WILD YAM ROOT

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Herbal Monograph

Herb:     WILD YAM ROOT      (Dioscorea villosa; Dioscoraceae)

Other Names:    china root, colic root, devil’s bones, rheumatism root, yuma    (2)

Dioscorea, colic root, rheumatism root.    (57)

Character/Energetics:   sweet, bitter, warm   (6)      

                               neutral, generally drying, bitter (most species) or sweet (D. opposita)    (15)

Meridians/Organs/Body Parts affected: liver, kidney, spleen   (6)

muscles, joints, uterus, liver and gall bladder    (14)

Part(s) used:   dried rhizome and root    (2)

root   (6)                                                                                                       

Identification & Harvesting:    Small greenish-yellow, drooping flowers.  A perennial vine;  a pale brown, cylindrical, twisted, tuberous rhizome and a thin, woolly, reddish-brown stem up to 12 m. long.  Leaves are broadly ovate, alternating, 2″-6″ long.  Widely cultivated in temperate to tropical regions.    (2)

Most stocks come from west Africa, where it is unearthed in autumn.    (8)

Tuber is cylindrical, compressed, branched at intervals of about 2 inches, and curved, about 4-6 inches long, 1/2-3/4 inch thick, pale brown externally, with sunk stem scars on the upper and remains of rootlets below.  Fracture short, internally hard, white, with yellowish wood bundles.  Tastes insipid, afterwards acrid.  Inodorous.    (57)

A warm temperate and moist tropical tuberous vine domesticated throughout the world.  In US, found in moist woods from Connecticut south to Tennessee, west to Texas, and north to Minnesota.  Wild-harvested.    (61)

Active Constituents:     Saponins incl. dioscin (aglycone diosgenin);  isoquinuclidine alkaloids incl. dioscorin.    (2)

Steroidal saponins inc. dioscine;  phytosterols;  alkaloids;  tannin;  high starch content.    (8)

Glycoside saponins and diosgenin, which are hormone precursors, especially of progesterone and other cortical steroids that affect the female menstrual cycle and help to reduce pain.  (6) alkaloids, steroidal saponins, tannins, phytosterols, starch   (15)                                                                                                                                                                                              

Actions:    anti-inflammatory, cholagogue, antispasmodic, mild diaphoretic    (2)

antispasmodic, diaphoretic, diuretic, expectorant, cholagogue   (6)                                           

anti-rheumatic, cholagogue    (8)

Primarily cholagogue;  also antispasmodic, diaphoretic.    (14)

D. Villosa: relaxant for smooth muscle, antispasmodic, promotes bile flow, anti-inflammatory, promotes sweating                                                                                             

D. opposita: expectorant, digestive stimulant, kidney tonic   

D. hypoglauca: antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, soothes urinary tract infections  (15)   

Antibilious, antispasmodic, diaphoretic.    (57)

Lowers serum cholesterol levels.    (61)

Conditions & Uses:    Used for rheumatic conditions, gall bladder colic, dysmenorrhea and cramps.  Used industrially in the synthesis of steroid hormones.   (2)

It treats bilious colic, soothes the nerves in neuralgia and urinary pains, is used for menstrual cramps, is effective for the liver and gall bladder, and for digestive problems associated with an imbalance of these organs. It is a near-specific for conditions of chronic flatulence and gas.   (6)

Once the sole source of raw material for contraceptive hormone manufacture.  Can be used to relieve colic, soothe diverticulitis, dysmenorrhea and ovarian and uterine pain.  Of great use in treating rheumatoid arthritis, esp. the acute phase of intense inflammation.    (8)

Internal uses — cramps, griping pains, hiccups, nausea, neuralgic dysmenorrhea, ovarian neuralgia:  tincture, fluid extract, decoction.  Gas (excellent), morning sickness:  tincture, fluid extract, decoction, powder.  Hepatitis, ulcers:  tincture*, fluid extract*, decoction*, powder*.  Pain while passing gallstones:  tincture, fluid extract, decoction*.  Spasmodic asthma:  tincture, fluid extract.

*Usually used in combination with other herbs when treating the indicated problem.

Wild yam has steroid-like substances that are used in the porcess of making burth control pills.  This is why wild yam is presnet in many gland balancing formulas.  Wild yam is a valuable antispasmodic and is used for abdominal cramps, bowel spasms and menstrual cramps.  Wild yam provides excellent benefits ot the funtion of the gall bladder and liver.  It will counteract nausea (use in 2 oz. doses with honey added).  It is combined with other blood cleaners and will aid in removing wastes from the system, relieving stiff and sore joints.  To prevent miscarriage, Kloss says, “Combine with powdered ginger to prevent miscarriage.  One teaspoon of wild yam to 1/2 teaspoon of dried ginger.”  I suggest adding one teaspoon of red raspberry to this combination and steep in one pint of water for twenty minutes, strain and take a mouthful every half hour when threatened by this problem.  For arthritis and pain take the following in a cup of warm water three times daily:

tincture of burdock root 20 drops

tincture of black cohosh 15 drops

tincture of motherwort 15 drops

tincture of wild yam 30 drops (14)

Rhizome:

D. villosa–Mexican wild yam is an important muscle relaxant and antispasmodic, used for colicky pains. It can also be taken for acute rheumatic conditions.

For irritable bowel syndrome & colitis: D. villosa is a visceral relaxant, anti-spasmodic; anti-inflammatory and bile stimulant. Add 1 tsp herb to 500 ml water for an infusion; or take as a tincture in combinations. Add meadowsweet to soothe stomach lining; chamomile for anxiety; or a few drops fresh ginger tincture to regulate bowel activity.       

