There are about 50 mostly shrubby species in this genus, which occurs in warmer parts of C and S America. Best known is Pfaffia paniculata, which grows in the Upper Amazon rainforest and is known locally as paratudo, "for everything", a cure-all. The roots have been used by native Brazilians as a tonic, aphrodisiac and healing herb for at least 300 years. They contain 11 percent saponins, known as pfaffosides, including pfaffic acid and derivatives that have been patented as anti-tumor drugs. Other constituents include ecdysone, which has analgesic and anti-diabetic effects, and trace elements, such as germanium, and allantoin, a healing substance also found in Symphytum officinale (See, Comfrey). The ground root is popular as a tonic during convalescence and menopause. As an immune stimulant and adaptogen, it is considered on par with Ginseng (Panax species), though with hormonal effects better suited to women.

Scrambling, shrubby vine with a large rootstock, lustrous, woody stems, hairy young branches, and smooth, elliptic to oblong-elliptic, pointed leaves, 10-13cm (4-5in) long, which have shallowly toothed or scalloped margins. Tiny greenish-white flowers, surrounded by a tuft of whitish hairs, are produced in branched panicles.

Common Name:
Other Names:
Pfaffia, Brazilian ginseng, paratuda, corang-acu.
Botanical Name:
Pfaffia paniculata syn. Gomphrena paniculata, Hebanthe paniculata, Iresine erianthos.
Native Location:
Rainforests in Brazil, Ecuador, Paraguay and Peru: also in Panama, possibly introduced rather than native.
Appears to be wild collected, as no references have been found on its cultivation.
Appears to be wild collected, as no references have been found on its cultivation.
Roots are collected from mature plants, about 7 years old, and dried for decoctions, powder and tablets.
2-3m (6-10ft)
Min. 15°C (59°F)
Parts Used:
A tonic, sedative, analgesic herb that lowers blood sugar and cholesterol levels, and has hormonal, tissue-healing, and anti-inflammatory effects. It is an adaptogen and immune stimulant, and is reputedly aphrodisiac.
Medicinal Uses:
Internally for stress, chronic fatique, debility, poor appetite, Epstein-Barr disease, mononucleosis (glandular fever), infertility, impotence, menstrual and menopausal problems, diabetes, pancreas dysfuntion, ulcers, rheumatism, osteomyelitis, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, nervous disorders, chronic degenerative diseases, and various kinds of cancer. Also to improve resistance to infection and increase stamina. Internally and externally for wounds and fractures.
Economic Uses:
Extracts are added to food supplements and herbal tonics.
Encyclopedia of Herbs by Deni Brown Copyright © 1995, 2001 Dorling Kindersley Limited. Pg 311