Matico Aerial

Herbal Properties and Actions

heals wounds
reduces mucous
stops bleeding
calms coughs
Infusion: 1 cup three times daily
stops vomiting
Fluid Extract: 2-3 ml twice daily
eases nausea
aids urinary tract
Capsules: 1 g 3 times daily
aids digestion
kills viruses

expels gas

kills germs

kills bacteria

kills yeast/fungi

Matico belongs to the Piperaceae or pepper family. The Piper genus which includes more than 2,000 species of shrubs, trees and vines and includes two other well known plants— black pepper (Piper nigrum) and kava-kava (Piper methysticum).

Matico is a tropical, evergreen, shrubby tree that grows to the height of 6 to 7 m with lanceolate leaves that are 12 to 20 cm long. It is native to most all of tropical South America as well as Southern Mexico, the Caribbean, and much of tropical Latin America. Once cultivated as an ornamental worldwide, it has naturalized in tropical Asia, Polynesia, and Melanesia and can even be found in southern Florida, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico. In some countries matico is considered as an introduced noxious weed. The tree produces cord-like, white to pale yellow, inflorescence spikes that contain many minute flowers that are wind-pollinated and that soon develop into numerous tiny drupes with black seeds. The seeds are then scattered easily by bats and birds. From these many seeds, it can form large stands of quickly-growing shrubby trees that can choke out other native vegetation. Established plants also thicken into clumps or stands by suckers arising from the root crown.

Like many plants in the pepper family, most all parts of the Matico tree have a aromatic, spicy, peppery taste and smell. The fruits are often used as a condiment and pepper substitute. Throughout the Amazon, many of the Indian tribes use matico leaves as an antiseptic wound healer to stop bleeding, prevent infections and to speed healing. The leaves are either crushed or powdered and sprinkled directly onto the cut, wound, ulcer, and/or boil, or a tea (infusion) is made from the leaves and used as a wash. Sometimes the leaves are heated, pounded and then used as a poultice instead. The Shipibo-Conibo Indians also prepare the leaves in an infusion and use it to treat inflammation, diarrhea, gastritis, vomiting, fever, menstrual colic, internal infections and as a postpartum tonic.

In herbal medicine systems in South America, matico is quite well known and respected for wound healing as well a numerous other conditions. It is widely used as a remedy for all types of digestive disorders such as stomachaches, vomiting, dyspepsia, diarrhea, gastric ulcers, intestinal gas and even stomach cancer. It is also considered an excellent genitourinary tonic and used for kidney stones, urinary tract infections, cystitis, urethritis, leucorrhea, vaginitis, and various venereal diseases such as gonorrhea and trichomonas. In addition, it is also employed for various upper respiratory conditions such as bronchitis, pulmonary hemorrhages, pleurisy, pneumonia, colds and flu, and tonsilitis and sore throats.

The Spanish name, matico, comes from a South American legend. The plant was supposedly discovered by a wounded Spanish soldier named Matico. He learned (probably from the Indians) that applying the leaves to his wounds stopped them from bleeding, and it began to be called "matico" or "soldier’s herb or tree." In was introduced into the profession of medicine in the United States and Europe by a Liverpool physician in 1839 as a styptic and astringent for wounds. Early medical texts in the U.S. include matico as it appeared in the United States Pharmacopoeia in the early nineteenth century. It was also recommended for leucorrhea, gonorrhea, hemorrhoids, blenorrhagia, dyspepsia, internal hemorrhages, (pulmonary, gastric ulcers, and postpartum bleeding) as well as diarrhea, dysentery, and cholera.

Matico contains many active chemicals including flavonoids, sequiterpenes, monoterpenes, heterocycles, phenylpropanoids, alkaloids, and benzenoids. A group of chemicals called chromenes have been found in the leaves (and its essential oil) which have evidenced toxic effects to cancer cells and bacteria. Other chemicals, including a group of bezenoid chemicals, have also demonstrated antibacterial and cytotoxic actions as well. Matico also contains a chemical called safrol which has been used successfully in powerful insecticides, fragrances, soaps and detergent products. A total of 90 chemicals were identified in just the essential oil of the leaves, of which camphor (17.1%), viridiflorol (14.5%), and piperitone (23.7%) were the main components.

