured five advanced cases of leukemia with it.
The herb suddenly rose to fame! A decade later however, the National Cancer Institute determined that the quantity needed of the cancer curing drug in pau d’arco would have too many dangerous side effects. As a result, the “miracle drug” lost its place of prestige.
In the 1950s, Brazilian researchers confirmed that this ancient medicine is indeed anti-bacterial. Among more recent investigations:
The pau d’arco tree is an evergreen tree that grows in the warm parts of Central and South America. It is a broad-leaf evergreen that grows to a height of 125 feet and has pink to violet-colored flowers. Its extremely hard wood makes it resistant to disease and decay. The inner bark of the tree is used medicinally. In recent years there has been an increasing demand for pau d’arco and, as a result, the trees are endangered.
Most of the chemical research on pau d’arco has been done on the wood and not the inner bark. Pau d’arco contains chemical compounds called naphthoquinones such as lapachol that may have antifungal, antiviral, and antibacterial properties, as well as significant amounts of the antioxidant quercetin.
The herb is especially effective against Candida albicans, the fungus that causes vaginal yeast infections. Writing in the British Journal of Phytotherapy, Dutch herbalist Edward Oswald refers to the method of soaking a tampon in a strong pau d’arco tea while also taking the herb orally.
Tea can be made from the bark by adding one tbsp of bark for every three cups of water. The tea should be boiled for twenty minutes or longer in a non-aluminum pot. One cup of tea can be taken three or four times daily for acute conditions. One-half cup three or four times daily is recommended for other conditions. Pau d’arco tea has a cool, bitter flavor.
The use of herbs is a time-honored approach to strengthening the body and treating disease. Herbs, however, can trigger side effects and can interact with other herbs, supplements, or medications. For these reasons, herbs should be taken with care, under the supervision of a health care practitioner. Talk to your doctor to determine the proper dose of pau d’arco, because too much can be dangerous. Pregnant and nursing women should not take pau d’arco.