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Wild Yam

    Scientific Names

    Wild Yam Plant
    • Dioscorea villosa L.
    • Dioscoraceae
    • Yam family

    Common Names

    ivyAluka (Sanskrit name)
    ivyChina root
    ivyColic root
    ivyDevil's bones
    ivyMexican wild yam
    ivyPleurisy root
    ivyRheumatism root
    ivyShan-yao (Chinese name)
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    Parts Usually Used

    Dried root (rhizome)
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    Description of Plant(s) and Culture

    Wild yam is a perennial vine; the long, slender, knotted, contorted, woody, tuberous rootstock is crooked and laterally branched and twining stems. Broadly ovate and cordate, the heart-shaped, leaves are from 2-6 inches long and about three-fourths as wide, glabrous on top, and finely fairy underneath on long stems. They are usually alternate, but the lower leaves sometimes grow in twos and fours. The tiny, greenish-yellow flowers, cinnamon scented, grow on branched stalks from the axils of the leaves, male and female on separate plants, blooms during June and July, the male flowers in drooping panicles, the female in drooping spicate racemes. The fruit is a three-winged (triangular) capsule containing winged seeds.

    There are nearly 150 varieties of Dioscorea many of them developing edible tubers like potatoes. An ornamental variety is D. batatas, sometimes known as the Chinese yam, the red velvet yam, or the cinnamon yam. In using D. villosa, do not confuse oriental tonic wild yams.
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    Where Found

    Grows in the United States from Rhode Island to Minnesota, Florida and Texas. Twining in thickets, over fences, over trees and shrubs in the woods, in hedges and over bushes, the thin, woolly, reddish-brown stem grows from 5-18 feet long.
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    Medicinal Properties

    Analgesic, antibilious, antispasmodic, aphrodisiac, diaphoretic, diuretic, expectorant, emetic in large doses, hepatic, nutritive tonic
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    Biochemical Information

    Glycoside saponins and diosgenin, which are hormone precursors, especially progesterone and other cortical steroids that effect the female menstrual cycle and help to reduce pain.
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    Legends, Myths and Stories

    Used to make the original contraceptive pills when synthetic hormone production was not a commercial proposition. Mexican wild yam (D. villosa) contains hormonal substances very similar to progesterone. It also relaxes smooth muscle; hence another of its common names, colic root (Alestris farinosa L.). Many other yams are used as a starter arterial to produce hydrocortisones for non-prescription eczema creams.
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    It was once commonly prescribed for bilious colic. Wild yam is said to be soothing to the nerves and beneficial for neuralgia, neuritis, and pains in the urinary tract. Some have considered it an antispasmodic, for pain, and recommended it for cramps. Is effective for the liver and gall bladder, indigestion. During pregnancy, small frequent doses will help allay nausea. It will help expel gas from the stomach and bowels. Relieves gastrointestinal irritations, asthma, spasmodic hiccough, and "chronic gastritis of drunkards". Contains diosgenin, used to manufacture progesterone and other steroid drugs. Most of the steroid hormones used in modern medicine, especially those in contraceptives, were developed from elaborately processed chemical components derived from yams. Drugs made with yam-derived components (diosgenins) relieve arthritis, eczema, regulate metabolism and control fertility. Synthetic products manufactured from diosgenins include human sex hormones (contraceptive pills), drugs to treat menopause, impotency, prostate hypertrophy, and psycho-sexual problems, as well as high blood pressure, arterial spasms, migraines, and other ailments. Widely prescribed cortisones and hydrocortisones were indirect products of the genus Dioscorea. They are used for Addison's disease, some allergies, bursitis, contact dermatitis, psoriasis, sciatica, brown recluse spider bites, insect stings, etc.

    These steroid-like substances and this may explain why it relieves rheumatism pains, and other inflammations. It can be taken to relieve muscle spasms. Native Americans used wild yam to relieve labor pains.
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    Formulas or Dosages

    Infusion: steep 1 tsp. root in 1 cup water for 30 minutes. Take 1 cup in the course of a day, a mouthful at a time.

    Tincture: take 10-30 drops in water, 3-4 times a day as needed.
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    How Sold

    Wild yam is available as liquid extract and as a powder. The powdered form may be purchased in capsules or compressed tablets. The fluid extract can be made into tea. Creams containing wild yam are also available.
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    Fresh plant may induce vomiting and other undesirable side effects.

    In using, do not confuse oriental tonic wild yams.

    Care should be taken when using this herb if there is an excess of mucous or congestion in the body.

    Avoid large doses of D. villosa in pregnancy unless under medical supervision; may be taken during labor.
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    Resource Links Wild Yam Health Benefits

    Alternative Nature Online Herbal: Wild Yam

    University of Maryland Medical Center: Wild Yam

    U.S. National Library of Medicine: Wild Yam Wild Yam

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    Buy It! The Herb Book, by John Lust, Bantam Books, 666 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY. copyright 1974.

    Buy It! Back to Eden, by Jethro Kloss; Back to Eden Publishing Co., Loma Linda, CA 92354, Original copyright 1939, revised edition 1994

    Buy It! Indian Herbalogy of North America, by Alma R. Hutchens, Shambala Publications, Inc., Horticultural Hall, 300 Massachusetts Avenue, Boston, Massachusetts 02115, 1973

    Buy It! The Herbalist Almanac, by Clarence Meyer, Meyerbooks, publisher, PO Box 427, Glenwood, Illinois 60425, copyright 1988, fifth printing, 1994

    Buy It! The Complete Medicinal Herbal, by Penelope Ody, Dorling Kindersley, Inc, 232 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10016, First American Edition, copyright 1993

    Buy It! Eastern/Central Medicinal Plants, by Steven Foster and James A. Duke., Houghton Mifflin Company, 215 Park Avenue South, New York, NY 10000

    Buy It! Planetary Herbology, by Michael Tierra, C.A., N.D., O.M.D., Lotus Press, PO Box 325, Twin Lakes. WI 53181., Copyright 1988, published 1992

    Buy It! American Folk Medicine/i>, by Clarence Meyer, Meyerbooks, publisher, PO Box 427, Glenwood, Illinois 60425, 1973

    Buy It! Webster's New World Dictionary, Third College Edition, Victoria Neufeldt, Editor in Chief, New World Dictionaries: A Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc., 15 Columbus Circle, New York, NY 10023

    Buy It! An Instant Guide to Medicinal Plants, by Pamela Forey and Ruth Lindsay, Crescent Books (January 27, 1992).

    Buy It! A Useful Guide to Herbal Health Care, HCBL (Health Center for Better Living).,1414 Rosemary Lane, Naples, FL 34103., Special Sale Catalog, 1996

    Buy It! The Yoga of Herbs: An Ayurvedic Guide to Herbal Medicine, by Dr. David Frawley & Dr. Vasant Lad, Lotus Press, Twin Lakes, Wisconsin, Second edition, 1988.

    Buy It! The Rodale Herb Book: How to Use, Grow, and Buy Nature's Miracle Plants (An Organic gardening and farming book), edited by William H. Hylton, Rodale Press, Inc. Emmaus, PA, 18049., 1974

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