The chemicals identified in matico thus far include: (+)caryophyllenol I, (-)cubebol, 1-2-3-tri-methoxy-5-(2-propenyl)-benzene, 1-8 cineol, 2-6-dimethoxy-4-(2-propenyl)-phenol, 2-acetoxy-1-3-dimethoxy-5-(prop-2-enyl)-benzene, 3-(6-hydroxy-3-7-dimethyl-2-7-benzoic acid methyl ester, 5-methoxy-6-(2'-propenyl)-benzodioxole, 5-methoxy-6-(2-propenyl)-benzo-1-3-dioxole, 7-hydroxy-5-methoxy-dihydro-flavone, aduncamide, adunctin A thru E, aduncumene, alpha-copaene, alpha-cubebene, alpha-humulene, alpha-muurolene, alpha-phellandrene, alpha-pinene, alpha-terpinene, alpha-tocopherol, aromadendrene, asebogenin, benzoic acids, beta-bisabolol, beta-caryophyllene, beta-cymene, beta-elemene, beta-gurjunene, beta-pinene, beta-selinene, beta-sitosterol, bicyclogermacrene, borneol, borneol acetate, cadinene, camphene, camphor, caryophyllene, chalcones, chromenes, cis-ocimene, copaene, dihydro-chalcones, dill apiol, eremophilene, eupatoriochromene, geraniol acetate, germacrene D, germacrene B, globulol, iso-borneol, limonene, linalool, lutein, methyl-lindaretin, myrcene, myristicin, nerol acetate, nerolidol, nervogenic acid, octa-trans-2-7-dienoic acid,6(s)-hydroxy-2-6-dimethyl methyl ester, pinostrobin, piperaduncin A thru C, piperitone, safrole, sakuranetin, seichelene, spathulenol, stigmasterol, tectochrysin, terpineol acetate, thymol, trans-ocimene, trans-phytol, undecanone, verbascoside, and viridiflorol.

Matico has demonstrated broad spectrum antimicrobial actions which may help to explain its long history of use for various infections and infectious diseases. In various laboratory studies over the years, matico leaves and the essential oil from the leaves or fruits have demonstrated antibacterial actions against various gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria. It has also been reported with actions against fungi and yeast. In addition, researchers in France reported matico had antiviral actions against polio virus.

Other research has focused on matico being a possible treatment for a tropical disease called leishmaniasis that is quite prevalent in the Amazon and the South American tropics. Leishmaniasis is a parasitic disease spread by the bite of infected sand flies. There are several different forms of leishmaniasis. The most common forms are cutaneous leishmaniasis, which causes skin sores, and visceral leishmaniasis, which affects some of the internal organs of the body (for example, spleen, liver, bone marrow). In two studies, matico (and an extracted chalcone chemical from the plant) was reported to either kill the parasite or treat the disease in laboratory animals. Another rather nasty tropical disease of the tropics is schistosomiasis. This parasitic disease is carried and spread by fresh water snails found in the many rivers and streams of the Amazon basin. In several other studies matico was reported with molluscicidal actions against the snail and the parasite it carries. It also was reported with insecticidal actions against the mosquito that carries and spreads yellow fever.

While very little research has been conducted on matico specifically to validate its many traditional uses, its documented antibacterial and antiviral actions do support its use for various upper respiratory infections, urinary tract infections, sexually transmitted diseases, as well as an antiseptic and disinfectant for wounds. Despite any scientific validation, it still remains a main-stay in herbal medicine practices in South America for many types of digestive problems and it is quite well known and well respected for those types of conditions.

