“It’s a medicine you give horses,” Barbosa said. “Whenever they get hurt, it helps them recover very quickly. Because they have to run.”
Arnica do mato is hardly a familiar substance in American sports — or anywhere in the country. Several plant science experts said they had never heard of it. Barbosa, though, swears by it. He said he had not sustained any serious injuries since he began swilling his Amazonian potion. He does not think it is a coincidence.
“My entire family drinks it now,” Barbosa said.
Yet he has not succeeded in his attempts to convert teammates to the church of arnica do mato.
“Tastes like acid,” Harrison Barnes said.
“I almost threw up,” Festus Ezeli said.
Barbosa said he went to the Warriors’ medical staff last season for permission to continue drinking the extract. It has become an essential part of what he described as a disciplined lifestyle. He goes to bed early. He squeezes in extra conditioning at practice. He walks his dog.
“I try to keep myself out of trouble,” said Barbosa, who averaged 6.4 points in 15.9 minutes a game during the regular season.
It should be noted that arnica do mato, which is also known as lychnophora ericoides, is not the same as arnica montana, a plant that grows in mountainous regions of Europe and is commonly sold as an over-the-counter homeopathic remedy for soreness, bruising and swelling. They are more like distant cousins.
“The plants are from the same family, but more important, they contain similar substances, and so their uses are comparable,” said Christophe Merville, the director of education and pharmacy development for Boiron USA, a company that manufactures a line of arnica montana products.
Those similar substances include flavonoids, a group of plant metabolites that have antioxidant effects, and sesquiterpene lactones, a class of chemical compounds that are known to have anti-inflammatory properties, Merville said.
Arnica montana typically comes as a topical gel or in pill form — and it is always highly diluted. Alissa Gould, the public-relations manager of Boiron USA, said the company’s arnica montana products were regulated as an over-the-counter drug by the United States Food and Drug Administration.
And unlike Barbosa’s horse-grade extract, Gould said, “our products don’t burn going down.”
Still, Barbosa could not have been more effusive (or exhaustive) in listing the purported virtues of arnica do mato.
“It cleans out all the bad things that you have in your body,” he said as he made a large sweeping motion with his arms. “All natural.”
Barbosa spent the first seven seasons of his N.B.A. career with the Phoenix Suns, whose up-tempo style was an ideal fit. Livingston recalled trying to defend him.
“They just got up and down, so you constantly had to be aware of him,” Livingston said. “Because if you didn’t, he was gone: Where did this dude go? But his brakes — he didn’t really have brakes. He would take off, and then it would be hard for him to stop. But he was so fast.”
Barbosa said he learned a lot from Steve Nash, his former teammate with the Suns who now works as a consultant for the Warriors — about eating raw vegetables and lean proteins, about the importance of doing squats. A strong base is vital, especially given the dynamic way that Barbosa moves on the court.
“He’s always taking care of his body,” said Anderson Varejao, a reserve center for the Warriors who has known Barbosa since they were teenagers in Brazil. “He doesn’t take much time off.”
In February 2013, while playing for the Boston Celtics, Barbosa tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee — a devastating injury for a 30-year-old guard who had always relied on his explosiveness. As Barbosa began his rehabilitation, Alex Evangelista, his personal trainer, recommended that he start drinking the arnica do mato extract. It was new to Barbosa.
Evangelista’s reasoning struck Barbosa: If expensive racehorses were feasting on arnica do mato, then it must be good enough for him. He quickly became a believer. He bought vats of it. He drank it. He even bathed in it.
“Every time I went in the cold tub, Alex would add some to help with the healing,” Barbosa said.
Evangelista, who works for a professional soccer team in Brazil, visited Barbosa for a couple of days here last week. In the home locker room after the Warriors defeated the Houston Rockets to advance out of the first round, Barbosa reminded Evangelista that he needed a fresh supply of the extract. He was running low.
“You cannot find it here in America,” Barbosa said.
Ezeli, a reserve center, said that whatever Barbosa was doing must be working because he continues to play well. Like Barbosa, Ezeli has dealt with leg injuries. After he had knee surgery in February, Ezeli turned to Barbosa for advice and encouragement. But Ezeli has his limits. He could not stomach the Brazilian brew.
“That’s one of those things where I need to know scientifically that it really works for me to keep doing it,” Ezeli said, “because it’s disgusting.”
But what about Barbosa’s enthusiastic sales pitch?
“Sure,” Ezeli said, “but you can just eat fruits and vegetables, too.”
Dr. James Gladstone, co-chief of sports medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, said that he was unfamiliar with arnica do mato.
“Athletes are always looking to get an edge — on recovery, on muscle strains, on anything,” said Gladstone, who was speaking generally and had no direct knowledge of Barbosa’s fondness for plant extracts. “As long as they know they’re not performance-enhancing drugs or whatever, why wouldn’t they try it?”
Varejao said that arnica do mato was popular in Brazil as a homemade remedy. He explained how members of his family would let the plant leaves marinate in alcohol to draw out their healing properties, then soak rags in the liquid balm.
“You put the wrap right on the spot that’s bothering you, and it’s really good,” Varejao said.
In other words, Varejao endorsed the use of arnica do mato as a liniment. As for Barbosa’s willingness to drink the stuff?
“Oh,” Varejao said, “I don’t do that.”