Herbal Treasures from the Amazon

by Dr. Donna Schwontkowski

Part Two:

Male and Female Hormone Regulation Herbs

When Mary Ellen, at 46 years of age, started to go through change of life symptoms – hot flushes, sweating, heart palpitations, depression, mood changes, increased feelings of stress and vaginal dryness – it reminded her of her mother’s complicated menopausal years. Her mum had been given estrogen replacement therapy, an effective but somewhat risky treatment for menopausal symptoms.Researchers have found that the greater the exposure to estrogen over a lifetime, the greater the risk of breast cancer. After having taken estrogen replacement therapy for twenty years, Mary Ellen’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Subsequent surgery and follow-up treatment successfully removed the cancer, and her doctor took her off estrogen replacement therapy because it is contra-indicated in cases of breast cancer.

Mary Ellen’s mother had such a severe re-occurrence of menopausal symptoms, however, that she begged her doctor to put her back on estrogen replacement therapy. He consented only after a year of persistent pleading, warning her of its dangers. Five years later, Mary Ellen’s mother thought she beat the odds against a re-occurrence of cancer; however, shortly thereafter her body was riddled with cancer that had spread to most of her major internal organs. Mary Ellen feared she would experience a similar fate.

In addition to the symptoms experienced by Mary Ellen and her mother, menopause increases the rate of bone loss leading to osteoporosis. Approximately 50% of women in the U.S. experience moderate to severe menopausal and post-menopausal symptoms. These symptoms also include loss of muscle tone, thinning of the vaginal wall, and increased risk of bladder infections and prolapsed uterus.


Luckily Mary Ellen came across some herbs from the Amazon during this difficult time in her life. Of the more than 200,000 plant species found in the Amazon, many have been found to contain hormone-like compounds that are quite similar to estrogen and testosterone. These plants have been traditionally used to treat women with PMS, menopause and miscarriages, and men with impotence and prostatitis.

One of the most effective herbs from the Amazon for female problems is Suma. Suma is called “Brazilian ginseng” because of the wide variety of conditions it is used to treat in Brazil. Researchers report that it acts primarily as a regulator of the endocrine, nervous, musculoskeletal and digestive systems. Suma is classified as a true adaptogen. Adaptogens differ from other herbs in that they can be used safely on a daily basis. Their action is normalizing, as opposed to stimulating or inhibitive.

Two plant hormones, sitosterol and stigmasterol, occur naturally in Suma. These two plant hormones are phytoestrogens, plant compounds that mimic some of the properties of estrogen. Another plant compound found in Suma, beta-ecdysone, facilitates cellular oxygenation.

Mary Ellen found that by taking a combination of Amazon herbs containing phytoestrogens, her menopausal symptoms stopped quickly. Her fears about taking estrogen replacement were eliminated along with her fears of following in her mother’s health footsteps. Plants containing phyto-estrogens have been found to be protective against female hormonal-related cancers, including breast cancer, cancer of the cervix, and endometriosis.

The incidence of female reproductive system problems such as breast cancer, endometriosis and PMS has increased dramatically within the past thirty years. Ironically, some experts suggest that organochloride pesticides from the environment (DDT, aldrin, chlordane) – which also mimic estrogen in the body – are responsible for these increases. Women with these disorders have a higher concentration of pesticides in their bodies than women without these disorders.

Other herbs from the Amazon which help establish balance during the menstrual cycle or during menopause include Abuta, Maracuja, Muira puama, Star anise and Una de gato. Many of these herbs do this indirectly by regulating the nervous system.

Abuta is always carried by midwives in the Amazon for menstrual cramps and pain before and after childbirth. They report that it prevents miscarriages. In Ecuador, it has also been known to stop uterine hemorrhages

Maracuja, also call Passion Flower, is known throughout the world for its natural sedative properties. Maracuja is especially helpful in cases of PMS. It is traditionally used for nervous crises, hysteria, depression, and headaches of nervous origin – symptoms that often occur prior to onset of the menstrual period in susceptible women.

