Tabebuia impetiginosa (a.k.a T. avellanedae) is tree species in the family Bignoniaceae (catalpa family) native to rainforests throughout Central and South America. Mainly exported from Argentina, Paraguay, and Brazil, its common names include lapacho, pau d'arco, taheebo, and ipe roxo.

Popular reports indicate that the bark of this tree and of several other related members of Tabebuia and Tecoma curialis are used in Central and South American folk medicine to make a tea that is used to treat a wide range of maladies, from arthritis to ulcers to diabetes to cancer. As a result, many herb companies and health food stores in the U.S. are vigorously promoting lapacho teas as a virtual cure-all.

Medical researchers have indeed found that some compounds in the wood of this tree, mainly Beta-lapachone and lapachol, have anticancer properties. However, these compounds are also highly toxic (causing side effects such as severe nausea and anemia), and thus far have not proven their worth as a valid cancer treatment.

Therefore, cancer patients are strongly discouraged from attempting to treat themselves with lapacho. While it may be that teas made from this plant are genuinely useful to treat less serious ailments, none of the health claims made by herb companies have been backed up in controlled scientific studies. It's entirely possible that the teas offer nothing more than a placebo effect and are just a waste of money. If the teas do contain significant quantities of the anticancer compounds, they could very well cause some nasty side effects.


Tyler, Varro E. 1993. The Honest Herbal: A Sensible Guide to The Use of Herbs and Related Remedies. New York, Pharmaceutical Products Press.

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