Love Plant of the Northern Amazon

Common Name


Botanical Name

Erythroxylum catuaba
Erythroxylum catuaba
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The menu of one guarana stand offered a “Super Sex Drink,” which contained a heaping teaspoon of guarana powder, plus a heaping teaspoon of powdered catuaba bark blended with any of the region’s tropical fruits.

According to tribal lore, the Tupi Indians in Brazil first discovered the aphrodisiac properties of catuaba, Erythroxylum catuaba. Indigenous peoples have used catuaba for generations. Natives in the northern Amazon use catuaba as a sex-enhancing botanical, a central nervous stimulant and general tonic. Preparations of the bark are often employed after illness to restore health and vitality. A decoction of the bark is administered to treat nervousness and poor memory. Without question the most popular uses of catuaba are for treating sexual impotence and boosting diminished desire.

Erythroxylum catuaba is a small, vigorous-growing tree with yellow and orange flowers, which grows in the northern part of Brazil. The catuaba tree grows between 6 to 13 feet in height, and belongs to the same botanical family (Erythroxylaceae) as coca, the source of cocaine. Despite this familial bond, catuaba contains none of that stimulant drug. The bark of catuaba contains aromatic oils, resins and sterols. The compounds believed to most directly affect sexual function are two alkaloids, catuabine A and catuabine B.

Animal studies on catuaba demonstrate antibacterial and antiviral properties. In mice, catuaba extract provided protection against infections of the dangerous bacteria Escherichia coli (E. coli), Staphlococcus aureus and also inhibited HIV. Many plant extracts show some inhibitory activity against HIV. This does not mean that they are proven cures for HIV, or effective in any way against AIDS. But it is entirely possible that one or more plant-derived drugs will eventually add to the arsenal of doctor prescribed anti-HIV agents that help to maintain quality of life among the infected.

No clinical studies have yet addressed the use of catuaba as an aphrodisiac, but the widespread consumption of catuaba bark preparations for sexual purposes by large numbers of natives over many generations is ample testimony to the plant’s efficacy. Like so many traditional native remedies, catuaba’s use was once exclusive to those tribal populations where the tree grows. Today, catuaba is popular in the European and U.S. markets in capsules and in fluid extracts.

Catuaba Blender Shakes: A few years ago I stayed in the Brazilian Amazon river city of Manaus for a few days, to peruse the numerous local markets for regional herbal remedies, and to check out the popular use of another Amazonian plant, guarana. Though Brazil is a huge coffee producing nation, guarana is the most popular caffeine-bearing plant in the country. Guarana is the dried seed paste of Paulinia cupana, a bushy tree that grows both wild and cultivated in the upper Amazon basin. Guarana seed paste contains 2.5 to 5 percent caffeine, and is a common ingredient in soft drinks, syrups and guarana sticks. These sticks, which look like brown dynamite, are scraped on a grater, and the powder is added to beverages.

Around Manaus stores and street carts featured a wide variety of guarana-based sodas. Though the U.S. market favors heavy tasting colas flavored with the caffeine-bearing cola nut, Brazilians prefer the lighter and more delicate taste of guarana. Some pale sodas we encountered were labeled as guarana “champagnes.” Those sodas possessed a clean, pleasing flavor, and effervesced with a profusion of tiny bubbles.

I came upon dozens of guarana stands. These blender drink shops featured brilliant yellow awnings, with “Guarana” written in huge letters. The stands served mixed fruit smoothies blended with guarana powder, and some popular drinks contained additional herbs. The guarana stands offered a variety of drinks in which powdered guarana seed paste was blended with exotic fruits like acai, buriti, cupuacu, mango and papaya. These sweet, energizing fruit smoothies are highly popular. At busy times, lines of customers at guarana stands were a common sight.

The menu of one guarana stand offered a “Super Sex Drink,” which contained a heaping teaspoon of guarana powder, plus a heaping teaspoon of powdered catuaba bark blended with any of the region’s tropical fruits. This was one of the most popular of all the drinks, according to a young man behind the counter. The people who worked at the guarana stands we visited had many tales to share concerning the “Super Sex Drink,” which appeared on every menu. One woman at a stand told me a story about a 100-year-old man who consumed a “Super Sex Drink” and then went home and chased his centenarian wife around the bedroom. I doubted the tale at once, but that didn’t prevent me from laughing at the image it conjured. At guarana stands I saw couples buying catuaba–infused sex drinks together and smiling at each other suggestively as they drank. Men and women individually consumed the herbal potions on the spot, and took more home in plastic bottles to their partners. Overall, the guarana stands in Manaus did a brisk trade in sex drinks.

For information about natural aphrodisiac products, visit Hot Plants.