Scientific Names of Amazon Herbs Used For Female Disorders

Common Name Scientific Name
Abuta Cissampleos pareira
Suma Pfaffia paniculata
Maracuja Passiflora incarnata (Passion Flower)
Marapuama Ptychopetalum uncinatum
Star anise Ilicium anisatrum
Una de gato Uncaria tomentosa

According to Brazilians, Marapuama is used frequently for menstrual cramps, premenstrual syndrome and frigidity. It is also a tonic for the nervous system and helps alleviate symptoms of depression.

Star anise functions as a female tonic. Herbal texts from Brazil report on its ability to eliminate sad thoughts during the menses. Una de gato’s long history of use for treatment of irregularities of the female cycle and other conditions is well-known in Peru. (See Oct. 1994 issue.)

I have found that for female disorders, combinations of herbs from the Amazon are the most effective. One 35-year-old woman stated that she used to have two-to-four menstrual cycles per month, each lasting one week. Amazon herbs regulated her periods and slowed down blood flow. After about six weeks on Amazon herbs, she began having only one period a month.

Other women report total elimination of bloating, irritability and fatigue, and markedly reduced severity of cramps. It is as if their bodies cycle effortlessly without any physiological strain from cycle to cycle. Without calendar vigilance, they don’t realize their next cycle has arrived. They appear to have reached a physiological state that expresses “femaleness” without pain and dysfunction. But what about the men?


By the time Mary Ellen’s husband, Sam, hit his 40’s, he had experienced what an estimated eighteen million American men between the ages of 40 and 70 currently experience – some aspect of male impotency. Sam didn’t want to end up as part of a statistic; 10% of men are completely impotent, according to a recent Massachusetts study. He decided to try Amazon herbs.

Three herbs from the Amazon act as aphrodisiacs and have traditionally been used for impotence: Marapuama, Catuaba and Cajueiro. A recent study at the Institute of Sexology in Paris, France, found that Marapuama was more effective than Yohimbine (pharmaceutical extract from the plant Yohimbe) for erectile dysfunctions. Sam tried Marapuama, and Mary Ellen reported great results.

Catuaba is used not only for male impotency, but also as a tonic for the male organs and nervous system. It has been used for extreme fatigue. Marapuama, also used for impotency, is a tonic for the nervous system. It helps both males and females.

Cajueiro has aphrodisiac properties and is a general tonic for the body. Tonics increase vitality by strengthening and rejuvenating either a specific organ, a system, or the whole body. The value of tonic herbs lies in their normalizing and nurturing effect on the body.

Abuta is used by men in the Amazon for inflammation of the testicles. It is also helpful for kidney stones and other minor kidney problems. Pau d’ Arco and Jatoba are helpful in the treatment of prostate inflammations.

Psychological and physiological problems resulting from imbalances in sex hormones are difficult to treat. Some treatments, like estrogen replacement therapy and testosterone replacement therapy, carry high risks with them. Amazon herbs, however, offer a risk-free, side-effect-free option to individuals with these disorders.

Scientific Names of Amazon Herbs Used for Male Problems

Common Name Scientific Name
Catuaba Juniperis brasiliensis
Marapuama Ptychopetalum uncinatum
Cajueiro Anacardium occidentale
Abuta Cissampelos pareira
Pau d’Arco Tecoma impetiginosa
Jatoba Hymenaea courbaril

The Amazon Rainforest is an important health resource for our future. We are just beginning to unlock health secrets that can change the health of millions of people in the world.

Dr. Donna Schwontkowski obtained her doctorate degree in Chiropractic Medicine from National College of Chiropractic in Lombard, Illinois simultaneously with a Master’s Degree in Nutrition from Northern Illinois University in 1990. Her long-standing interest in natural healing therapies and extensive experience in the field of nutrition prompted a research project in 1991 on the effect of an Amazonian herbal combination on weight loss in adults. She continues to research the Rainforest herbs and is currently on a nationwide radio circuit to educate people on how they may benefit from the use of these herbs. Her chiropractic practice emphasizes the natural healing treasures from the Amazon Rainforest. She has written a book called Herbs From the Amazon: Traditional and Common Uses.

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