Chanca Piedra is the Spanish name for Phyllanthus niruri, which translates to “Stone Breaker” or “Shatter Stone”. The herb was named for its effective use by the indigenous peoples of the Amazon in eliminating gallstones and kidney stones. It has long been used in folk medicine to treat kidney and urinary bladder disturbances, intestinal infections, diabetes, and hepatitis B. This plant is distributed in all the tropical regions of the planet. There are no studies accounting for its geographic origin with accuracy. Some people say that it is native from India because Linneo (1770-1778) probably reported a first specimen from that country in 1737, but others say that it comes from the Philippines and it was then introduced to the New World.
Chanca Piedra grows wildly in America, from Texas to Northern Argentina. It also grows wild in Peru and very abundantly in tropical zones. In some of the published research, especially in earlier studies which started in the 1960’s, scientists make little or no distinction between P. niruri, P. urinaria, and P. amarus because of the very similar phytochemical make up and appearance of these plants.
Phyllanthus has a long history in herbal medicine systems in every tropical country. In ayurvedic medicine it has been used for over 2,000 years with a wide number of traditional uses including internal use for jaundice, gonorrhea, frequent menstruation, and diabetes and topical use as a poultice for skin ulcers, sores, swelling, itchiness and dysentery. In addition to kidney stones, the plant has been used in the Amazon for numerous other conditions by the indigenous peoples, which include colic, diabetes, malaria, dysentery, fever, flu, tumors, jaundice, vaginitis, gonorrhea and dyspepsia. Based on its long documented history of use in the tropical regions, the plant is generally employed to reduce pain, to expel intestinal gas, to stimulate and promote digestion, to expel worms, and as a mild laxative. For the most part, related species have been used for similar conditions worldwide.
Chanca Piedra is still used widely in herbal medicine in South America, it is the most popular remedy for gallstones and kidney stones throughout the Peruvian herbal medicine, and it is also used for hepatitis, urinary infections and as a diuretic. In Brazilian herbal medicine, where it has been used for thousands of years, it is called Quebra Pedra and is an excellent remedy to remove uric acid from the urine and to eliminate stones. It is used in Brazil for hydropsy, urinary and bladder infections and blood ailments, painful joints, cystitis, prostate disorders, kidney disorders, diabetes and as an antispasmodic and muscle relaxant specific to the urinary tract system. Chanca Piedra, indigenous to India, where it is called Pitirishi, is a common household remedy for asthma, bronchitis and to cure cough, thirst, anemia, jaundice and tuberculosis. Also indigenous to the Bahamas, where it is called hurricane weed or gale-wind grass. It is used in local herbal medicine for poor appetite, constipation, typhoid fever, flu and colds.
The interest in the plants has increased considerably. Substantial progress on their chemical and pharmacological properties, as well as a few clinical studies of some Phyllanthusspecies have been made. In a review of the Phyllanthus research the authors state, “Studies sited in this paper with the extracts and purified compounds from these plants support most of their reported uses in folk medicine as an antiviral, in the treatment of genitourinary disorders, and as antinociceptive agents…Several compounds including alkaloids, flavonoids, lignans, phenols, and terpenes were isolated from these plants and some of them interact with most key enzymes. Together this data strongly supports the view that the plants belonging to the genus Phyllanthus have potential beneficial therapeutic actions in the management of hepatitis B, nefrolitiase, and in painful disorders.”