The Fascinating Healing Benefits of Guaco Herb

Across the globe, medicinal plants grow abundantly – from the tropics to the high mountain valleys to arid deserts. Every environment and place in the world has traditional herbs used for centuries to heal and aid the local people. 

One such herb largely unknown or mentioned in North American herbalism is the guaco herb. This is quite unfortunate because this beloved tropical herb has valuable medicinal benefits and a long history of use. 

Plus, it has recently made an unwelcome introduction to Florida and other parts of the southern United States. It spreads quickly, coining the name Mile-a-Minute for its ability to climb neighboring plants rapidly. 

Because of this, it might be time for us to become acquainted with this fascinating vining herb. In this, we can help control its spread and be gifted with its powerful healing virtues.

What is the Guaco Herb?

guaco herb vine

Guaco herb is the common name for several vining plants in the Mikania genus, most of which are native to tropical rainforests of Central and South America. 

Other Mikania species are also native to parts of Mexico and the Caribbean islands. 

Most of the plants in the Mikania genus, including the ones listed below, are all similar in appearance and medicinally interchangeable. Because they have a shared demeanor and medicinal use, locals simply refer to these vines as Guaco herb. 

Other common names include bitter vine, snake vine, snake herb, and guaco bush. 

Commonly used species of guaco include Mikania glomerata, Mikania laevigata, and M. cordifolia. Jamaican guaco herb, the species found throughout Jamaica and used in their traditional herbal medicine, is Mikania micrantha. 

This species (M. micrantha) has now spread to parts of Florida and the southern United States. 

Identifying Characteristics

As an opportunistic climbing vine, guaco can reach heights up to 100 feet or about 30 meters. Essentially, it will climb the length of whatever it can vine on, such as towering trees. 

Guaco leaves are opposite, cordate (heart-shaped), and about 2-6 inches long with a bright green, shiny surface. The leaf margins are crenate to dentate or slightly toothed. 

When crushed, the leaves emit an aromatic sweet-spicey scent, similar to pumpkin pie spice. The small white flowers grow in clusters as terminal panicles and are pleasantly fragrant with a distinct vanilla scent.¹

Related: 7 Popular Green Herbs: What They Are & How to Use Them

Traditional Uses

Guaco herb has a rich ancient tradition of use for various ailments. Historically (and to this day), Brazilian Indians and Amazon rainforest inhabitants used the leaves topically for wounds, itchy skin eruptions, insect bites, rashes, and snake bites. ² 

They would also crush the green leaves to emit their aromatic compounds and place the crushed leaves around their sleeping area to deter snakes. 

The traditional use of guaco as a snake bite antidote and snake deterrent earned it the common names snake vine and snake herb. 

Tribal people of the rainforest in Central and South America would also use guaco internally to treat the effects of a snake bite, such as fever, inflammation, vasoconstriction, and swelling.

Along with its topical and internal use as an anti-inflammatory herb, guaco was also a prized remedy for respiratory ailments such as bronchitis, coughs, pleurisy, colds and flu, sore throats, and laryngitis. 

It was so well-regarded for treating these conditions that in 1870, a Brazilian herbal drug, Opedelo de Guaco, was derived from guaco’s leaves and stems.¹ This drug was also administered for systemic inflammation and rheumatism. 

Besides the drug administration for guaco leaf, one of the traditional methods still utilized today is cooking the leaf down into spicey cough syrup. This is achieved by adding a cup of fresh leaves or about ¼ cup of dried leaves to 6 cups of boiling water. 

It’s boiled until the water reduces to 2 cups, at which point sugar is added and boiled again to make the syrup. 

