Lapacho is a huge evergreen canopy tree found in the rainforests of South America, specifically Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina. The medicinal part of the tree is the inner lining of the bark (called the “phloem”) which contains compounds known as “naphthaquinones” (aka N-Factors). Lapacho is more commonly known by its Portuguese name of “pau d’arco.” It is also known by tribal names such as “taheebo” and “ipe roxo.” Throughout South America, tribes living thousands of miles apart have used pau d’arco for the same medicinal purposes for thousands of years, including the treatment of malaria, influenza, lupus, respiratory problems, syphilis, colitis, and fungal infections.
It has also been used to relieve pain (arthritis and rheumatism), kill germs, increase the flow of urine, and even as an antidote to poisons and snakebites. Pau d’arco has become a standard form of treatment for some kinds of cancer and for all kinds of infections in hospitals throughout Brazil, Argentina, and other countries in South America.
Not surprisingly, using pau d’arco is still considered “tribal quackery” in the USA. However, it’s interesting to note that Big Pharma regularly screens pau d’arco for the presence of substances (like lapachol) that could be the basis for new drugs. Of course, once Big Pharma tries to isolate, copy, and patent a natural substance, it never works as well as the natural substance. Also, no isolated component of pau d’arco comes anywhere close to being equal to the combined activity of all constituents (i.e., the whole herb).