Herb to Know: Wild Yam

Discover the uses of this versatile herb.


| February/March 2007


Wild yam (Dioscorea villosa) is a versatile herb that might not win any beauty contests. Its rootstocks grow crooked and bear horizontal branches of long, creeping runners with thin reddish-brown stems that grow to a length of over 30 feet. 

The plant has winged seed pods and clusters of small, drooping yellow-green flowers that bloom from June to August. The heart-shaped leaves are long and broad with furrowed veins, which run lengthwise from the center top of the heart shape and fan outward. The leaves are usually alternate, but sometimes grow in twos and fours near the base of the plant. The upper surface of the leaf is smooth while the underside is downy. 

In medical usage, the herb is best known for chemical components used in the first prescription contraceptive pills. Wild yam root contains diosgenin, which can be converted to synthetic progesterone.

Despite its contraceptive uses, wild yam also is used during pregnancy. Because the herb nourishes the female endocrine system, herbalists believe wild yam can help prevent miscarriage and is one of the best herbs to relieve general pain during pregnancy. Early settlers used the small tubers, as they fell away from the vine, to ease labor pains, colic and leg cramps and to prevent morning sickness and miscarriage.

Wild yam is the basis for many herbal and pharmaceutical remedies and was used widely throughout history in many cultures. The pharmaceutical industry has used yam root as a basis for steroids and cortisone, anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce the swelling caused by rheumatism and hydrocortisone cream to treat eczema. The 16th-century herbalist John Gerard believed it outranked other wild herbs because of its value as a treatment for colic and liver ailments.   

Wild yam, which should not be confused with a sweet potato, has been used medicinally in China, Japan and throughout Southeast Asia for at least 2,000 years. It forms part of “The Pill of Eight Ingredients” traditionally prescribed in Chinese medicine to treat hypothyroidism and diabetes. Herbalists also prescribe the herb for exhaustion, lack of appetite, chronic thirst, chronic coughs and wheezing. The herb was popular with the ancient Aztec and Mayan people primarily as a source of food and for pain relief. Colonial doctors learned about this herb from Native Americans and used it as a treatment for rabies, epilepsy and nervous ailments.





mother earth news fair 2018 schedule

MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR

Next: June 2-3, 2018
Frederick, MD

Sit in on dozens of practical workshops from the leading authorities on natural health, organic gardening, real food and more!

LEARN MORE



Subscribe today and save 58%

Subscribe to Mother Earth Living !

Mother Earth LivingWelcome to Mother Earth Living, the authority on green lifestyle and design. Each issue of Mother Earth Living features advice to create naturally healthy and nontoxic homes for yourself and your loved ones. With Mother Earth Living by your side, you’ll discover all the best and latest information you want on choosing natural remedies and practicing preventive medicine; cooking with a nutritious and whole-food focus; creating a nontoxic home; and gardening for food, wellness and enjoyment. Subscribe to Mother Earth Living today to get inspired on the art of living wisely and living well.

Save Money & a Few Trees!

Pay now with a credit card and take advantage of our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. You’ll save an additional $5 and get six issues of Mother Earth Living for just $19.95! (Offer valid only in the U.S.)

Or, choose Bill Me and pay just $24.95.




Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter


Copyright 2018, All Rights Reserved
Ogden Publications, Inc., 1503 SW 42nd St., Topeka, Kansas 66609-1265