Modern Benefits and Uses

guaco herb vine

Medicinal Actions: 

  • Alterative
  • Astringent
  • Bitter tonic
  • Carminative
  • Antimicrobial
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Expectorant
  • Anticoagulant (blood thinner)
  • Analgesic (pain-reliever)
  • Antispasmodic
  • Diaphoretic
  • Vulnerary (wound healing)
  • Febrifuge (reduces fever)
  • Vermifuge (expels worms)
  • Anti-anaphylactic (reduces allergic reactions)

Organ System Affinities: 

  • Digestive 
  • Cardiovascular 
  • Nervous 
  • Respiratory 
  • Skin
  • Immune 
  • Musculoskeletal

Parts Used: Leaves and stems

Medicinal Preparations: Infusion, decoction, tincture, syrup 

From the impressive list of medicinal actions above, it’s clear that guaco herb is a powerful healing agent that deserves a spot in your medicine cabinet. 

Emerging research is documenting these traditional and modern-day uses and proving the effects of this ancient remedy. 

Respiratory System Uses

Studies show that guaco is beneficial for various types of upper respiratory problems. It is also beneficial for lower respiratory complaints and can help open the airways through its broncho-dilating activity. 

This and its antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory properties can help relieve persistent coughs and asthma. As an expectorant, it can help dislodge stuck or thick mucus in the lower respiratory tract and help the body expel that mucus through the cough. 

Often, respiratory ailments accompany fever as well as aches and pains. 

Guaco herb is a fantastic remedy in this regard, as it directly supports the immune and respiratory systems by opening up the lungs and strengthening the immune system. 

It also assists the fever response through its diaphoretic, febrifuge, and analgesic properties. 

As a diaphoretic, it opens up the skin pores and induces sweating; as a febrifuge, it directly lowers the fever response. With its analgesic and anti-spasmodic properties, it helps relax the nervous system, thus relieving tension and aches throughout the body. In this way, guaco is a remedy in and of itself for respiratory ailments such as bronchitis, coughs, laryngitis, colds, and flu. 

Guaco’s incredible respiratory system uses are what it is commonly used for today, and it is recommended as a cough suppressant and effective natural bronchodilator. 

Digestive System Uses

Guaco is a beneficial digestion remedy for general stomach discomfort and stomach pain, as well as ulcers and intestinal inflammation, such as leaky gut syndrome and gastritis. 

Prolonged inflammation in the digestive system can damage the gut wall. When this occurs, more toxins can escape through the gut wall lining and enter the bloodstream, leading to systemic inflammation and skin issues such as eczema and acne. 

In severe cases, ulcers can also occur if there is too much stomach acid production or bacterial infection. 

With guaco’s vulnerary (wound healing), astringent, and anti-inflammatory properties, it can effectively cool the inflammation and heal the tissue throughout the digestive system. 

In cases of bacteria infection, it can help eliminate the bacteria through its antibacterial properties. 

Guaco’s aromatic compounds are responsible for its carminative and anti-spasmodic properties, which help relieve general digestive discomforts such as bloating, gas, cramps, and indigestion.

Cardiovascular System Uses

As an anticoagulant, guaco can help reduce vasoconstriction and prevent blood clots, thus thinning the blood. 

The plant chemical responsible for this effect is coumarin. This plant chemical is extracted (from other plants) and used in isolation to produce the common anticoagulant drug coumadin. 

Guaco has a surprisingly high amount of coumarin, which is beneficial for those with systemic inflammation and who are at risk for heart attack due to restricted blood flow. 

Immune System Benefits

Guaco supports the immune system through its antibacterial and antiprotozoal properties. One study showed that M. scandens had significant antimicrobial agents that could greatly reduce human infections. 

Another study of M. cordifolia showed strong antiprotozoal activity against the protozoa Trichomonas vaginalis and Trypanosoma cruzi.¹ 

Furthermore, in vitro studies on guaco leaf demonstrate its antibacterial and anti-yeast actions against candida. These promising studies show that guaco leaf can be used as an effective antimicrobial agent (along with antibiotic use) for various infectious diseases. 

Its anti-histamine and anti-anaphylactic properties demonstrate its ability to balance an overreactive immune system, which makes it a favorable herbal ally for those with heightened immune responses and allergies. 