Matico Plant Summary
Main Preparation Method: infusion or fluid extract
Main Actions (in order): stomachic, carminative, vulnerary, antiseptic, hemostat

Main Uses:

1. for digestive problems (vomiting, nausea, stomachaches, dyspepsia)
2. as a carminative and stomachic to expel intestinal gas and aid digestion
3. as an antiseptic wound healer for cuts, scrapes, ulcers, boils, etc.
4. as a hemostat for internal bleeding (uterine, gastric, pulmonary)
5. for colds, flu, coughs, bronchitis, pneumonia and other respiratory problems
Properties/Actions Documented by Research: antibacterial, anticandidal, antifungal, anti-leishmaniasis, antiyeast, antiviral, cytotoxic, insecticidal, molluscicidal
Properties/Actions Documented by Traditional Use: anti-hemorrhagic, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, antispasmodic, astringent, carminative, cicatrizant, chologogue, decongestant, depurative, disinfectant, diuretic, expectorant, hemostat, nervine, panacea, purgative, resolvent, stomachic, stimulant, styptic, tonic, vulnerary

Cautions: None reported.

Traditional Preparation: Matico leaves are traditionally prepared in infusions and decoctions. Manufactured products available in North and South America also include fluid extracts and tinctures, as well as capsules. See Traditional Herbal Remedies Preparation Methods page if necessary for definitions.

Contraindications: None reported.

Drug Interactions: None reported.

Worldwide Ethnomedical Uses
Brazil as a anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, astringent, balsamic, carminative, chologogue, diuretic, hemostat, resolvent, stimulant, stomachic, tonic and vulnerary; for blenorrhagia, bronchitis, coughs, cystitis, diarrhea, digestive disorders, dysentery, erysipelas, hematuria, hemorrhoids, hemorrhages, inflammation, leucorrhea, liver pain, menorrhagia, prolapsed uterus, pylitis, skin ulcers, snakebite, sores, urinary disorders, urethritis, urinary tract infections, uterine tonic, and wounds
Colombia as a diuretic and stimulant, for constipation, headaches, kidney stones, leucorrhea, nose bleeds, pneumonia, pulmonary hemorrhages, and stomach-aches
Dominican Republic as an astringent, diuretic, stimulant, and stomachic
Guatemala for gonorrhea
Guyana as a vulnerary for sores and wounds
Haiti as an aphrodisiac and hemostat; for abdominal pain, blenorrhagia, dropsy, leucorrhea, liver problems, rheumatism, skin problems, sores, and wounds
Honduras as a digestive aid, childbirth aid, and skin cleanser; for aches, hemorrhages, menstrual pain
Jamaica for stomachaches
Mexico as an astringent, balsamic, diuretic, stimulant and styptic; for venereal diseases
New Guinea as an antiseptic cleanser; for colds, diarrhea, and wounds
Panama for bronchitis, cancer, decubitus ulcers, digestive disorders, pleurisy, pneumonia, respiratory problems, stomach ailments, trichomonas, ulcers, uterine fibroids, uterine ulcers, vaginitis, and wounds
Peru as a anti-hemorrhagic, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, astringent, carminative, cicatrizant, depurative, disinfectant, diuretic, expectorant, hemostat, nervine, panacea, purgative, stomachic, stimulant, styptic, tonic and vulnerary; for abscesses, blenorrhagia, boils, bronchitis, cholera, colds, conjunctivitis, constipation, cystitis, diarrhea, dysentery, dyspepsia, enteritis, fever, gastritis, gastric ulcers, gonorrhea, herpes ulcers, hemorrhoids, infections, inflam-mation, internal hemorrhages, kidney pain, kidney stones, leucorrhea, malaria, menstrual colic, neuralgia, postpartum hemorrhages, rheumatic pain, skin ulcers, sore throat, stomachaches, stomach cancer, stomach disorders, tonsilitis, ulcers, urinary infections, uterine disorders, uterine fibroids, vaginitis, venereal diseases, vomiting, and wounds
Puerto Rico as a tonic; for diarrhea, dysentery, vomiting, ulcers, and to control bleeding.

The above text was written by Leslie Taylor, first published online and copyrighted in 2006. This text was modified in 2019 and is now a pre-print from: The Healing Power of Rainforest Herbs, 2nd edition © by Leslie Taylor. All rights reserved. No part of this document may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage or retrieval system, including websites, without written permission. Please read the Conditions of Use, and Copyright Statement for this web page and web site.