Cumaru is a large rainforest tree that grows up to 30 m in height in the Amazon. It can be found in the tropical rainforests of Brazil, Venuezuela, Guyana, French Guiana, Suriname, Peru and Colombia. It produces a gray to black seed or bean that is 2-5 cm long and about 1 cm in diameter that are commonly called "tonka beans." Cumaru is in the Dipteryx genus which comprises 10 species of shrubs and trees only in tropical America. This huge rainforest canopy tree is quite prevalent in the Brazilian states of Amazonas and Pará where it is often felled to use the durable wood as construction materials.
TRIBAL AND HERBAL MEDICINE USES
The seed and the bark of the cumaru tree have been employed by the rainforest Indian tribes in the Amazon for quite a long time. The bark is prepared as a decoction to bathe fevered patients in it. The seeds are fermented in rum and used for snakebites, cuts, contusions, coughs, rheumatism and as a shampoo. The seed oil is dropped into the ears for earaches and ear infections. In Brazilian herbal medicine systems today, cumaru is considered to possess antispasmodic, emmenagogue, cardiotonic, and antiasthmatic actions.
The beans produced by the cumaru tree have a pleasant vanilla-like odor and have been used in perfumery, soaps, and as a flavoring agent in foods and tobacco. The beans are usually fermented in the local rum and then air-dried. This results in the formation of coumarin crystals dusting the outside of the seed, making them appear frosted.
Tonka beans can contain on average 1% to 3% coumarin but some strains have tested as high as 10%. Coumarin is a well known plant chemical which is an anticoagulant blood thinner that has been turned into a prescription drug called coumadin or Warfarin. Coumarin is toxic when ingested in high dosages. Dietary feeding of coumarin to rats and dogs has been associated with extensive liver damage, growth retardation, testicular atrophy and cardiac paralysis. The toxic dosage of coumarin in rats is reported to 680 mg/kg.
In addition to courmarin, cumaru also also contains isoflavones, lupeol derivatives and fatty acid esters. Other plant chemicals include: (+/-)-balanophonin, (-)-lariciresinol, 3'-hydroxyretusin-8-methyl-ether, 5-methoxyxanthocercin A, 6,4'-dihydroxy-3'-methoxyaurone, 7-hydroxychromone, 7,3'-dihydroxy-8,4'-dimethoxyisoflavone, betulin, butin, coumaric-acid-beta-glucoside, dipteryxin, dipteryxic acid, eriodictyol, ferulic-acid, isoliquiritigenin, lupeol, melilotoside, melilotoside-1-p-coumaryl-beta-d-glucose, methyl-linolenate, methyl-oleate, O-coumaric-acid, O-hydroxycoumaric-acid, cdoratin, P-hydroxy-benzoic-acid, retusin, retusin-8-methyl-ether, sulfuretin, salicylic-acid, and umbelliferone.
BIOLOGICAL ACTIVITIES AND CLINICAL RESEARCH
In laboratory studies conducted in Brazil with animals, seed extracts have been reported to evidence chologogue, choleretic, antispasmodic, hypoglycemic, anti-diuretic, anti-spermatogenic, and anti-inflammatory actions. These animals studies noted liver damage and toxicity in rats at the higher dosages of 350 mg per kg of body weight using a crude seed extract. Researchers in the United States reported an in vitro anti-tumor effect using a mouse mammary cancer model in 2003.
WORLDWIDE ETHNOMEDICAL USES
||contusions, coughs, cuts, earaches, fevers, rheumatism, snakebite, shampoo |
||as an antispasmodic, emmenagogue, cardiotonic, and antiasthmatic; for asthma, coughs, digestive complaints, hair loss, heart conditions, mouth sores, pain|
||as an antispasmodic, cardiotonic, diaphoretic, perfume |
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Last updated 12-17-2012