For cramps (muscle spasm), which can be associated with stress, fatigue, or an imbalance of body salts. D. villosa is a muscle relaxant; also relaxes peripheral blood vessels. Sip a decoction or 1 ml tincture; repeat every 15 minutes if symptoms persist. Use as a simple or with guelder rose tincture.   

D. opposita–The Chinese yam, shan yao, is an important tonic herb in Chinese medicine. Its main action is on the kidneys, lungs and stomach, and it is included in remedies for asthma, menopausal syndrome, urinary disorders, and weak kidney energies.

D. hypoglauca–In China, bei xie (or “seven-lobed yam”) is used mainly for urinary tract infections such as cystitis. Antibacterial and anti-inflammatory, it relieves rheumatoid arthritis. Extracts of bei xie are used in the synthesis of contraceptive pills.   (15)

Valuable in all forms of colic, abdominal and intestinal irritation, etc., in spasms, spasmodic asthma, vomiting, and hepatic congestion.    (57)

Traditionally used to treat colic, irritation of the digestive tract, morning sickness and “chronic gastritis of drunkards”, asthma and rheumatism.  Was considered antispasmodic and anodyne.  Native Americans used the root to relieve labor pains.  These uses suggest estrogenic activity, but recently some have called this a “scam”.  Contains diosgenin, which was used as a starting material in early steroidal drugs incl. birth-control pills.  But the body cannot transform it into steroid or hormone-like compounds.  Others claim it is a source for the precursor to DHEA, but recent research found that DHEA did not increase after taking Mexican yam for three weeks.    (61)

Combinations:    For colic, combine with calamus, chamomile and ginger.  For rheumatoid arthritis, combine with black cohosh.    (8)

D. villosa tincture can be combined with arthritic remedies, such as celery seeds, angelica, meadowsweet, bogbean, or willow for acute stages of rheumatoid arthritis.  

For irritable bowel syndrome & colitis: D. villosa is a visceral relaxant, anti-spasmodic; anti-inflammatory and bile stimulant. Add 1 tsp herb to 500 ml water for an infusion; or take as a tincture in combinations. Add meadowsweet to soothe stomach lining; chamomile for anxiety; or a few drops fresh ginger tincture to regulate bowel activity.       

D. opposita decoction can be combined with herbs such as shu di huang, shan zhu yu, fu ling, gou qi zi, and licorice for menopausal symptoms associated with kidney yin deficiency.  

D. hypoglauca decoction: use with huai niu xi for rheumatic pains.      (15)

Precautions:   No recorded hazards or side effects with designated dosages;  however overdose is possible because of the picrotoxin-like effect of dioscorin.    (2)

In using, do not confuse this herb with oriental tonic wild yams.   (6) 

When given for afterbirth pains, it is better to use ten drops of the tincture in cold water.  The hot decoction causes too great of relaxation to the uterus and could permit hemorrhage.    (14)

Avoid large doses of D. villosa in pregnancy unless under professional guidance; may be taken during labor.   (15)

Large doses may cause vomiting.    (57)

Occasional gastric irritation or upset.  May have anti-coagulant activity.    (61)

Tincturing Process:

Applications:    Decoction:  simmer 5-15 min.;  2-3 oz. in water, 3-4 x daily, up to 2 cups a day.  Tincture:  10-40 drops, 3-4 x daily.  Fluid extract:  1 tsp 3-4 x daily.  Powder:  5-10 #0 capsules (30-60 grains), 3-4 x daily.    (14)

Rhizome:

D. villosa–Decoction: Use for the colicky pains associated with irritable bowel syndrome or diverticulosis. Can also be used for menstrual pain or during labor. Decoct with willow bark for arthritic pains.

    Tincture: Take 5-10 drops as required for labor or postpartum pains. Can be combined with arthritic remedies, such as celery seeds, angelica, meadowsweet, bogbean, or willow for acute stages of rheumatoid arthritis.                

D. opposita–Decoction: Combine with herbs such as shu di huang, shan zhu yu, fu ling, gou qi zi, and licorice for menopausal symptoms associated with kidney yin deficiency.

          Tincture: Use for dry asthmatic coughs.

D. hypoglauca–Decoction: Use with huai niu xi for rheumatic pains.

  Tincture: Take up to 10 ml a day for urinary infections.    (15)

Divination:

Dosage:   standard decoction or 3-9 grams; tincture 10-30 drops   (6)

A decoction of an ounce of root in a pint of water may be taken in tablespoon doses until relieved.  Liquid extract dose, 1/2-1 drachm.    (57)

Up to 1 g. capsules daily.  Tincture 20-40 drops up to 5 x daily.    (61)

General Notes:   “…wild yam contains diosgenin, a precursor in the synthesis of progesterone, and are the only known available source.” Rudolf Weiss, 1985

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. Many other yams are used as a starter material to produce hydrocortisones for non-prescription eczema creams. Several related species are popular in China: D. hypoglauca is used for urinary disorders, while D. opposita is an important spleen and stomach tonic.   (15)

The genus Dioscorea honors the name of Roman physician and naturalist Dioscorides.    (61)

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References:

(2)  PDR for Herbal Medicines (Medical Economics Co., 1998), pgs. 809-10

(6) Planetary Herbology by Michael Tierra, C.A., N.D., pg. 367-68

(8)  The New Holistic Herbal by David Hoffman, p. 241

(14) Natural Healing With Herbs by Humbart Santillo BS, MH, pgs. 191-92

(15) The Complete Medicinal Herbal by Penelope Ody, pgs. 52, 154-55, 160-61

(57) Potter’s Cyclopaedia by R.C. Wren, F.L.S., p. 369-70

(61) 101 Medicinal Herbs by Steven Foster, pgs. 208-09