Used for centuries by traditional healers in Samoa to treat fever, body aches, swellings, and respiratory infections, the matalafi plant now has scientific research showing its potency as a natural anti-inflammatory.
Combining traditional knowledge with chemical and genetic analyses, one scientist and her research team has discovered how matalafi works to reduce inflammation.
Nature is abundant with natural healing, so much so that in the past 40 years approximately 64 percent of all new drugs were extracted, derived from or based on chemicals found in plants.
Example's of these drugs include artemisinin, the malaria drug; metformin, a diabetes drug; and the popular over-the-counter medicine, Aspirin.
So what is in the matalafi plant that makes it a natural medicine, and what exactly did the research find out?
What Is Matalafi?
Psychotria insularum, locally known as matalafi, is a small tree standing approximately 2m in height.
It has small white flowers and glossy red berries and grows along the coasts and in cloud forests of Samoa.
The leaves of the Psychotria insularum plant, known in Samoa as matalafi, have been used to treat inflammation for generations.
How Is It Used?
Traditionally, Matalafi juice is extracted from the leaves and given to a patient to drink or rub on the skin to treat fevers, aches and pains, and infections.
We can now highlight (maltalafi) not only its potential as an anti-inflammatory agent but also its potential as a treatment for cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases as well as Covid-19.
How Does Matalafi Work as an Anti-Inflammatory?
Research by indigenous Samoan scientist Seeseei Molimau-Samasoni (and her team) showed that two of matalafi leaf's bioactive components, rutin and nicotiflorin, worked to reduce fever and increase anti-inflammatory responses in lab-grown immune cells.
Upon comparison, the team determined that it was just as potent as ibroprofen in this regard.
Having studied a number of indigenous plants claimed to help medical conditions, Molimau-Samasoni said, “This was the plant I was most sceptical about, but it turned out to be my most potent extract.”
See her interview in this video.
I believe we've just started to unravel the potential of matalafi. But there's also hundreds of other traditional medicines here in Samoa to research. ~ Molimau-Samasoni
What Else Can Matalafi Help With?
Additionally, the team also discovered that compounds identified within matalafi bind to iron in a process called iron chelation, which is the removal of excess iron.
This raises the possibility that it could be used to treat diseases that produce iron imbalances such as Parkinson's, Alzheimers's, and some cancers.
It is quite possible we will see this plant integrated into medicine in the next 5 or so years, and perhaps also available in its natural state as a plant-remedy to buy in capsules or a tincture.
Can You Buy Matalafi Extract?
No. Unlike CBD, Matalafi is not available over the counter or for import in its medicinal state. There have been no human trials and it isn't approved as a medicine.
For now, this is just a validation for local healers – who are often cited as overstating the efficacy of plant-based medicine – rather than a medical revelation that is going to challenge ibruprofen overnight.
You may be able to buy a plant or seeds though, depending on where you live in the world. However, it is not recommended that you prepare your own matalafi juice unless you have been shown the process by a traditional healer.
The research discussed in this article was originally published in PNAS.