Musculoskeletal Uses

It’s probably clear by now that one of the guaco’s overarching benefits is its anti-inflammatory properties, which directly support various conditions throughout the body. 

In this way, it’s highly beneficial for inflammation in the musculoskeletal system, such as rheumatism and arthritis. 

Nervous System Benefits

Guaco’s anti-spasmodic and analgesic properties point to it having a direct effect on the nervous system, which would classify it as a nervine sedative. This is further confirmed by its traditional use for neuralgia or shooting nerve pain. 

These uses demonstrate that guaco herb can gently sedate and calm the nervous system, which significantly benefits the other conditions it supports, such as colds and flu, bronchitis, rheumatic pain, and digestive complaints. 

Skin Benefits

Through guaco’s alterative action, which means it supports the body’s natural metabolic detoxification pathways, it can help the body remove toxins from the blood. When toxins are circulating in the bloodstream, and the liver and kidneys can’t correctly excrete them, those toxins are pushed out through the skin. 

Systemic inflammation and toxicity can lead to skin eruptions such as eczema and acne. Guaco’s cleansing alterative and anti-inflammatory actions can help prevent and reduce itchy, inflamed skin conditions. 

Guaco leaf can also be used topically to support these ailments. For this purpose, a strong decoction of the dried or fresh leaf can be made and used as a wash.

Guaco Leaf Chemical Profile

Every plant is made up of various chemicals, and these active constituents make up a plant’s chemical profile. 

By studying how these chemicals interact with animal organisms, we can determine how a medicinal plant works and link its medicinal properties to certain constituents. 

Often, these studies confirm the traditional knowledge already in place for medicinal herbs. 

Guaco contains some fascinating constituents, including coumarin (responsible for the anti-inflammatory properties), germacranolides (sesquiterpenes responsible for antibacterial, alterative properties), caffeoylquinic acids (anti-inflammatory chemicals), and kaurenoic acids (chemicals that have anti-inflammatory, vasorelaxant, antibacterial, antitumor, and anticonvulsant activities). 

It also possesses cinnamic acid, glycosides, entkaurenoic acid, germacranolides, stigmasterol, tannins (responsible for the vulnerary, astringent properties), and resins.¹ 

Safety and Contraindications

Guaco is considered a gentle and safe herb in moderate doses. However, it has been reported to cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea in large doses. It’s best to start with a small amount and see how your body responds, then increase it if necessary. 

Consult with your physician before taking this plant if you are on any anticoagulant or blood-thinning drugs, pregnant, or nursing. 

Related: 4 Best Herbs to Grow in the Kitchen + Storing & Drying

Experience the Fascinating Healing Benefits of Guaco Herb for Yourself! 

With how widespread and abundant this plant is in tropical areas, it’s well worth bringing this incredible healing plant into your home apothecary to experience its virtues for yourself. 

You can try it on its own as a tea or tincture, or try your hand at making the traditional spicey cough syrup! 

If you live in Florida, you might already have guaco growing nearby! If so, you can harvest your own wildcrafted guaco herb. Just ensure you’re 100% confident of its identification and harvest from a clean area. 

References

¹Taylor, L. (n.d.). Guaco – Mikania cordifolia, glomerata, guaco,laevigata Database file in the Tropical Plant Database of herbal remedies. Rain-Tree. Retrieved August 7, 2023, from https://www.rain-tree.com/guaco.htm

²Yatsuda, R. (n.d.). Scientific evidence for Mikania laevigata and Mikania glomerata as a pharmacological tool. PubMed. Retrieved August 7, 2023, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20636868/

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As an herbalist, my goal is to connect people with the healing powers of nature. Through my writings and herbal concoctions, I aim to guide others toward a healthier lifestyle using time-honored methods. With over four years of experience studying herbalism and organic gardening, I offer my knowledge to inspire others to explore the natural world, cultivate their own gardens, and rediscover their bond with the earth.