Pfaffia or Brazilian ginseng

Toning plants are from all times and all cultures. Each country has its own tonic herb, Panax ginseng in China, Rhodiola rosea in Russia, Withania somnifera in India and Pfaffia species in Brazil. Fafia is the commonly known name in Brazil for Pfaffia paniculata, sometimes the plant is also called ginseng-brasileiro, milagroso or suma, in Dutch it is called Brazilian ginseng or pfaffia. The pharmaceutical name is Pfaffiae radix. The plant belongs to the Amaranthaceae family and originates from Brazil where it is found throughout the country. Large populations grow on the banks and flood plains of major rivers. Fafia is a 2 to 5 m high shrub whose lower branches have difficulty becoming lignified. In the spring it forms large thin panicles with small white flowers. Large, thick, fleshy roots are formed underground, which look somewhat like manioc (cassava). The plant can be grown as a crop on good, preferably not too heavy agricultural soil in full sun. It tolerates heat, light frost and cold, but cannot withstand drought. There is a growing, also international, market for fafia for the pharmaceutical industry.
The best product is clearly pieces of carrot with a light yellow color. Depending on the soil type, the roots may also turn reddish or dirty white. In the international market, pfaffia is mainly used as an aphrodisiac, or (wrongly) as a substitute for American or Korean ginseng, or to dilute it.
In folk medicine, the roots of fafia are used in a decoct or as garrafada as a tonic, for weakness and recovery after illness. It is especially popular among young people against stress and as a stimulant during tests and exams. In Brazilian phytotherapy, a large number of properties are attributed to fafia, especially as an antioxidant, in preventing premature aging, treating circulatory problems, providing greater mental clarity, and as a cell renewer.
The root probably has an anabolic, estrogenic and steroidal effect and is used as a reconvalescent agent, for menopausal problems, but also as an immune stimulant. Due to its anti-carcinogenic properties, ­it is used, among other things, against leukemia.

Ingredients mainly saponins

Fafia contains, among other things, the so-called pfaffia acid, phosphosides, ecdysterones, sesquiterpenes and stigmasterol. Saponins make up up to 11% of the dry matter. Resin and mucilages are also present. There is a patent on the use of fafia as a medicine to treat tumors, based on pfaffia acid and its derivatives. The amounts of the herb that need to be taken, even in concentrated form, are high.

Possible side effects

Fafia is not normally considered poisonous. However, people with high blood pressure and pregnant women are better off only using it under medical supervision. People who process fafia in a closed space may develop nervousness, high blood pressure, diarrhea and skin allergy.
Medicinal uses of Pfaffia summarized

  • As a tonic after illness and general weakness
  • In case of hormonal disorders (menopause, PMS);
  • In case of (chronic) fatigue (CFS?);
  • For sexual disorders (impotence, libido);
  • In case of stress, overstrain;
  • As a strengthening agent for the immune system, chronic infections.



  • Carneiro CS, Costa-Pinto FA, da Silva AP, et al. (Brazilian ginseng) methanolic extract reduces angiogenesis in mice. Exp Toxicol Pathol 2007;58(6):427-431.
  • da Silva TC, Paula da Silva A, Akisue G, et al. Inhibitory effects of (Brazilian ginseng) on preneoplastic and neoplastic lesions in a mouse hepatocarcinogenesis model. Cancer Lett 2005 Aug 26;226(2):107-13.
  • Matsuzaki P, Akisue G, Salgado Oloris SC, et al. Effect of (Brazilian ginseng) on the Ehrlich tumor in its ascitic form. Life Sci 2003;74(5):573-579.
  • Mendes FR, Carlini EA. Brazilian plants as possible adaptogens: an ethnopharmacological survey of books edited in Brazil.J Ethnopharmacol. 2007;109(3):493-500.
  • Oshima M, Gu Y. -induced changes in plasma estradiol-17beta, progesterone and testosterone levels in mice. J Reprod Dev 2003;49(2):175-80.
  • Pinello KC, Fonseca ES, Akisue G, et al. Effects of (Brazilian ginseng) extract on macrophage activity. Life Sci 2006;78(12):1287-1292.


Other names for Pfaffia

Hebanthe paniculata, Gomphrena paniculata, Gomphrena eriantha, Iresine erianthos, I. paniculata, I. tenuis, Pfaffia eriantha
, toda, corango-acu

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