Suma is a large shrubby vine native to the rain forests of the Amazon and other tropical regions of Latin America, including Brazil, Ecuador, Panama, Peru, and Venezuela.1 The root of the plant is used medicinally.
Although suma is claimed as an ancient Brazilian folk remedy, no confirmation of that statement is found in the modern literature on medicinal plants. Advocates have claimed suma is an immune enhancer, an adaptogen (helps combat stress), and that it possesses anticancer activities. Test tube studies do indicate possible anti-tumor activity of suma constituents called pfaffosides. Suma has been marketed as Brazilian ginseng, though it is not an adaptogen (a substance that invigorates or strengthens the system) and is not related to Asian ginseng or American ginseng. In light of the lack of known traditional use, and of modern research confirming health benefits, use of suma is not recommended for any condition at this time.2
Suma root contains several major constituents, including the nortriterpene pfaffic acid, six pfaffic acid saponins (pfaffosides A–F), pterosterone, ecdysterone, and ecdysteroid glycosides.3 , 4 Although widespread claims are made for this herb for the treatment of chronic fatigue, stress, menopausal symptoms, and diabetes, they are not supported by current human clinical research. What little research has been done focuses on the plant’s anti-tumor, anti-inflammatory, and aphrodisiac effects and has been completed only in test tubes or with animals.5 , 6 , 7 , 8
Suma root, 500 to 1,000 mg two to three times per day, can be used.9
Very little is known about the adverse effects of this herb. Saponins, such as the pfaffosides found in this plant, can cause nausea when taken in excessive quantities. Occupational inhalation of suma dust has been known to trigger asthma.10 The safety of this plant has not been established for use during pregnancy or breast-feeding.
1. Peirce A. Practical Guide to Natural Medicines. New York: William Morrow and Co., 1999, 614–5.
2. Tyler VE. The Honest Herbal 4th ed. New York: Haworth Press, 1999, 363–5.
3. Nishimoto N, Nakai S, Takagi N, et al. Pfaffosides and nortriterpenoid saponins from Pfaffia paniculata. Phytochem 1984;23:139–42.
4. Nishimoto N, Shiobara Y, Inoue S, et al. Three ecdysteroid glycosides from Pfaffia iresinoids. Phytochem 1988;27:1665–8.
5. Arletti R, Benelli A, Cavazzuti E, et al. Stimulating property of Turnera diffusa and Pfaffia paniculata extracts on the sexual behavior of male rats. Psychopharmacol 1999;143:15–9.
6. Peirce A. Practical Guide to Natural Medicines. New York: William Morrow and Co., 1999, 614–5.
7. Tyler VE. The Honest Herbal 3rd ed. New York: Haworth Press, 1993, 303–4.
8. Mazzanti G, Braghiroli L. Analgesic anti-inflammatory action of Pfaffia paniculata (Martius) kuntze. Phyto Res 1994;8:413–6.
9. Peirce A. Practical Guide to Natural Medicines. New York: William Morrow and Co., 1999, 614–5.
10. Subiza J, Subiza JL, Escribano PM, et al. Occupational asthma caused by Brazil ginseng dust. J Allergy Clin Immunol 1991;88:731–6.
Last Review: 05-01-2013
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