The Journey to Cat’s Claw
By Viana Muller, PhD

The Journey to Cat’s Claw

Ron and Phyllis Manus also introduced me to the incredible Nicole Maxwell. Nicole was a true pioneer in the effort to recapture traditional knowledge of the medicinal plants of the Amazon River Basin in Peru. Back in the 1950s and 1960s, as Nicole explored the principal tributary rivers, few non-indigenous people aside from botanists cared about these plants. I met Nicole in person only once, but we became friends through our many phone conversations.

In one of our conversations, Nicole told me that she also believed that Cat’s Claw was the single most valuable Peruvian rainforest remedy she had encountered. I knew it was a significant help to her personally, as she suffered from arthritis. She also wrote about Cat’s Claw in what has become one of my favorite books, Witch Doctor’s Apprentice: Hunting for Medicinal Plants in the Amazon. (Note: Maxwell’s reference to “witch doctors” refers to Indigenous healers in the Amazon, or what we today would call a shaman or curandero.)

In the book, Maxwell describes Cat’s Claw native habitat: “This is a woody vine which grows in the foothills [of the rainforest], chiefly at altitudes between seven or eight hundred and twenty-five hundred meters,” or around 2,500 – 8,000 feet.

In addition to greatly expanding my knowledge of and respect for Cat’s Claw, Nicole Maxwell also introduced me to Dr. Sidney McDaniel, a world class botanist taxonomist who – in the 1970s and 1980s – collected more than 10,000 different species of plants from the upper Amazon for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which was testing plants for phytocompounds active against cancer. We were thrilled when Dr. McDaniel subsequently joined me and Elena Rojas Martinez to become a cofounder of Whole World Botanicals.

We recognized how singularly valuable Cat’s Claw is, a veritable natural medicine cabinet capable of supporting the gut and immune health among other benefits. And we were determined that Whole World Botanicals would make potent, high-quality Cat’s Claw available as a botanical remedy outside Peru.