Herbal Remedies for Warts: Herbs to the Rescue

Celandine (Chelidonium majus) is a member of the poppy family (Papaveraceae) native to Europe and naturalized in North America, where it grows on moist roadsides and forest edges. The sixteenth edition of The Dispensatory of the United States of America (1889) describes celan­dine’s medicinal attributes: “The yellow juice is often applied to corns and warts, which it destroys by stimulating them beyond their vital powers, and is said to be very useful in eczema, urticaria, and other itching complaints.”

In the past three decades, researchers have found that extracts of celandine fight viruses, tumors, bacteria, fungi, and inflammation. In 1996, scientists at Palacky University in Olomouc, Czech Republic, and the University of Regensburg in Germany found that an extract of celandine inhibits epidermal cell growth in humans. These researchers credited two specific alkaloids, sanguinarine and chelerythrine, with the inhibitory action. These alkaloids, along with berberine, interact with DNA, which may explain how all three alkaloids also fight tumors. However, despite the strong history of celandine’s effectiveness as a wart remedy, double-blind studies are needed to further substantiate this use.

At least twenty different alkaloids have been isolated from celandine’s bright ­orange-yellow sap, which is present in both the roots and aboveground parts. A study by University of Zagreb researchers in 1982 showed that the total concentration of alkaloids is lowest at blossoming, then reaches its highest concentration in summer. Researchers thus recommended harvesting from early August to late October.

Extracts of celandine may also prevent certain forms of cancer. In 1997, researchers in Japan and South Korea found that an extract of celandine inhibits glandular stomach cancer in rats. However, ingesting any raw form of celandine is not advised; at least one case of haemolytic anemia has been reported, and extracts are slightly toxic to developing embryos.

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), also known as red Indian paint, red puccoon, redroot, coonroot, and pauson, is, like celandine, a member of the Papaveraceae, or poppy family. It grows on cool, well-shaded, and well-drained forest slopes of the Piedmont of eastern North America. As anyone who has picked the flowers knows, the sap is rust-red and stains hands and clothing. And, also like celandine, the colored sap is rich in alkaloids, particularly sanguinarine and chelerythrine.

Bloodroot has a long history of use by Native American tribes, who used it to dye clothing, stain their faces and bodies, repel insects, cure rheumatism and sore throats, and even aid in divination during religious ceremonies. European settlers quickly adopted this versatile plant and used it as an expectorant, emetic, and, not surprisingly, to remove warts and cure nasal polyps. In 1857, J. W. Fell cited a bloodroot-based cure for skin cancer that he had learned from Indian traders along the shores of Lake Superior (noted in his A Treatise on Cancer, published in London).

Today, bloodroot is commonly used in products designed to prevent plaque and gingivitis (for more information, see page 24 of the March/April 1999 issue of Herbs for Health). The only modern account of bloodroot’s effectiveness as a wart treatment is a series of testimonials in Dr. Andrew Weil’s Spontaneous Healing (Knopf, 1995): “Over the years, I have given out bloodroot paste and instructions on how to use it to a number of medical students, and the outcomes have been consistent and satisfactory.” The effects of bloodroot would be expected to be similar to celandine because of the plants’ very similar alkaloids, and certainly bloodroot extract has potential for scientific documentation, but double-blind studies are sorely needed.

Warts shouldn’t be confused with rhinophyma, shown at left, or disorders such as basal cell carcinoma. Diagnosis by a qualified ­physician is best.

For professionals only
Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum), also called American mandrake, is a member of the barberry family, Berberidaceae, but it is so unique within the family that some taxonomists have placed it in its own fam­ily, Podophyllaceae. Like bloodroot and celandine, it grows in eastern North America. From a slender, creeping rhizome, the stem forks into two umbrella-like leaves with a waxy, white, fragrant flower between them; a lemon-shaped fruit follows. Some consider the fruits edible in small quantities; however, the fruits can cause diarrhea, and all other parts of the mayapple are considered poisonous. Native Americans and colonists used mayapple as both a cathartic and a poison. In any case, all mayapple extracts, even top­ical applications, should be considered ­extremely toxic and taken only under the observation of a qualified physician.

By the mid-1800s, people began to believe that mayapple was effective in treating cancerous growths. In the first half of the twentieth century, an alcoholic tincture of the plant was used in some proprietary medicines, including Carter’s Little Liver Pills. In 1942, mayapple was first used topically to treat genital warts; current uses include treatment not only for genital warts, but also other types of warts as well as fibroids and papillomas.

Today, P. peltatum is supplemented by a Chinese species, P. hexandrum, to yield podophyllum resin, or podophyllin. The most important ingredient of podophyllin is the alkaloid podophyllotoxin, which fights viruses. Podophyllotoxin inhibits cell division and RNA replication. It also directly affects mitochondria, the primary site of cell oxidation. It shouldn’t be surprising then that podophyllin is extremely toxic, and cases of death are abundant enough to urge extreme caution. Topical application may cause blistering and scarring; application to fragile, bleeding, or otherwise broken skin may result in rapid absorption into the body, causing altered mental states, confusion, nausea, coma, and even death. Podophyllin also causes birth defects and abortions, even with only topical application.

Art Tucker is a research professor at Delaware State University in Dover and an Herbs for Health editorial adviser.

Click here for the original article, Herbal Remedies for Warts.

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