Suma Root Uses

Annette McDermott
Reviewed by Terri Forehand RN
Suma root (Pfaffia paniculata)
Suma root (Pfaffia paniculata)

Suma root (Pfaffia paniculata), also called Brazilian ginseng, is native to South America. It is considered an adaptogenic herb and used to help the body fight physical, emotional, and environmental stress. Suma root is used as a natural remedy for conditions ranging from fatigue to menopause. Once you know the facts about this root, you can determine whether or not it's right for you.

History of This Root Isn't Clear

Suma root's history in natural medicine is not very clear. While proponents claim that the herb has been used for generations by native Brazilians, others disagree. According to both "Tyler's Honest Herbal: A Sensible Guide to the Use of Herbs and Related Remedies" by Steven Foster and "The Green Pharmacy Herbal Handbook," by James A. Duke, there is no reference to suma in any known documentation of Brazil's traditional medicine history or its catalog of 590 medicinal plants.

A survey of Brazilian folk literature books performed by the Department of Psychobiology at UNIFESP, São Paulo, Brazil indicates that Pfaffia paniculata has been studied as an adaptogenic herb, but it's listed in less than four books. The survey concluded that "Brazil is rich in plants with potential adaptogen-like effect, but lacks pharmacological studies (mostly clinical ones) to confirm these therapeutic properties."

Suma Root Uses and Research

Despite the questions surrounding its history, suma root remains a popular natural treatment for many conditions. Herbalists often prescribe the ingredient as a general wellness adaptogen to help boost immunity, relieve stress, and fight fatigue. Suma root is also used for the following purposes.

  • To increase virility: According to a PubMed abstract, suma increased ejaculation rates and time on impotent/sluggish rats. Researchers concluded that this result supports the folk remedy of using suma as a sexual stimulant.
  • To relieve dark eye circles: A Brazilian study determined suma root helps improve the appearance of dark under eye circles when combined with two other herbal ingredients, Madonna Lily and Muria Puama. It's believed that the herbal combination helps reduce the anti-inflammatory process and increase antioxidant protection.
  • As a potential cancer treatment: Another PubMed abstract cites a study on human breast cancer cells, known as the the MCF-7 cell line. The study showed that butalonic extract derived from Pfaffia paniculata has cytotoxic abilities (the ability to kill cells) on the cancer cells. Another study on mice with Ehrlich tumors showed that butalonic-treated mice lived longer than untreated mice.

Keep in mind that most suma root studies were performed on animals, not humans. Although those studies are encouraging, more research on humans is needed in order for the herb to gain widespread acceptance in the mainstream medical community.

Side Effects and Interactions

Suma root appears to have been used safely for centuries. However, WebMD states that powdered suma can cause asthma symptoms if it's inhaled. Additionally, the site states you should not use the herb if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Potential Dangers from Germanium Content

Suma root contains the natural, organic form of germanium. According to "Lessons from the Miracle Doctor: A Step-by-Step Guide to Optimum Health and Relief from Catastrophic Illnesses," by John Baron, the suma plant contains very high levels of germanium. Germanium is believed to be responsible for many of suma root's health benefits, but don't run out and buy germanium supplements in an effort to reap these benefits.

The American Cancer Society (ACS) states on its website that "the amount and type of germanium naturally found in foods [such as suma root] do not appear to be toxic." However, the ACS goes on to say that inorganic germanium supplements may pose danger to humans. They have been linked to kidney failure, kidney damage, and several deaths. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration has issued an "Import Alert" to seize germanium that is intended for use in supplements.

No Currently Known Interactions

There are no currently known drug interactions with suma root in its natural form, but that doesn't mean they cannot occur. As a result, you should only use suma root under the care of your physician or a natural health practitioner.

Always Check With Your Physician Before Use

Adaptogenic herbs like suma root are known for helping energize the body and promote overall wellness. As studies continue to confirm the herb's various health benefits, it will undoubtedly continue to gain popularity. As mentioned previously, you should consult a physician or natural health practitioner before using suma root. He/she can help you determine the best dose and course of treatment for your circumstance.

Suma Root Uses